Transform your end-of-summer barbecue menu with these healthy swaps guests will love.

As summer winds down, there seem to be a lot of “lasts” — the last few carefree days before school starts, the last of the warm weather and sunshine, and the last barbecue of the season.

Whether you’re hosting a Labor Day barbecue or bringing a dish to someone else’s party, you’ll want the meal to be as unforgettable as the summer memories you’re leaving behind. How about giving the same old menu a healthy twist without taking away the yummy traditions guests expect? 

“Food triggers an emotional response for many of us, especially on holidays and family gatherings,” says April Dearden, a certified nutritionist, wellness coach and founder of the New Normal Lifestyle Inc. “There is a comfort and familiarity that comes with the food at these events. Swapping out fats and sugars for herbs and spices creates dishes that are healthy yet don’t leave us feeling deprived. My goal is to make dishes that look and feel like the original version but are so full of flavor that people won’t even know it’s healthy — because it’s just delicious.”

Below, Dearden shares her recipes for revamping your entire menu — from side dishes to desserts. 

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In less than two weeks, you could be on your way to a healthier, happier summer.

It’s easy to lose sight of your daily nutrition — a few bites of your kid’s lunch, a little too much dressing, a couple of work doughnuts. Before you know it, your physique progress has come to a halt.

This 10-Day Elimination Challenge shifts you away from winter comfort foods and slacking eating habits and reroutes you toward your get-lean goals. With just a few simple dietary changes, you could be summer-ready and full of energy in less than two weeks.

Take the challenge and get ready to eliminate.

Take the Challenge

This program challenges you to eliminate certain items from your diet for 10 days: sugar, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and processed grains. Eliminating these things will help break your bad habits, crush your cravings, reduce bloating, improve mood and increase energy. What’s more, you may even lose a couple of pounds! By Day 11, you’ll probably feel so good that you’ll want to adopt this new style of eating for the long term.

That being said, continual and severe dietary restriction only leads to cravings, binges and an unhealthy relationship with food, so do this challenge for 10 days — no more. There is nothing wrong with having an occasional treat or a social cocktail with friends; it’s when these things become habitual that you run into trouble. So after the 10 days is up, you can reintroduce these items into your diet now and then, just not on the reg.

Complete this challenge in 10 days — no more!

Helpful Tips

Before beginning, purge your pantry to thwart temptation. Toss out all processed foods and grains as well as foods with added sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Read through the meal plan at the bottom of the page and create a grocery list based on those recipes. Prepare as many meals as you can ahead of time, and store leftovers for future lunches and dinners to save time and money.

Carry meals and snacks with you to work and in the car to avoid cravings and set yourself up for success.

4 “Foods” to Eliminate

Just what is it about these four foodstuffs that make them public enemy No. 1? Read on to find out the research-backed reasons why.

Avoid added sugar such as table sugar, honey, agave and syrup.

Sugar

According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, sugar activates your opiate receptors and has the same effect on your brain and body as cocaine — and is equally as addictive. Excessive sugar consumption is linked to a myriad of health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation and fatty liver disease.

The good news is that after only a few days without sugar, you’ll be able to resist its lure. Your hormones will begin to regulate themselves, and your hunger signals will normalize. Unfortunately, cutting out sugar is not that simple, since it is added to many foods and drinks that are generally thought of as healthy such as yogurt, condiments and granola. More often than not, it hides behind an alias such as sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup or barley malt, making it harder to detect.

However, not all sugars are evil, and the sugar you’re going to eliminate is “added sugar” — that which is not found naturally in a food source — such as table sugar (and its aliases), honey, agave and syrup. Naturally occurring sugars are found in plenty of healthy and nutritious foods such as fruit, dairy, carrots and even tomatoes. These foods are fair game during this challenge and beyond because they contain vitamins, minerals and lots of healthy fiber.

Cutting sugar might very well be the hardest part of this plan because of the sheer nature of its addictive qualities. But stick with it — read food labels carefully, and choose real fruit when you need a dose of the sweet stuff.

Artificial Sweeteners

While they sound enticing, “diet” foods and drinks made with artificial sweeteners may actually be worse for you than things made with real sugar. Since they are more potent than table sugar, artificial sweeteners retrain your taste buds to crave sweeter and sweeter foods. And since they provide no nutritive value or sense of satisfaction, they can lead to overeating — causing weight gain, not weight loss. A study published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism also found that consumption of foods with artificial sweeteners interfered with metabolic function, and more research links them to insulin resistance, increased body mass index and even Type 2 diabetes.

Even sugar alcohols such as xylitol, sorbitol and maltitol are nefarious, having the same kind of effect as artificial sweeteners, with the added ailments of possible bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhea.

Avoid processed grains such as bread, cereal, pasta and crackers.

Processed Grains

A processed or refined grain is one that has been stripped of its nutritive components such as fiber, vitamins and minerals, leaving behind a basic starch, which is then milled into flour. This flour acts like a simple sugar in your body: It is digested quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar and a rise in insulin, followed by a crash a couple of hours later. Consumpiton of refined grains has been linked to cravings, overeating, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Refined products such as bread, cereal, pasta and crackers should be avoided during this challenge. Replace them with complex carbohydrates that provide tons of energy and nutrients such as sweet potatoes, fruit, vegetables and beans. These kinds of carbs reduce cholesterol, improve insulin response, decrease body fat and ultimately reduce your risk of disease.

Alcohol

Your body sees alcohol as a poison and literally stops all other metabolic processes in order to remediate and eliminate that alcohol — including fat metabolism, which is one of the liver’s primary functions. And because it is a depressant, once alcohol reaches your brain, all other bodily functions slow down, as well. Alcohol consumption has been linked to fatty liver disease, breast cancer, inflammation, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression, and since it contains a lot of empty calories — 7 calories per gram — regular intake can thwart your physique goals.

Eliminating alcohol can improve metabolism and liver function and reduce your risk of a host of chronic diseases and cancers. When dining out, try a mocktail or ask for a seltzer in a champagne glass to stay festive while being healthy.

