What’s in a Label? What You Need to Know to Make Healthy Food Choices

What’s black, white, and red all over? The nutrition label on a pack of Twizzlers!

Reading a nutrition label is a must-have skill in today’s world of ultra-processed and complex and plentiful additives. If you don’t know what you’re putting in your mouth, how do you manage your health? The label is something we see everyday, but it can be a confusing thing to understand. So in this blog, we’re going to dive into the basics of a nutrition label, and key things to watch out for.

To start, you should know that a nutrition label is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your weight, health, age, exercise routine, and more, you may need to eat more or less than 2,000 calories for optimal health. This is a good thing to discuss with your doctor—be sure to give them the specifics of your lifestyle (activity level and exercise are especially important here) when talking about this. Allow me to digress: I personally don’t ‘count’ calories because I realized that I don’t overconsume calories when sticking to a whole foods diet: little/no processed foods and trans fats, some grains, lots of veggies, some fruits, healthy fats and ample protein. It’s hard to overeat broccoli!

As you look at the label, you’ll see different percentages. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, these are the percentages of your recommended daily fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbs, proteins, and a few vitamins and minerals. Again, however, it’s important to note that this percentage may be slightly more or less based on your necessary intake.

Now, let’s dive into the diagram from the CDC below:

Starting at point 1: the serving size. This outlines how much of the food the nutrition label accounts for. Oftentimes, this is also the “recommended” portion of the food, but we’ll discuss more on why that’s not always the best route.

For example, let’s say this nutrition label is for granola. The serving size is for ⅔ of a cup of granola, which contains 230 calories, 8 grams of fat, etc. per this label.

At point 2, we see the number of servings per container. In this example, there are 8 servings of granola, and each serving is ⅔ of a cup.

It’s helpful to know: 1) how much is in the package, and 2) what it might mean if you eat more than a single serving.

For instance, let’s say you were munching on the granola while watching some Netflix. You realized you’ve eaten half the bag. Since the bag has 8 servings, half of that is 4. To figure out how many calories are in 4 servings (half the bag), you would multiply 230 times 4, to find that you ate 920 calories.

This math can be especially helpful if you find yourself in binge eating habits—even with ‘allegedly’ healthy foods like granola. Most things in very large quantities lose positive health effects, so knowing the serving size can put that in perspective.

Next, we have point 3: this is about the total carbohydrates in a single serving of the food. It breaks this down further into the amount of fiber, sugar, and added sugars.

First: fiber. A high-fiber content in a food is a good thing. Getting ample fiber in your diet is one of the best things you can do for your health! Here we see that the granola has 4 grams of fiber, which is not too bad. However, we also see that there’s a good chunk of sugar in the granola, too. Let’s break this down.

Total sugar is, understandably, the total amount of sugar in the food. Interestingly, the CDC has not made any official recommendation for the amount of sugar to have each day. Generally, it is good to keep your sugar consumption low, especially if you struggle with diabetes or are pre-diabetic.

However, recently the CDC added a new line to the nutrition label: added sugar. This refers to sugars which have been added through processing, sweeteners, syrups, or juice concentrates. They are not naturally-occurring sugars that might be found in fruits and other whole foods.

For diabetes prevention, you want to keep your consumption of added sugars low. If you see a high amount of added sugar (more than 5-8 grams), that is a good food to avoid or limit your consumption! 

Now, let’s go back to our granola label. We see that there are 12 grams of sugar, in total; however, 10 grams of that are added sugars. For granola—a food we often think of as healthy—that’s actually a lot of sugar in just one serving. The general guidelines for ADDED sugars is a maximum of 50 grams a day—which is still 12 teaspoons of sugar! Digress #2: If you are a non-diabetic, very active and otherwise healthy, that may work but I would opt for much less added sugar. As a pre-diabetic, my goal for added sugar is ZERO, because any time I have a meal out, I know that I’ll have more than enough added sugar. So, when cooking at home, I stay away from any added sugar and use monk fruit, allulose or stevia instead. One serving of granola takes you to the maximum allotment—and that’s for only 2/3 of a cup! You can consider eating less than the recommended amount—potentially only ⅓ of a cup of granola—OR skip the granola altogether and grab some nuts and fresh fruit instead. 

If you struggle with blood sugar levels, understanding the amount of ADDED sugars is a must in determining whether you should eat it or put it back!

Point 4 of the label—look for the fiber and vitamin/minerals breakdown as that indicates the nutritious components of the food. The level of protein is also important—if you are an active person, you should aim for at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  That means that a 165 pound adult should consume at least 60 grams of protein daily. But, if you’re active, you will need more. I started lifting weights three times a week so I upped my protein to about 1 gram/kilogram to build muscle.

Back to the granola example, we see that the granola has a decent amount of iron and fiber – which is good. BUT, it is high in sugar. Digress #3: I personally haven’t found ANY granola that will not make my blood sugar skyrocket so I generally avoid it.

Finally, point 5: the areas you generally want to look out for and avoid in high quantities.

Right below the calories, we see the total fat. First reminder: fat is not bad! For more information on the types of fats that are healthy and those you want to limit, click here for one of our recent blog posts on fats.

In particular, you’ll see that point 5 touches on the amount of saturated fats, which are a type of fat you want to limit. They aren’t inherently bad, but the research on saturated fat’s effects on health are mixed, especially when combined with carbs and sugars.  

Additionally, point 5 touches on added sugars, as well as the number of calories. A high-calorie food isn’t inherently bad; however, if a food is high in calories, high in saturated and trans fats, and has a number of added sugars, that’s a clear sign that you should avoid it!

Next time you head to the grocery store, check out the nutrition label on your foods. It can be shocking the amount of sugar in some foods you thought were “healthy.” Equipping yourself with nutrition label know-how is one of the first steps to managing your blood sugar and chronic disease, as well as improving your overall health and energy through diet!

Hypertension: 5 Ways to Stop the “Silent Killer” Before it Stops You

“The Silent Killer.” The bearer of the name is far more dangerous and deadly than the subject of any true crime podcast or serial killer Netflix binge. This particular serial killer is estimated to take over 1,000 lives every single day, and sends millions of people to the doctor and ER each year.