Cajun Shrimp Boil Foil Packet Dinner

Makes 4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 20-30 uncooked shrimp, fresh or frozen, peeled
  • 2 cups red or new potatoes, cleaned and quartered
  • 4 fresh ears of corn, cut into thirds or quarters
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning

Directions

Preheat oven or grill to 400 F. Tear off 4 large pieces of aluminum foil and fold up edges to make a shallow box. Evenly distribute shrimp, potatoes, corn and broth between packets. Season each with ½ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning. Seal packets by folding up the sides to cover contents, then tightly folding the ends over the seams. Grill or bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender, gently flipping packets halfway through. Be careful when opening because the steam is very hot!

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 335, fat 4 g, protein 35 g, sodium 622 mg, carbs 44 g, fiber 5 g, sugar 5 g

Coconut Mint Cucumber Spritzer.

Coconut Mint Cucumber Spritzer

Makes 4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 4 cups unsweetened coconut water
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup coconut seltzer water

Directions

In a large pitcher, combine coconut water, lime juice, cucumber and mint leaves. Chill 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve, divide evenly between 4 glasses and top each with ¼ cup seltzer.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 99, fat 1 g, protein 2 g, sodium 257 mg, carbs 20 g, fiber 3 g, sugar 16 g

Snack Plate

Makes 1 Serving

Ingredients

  • 1 hard-boiled egg, halved
  • 1 mozzarella cheese stick
  • 4 slices turkey pepperoni
  • ¼ cup berries of choice
  • 1 oz cinnamon-roasted almonds (such as Blue Diamond)
  • ½ cucumber, sliced

Directions

Cut cheese stick in half. Wrap each half in 2 slices pepperoni. Lay all ingredients on a plate like a charcuterie platter.

Nutrition Facts: calories 366, fat 24 g, protein 21 g, sodium 482 mg, carbs 20 g, fiber 5 g, sugar 13 g

Protein Peanut Butter Cookies.

Protein Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes 12 Cookies

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup coconut flour
  • ½ cup vanilla protein powder
  • 1 cup all-natural peanut butter
  • 2 large eggs

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a spoon, combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Use a tablespoon to scoop batter and arrange on prepared sheet. Use a fork to flatten balls and make a crisscross pattern. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until edges are slightly browned. Allow to cool 10 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

Nutrition Facts (per cookie): calories 221, fat 13 g, protein 13 g, sodium 115 mg, carbs 11 g, fiber 4 g, sugar 1 g

Here are some foods you should and should not eat during this 10-day challenge.

Foods to Eat

  • Vegetables, including leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, bell peppers, zucchini, celery, spinach, carrots and root vegetables
  • Complex carbs such as potatoes, beans, legumes, quinoa, freekeh, hummus and oatmeal
  • Fresh fruit such as berries, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, plums, bananas and citrus
  • Nuts, seeds and nut/seed butters
  • Lean meats such as pork, beef and bison
  • Eggs and poultry with the skin removed
  • Fish such as tilapia, salmon, cod and tuna
  • Low-fat, low-sugar dairy and cheese, such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and string cheese
  • Healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados
  • No-calorie beverages such as iced tea, coffee and seltzer

Foods to Avoid

  • Processed/refined grain products such as cereal, crackers, pasta, white rice and bread
  • Commercially baked goods and sweets such as packaged cookies, cakes and candy
  • Fast food such as fried chicken, french fries and frozen dinners
  • Natural sweeteners such as table sugar, honey, agave and syrup added to any food or drink
  • Artificial sweeteners added to any food or drink
  • Alcoholic beverages, especially those high in sugar (sparkling wine) or mixed cocktails with juice or soda
  • Condiments, salad dressings and sauces with added sugar and excessive sodium
  • High-fat foods such as whole milk and ground beef
  • Both sugary and diet beverages such as soda, juices and cocktail mixers
  • Canned fruit in heavy syrup

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Develop a better relationship with food and achieve the results you want with this day-by-day summer schematic.

Diets have helped millions of people get fit and lose weight. They’ve also helped millions of people hate the very idea of dieting. Besides the fact they mercilessly keep us from all the wonderful, tasty foods we love — in the name of health and a better body, of course, which is a fair point — diets often lack personalization, which can hurt their effectiveness and sustainability. What follows here, therefore, is not a diet or blueprint of calorically perfect meals but rather a progressive 14-day set of fueling strategies to help you clean up your nutrition habits before summer.

“Typically, people make too many changes at once and it’s too much to handle,” says Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC. “Big lifestyle changes are better tackled in small increments to set you up for long-term success.”

Adopt one of these food or lifestyle adjustments per day and ease into your bikini like a boss — a super-lean, take-no-prisoners boss who makes performance nutrition look easy.

Aim to drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day.

Day 1: Drink More Water

Water assists in nearly every process in your body, and adequate hydration is essential for proper metabolic function. It also keeps you full without adding calories to your daily total: According to a 2016 scientific review published in the journal Frontiers of Nutrition, being properly hydrated may increase metabolism because of expanded cell volume.

Do this: Aim to drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. Have a water bottle handy at all times and set a timer on your smartphone to remind you to drink up.

Day 2: Say Yes to Egg Yolks

Researchers at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center found that those who ate eggs for breakfast were leaner and had fewer cravings than those who didn’t, as reported in the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications. Plus, the protein from eggs provides much-needed amino acids to repair and rebuild muscles as well as heart-healthy omega-3 fats from the vitamin-rich yolks. The perfect egg partners: slow-digesting carbs like oats and brightly colored fruits and veggies to add vitamins, antioxidants and physique-friendly fiber.

Do this: Schedule a set time for breakfast every day. Prep food the night before, and make sure to include eggs with your meal to build muscle and reduce cravings.

Day 3: Chew Your Food

Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that more chewing was associated with lower blood levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, as well as higher levels of CCK, a hormone believed to reduce appetite.