Nope, it’s not some new age Zodiac Killer—it’s hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. May is hypertension awareness month, and we wanted to shed some light on this “silent killer.”

For decades, salt was thought to be the main culprit behind hypertension; however, further research has found that sugar intake can be much more detrimental to blood pressure levels. You can read more about sugars effects on hypertension at a past blog linked here.

Sugar doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Recent research has found that oxidative stress also contributes to hypertension. Oxidative stress occurs when the body is unable to remove reactive oxygen species from the system, which results in tissue damage and inflammation.

In these inflammatory symptoms, we see the problems with hypertension. High blood pressure can lead to kidney failure, bone degeneration, atherosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessels), stroke, heart attack, and even vision loss. A regulated blood pressure is important to our health, and when it skews too high, there are repercussions all over the body, especially when it remains high over a period of time.

Certain medications are helpful at lowering blood pressure by helping the body remove oxidative stress. However, these don’t get to the root which causes the oxidative stress in the first place, creating a band-aid solution which may not lead to true, lasting health.

When lifestyle and diet changes are utilized to decrease oxidative stress and inflammation, we can see long-term improvements in hypertension. Below, we’ve listed five ways you can decrease your inflammation and oxidative stress to regulate your blood pressure over the long term.

1. Increase your antioxidant intake

Antioxidants directly reduce oxidative stress by removing the harmful reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the body. The ROS are the “bad guys” causing hypertension, and you can fight them by adding more “good guys” to your system in the form of antioxidants! This has direct effects on decreasing oxidative stress and inflammation so that your blood pressure can regulate properly.

To increase your antioxidants, the following foods are great:

  • Berries! Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries
  • Avocados
  • Broccoli
  • Squash
  • Leafy greens (spinach, kale)
  • Artichokes
  • Carrots
  • Beets

And more! 

2. Reduce your sugar and processed food intake

Sugar and processed foods are two components of a diet that can increase oxidative stress and inflammation. Reducing your intake of fast food, prepackaged foods, and sugary treats is one of the fastest ways to lower your blood pressure and boost your health!

If it’s hard for you, try these tips:

  • If you opt for fast food options at the end of the day because it’s faster and more convenient, consider meal prepping at the beginning of the week so you have more ready-made meals after a long day.
  • If you are a big fan of sodas, try brewing your own tea instead. Some are even on the sweeter side without having sugar—raspberry and peppermint tea are both full of flavor. You can add a small dollop of honey or stevia to sweeten it.
  • If you’re big on coffee creamers, opt for regular half and half. And in lieu of coffee sweeteners, try stevia, allulose, or monk fruit instead. They have flavored versions of these available now. Here’s one to try: https://www.vitacost.com/now-foods-betterstevia-liquid-sweetener-english-toffee

3. Manage stress

Chronic stress is one of the leading causes of inflammation, which can lead to high blood pressure. We’ve listed a few of them below, but click here to read more about how you can manage your stress.

  • Meditate daily for 5-10 minutes
  • Start practicing breathwork (taking deep breaths with long exhales)
  • Improve your sleep quality
  • Create a plan to manage your stressors

4. Choose a few supplements — Magnesium, Vitamin B Complex, and Vitamin D

A few supplements in particular are also helpful in lowering your blood pressure.

First, magnesium helps decrease the tension on the walls of blood vessels, decreasing blood pressure. For more magnesium, check out Bio-optimizer’s all-seven forms of magnesium supplement, found here.

Foods like:

  • Kale
  • Nuts
  • Fish (wild caught)
  • Avocados

are all great for magnesium and lowering your BP!

Vitamin B complex is a group of B vitamins (8 total) that support cardiovascular and cell health.  Some foods rich in B vitamins include:

  • Dairy
  • Organ meats (liver, kidney)
  • Fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon)
  • Shellfish (oysters, clams)
  • Dark green vegetables (spinach, kale, collards)
  • Beans (kidney, black, chickpeas)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Blackstrap molasses

It may be hard to eat a balanced diet to get all the necessary B vitamins so you may want to supplement, which is what I do. This is the product I use: https://www.thorne.com/products/dp/stress-b-complex

Additionally, a lack of Vitamin D has been connected to poor cardiovascular health. Increasing vitamin D by spending more time outside and taking a vitamin D supplement can boost your overall health and blood pressure! It’s best to balance vitamin D with Vitamin K2 (supports D3 function and artery health) so here’s one to try: https://www.vitacost.com/nature-made-vitamin-d3-k2

You can also eat Vitamin D rich foods like:

  • Eggs
  • Cod liver oil
  • Salmon
  • Canned tuna
  • Mushrooms

5. Exercise to boost circulation

Finally, exercise and movement are key. Hypertension is all about how efficiently circulation can happen in the body, and moving your body directly improves your circulation, as well as your cardiac health, mental wellness, and so much more!

The important thing here is regular exercise, generally at least 20 minutes per day. Starting with a small goal—walking for 20 minutes per day—and increasing it as you develop your exercise routine is a great way to begin. Your body needs movement, and when it comes to hypertension, you’ll see your blood pressure levels decrease the more you exercise.

You can also opt for exercises that are especially calming. For some, a walk in nature or through a park, or a yoga class, can have meditative effects as well. This gives you multiple ways to fight inflammation and decrease hypertension!

The story of hypertension has been changing in recent years, but with lifestyle changes, you can decide how it ends. Choose a few of these tips to implement during May—Hypertension Month—and notice how different you feel by the end of it!

5 Tips for Managing Stress

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” – Steve Maraboli

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! For many of us, it can feel like stress rules our lives—trying to manage kids’ schedules, work deadlines, social commitments, etc. — it all adds up. This month is a great time to become aware of your stress levels and find ways to reduce them that work for you.

Stress is the body’s physiological and psychological response to challenges or changes in your environment. The stress response—also known as the fight or flight response—evolved to help us flee from lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). Today, however, this response isn’t entirely helpful. When you get a stressful text from your boss, for example, a similar reaction occurs in your body as if, well, you were getting chased by a lion. That feeling where your stomach drops, your heart starts racing, maybe your limbs feel a little tingly or numb. All of that is part of fight or flight. And all of that is triggered when we encounter stress.