Do this: Take a bite of food and notice how long you typically chew it. Then increase that time by two to promote satiety and calorie control.

Turn off all devices before bed to get uninterrupted sleep.

Day 4: Hit the Hay 

In the past decade, science has linked sleeping less than six hours per night to increased hunger, imbalanced hormones, and altered metabolism and body composition. Consider sleep deprivation’s effect on hunger cues: Not getting enough zzz’s increases ghrelin (the hormone that makes you hungry) and decreases leptin (the hormone that makes you feel full). The result: You never feel satiated and may continue to nosh, pulling in calories well beyond your nutritional needs.

Do this: Turn off the TV and other devices and get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Having trouble nodding off? Try sublingual melatonin — a naturally produced hormone that promotes a sound, restful sleep.

Day 5: Exchange Your Grains

Refined grain products are everywhere because they’re cheap, and bread, pasta and pancakes are really easy to get your hands on. However, these are all lousy nutritional sources. Besides cutting back a lot on these empty carbohydrates, trade them out for whole-grain and whole-wheat options. They taste great and slow down digestion because of their high-fiber and nutrient content, reducing the negative impact on blood sugar and insulin release.

Do this: Today’s task is a two-parter. First, go into your pantry, grab your refined grain products — bread, tortillas, pasta, pancake mix, etc. — and drop them in the trash. Then head to the store to buy products labeled “whole wheat” or “whole grain,” and which contain as few additives and preservatives as possible.

Instead of consuming animal protein, you can opt for whey, casein, soy, pea or hemp proteins.

Day 6: Fill Your Protein Gaps

If you’re training at an appropriate level of intensity in the gym — muscles burning, sweat beading — maximizing recovery with protein afterward is crucial. Protein supplies your body with amino acids, increasing your ability to add lean muscle, which serves as a metabolism-boosting, calorie-burning engine. Ingesting whole-food animal proteins is optimal because they present a complete amino-acid profile, but supplementing with powders such as whey, casein, soy, pea and even hemp protein are valuable alternatives, as well.

Do this: Aim to consume 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, and strive to include protein in every meal and snack you eat.

Day 7: Plan Ahead 

Lack of preparation and planning is the death knell of every aspiring dieter, and the first time you head to the fridge hungry and realize you have to cook, the more likely you are to heat up that leftover pizza or head to the drive-thru. To stay focused and on track, you need to plan ahead and prepare plenty of healthy meals, snacks and lunches. Look at your upcoming schedule and see when and what you need to cook ahead of time to make it through the week successfully. No time to cook? Microwaveable oatmeal (without sugar), bagged salads, rotisserie chicken and ready-to-drink protein shakes are good in a pinch.

Do this: Spend an afternoon cooking your healthy foods in large batches, and portion them out into storage containers for the whole week.

Day 8: Get Your Jolt 

A 2017 review published in the Journal of Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology found that caffeine may improve weight maintenance through thermogenesis, fat oxidation and energy intake. The sympathetic nervous system is involved in the regulation of energy balance and lipolysis — the breakdown of fat to glycerol and fatty acids — and sympathetic stimulation of white adipose tissue may play an important role in the regulation of total body fat — a major plus for caffeine supplementation. Hard-training individuals will like to supplement caffeine anhydrous, the most researched version, but a morning cup of coffee is helpful, too: Caffeine in brewed coffee or tea boosts alertness, temporarily increases strength and may reduce perceived exertion rates. Get your first caffeine fix at breakfast to start your day with a bang, and six hours later, have another hit 30 to 60 minutes before your first rep at the gym. Limit caffeine before bedtime to ensure optimal sleep, and allow several hours between helpings to avoid jitters.

Do this: Take 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine once or twice daily for performance benefits.

Day 9: Cast Your Fishing Line 

Fish oil is a health-and-performance powerhouse supporting brain and joint function while boosting your fat-burning capabilities. Research published in PLOS One showed that those who took 3 grams of fish oil per day increased resting metabolic rate by 14 percent, boosted energy expenditure during exercise by 10 percent, and accelerated the rate of fat oxidation during rest by 19 percent and during exercise by 27 percent. In addition, fish-oil consumption lowered triglyceride levels by 29 percent and increased lean mass by 4 percent.

Do this: Purchase a basic quality fish-oil product and take two softgels per day with food. In addition, aim for one or two servings per week of a quality oily fish like salmon, trout and tuna.

Day 10: Expand Your Menu

The importance of antioxidants for active individuals cannot be stressed enough. “They need to be a regular fixture in the diet to be effective at fighting inflammation and boosting immunity and skin and heart health,” White says. “The best sources are plant-based foods, fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.”

Do this: Select the brightest, most colorful produce such as bell peppers, tomatoes, cranberries, raspberries and blueberries. Other produce such as kale and goji berries have been touted as “superfoods” for their per-gram antioxidant content. Augment your intake with a quality multivitamin to ensure optimal nutrition.

Reach for the more nutritious option when snacking between meals.

Day 11: Snack Smart 

You’ve probably heard that eating smaller meals throughout the day enhances your metabolism, but the science on meal frequency continues to evolve, with research showing that three- and six-meal-per-day eaters lost about the same amount of fat overall in clinical trials. Rather than focusing on eating a set number of meals at a certain time, develop appropriate snacking habits so that you reach for the right things when hunger sets in to keep your metabolism revved and your cravings at bay.

Do this: Have low-sugar, protein-rich snacks available to you at all times. Think almonds, Greek yogurt, protein powder and hard-boiled eggs.

Day 12: Sup on Spuds

One food that helps you stay full and happy — while also scoring high in general deliciousness — is the almighty potato. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition examined whether potatoes really caused weight gain, and of the three groups studied — those eating a reduced calorie/high-glycemic index diet, those on a reduced calorie/low-glycemic index diet, and the control group — all lost weight after 12 weeks, even though they were eating five to seven servings of potatoes per week. Considering that one medium-size potato with the skin on contains just 110 calories, more potassium than a banana, and no fat, sodium or cholesterol, you can feel good about adding it to your menu rotation.