How can you make your day less stressful? Today, we’ve compiled five tips to help you decrease your stress, stop the fight or flight response, and regain a sense of calm and control in your life—no matter what’s on your schedule.

1. Move your body more

When we think about the fight or flight response, both options—fleeing or fighting—require movement. Though we may not jump into a sprint or prepare for a fight club moment when we receive a stressful text, moving your body in moments of stress can help close out the fight or flight response and return your body and mind to a more peaceful, calming state.

What kind of movement do you enjoy? Are you a fan of yoga, or do you love walking your dog? Maybe lifting weights is more your jam, or dancing to your favorite Beyonce song is your thing. Whatever it may be for you, start weaving movement into your day as a way to combat stress. Aiming for 20 minutes/day is great for the de-stress effects, but anything you can weave into your day-to-day is fantastic.

If you’re a busy parent who’s trying to weave in more play time with your kids, this is an awesome opportunity to get more movement into your day and decrease your stress. You can try the animal freeze dance video below to get started!

2. Get better (and longer) sleep

Perhaps the most obvious on this list: sleep more, and better. Sleep quantity and quality both greatly affect our stress levels. Studies have shown that sleep deprived individuals have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), particularly later in the day, when the body should otherwise be preparing to rest.

Getting more sleep is easier said than done. It’s hard for many, particularly parents or folks working long hours at demanding jobs. Some people find that progressive muscle relaxation and visualizations—similar to those used in hypnosis—can be extremely helpful in falling asleep faster and staying asleep. These mental exercises help your body and mind relax so it is easier for you to fall asleep, even after a busy, stressful day.

To try one out for yourself, check out the hypnotic meditation for sleep here.

3. Take some time to breathe

Slowing down your breath is another way you can close out the fight or flight response and return your body and mind to a calm, healthy place. When you exhale longer than you inhale, you activate your vagus nerve. This nerve is like the off-switch for the stress response: when you stimulate the vagus nerve, it tells your body, “Hey! We’re safe, it’s okay to calm down now.” Breath is one of the simplest ways to activate this healing nerve in your body.

The nice thing about breathwork is it can be done anytime, anywhere. A great place to start is simple counted or box breathing. This is all you have to do:

  1. Inhale for a count of 4
  2. Hold it at the top for 2
  3. Exhale for a count of 6
  4. Hold it at the bottom for 2

You can do this at work, in the car, while you’re trying to calm down your kids—anytime, anywhere! This activates your vagus nerve, while also giving you a moment for mindfulness and mental calm. If you prefer a video to follow along, you can use the one below!

4. Try one of these supplements

Because stress is a physiological response, there are a number of supplements that can be helpful in decreasing the effects of stress on your body. Two in particular—magnesium and L-theanine—can be especially helpful.

A large number of people have magnesium deficiencies, which is a shame because the mineral has an abundance of positive effects on the body. In addition to lowering stress levels, it helps with sleep quality, hormonal balances, brain health, and so much more. To get more magnesium naturally, consider eating more leafy greens, nuts, whole grains, and beans. For more magnesium in supplement form, check out Biooptimizer’s all-seven forms of magnesium supplement, found here.

A lesser known supplement for stress is L-theanine—a compound sourced from green tea leaves. It’s an amino acid that can help with reducing stress, improving cognitive function, enhancing focus and sleep, and more. Though you can get a small amount of L-theanine in green, black, white, and oolong tea, it’s easier to get the recommended amount from a supplement. We recommend the 200 mg L-Theanine from Nature’s Trove.


5.Become aware of your stressors, and create a plan to manage them

This one is the simplest, but perhaps the most important step to decreasing your stress. So often, we become caught up in the day-to-day and don’t give ourselves the chance to get ahead on the items that otherwise cause us stress. Becoming aware of your stressors allows you to create a plan for how you can better manage them, decreasing your stress and the amount on your plate!

To begin getting curious about your stressors, take 5-10 minutes to reflect on the following questions. You can journal in a notebook, on the notes app on your phone, or just in your mind as you consider the following:

  1. What are three specific stressors in your life right now?
  2. Looking at your schedule for the next week, when do you anticipate that these stressors will arise?
  3. How do you generally handle these stressors? How well does that normally work for you?
  4. What could you try this week to better handle these stressors?
  5. How will you remind yourself to try this new technique?

Stress is a normal part of life, but when it starts piling up, it can become detrimental to our physical, mental, and emotional health. Try one, two, or all of these techniques this month to help decrease your stress and boost your health and happiness!

How to Minimize Aches & Pains Through Movement – Tips for the Work From Home Crowd

Since the pandemic, many of us have shifted to working from home (WFH). While WFH policies have created a lot of flexibility for us, it also came with a lot of ….sitting. In one place. All day. Every (week)day. All the walking to the meetings, cafeteria, coffee room or lunch out with colleagues became a short video conference or a 10-second walk to the kitchen or bathroom.

When you move less, you might feel your body aching more, unfortunately. Humans (and most animals — apart from maybe a sloth) weren’t meant to be sedentary, and our body will let us know with stiffness and pain when we’re not moving and grooving enough!

Authors Juliet and Kelly Starrett released the book, Built to Move: The 10 Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully, which outlines basic movements you can do each week to boost your physical health. The Starretts give you tips to decrease the stiffness, aches, and pains that can come with being less mobile. We’ve outlined 8 of them below!


1. Stretch while you sit on the floor, using three simple positions

As you sit in a chair each day, your body stiffens in the same position, and may ache from the lack of movement. To get a different kind of movement in, consider sitting on the floor for a few minutes—15 to 30—each day. Try these three positions:

1. Sit criss cross with your legs in front of you

2. Sit with one leg bent at 90 degrees in front of you. While resting on the front, bend the other leg at a 90-degree angle so that its foot is behind you. Do each side for five minutes!

3. Sit with your legs straight out in front of you, leaning slightly forward.


2. When you get up from the floor, don’t use assistance (if possible)

It takes practice, but it’s a worthy challenge that can improve your long-term health and wellbeing!