Do this: A potato any time of day can prevent a comfort-food binge. Drizzle cooked potatoes with organic extra-virgin olive oil and a bit of pepper for a guilt-free craving crusher.

Create and maintain a food journal.

Day 13: Keep a Record

Maintaining a food journal helps you quantify your journey and adjust as necessary to reach your goals. Often, you won’t realize your nutritional weaknesses until you actually expose them on paper. Kaiser Permanente conducted a study of 1,700 participants that examined the effect of food journaling on weight loss. Those who kept a food journal lost twice as much weight as those who did not keep track. To ensure that you stick to your practice, try an app: A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research reported a 93 percent adherence rate among smartphone app users over a six-month period, as compared to a 55 and 53 percent adherence rate among the website and paper diary groups, respectively.

Do this: When you journal, enter everything you ingest, including water, carbs, protein and fat, as well as sodium and fiber. Also note how you’re feeling and see what’s working and what’s not. Your journal can be as complicated as an online fitness tracker or smartphone app or as simple as a notebook if you’re old school.

Day 14: Go Hungry

Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that intermittent fasting — stretches of 13 to 16 hours or more without eating — could help you lose 0.5 to 1.7 pounds per week while also improving body composition. (And yes, this covers sleep time.)

Do this: Once or twice per month for two consecutive days, go 12 to 16 hours without food by passing on dinner, then having a reasonable breakfast. During the day on those two days, keep calories between 500 to 700 and your water consumption and workout schedule normal. 

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Implement these nutrition and supplement strategies to burn fat and better your bikini body.

With summer approaching, you’ve likely already made adaptations to your training program to firm up your core, but sometimes you need an extra edge. These nine nutrition and supplementation hacks may make a big difference in your visible results and make you feel better about daring to bare on the beach.

Hack 1: Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a plan in which you consume all your meals, every day, within an eight-hour window. This causes your body to burn fat during the remaining 16 hours when your stored glycogen runs out. Your body will also have more time to address recovery and growth, since it doesn’t have to focus its attention on digestion, which takes a lot of energy.

Try it: Choose the eight-hour window when you want to eat, for example 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and avoid consuming anything other than supplements and no-calorie beverages outside this window. Also, get plenty of protein: Research from The Journal of Nutrition shows that your body maintains lean muscle tissue based on total protein intake rather than by emphasizing meal timing over a 24-hour window. It’s a growing perspective that total daily intake is more crucial than nutrient timing, as was previously thought.

Hack 2: Kick Your Coffee Habit

Caffeine stimulates your central nervous system and encourages your body to release stored fat. But regular consumption of dietary caffeine, such as is in coffee and tea, can actually undercut your ability to burn fat. The anhydrous (dry) form of caffeine — such as is found in preworkout drinks or pills — has been shown to work better and faster in the body than dietary sources. Also, it’s specifically measurable, whereas the amount of caffeine in beverages can vary greatly.

Try it: Take some anhydrous caffeine as part of your fat-burner or preworkout supplement and ditch your coffee or tea (for a while), just don’t go cold-turkey to avoid headaches and moodiness. Instead, slowly decrease your intake over the course of a few weeks, then stay off caffeine for another couple of weeks before beginning your fat burners. This will make them more effective and will increase the ability of your body to burn fat as fuel.

Dice up chilies and toss them into your favorite recipes to boost metabolism.

Hack 3: Take Capsaicin to Boost Metabolism

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers that gives them their spicy kick. When consumed, you can physically feel the heat as it encourages your body to burn calories and increase energy expenditure, boosting metabolism. Capsaicin has also been shown to help burn body fat, according to a study in Appetite: Consuming 2 milligrams of capsaicin as a supplement over 12 weeks helped reduce appetite and burn body fat, improving waist-to-hip ratio.

Try it: Add a dash or two of chili powder to soups and sauces, or dice up some chilies and toss them into a salad. Can’t stomach the heat? Take capsaicin in supplemental form to avoid gastric distress.

Hack 4: Fiber Up for Fat Loss

Glucomannan is an indigestible and fiber derived from the konjac plant and works by filling up your stomach, reducing appetite while also improving health: A meta-analysis of 12 studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that adults who took glucomannan significantly reduced their bad cholesterol and greatly improved their overall health.

Try it: Consume 3 grams of glucomannan daily about 30 minutes before whole-food meals with 8 ounces of water to control your appetite and reduce your overall calorie intake and help burn body fat. Also, include more oats, legumes, apples and carrots in your meal plan to boost your overall soluble fiber intake.

Incorporate foods with various textures to stimulate your senses.

Hack 5: Texturize It

The textures you eat could make or break your fat-loss progress, according to a study published in Appetite: Volunteers were provided either with an appetizer that had a high textural complexity — such as crunchy, chewy and smooth together — or a food that was a one-note wonder — smooth only — before being offered an all-you-can-eat meal consisting of pasta and chocolate cake. Those who consumed the appetizer with greater textural variation ate about 400 fewer calories in the follow-up meal and felt just as satisfied despite having eaten fewer calories. Researchers believe that increasing the number of textures felt during chewing can stimulate your senses, making food more interesting to eat and, in turn, trigger the satiation response sooner.

Try it: Work the opposites when preparing meals and snacks — toss crunchy nuts into smooth yogurt, add creamy dressing to crispy salad or top grilled meat with chunky salsa.

Hack 6: Be Sodium Smart

Most Americans consume way more than the recommended daily amount of sodium (2,300 milligrams), and much of this comes from processed, packaged foods. Excessive sodium intake can lead to conditions such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke, and research indicates it also could give you a gut: Subjects who were presented with pasta doused in a salty sauce ingested 11 percent more calories than those who ate the same meal with a less-salty sauce. Researchers theorize that the added salt enhanced the taste of the food to the point that it overrode a natural feeling of fullness. Another study from the University of South Carolina discovered that among the 407 adults analyzed, those with lofty sodium intakes were more likely to be pudgy.