This is a challenge that can be slightly harder than you think! When you stand up from the floor (or even up from your chair), avoid using the arms of a chair or supports nearby. Use your core and arm and leg muscles instead. For an extra challenge, also avoid putting your hand on your knee. Some research has shown that standing up from the floor without assistance is also a predictor of long life.


3. Squat more frequently!

In a variety of cultures, squatting is a much more frequently used posture than in the US. The squat position can be good for the knees, back, hips, and pelvic floor. You want to make sure your feet are slightly further apart than the hips, feet slightly turned out, and squat as low as you can with your heels on the floor. Unlike the last recommendation, you can use a wall or something similar to support you!


4. Balance on one leg

Falls can be extremely dangerous as we age. There are about 36 million falls each year in the US alone, with a third requiring medical attention. One way to prevent falls is to practice balance! Each day, try standing on one leg—simply lift up the other or do a “tree pose” from yoga—for 10-20 seconds on each side. Staring at one fixed point can help you as you get started. Start with 10 seconds, then move to 20, and then, if you really want to challenge yourself, try with your eyes closed!


5. Get more steps in — with some weight added

This one is obvious—take a few more walks per day. The recommendation is 10,000 steps per day, and if you’re not close to that yet, try increasing your number of steps by 500-1000 each week! Your phone likely has a steps tracker, though some people love to use an Apple watch or FitBit to track their activity. I wear this 8 pound vest to walk the dogs around the neighborhood.

If you want to up the ante, you can also get some walking weights to make your walk a more intense aerobic activity! Here’s an adjustable one I use if I need to amp up the cardio.


6. Try a standing desk

If you’re sitting at work or your remote job all day, try standing for 20-30 minutes! You can invest in a standing desk for sure, but you could also bring a laptop to a countertop or higher table in your home. Take one call per day while standing or do 30 minutes standing after lunch!


7. Circle your arms

Remember those activities from middle school gym class where you would hold your arms out to the side and circle them in tiny circles over and over and over again? And it somehow was the most tiresome of all the exercises (push-ups included)?

Try doing a few rounds of those per day! 30 seconds in one direction, followed by 30 seconds in the other direction, or about 10 rounds each.


8. BONUS: Give yourself a little foot massage!

Your feet are powerful proprioceptors in the body; this means, they help sense where your body is in space. Your feet have been desensitized by the thick shoes we wear all the time. Rubbing the soles of your feet or even massaging your toes several times a week can help your feet restore their proprioceptive abilities.

I recently learned about the benefits of walking barefoot as it lets your foot move naturally.  As I like wearing shoes, these Xero shoes give me the right protection and support without having to go ‘sans’ shoes.

There are plenty of simple things you can do to move more and feel less aches and pains throughout the day. Try one or a few of these tips this week and see how your body feels afterwards!

The Truth about Fat: Less is NOT More

Diet culture has cycled through what feels like hundreds of trends:

“Go keto and lose 10 lbs in a month!”

“Only eat raw, never cooked veggies for optimal health!”

And even the wild, “Eat only Special K to fit into your old jeans again!”

One diet trend has stood the test of time, however: Aim to have a low-fat diet. The idea that all fats are bad is pervasive—many of us have been taught from a young age that fat is unhealthy and we should avoid it at all costs. And that fat makes you FAT! But is that really the case?

Today we’re breaking down the facts behind the war on fat that has been raging for decades. We’ll outline which fats to avoid and which to prioritize for optimal health.

But first… Why do people say fat is bad or unhealthy?

Some fat is unhealthy, but if we take a peek into history, we see where the full-fledged smear campaign on fat began.

Scientists began researching nutrition more intensely following World War II. In initial studies, they found a link between heart disease and foods heavy in saturated fats (red meat, for example). In the ensuing decades, this led to physicians recommending that people limit the amount of fat they ingest. When the national food guidelines were developed in the 70s and 80s (think: the precursor of the ‘My Plate’ you or your kids might have been taught in school), the takeaway message for many was to avoid fat. People weren’t well educated on the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, so the recommendation to avoid specifically saturated fat was heard by many that “fat is bad.”

Let’s clear one thing up first: What is the difference between good fat and bad fat?

First, I encourage you to drop language like “good” and “bad” from any of your food vocabulary. Most foods can be “bad” in too high of a quantity; for example, if you eat seven mangos in a day, your blood sugar will not thank you. On the other hand, even “bad” foods in small amounts can be a net positive. For instance, allowing yourself a cupcake (or—gasp—two!) at your child’s birthday party without any guilt will likely help you feel more present and less stressed about whether or not you should eat the cupcake. Enjoy yourself and allow yourself to enjoy foods in moderation, too!


Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats

Now, when we consider fat, you should know there are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated fat. Saturated fats, at the molecular level, have all of their carbon atoms “saturated” with hydrogens. This basically means they form a neat linear molecule. Saturated fats, because of their structure, can easily build up and “stack” on top of one another.

Unsaturated fats have one to a few of their carbons “unsaturated” with hydrogens. This gives unsaturated fats kinks wherever the carbons aren’t fully saturated with hydrogens, which in turn makes it hard for them to build up and “stack” atop one another.

Both of these fats occur naturally, and to an extent, both should be present in your diet. Because unsaturated fats don’t build up as readily as saturated fats, these are generally healthier fats that give more benefits to your body.

Remember: fats (also called lipids) are one of the four main molecules that make up your entire body, in addition to carbohydrates, DNA, and proteins. You need fats in your diet to help your body with its daily processes, insulation, repair, energy storage, and more! Fats are a vital part of your diet. You need fat for good health.

So, what kinds of fats (and foods) should I focus on?

Fats to include: Unsaturated fats are found in fatty fish, avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and a variety of other natural, non-processed foods. These fats are the most nourishing for the body. Adequate consumption of unsaturated fats leads to improved health!

Fats to have in moderation: Saturated fats occur naturally in red meat, eggs, dairy, coconut and palm oil. The studies on saturated fats are mixed. In high levels, they are believed to contribute to heart disease. Limiting their consumption leads to better health outcomes, but you do not need to cut them out all together. They naturally occur in a variety of foods!

Fats to avoid: Trans fats in processed and fried foods are where we see the worst health effects. Avoiding highly processed foods, fast food, and fried food will help you steer clear of these genuinely unhealthy fats.