Try it: A single teaspoon of salt has 2,325 milligrams of sodium, so dust food lightly, if at all. Better yet, use a salt-free, herb-based seasoning such as Mrs. Dash or Paleo Powder. Prepare more meals at home to control sodium intake, and carefully read nutrition labels on any packaged grocery items, especially in sneaky sources like bread, cottage cheese, sauces and condiments.

Hack 7: Take Countermeasures

Out of sight, out of mind has never been so true: Scientists at Cornell University showed that those who left snack foods like boxed cereal and soda out on the kitchen countertop were up to 26 pounds heavier than those who stashed these items out of sight. Additionally, those same study subjects who kept a bowl of fruit on the counter weighed on average 13 pounds less than those who didn’t.

Try it: Sequester vice foods in your cupboards and/or replace them with options like apples or baby carrots. Alternately, make treat foods harder to get to: Research in the journal Appetite reported that volunteers who had to walk 6 feet to get some candy ate about half as much as those who had it within arm’s reach.

Seek out recipes that use broccoli, yams and red-seaweed extracts.

Hack 8: Eat Superfoods to Burn Fat

Recent research performed using broccoli, yams and red-seaweed extracts demonstrated their efficacy in supporting superior body-fat loss: The phytonutrient sulforaphane in broccoli may help you manage weight more effectively, according to a study published in Diabetes. Sulforaphane also helps reduce inflammatory disorders such as cancer. According to the Journal of Food and Nutrition, yams were shown to decrease obesity and improve health markers for the liver and kidneys because of their high fiber content. Red seaweed significantly down-regulates adipogenic transcription factors, which reduces your body’s ability to increase fat storage, according to Nutrition Research and Practice.

Try it: Seek out recipes that use yams and broccoli and eat them on the reg. If you’re a sushi fan, choose hand rolls instead of cut rolls, which are wrapped in seaweed, or take a more concentrated supplement form as directed on the packaging.

Hack 9: Practice Predictability

Meal-to-meal (rather than day-to-day) caloric consistency could help you uncover your abs, according to a British Journal of Nutrition investigation: People who were inconsistent with their calorie intake at the same meal each day tended to have larger waistlines and were more likely to suffer from conditions like high blood pressure and cholesterol. In other words, eating a breakfast that contains roughly the same number of calories each day is better metabolically than hitting the all-you-can-eat pancake buffet on Monday, then skipping breakfast on Tuesday. Researchers suspect that this inconsistency affects your internal body clock or “circadian rhythm,” negatively impacting appetite, digestion
and metabolism.

Try it: When outlining an eating plan, break your calories up consistently between meals and snacks all week long. Also, consider front-loading your calorie intake at breakfast and paring it down as the day progresses: Research shows that eating more calories in the morning could help with weight loss because your metabolism is higher early in the day.

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Here’s the answer to your salt cravings.

Question: As an athlete, I am craving salt. Why? Should I give in to the craving?

Salt cravings can be linked to a lot of things, including stress, lack of sleep and even premenstrual syndrome, but since you’re athletic, most likely they are because of the loss of minerals — including sodium — from sweating.

Salt cravings also can be linked to dehydration, especially if they are accompanied by dizziness, thirst, headache, irritability or cramps. If you don’t sweat a lot, you can probably replace those minerals and quench your cravings with tap water alone. If you sweat more or if you’re an endurance athlete, however, drink an electrolyte-enhanced beverage, eat a (healthy) salty snack or sip a broth-based soup to help replace your deficit.

Spotlight On: BPA

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of resilient plastics used for food containers, toiletries, sports equipment, household electronics and the anti-corrosive lining inside cans of food.

Many experts claim that BPA exposure is harmful: When ingested, it can mimic the structure and function of estrogen or can bind to estrogen receptors, negatively impacting reproduction, fetal development, energy levels and cell repair. High levels of BPA also have been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and Type
2 diabetes.

Completely eradicating BPA exposure may be impossible because of its widespread use, but limit it whenever possible. Emphasize whole foods, avoid packaged and canned goods, use glass bottles instead of plastic, choose BPA-free plastic toys and products, and never microwave food in plastic containers; BPA and other chemicals can leak into food when heated.

Nutrition Myth Bustin’

True or False?: Combining carbs and protein in a meal is bad for digestion.

False. Lately, there is a theory that combining carbs and protein in a single meal “confuses” your digestive system, and that since your body is not equipped to digest mixed nutrients, it could cause weight gain. However, your body is specifically prepared for this kind of multitasking and releases all kinds of digestive enzymes at the same time that break down carbs, fats and protein — even if you didn’t eat all those macros in a single meal. Besides, most single foods contain a mix of two or more macros, so neither you — nor your body — needs to worry about choosing what to digest.

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Use these strategies to kick the calorie-counting habit once and for all.

When it comes to trimming down, counting your calories used to be the go-to plan. Thankfully, a new era of research has been steadily pounding nails into this antiquated calorie-counting coffin. Case in point: A study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while eating more whole foods without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year. And a New England Journal of Medicine investigation showed that people whose diets included more servings of junk food, potato-sweetened drinks and red/processed meats gained weight during four-year intervals while those who ate more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and yogurt were protected from creeping weight gain — regardless of calorie intake.

This is not to say that calories don’t matter in the battle of the bulge; they do. But those 100 calories from bologna are not the same as 100 calories from broccoli, and the number of calories in a food absolutely does not indicate its healthfulness. “People would be better served by shifting their priorities away from counting calories and toward improving diet quality and eating habits,” says Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim: 30 Days to Permanent Weight Loss One Portion at a Time (Center Street, 2019). “Not only can calorie counting be tedious and inaccurate, it doesn’t give the full picture.”  

Dump those tired calorie-counting apps and instead use these body-benefiting metrics to get your fit on.

1. Focus on Fiber

Your Goal: 25-plus grams per day

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that simply focusing on eating a higher-fiber diet is just as effective for weight loss as following a set diet plan. “Fiber is found in foods that are relatively low in calories,” Young says. “It also fills you up, so it’s a weight-loss win-win.”