Back to our discussion about diet culture though—have you ever opted for low-fat or fat-free options at the grocery store, thinking that was the healthier choice?

Now that we’ve covered that many fats are healthy, I encourage you to think twice before choosing low-fat or fat-free options. Fat packs flavor in foods, so when fat is removed, it’s often replaced with a form of sugar… and a lot of it! Reduced fat options generally are more unhealthy than the normal fat option because of their high sugar levels, so read labels carefully when you’re grocery shopping!

All in all, there are some fats that can boost your health, while others will harm it. Prioritize unsaturated fats, avoid trans fats and processed foods, and enjoy saturated fats in moderation. End the war on fats and include healthy fats in your diet for optimal nutrition!

If you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin! 6 ingredients to avoid

I remember a sales pitch used by one of the natural cosmetic companies. At the customer meeting, the sales person would actually eat the cosmetic to show the safety of the products they make. Although it sounds like a yucky job, it’s certainly convincing to the buyer!

As Brian Vaszily (founder of www.theartofantiaging.com ) boldly states in his report on toxic ingredients in cosmetics: “When you’re pushing your grocery cart down the cosmetics aisle, remember that you are pushing it down a food aisle…”.

There are a variety of labels on our makeup, skincare, sunscreens, and lotions that make us believe they’re healthy and good for our skin; however, many of these words—”organic,” “natural,” “vegan”—are often marketing ploys which don’t reflect the efficacy or health of the product. In other words, sure, there may be a single ingredient in the list that is vegan or organic, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ingredients in the product that can be damaging or harmful to your health.

It’s important to understand that your skin is the largest organ in your body. When you apply creams, cleansers, and oils to your face each day, your skin is absorbing those ingredients. The effects can be beneficial with less acne, more moisture, and protection from the sun. However, there may be long-term detriments to using certain products if they contain harmful ingredients that disrupt your hormones, contribute to cancer, or suppress your immune function.

It can feel overwhelming to determine which ingredients are okay and which you need to avoid. Below we’ve outlined six ingredients found in everyday skincare products—from moisturizers to toners to hair dye—that you should avoid to benefit your long-term health.


1. Fragrance

Who doesn’t love a lavender or lily scent to their deodorant or moisturizer? It seems like everything down to feminine products comes in a scented version these days. Unfortunately, the scent itself is typically labeled as “fragrance” in the list of ingredients. In other words, you aren’t given more insight into the ingredients that go into that fragrance—it could be any combination of hundreds of harmful chemicals.

Moreover, fragrance—even in its natural form—can interfere with hormone release. People with severe hormonal issues such as PCOS or endometriosis should generally avoid strong fragrances and scented products, as the fragrance can trigger a hormonal release. To best support your health, aim for unscented products, taking special care to avoid scented products which do not clarify the ingredients which go into the fragrance!

Here’s an Environmental Working Group (EWG) Verified Fragrance:



2. Sulfates

Sulfates are found in shampoos, conditioners, foundation, and more. They’re incorporated into soaps and shampoos to help them become more latherable (more bubbly!), and they’re added to foundations to increase skin absorption. You might have noticed “Sulfate Free” labels on your haircare and skincare, and that’s with good purpose.

Certain sulfates—4-dioxane, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and ethylene in particular—have been connected to cancer risk. They may also cause irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. Keep an eye out for those “sulfate free” labels, and double-check the ingredients!


3. Retinol

Retinol, a synthetic version of vitamin A, is commonly used in anti-aging and acne products. Typical symptoms you’ll notice using retinol are dry, flaky skin. Labels will also warn you to not use it in sunlight, as it makes your skin more sensitive to UV light.

With prolonged use, some research suggests retinol may contribute to the development of skin cancer, too. Opt for less intense acne or anti-aging products to protect your skin and your health!

Here’s an EWG Verified Angi-aging Serum:



4. Formaldehyde

You may be surprised to see formaldehyde on this list. It is commonly found in soaps, facial cleansers, and other skin care products. It serves as a preservative that keeps bacteria and other harmful microbes from growing in the product as it’s packaged, shipped, and awaits usage.

Unfortunately, formaldehyde has been deemed a carcinogen by the US National Toxicology Program and other international bodies providing similar information. It is still widely used in the US, however, so be aware of it on any of your skincare labels.

You will also want to keep an eye out for DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate,  bronopol, and glyoxal (whew!) These are often used as substitutes for formaldehyde or for the release of formaldehyde, and cause similar negative effects.


5. Aluminum

Aluminum is very commonly found in deodorant. It’s a metal (yes, that roll of shiny paper in your kitchen drawer), and in deodorant, it has the effect of blocking sweat ducts. Unfortunately, this does not have positive effects on your body. Aluminum’s secondary interactions can cause cells in your body to mutate; this is the origin of malignant tumors in the body. Opt for a natural deodorant to avoid these negative effects.

Occasionally, aluminum can also be found in foundation and lipstick. Keep an eye out on the labels to avoid this heavy metal in your skincare.

Here’s an EWG Verified deodorant:


6. Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone is commonly used in sunscreens and lotions or foundations which include sun protection. It has potential hormone-disrupting effects, with particularly strong effects on estrogen release. This means, for some, it may cause decreased libido, birth defects, depression, and more. Other sunscreen ingredients to look out for are octinoxate and homosalate—they have similar effects.

Here’s an EWG Verified sunscreen:


Your skin health is important. The products you may apply to promote skin health could actually be doing the exact opposite. Start looking at the details of your product labels for these harmful ingredients to tend to your long-term health!

What to Eat for Good Kidney Health

“What, did the failed Kidney say to the donor Kidney?

I’m out; urine!”

Let’s hope this joke never becomes a reality for us…

Below your rib cage on either side of your spine are a pair of organs that look like, well, kidney beans. The namesake of the maroon-colored legumes, these organs are your kidneys.

Kidneys are crucial for your health. Put simply, they are the filtration system of the body. They filter blood of toxins, chemicals, and waste and allow it to leave your body via urine. They are the star players of the renal system, whose main function is essentially detox.

Secondary functions of the kidneys and renal system include balancing your electrolytes, blood pressure, and water balance. They also release certain hormones that help with blood cell production and blood pressure regulation.

When the kidneys begin to dysfunction or get overloaded with toxins and waste, a number of health issues can arise. Poor kidney health has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, weak bones, neuropathy, anemia, and kidney failure. Because kidneys are central to so many body systems, kidney dysfunction leads to a wide variety of health issues.

If you’re looking to boost the health of your kidneys, there are a number of things you can do in your diet and lifestyle. Below, we’ve listed six foods you can start adding to maintain healthy function of your kidneys.

1. Water-Rich Vegetables: Celery and Cucumbers

Kidney health starts with good water intake. Cucumbers and celery are two vegetables full of fiber and water that hydrate your body and renal system, allowing for your kidneys to function more effectively.

Specifically, celery has compounds that are hypothesized to help dissolve kidney stones, according to a 2019 study.

2. Antioxidant Rich Fruits: Berries

Similar to celery and cucumbers, berries are also a high-water food. In addition to their water content, they are extremely high in antioxidants—blueberries, cranberries, and black cherries especially.

Cranberries have often been connected to preventing UTIs for years. The research is still mixed on their efficacy, but adding fresh (or frozen) cranberries to your diet is a great way to boost your antioxidant intake and power your kidney health. Stay away from dried cranberries as they ALWAYS have sugar added in the drying process. Also, be careful with cranberry juice as it’s also often loaded with added sugar.

Blueberries and black cherries, on the other hand, are full of an antioxidant called resveratrol. This antioxidant has been connected to decreasing kidney disease development and improving the mitochondrial function in the kidneys. A handful of these dark berries multiple times a week can do wonders for your kidney health!

3. Beets

A less commonly consumed recommendation for kidney health is beets! If you’re a fan of The Office, you should know Dwight’s love for beets came with good reason, at least when it comes to kidney health.

Beets are full of nitric oxide (NO) which helps filter and cleanse the blood. They have been connected to improved metabolism, kidney function, and blood pressure.

If you’re unsure how to eat beets, try roasting them in the oven, having them pickled, or even chopping them up and adding them to a protein smoothie!

4. Citric Acid & Lemon Juice

You’ve likely heard of lemon water as a common recommendation for a detox, and this checks out. Lemon water—particularly the citric acid in lemon juice—can help break down kidney stones and benefit overall kidney health.

Add a spritz of lemon juice to your salads, sip some lemon juice in the mornings, or add it to your dishes at dinner to reap the benefits of lemon juice.

5. Seaweed

Seaweed, particularly its two byproducts of spirulina and chlorella, are jam packed with nutrients that boost kidney function. Research has shown that chlorella is particularly powerful in removing heavy metals from the body, which lightens the workload of the kidneys and helps cleanse them.

Make sure you buy the right brand of spirulina and chorella as they can often be contaminated.

Here are two that I trust:



BONUS: Drink more water!

Because your kidney is the filtration system of the body, adequate water intake is key to ensure the renal system can function properly. A 2014 study showed that increasing water intake improved kidney health and may slow kidney disease.

To calculate how much water you should drink daily, you can use the following simple equation:

Your weight / 2 = oz of water to drink each day.

For example:

150 lbs / 2 = 75 oz of water each day. One cup is roughly 8 fluid oz.

Kidney health and “cleansing” is necessary to your overall health and wellbeing. Aim to add in one or a few of these recommendations each week to boost your overall kidney health!

Your kidneys filter ~200 liters of fluid per day – show them some love!

Essential Nutrients for Better Eye Health

When you think about food and nutrition, your mind likely goes to heart health, weight, maybe even hormonal balances. But did you know that your diet plays a major role in the health of your eyes?

The food and supplements you take can hugely impact the quality of your vision. Just like any other part of your body, your eyes require certain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in order to function optimally. Moreover, if you struggle with macular degeneration, retinopathy, or glaucoma, adding certain vitamins to your diet can help alleviate certain symptoms and even improve eye function.

So, which foods and vitamins should you be incorporating more of? Below, we’ve listed 5 nutrients to add to your diet to keep ‘your windows to the world’ clear and sparkly.


1. Lutein & Zeaxanthin

In the center of your retina is the macula. The retina is composed of light-sensitive cells which convert light particles into neural signals that allow the brain to create the image you see.

The macula has a concentration of two antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin. These are known as macular pigments, and they support the health of your macula; consequently, they also support the health of your retina and quality of your vision.

If you struggle with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), studies have shown intake of lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce your risk of developing AMD and slow the development of later stage AMD.

Conveniently, these two macular pigments are often found together in foods. To add more lutein and zeaxanthin to your diet, opt for:

  • Sweet corn
  • Kale & Swiss chard (leafy greens)
  • Pistachios
  • Green peas
  • Egg yolks

If you need a lutein/zeaxanthin supplement, here’s one that’s third-party tested:



2. Essential fatty acids

A number of omega fatty acids are extremely helpful for eye health. In particular, two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – as well as an omega-6 fatty acid (GLA) can be impactful for vision and eye health.

First, DHA and EPA have been shown to help with a number of eye diseases. Increasing EPA and DHA intake showed improvements in dry eye symptoms as well, as they are believed to help with the synthesis of tear fluid. Other connections have been made with intake of these fatty acids and reduced risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

To increase your intake of DHA and EPA, add in:

  • Oily fish: Trout, salmon, sardines, etc.
  • Omega-3 supplements derived from fish or micro algae (see our recommendation below)

Here’s a high-dose omega 3 supplement that’s been third-party tested: https://www.vitacost.com/carlson-maximum-omega-2000

GLA, on the other hand, seems to act as an anti-inflammatory agent. Similar to DHA and EPA, it helps with symptoms of dry eye.

A great source of GLA is evening primrose oil. We’ve attached options for it below.



3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is found in high concentration in the aqueous humor in the eyes, which coats the outer part of your eye. When you eat a diet full of vitamin C, the aqueous humor fills proportionally with vitamin C.

Though it is unclear exactly how the concentration of vitamin C protects your eyes, connections have been made between people with declining eye health and a lack of vitamin C intake. For example, patients with cataracts tend to have a decreased intake of antioxidants, including vitamin C.