More reason to rough it: An investigation in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that consuming more fiber improves your microbiome — for example, the levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut — and a robust microbiome has been linked to everything from better digestion to improved mental health. Yet despite these results, dietary surveys show that more than 90 percent of American adults don’t get enough daily fiber.

If you’re among the fiber-fraught, look into some legumes: Just 1 cup of beans offers 15 grams of fiber, which brings you more than halfway toward your daily goal of 25 grams. Other fiber-friendly foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Focus on chewing your food

2. The Chew

Your Goal: 20 to 30 percent fewer bites

It sounds too simple to be legit, but a Brigham Young University study found that people who counted their daily food bites and sips of non-water liquid and then committed to taking 20 to 30 percent fewer food bites and sips were successful at shedding several pounds over the course of a month — without making any other changes to their diet or exercise routine. “Counting bites slows down your food intake, which helps you eat more mindfully and better notice your body’s satiety signals,” Young notes. In other words, you’re less likely to eat and drink more than you actually need if you monitor how often you bring fork to mouth.

Want to try it? Simply count the number of bites of food or gulps of liquid other than water you take over the period of a week. Take the average and reduce that number by 20 to 30 percent per day to hit your goal. For example, if you average 120 bites/sips a day, you’d reduce that to 100 bites/sips daily.

3. Pumped-Up Protein

Your Goal: 20 to 30 grams per meal

The recommended amount of protein for active women is roughly 1.5 grams for every kilogram of bodyweight to support the repair and creation of muscles while keeping your appetite in check. The latest science also indicates that when you eat it is as important as how much you eat: Instead of consuming your daily protein quota at a single meal, distribute it more evenly throughout the day. A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that muscle protein synthesis increased when people consumed 30 grams of protein in a meal (about 5 ounces of chicken breast) and that taking in more than that didn’t bring about bigger gains. Remember that additional calories of any kind — protein, fat or carbs — will be stored as body fat.

To cover the spread, look over your weekly meal plan and include a protein with each and every meal and snack. Chicken, fish, Greek yogurt, legumes and eggs are all great options.

4. Don’t Dine Out

Your Goal: 3 or fewer meals per away from home per week

An American Journal of Preventive Medicine study found that adults who ate out more frequently consumed less nutritious diets and had higher food expenses, and a Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study showed that women who ate lunch out at least once a week lost an average of 5 fewer pounds over the course of a year than those who brown-bagged it more often. Furthermore, women who consume lots of fast food may be more likely to experience infertility than women who rarely, if ever, eat fast-food meals, suggest researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“While it’s hard to eat healthy if you’re always eating out, it’s also difficult to eat poorly if you’re cooking for yourself using mostly whole-food ingredients,” Young explains.

To reduce your weekly dining-out habit, plan a week’s worth of healthy meals and snacks, and then carve out some time to batch-cook your fare. Takeout is way less tempting when you’ve got a tasty homemade meal to nosh.

Cooking with vegetables

5. Volumize Your Vegetables

Your Goal: 3 cups daily

Most nutrition maxims come and go, but the push to eat more veggies will never wane. Beyond reducing the risk for nearly every disease under the sun, a large review of studies published in the journal Nutrients showed that women who eat more daily servings of vegetables tend to have slimmer waistlines and do a better job at staving off weight creep.

“When you eat more veggies, it tends to crowd out other higher-calorie foods in your diet to help with weight management,” says Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, author of Essential Sports Nutrition: A Guide to Optimal Performance for Every Active Person (Rockridge Press, 2018). “And their added fiber will slow down digestion, which promotes satiety to help put the brakes on overeating.” Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, only 1 in 10 Americans are eating the daily recommended 2 to 3 cups of vegetables.

Infuse all your meals and snacks with veggies to ensure you hit your optimal intake: Add shredded carrots to your morning oatmeal, dig into a big green salad for lunch and toss around a veggie-laden stir-fry for dinner. Frozen vegetables are a convenient and budget-friendly way to work more into everything from soups to smoothies.

6. Slash Added Sugar

Your Goal: Less than 40 grams (10 teaspoons) daily

Studies show that people who eat too much added sugar (extra sweet stuff added in as opposed to that naturally present) face an increased risk for conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease — not to mention unwanted belly flab — and those sugar spikes and crashes can leave you feeling haggard. “There’s a very different reaction in the body when foods with naturally occurring sugar are consumed like fruit and dairy as compared to foods such as cookies that are heavily processed with added sugar,” Sumbal says.

Chances are you’re overloading on sugar without even knowing it; various sugar aliases are pumped into nearly everything, from ketchup to salad dressing to almond butter. And so-called “natural sugars” such as added honey and coconut sugar do not get a free pass: They too count toward your daily added sugar allotment.

Thankfully, a new nutrition label calls out the grams of added sugar, making it way easier to keep tabs on your intake of the sweet stuff. Limit your intake to less than 6 to 12 teaspoons (24 to 48 grams) per day. Swap out products that list higher amounts of added sugar like flavored yogurt and granola with low- to no-sugar-added alternatives, such as plain yogurt and unsweetened muesli.

Opt for a healthier cocktai

7. Beware of the Booze

Your Goal: Fewer than 3 drinks per week

The research against alcohol is bulletproof: A 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that people who abstained from alcohol were more successful at dropping pounds during a four-year lifestyle intervention program. And a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that women who drink heavily when they’re younger have a higher risk of becoming overweight as they age. What’s more, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that consuming one to two alcoholic drinks more than three times a week raises the risk for dying earlier — especially from cancer — by about 20 percent because alcohol is broken down in the body into the carcinogenic compound acetaldehyde.

“When you drink, the liver is forced to metabolize the alcohol instead of fat, which may increase fat accumulation around the midsection,” Sumbal says. She adds that people often overlook the calories in booze (and sweet mixers), which can really add up over the course of a week. Factor in the lowered inhibitions when you get your buzz on, which make you more likely to mindlessly munch, and you could be in deep doo-doo.