To increase your vitamin C intake and nourish your eyes, try the following foods:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Bell peppers
  • Most fruits & veggies!

If you need to supplement, stick with whole-foods based vitamin C, NOT synthetic vitamin C, like this one:



4. Vitamin E

Similar to vitamin C, vitamin E is also considered an antioxidant (which our eyes love!) Specifically, vitamin E is a group of antioxidants that have functions with fatty acids, another molecule rich in the eye and retina.

Vitamin E’s status as an antioxidant and a “helper” of sorts to fatty acids makes it crucial to eye health. Vitamin E deficiency has been connected to blindness, retinal degeneration, and cataracts.

Opt for more vitamin E in your diet to increase your intake! You can do so by adding the following to your diet:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Hazelnuts

If you need to supplement, pick one that contains a mixture of tocopherols from a natural source:



5. Vitamin A & beta-carotene

Vitamin A (retinol) serves a crucial role in vision. It is the precursor for a small molecule called retinal. An ample supply of retinal is required for phototransduction, or the process by which our eyes turn light into signals to the brain to create an image.

Without enough Vitamin A, a variety of symptoms may occur. Your eyes can become dry, you may struggle to see at night, and any existing eye conditions may worsen. So, how can you naturally add Vitamin A to your diet?

The best sources for Vitamin A are:

  • Eggs (specifically, the yolks!)
  • Cod liver oil (you can take softgels if you can’t stand the taste)
  • Liver
  • Dairy products

If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or have preferences that keep you from consuming any of the above, you can opt for vegetables full of A carotenoids. A classic example is beta carotene, found in carrots! Other veggies include:

  • Kale
  • Spinach

Caveat: Our bodies can make retinol from beta-carotene and other vegetable carotenoids. The problem is that this conversion depends on the individual and their genetic makeup. Also, the bioavailability of beta-carotene is highly variable and may not be a reliable source of vitamin A.  

So, you may want to consider a retinol supplement like the one below if you think you’re not like Bugs Bunny!


When we think about health, we don’t often think about the health of our eyes – but proper nutrition has just as many impacts on vision as other parts of our health! Whether you’re experiencing eye health complications or not, make sure you’re getting enough of these vitamins and antioxidants to support good eye health.

About our partner in eye health:

Lumata Health is an organization devoted to removing barriers inhibiting patient treatment for eye diseases. Their group offers tools and resources to patients and ensures a proper understanding, treatment, and care of eye health is taken to manage the disease. Check out their website here: https://lumatahealth.com

5 More Natural Hacks for Managing Acne

“Dear Pimples – if you’re going to live on my face, I need to see some rent!” 

If this quote was true and you’ve struggled with acne, you may be thinking that you would be a wealthy landlord by now, right? LOL.

Breakouts and blemishes are tough. Sometimes it can feel like you’re doing everything right, yet  you still find new whiteheads or clogged pores cropping up. Because your skin is sensitive to so many factors – your diet, environment, sleep hygiene, and more – it’s important to maintain a balanced lifestyle, while also seeking out triggers specific to your body which may cause acne.

Previously, we covered five basic steps to clearer skin. In this blog, we’re going even deeper with five more ways to manage your acne, specifically focusing on how you can adjust your diet to achieve clearer, healthier skin.

The gut-skin connection is complex. Essentially, when you take in high carb, high sugar, or highly processed foods, it increases the load on your digestive system. Within your digestive tract, there is a whole community of healthy bacteria that assist with breaking your food down and properly digesting its nutrients. When the system becomes overloaded with sugar, trans fats, and highly processed food, it negatively affects the bacteria in the gut biome, decreasing the healthy bacteria and increasing stress on the overall system.

(image taken from drjokers.com)

For those prone to acne, off-kilter levels of gut bacteria often lead to excess sebum (oil) production, which then causes breakouts on the face. When we can nip the bacterial imbalances in the bud with dietary changes, skin often improves. Below we’ve outlined five ways you can modify your diet and gut health to achieve clearer skin, as well as a few final lifestyle tips to help with acne!

Shift to a low-glycemic diet

 Glycemic refers to the rate at which food causes your blood sugar to rise. A high glycemic diet includes foods that spike your blood sugar, causing it to rise and crash quickly, while a low glycemic diet includes foods which promote sustained blood sugar regulation over time.

Common high glycemic foods include processed, sugary snacks as well as high-carb foods. Pretzels, cookies, and candies are all classic examples. Low glycemic foods, on the other hand, typically will be whole foods like apples, wild caught fish or protein, vegetables, and more. Shifting to a low-glycemic diet boosts overall health; one study even found a correlation between starting a low glycemic diet and improving acne.

Aim for an anti-inflammatory diet

 In the gut-skin connection mentioned above, inflammation is one of the key factors overloading the digestive system and contributing to its inability to process nutrients correctly, eventually leading to acne. Certain foods can contribute to inflammation; as you may have guessed, sugary, processed foods are major players here.

Thankfully, there are foods that are not just healthy, but also actively contribute to reducing inflammation in the body. Common examples are antioxidant rich foods like berries and dark leafy greens, wild caught fish, ginger and turmeric, and eggs. These can decrease the inflammation which causes acne over the long term!

Add probiotics to your supplement regimen

 As mentioned earlier, acne is often caused by mismanaged levels of good and not-so-good bacteria in the gut. Taking probiotics, or live microorganisms taken to improve the gut biome or bacteria levels in other parts of the body, can be immensely helpful in managing your acne.

Probiotics help neutralize unhealthy bacteria and replenish the levels of healthy bacteria in your gut. With more good bacteria, your digestive system can more effectively break down food, decrease inflammation, and move waste out of your system. When this process happens as it needs to, there is less overload on your system that would otherwise lead to breakouts.

If you’re looking to try out some probiotics for your gut, check out the Triple Therapy Probiotic Powder Sticks.

Improve your sleep

You probably know that stress plays a huge role in acne development. When we have increased stress levels, our body is swimming with excess hormones, and isn’t in a state for repair and rejuvenation. This stress often comes out on our skin!