You don’t have to totally swear off cheering in the weekend with your gal pals, but be smarter about imbibing: Trim a drink or two from your weekly routine, pour yourself smaller servings, and order cocktails made with soda water and wedges of whole fruit.

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This newly popularized Asian fruit can jack up your nutrition.

It looks alien-like and can grow as massive as 100 pounds, but the nutritious jackfruit can play a starring role in both sweet and savory dishes. The two most common forms available are ripe jackfruit, with a sweeter flavor perfect for desserts and smoothies, and young “green” jackfruit with a firmer, more neutral taste, making it a great meat substitute. Here are five ways to use this ultra-versatile tropical treat to boost your health.

1. As Ab-Slimming Tacos 

At a mere 45 calories per cup, underripe young jackfruit can serve as a calorie-stingy meat substitute for your next taco night. And research shows that people who nosh on more fruit gain less flab in the first place.

Pulled Jackfruit Tacos: Drain 1 can green (young) jackfruit, pat dry and shred. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add jackfruit and saute 5 minutes. Add ¾ cup low-sugar barbecue sauce, 1½ tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon paprika. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, pulling jackfruit apart as it becomes tender. Divide mixture between 4 corn tortillas and top each with ½ cup baby spinach, ¼ cup pineapple chunks, 1/3 cup shredded carrots and dollops of sour cream.

2. As a Heart-Healthy Smoothie 

Jackfruit is a good source of vitamin C, a nutrient linked to lower blood pressure and better heart health because of its antioxidant properties.

Tropical Jackfruit Smoothie: Blend together 1 cup coconut milk, 1 cup jackfruit (fresh or canned), 1 scoop plain or vanilla protein powder, 1 tablespoon cashew butter, 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, 1 teaspoon fresh ginger and 1 small frozen chopped banana.

3. As a Good-Gut Curry 

An investigation in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that higher intakes of fiber — like that found in unripe jackfruit — acts as a prebiotic, nourishing and bolstering those beneficial gut bacteria.

Curry in a Hurry: Add 1 chopped onion, ½ teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons oil to a large pan and cook over medium heat until soft. Add 1 can green jackfruit (drained and chopped), 3 chopped garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon chopped ginger; heat 1 minute. Add 1 teaspoon curry powder, 1 teaspoon cumin powder, ½ teaspoon cayenne and ½ teaspoon black pepper and stir. Add ¾ cup coconut milk and 1 cup pureed tomatoes, and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in juice of ½ lime and serve topped with chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds.

4. As Craving-Crushing Pops 

Since ripe jackfruit is so sweet, you can use it to tame a sweet tooth minus the pitfalls that come with eating too many refined sugars, including an increased risk for mental conditions like depression.

Jackfruit Pops: Blend together 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1½ cups ripe jackfruit, 1 tablespoon honey, zest of 1 lime, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and pinch of salt until smooth. Evenly distribute mixture among popsicle molds, insert sticks and freeze 8 hours.

5. As an Energizing Vegan Salad 

Jackfruit contains riboflavin, an important component of the coenzymes involved in the breakdown of food into energy.

Jackfruit “Tuna” Salad: Drain and rinse 1 can of young (green) jackfruit and pulse in a food processor until chopped into small pieces. Mix with ¼ cup vegan mayonnaise, 1 chopped celery stalk, ½ cup chopped red onions, 1 diced and seeded plum tomato, 1/3 cup chopped parsley, juice of ½ lemon, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Serve on bread or large lettuce leaves. 

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Use these seven strategies to kick the calorie-counting habit once and for all.

When it comes to trimming down, counting your calories used to be the go-to plan. Thankfully, a new era of research has been steadily pounding nails into this antiquated calorie-counting coffin. Case in point: A study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while eating more whole foods without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year. And a New England Journal of Medicine investigation showed that people whose diets included more servings of junk food, potato-sweetened drinks and red/processed meats gained weight during four-year intervals while those who ate more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and yogurt were protected from creeping weight gain — regardless of calorie intake.

This is not to say that calories don’t matter in the battle of the bulge; they do. But those 100 calories from bologna are not the same as 100 calories from broccoli, and the number of calories in a food absolutely does not indicate its healthfulness. “People would be better served by shifting their priorities away from counting calories and toward improving diet quality and eating habits,” says Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim: 30 Days to Permanent Weight Loss One Portion at a Time (Center Street, 2019). “Not only can calorie counting be tedious and inaccurate, it doesn’t give the full picture.”  

Dump those tired calorie-counting apps and instead use these body-benefiting metrics to get your fit on.

1. Focus on Fiber

Your Goal: 25-plus grams per day

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that simply focusing on eating a higher-fiber diet is just as effective for weight loss as following a set diet plan. “Fiber is found in foods that are relatively low in calories,” Young says. “It also fills you up, so it’s a weight-loss win-win.”

More reason to rough it: An investigation in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that consuming more fiber improves your microbiome — for example, the levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut — and a robust microbiome has been linked to everything from better digestion to improved mental health. Yet despite these results, dietary surveys show that more than 90 percent of American adults don’t get enough daily fiber.

If you’re among the fiber-fraught, look into some legumes: Just 1 cup of beans offers 15 grams of fiber, which brings you more than halfway toward your daily goal of 25 grams. Other fiber-friendly foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

2. The Chew

Your Goal: 20 to 30 percent fewer bites

It sounds too simple to be legit, but a Brigham Young University study found that people who counted their daily food bites and sips of non-water liquid and then committed to taking 20 to 30 percent fewer food bites and sips were successful at shedding several pounds over the course of a month — without making any other changes to their diet or exercise routine. “Counting bites slows down your food intake, which helps you eat more mindfully and better notice your body’s satiety signals,” Young notes. In other words, you’re less likely to eat and drink more than you actually need if you monitor how often you bring fork to mouth.