Improving sleep quality and quantity is a key way to combat stress and improve your acne. Improved sleep helps decrease the inflammation which comes with stress and a highly processed diet; consequently, better sleep leads to better skin. To improve your sleep, consider the following:

  • Meditating before bed
  • Avoiding food / snacking 3 hours before bedtime
  • Use an eye-mask at night to sleep in complete darkness
  • Or keep your room dark at night with black-out curtains
  • Avoid caffeine after lunchtime
  • Incorporate exercise into your regular routine, but avoid exercising late at night

If you’re looking for a sleep meditation to get you started, try out this short meditation from Calm below:

Find an exercise routine that suits you

The benefits of exercise are truly endless. When it comes to your skin, physical activity can provide benefits which touch on each issue area we’ve covered so far in this blog series. Exercise helps reduce inflammation, which puts unnecessary load on your system and is often expressed in acne. Exercise can also improve insulin function. So, if you’re weaning off of a high glycemic diet, exercise can help your body process blood glucose more effectively, leading to less inflammation and stress on your system.

Exercise also helps with stress levels too, especially if you find a form of physical activity that is genuinely enjoyable for you. Give yourself permission to be creative and find a form of exercise that you can look forward to. For some people that’s going for a run, for others it’s gardening, and some people like to do Zumba or a dance class. It’s all about finding what feels good for you.

If you want some simple tips to bring more exercise into your routine, check out our recent exercise blog, linked here.

The solution to unhealthy skin typically isn’t a fancy new toner or the latest 10-step skincare routine. Healthy skin begins and ends with your lifestyle, and is especially influenced by your diet. Start making these changes today to find clearer skin and improve your overall health – opting for whole foods, sleeping more, and exercising regularly. This not only leads to better skin, but supports your overall health!




5 Natural Ways to Improve Heart Rate Variability

Happy Heart Month! February is American Heart Month, which means today we’re sharing all things heart health. Specifically, we’re diving into Heart Rate Variability (HRV) which is a key predictor of cardiovascular wellness and overall health.

Heart Rate Variability is the amount that your heart rate differs from beat to beat. In other words, your heart doesn’t hit each beat in a perfectly synchronous loop – there are small variations between each beat. Simply put, Heart Rate Variability is the difference in time between heart beats.

A higher HRV at rest – more variability between heartbeats – is actually a good thing. It means that your body and cardiovascular system are more dynamic and flexible in their response to stress.

Every day, we have stressors which alert our nervous system: whether it’s work, finance, health or family related, all of these have the potential to trigger your “fight or flight” response, release cortisol and other stress hormones, and increase your heart rate. In these moments, your HRV drops as your heart rate picks up to a quicker, staccato pace.

To reestablish equilibrium faster after a stressful event, you need to raise your HRV. When you learn how to do this with HRV training, this can complete the stress response more quickly, which leads to 1) less feelings of stress and feeling overwhelmed; 2) a decrease in the amount of stress hormones released; and 3) an increased sense of calm and control, even in high-pressure situations. And improved overall health, of course.

HRV training can be done in a variety of ways, all of which support more balanced nervous and cardiovascular systems. We’ve outlined five ways you can boost your HRV below:


Practice breathing exercises

Your breathing is one of the simplest avenues to asserting control over your nervous system and heart rate. When you take a deep inhale, your heart rate increases (this is why many swimmers may take deep breaths before a relay). When you take a long, slow exhale, your heart rate decreases (this is why many meditations start with long exhalations).

You can use breathing techniques to increase your HRV and improve your overall health. Taking a few minutes per day to connect with your breath can increase your feelings of mental wellness, clarity of attention, and overall presence, while also soothing your nervous system and slowing your heart rate. Research suggests that six minutes is the optimal amount of time to boost HRV.

Diaphragmatic breathing is a great place to start. To practice this form of breathing, inhale to a count of four, hold it for two, and exhale for six counts. As you do so, focus on expanding and contracting your diaphragm – the muscle lining that separates your chest cavity from your stomach.



Similar to breathwork, meditation can also improve HRV. While slow breathing exercises can be used while you’re working, watching TV, or otherwise occupied, meditation requires that your focus goes inward, becoming mindful of your inner thoughts and experience.

Taking a few minutes per day in meditation (which frequently couples with breathing exercises as well) can be extremely helpful to boosting your HRV. When you meditate, you are really dedicating time and energy to soothing your nervous system – the more you practice soothing your nervous system, the more trained your body becomes to calm down after a stressful event. This ability coincides with increased HRV.

If you’re new to meditating, you can try the Goodful 5-minute meditation linked below.

Increase hydration and avoid alcohol

Low hydration can cause a decrease in HRV, even if it’s only mild dehydration. Barring its effects on poor mood, anxiety, and decreased brain functioning, improper hydration also causes your HRV to drop, so be sure to get enough fluids each day. A great rule of thumb for the amount of water you need uses the following formula:

Your weight (lbs) / 2 = ___ oz water / day

For example: 150 lbs / 2 = 75 oz water / day

On that note: You’ll also want to avoid alcohol. Apart from its negative effects on health, alcohol is a diuretic and dehydrates your body quickly. This also leads to decreased HRV.


Eat more leafy greens

Leafy greens – more so than fruit, fish, or other veggies – have been connected to elevated HRV. Even if you’re not a fan of salads, there are so many ways you can incorporate more greens into your diet. Consider:

    • Adding spinach to a smoothie

    • Making kale chips in the oven

    • Adding mustard greens into your favorite stew

The options are endless, and no matter what you choose, the nutrition of greens will increase your HRV and overall health!


Balance your exercise routine

Including exercise in your weekly schedule is important to all aspects of health. It has positive impacts on your stress levels, mental health, physical wellness, immune function, and more. Among this myriad of benefits is also your HRV – a balanced exercise routine that includes aerobic exercises as well as strength training.

A word of caution for those who love to exercise, however: avoid overworking your body. Overtraining can actually dysregulate your nervous system and decrease HRV over time. If you’re not sure if you’re overtraining, key signs to look out for are regular fatigue, inability to complete workouts, or a general desire for more rest. When it comes to boosting your HRV, the options are endless. This Heart Month, choose a few of these tips to implement this week to increase your HRV and better equip your body to manage life’s stressors.