Want to try it? Simply count the number of bites of food or gulps of liquid other than water you take over the period of a week. Take the average and reduce that number by 20 to 30 percent per day to hit your goal. For example, if you average 120 bites/sips a day, you’d reduce that to 100 bites/sips daily.

3. Pumped-Up Protein

Your Goal: 20 to 30 grams per meal

The recommended amount of protein for active women is roughly 1.5 grams for every kilogram of bodyweight to support the repair and creation of muscles while keeping your appetite in check. The latest science also indicates that when you eat it is as important as how much you eat: Instead of consuming your daily protein quota at a single meal, distribute it more evenly throughout the day. A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that muscle protein synthesis increased when people consumed 30 grams of protein in a meal (about 5 ounces of chicken breast) and that taking in more than that didn’t bring about bigger gains. Remember that additional calories of any kind — protein, fat or carbs — will be stored as body fat.

To cover the spread, look over your weekly meal plan and include a protein with each and every meal and snack. Chicken, fish, Greek yogurt, legumes and eggs are all great options.

4. Don’t Dine Out

Your Goal: 3 or fewer meals per away from home per week

An American Journal of Preventive Medicine study found that adults who ate out more frequently consumed less nutritious diets and had higher food expenses, and a Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study showed that women who ate lunch out at least once a week lost an average of 5 fewer pounds over the course of a year than those who brown-bagged it more often. Furthermore, women who consume lots of fast food may be more likely to experience infertility than women who rarely, if ever, eat fast-food meals, suggest researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“While it’s hard to eat healthy if you’re always eating out, it’s also difficult to eat poorly if you’re cooking for yourself using mostly whole-food ingredients,” Young explains.

To reduce your weekly dining-out habit, plan a week’s worth of healthy meals and snacks, and then carve out some time to batch-cook your fare. Takeout is way less tempting when you’ve got a tasty homemade meal to nosh.

5. Volumize Your Vegetables

Your Goal: 3 cups daily

Most nutrition maxims come and go, but the push to eat more veggies will never wane. Beyond reducing the risk for nearly every disease under the sun, a large review of studies published in the journal Nutrients showed that women who eat more daily servings of vegetables tend to have slimmer waistlines and do a better job at staving off weight creep.

“When you eat more veggies, it tends to crowd out other higher-calorie foods in your diet to help with weight management,” says Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, author of Essential Sports Nutrition: A Guide to Optimal Performance for Every Active Person (Rockridge Press, 2018). “And their added fiber will slow down digestion, which promotes satiety to help put the brakes on overeating.” Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, only 1 in 10 Americans are eating the daily recommended 2 to 3 cups of vegetables.

Infuse all your meals and snacks with veggies to ensure you hit your optimal intake: Add shredded carrots to your morning oatmeal, dig into a big green salad for lunch and toss around a veggie-laden stir-fry for dinner. Frozen vegetables are a convenient and budget-friendly way to work more into everything from soups to smoothies.

6. Slash Added Sugar

Your Goal: Less than 40 grams (10 teaspoons) daily

Studies show that people who eat too much added sugar (extra sweet stuff added in as opposed to that naturally present) face an increased risk for conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease — not to mention unwanted belly flab — and those sugar spikes and crashes can leave you feeling haggard. “There’s a very different reaction in the body when foods with naturally occurring sugar are consumed like fruit and dairy as compared to foods such as cookies that are heavily processed with added sugar,” Sumbal says.

Chances are you’re overloading on sugar without even knowing it; various sugar aliases are pumped into nearly everything, from ketchup to salad dressing to almond butter. And so-called “natural sugars” such as added honey and coconut sugar do not get a free pass: They too count toward your daily added sugar allotment.

Thankfully, a new nutrition label calls out the grams of added sugar, making it way easier to keep tabs on your intake of the sweet stuff. Limit your intake to less than 6 to 12 teaspoons (24 to 48 grams) per day. Swap out products that list higher amounts of added sugar like flavored yogurt and granola with low- to no-sugar-added alternatives, such as plain yogurt and unsweetened muesli.

7. Beware of the Booze

Your Goal: Fewer than 3 drinks per week

The research against alcohol is bulletproof: A 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that people who abstained from alcohol were more successful at dropping pounds during a four-year lifestyle intervention program. And a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that women who drink heavily when they’re younger have a higher risk of becoming overweight as they age. What’s more, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that consuming one to two alcoholic drinks more than three times a week raises the risk for dying earlier — especially from cancer — by about 20 percent because alcohol is broken down in the body into the carcinogenic compound acetaldehyde.

“When you drink, the liver is forced to metabolize the alcohol instead of fat, which may increase fat accumulation around the midsection,” Sumbal says. She adds that people often overlook the calories in booze (and sweet mixers), which can really add up over the course of a week. Factor in the lowered inhibitions when you get your buzz on, which make you more likely to mindlessly munch, and you could be in deep doo-doo.

You don’t have to totally swear off cheering in the weekend with your gal pals, but be smarter about imbibing: Trim a drink or two from your weekly routine, pour yourself smaller servings, and order cocktails made with soda water and wedges of whole fruit.

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Honor National Nutrition Month by adding these macronutrients and micronutrients into your favorite dishes.

Are you getting tired of eating the same ol’ nutrient powerhouses every day? Could your favorite meals use a little nutrient boost? Are you searching for fresh ideas to help give your kitchen a spring-clean makeover? Then start by celebrating National Nutrition Month with Alexandra Catalano, a holistic nutritionist and creator of the popular lifestyle brand Eat Cute. She’s sharing five ingredients that might not be on your radar currently but pack an important punch when it comes to nutrition.

1. Avocado Oil

Avocado oil is a beautiful, high-quality fat packed with a bevy of health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, improving nutrient absorption, and nourishing your skin and hair,” Catalano says. “It’s high in monounsaturated oleic acid, which is why it is so perfect for helping reduce bad cholesterol.” Because it has a medium smoke point, which makes it ideal for using on lower-heat cooking or on uncooked foods — try using avocado oil in salad recipes instead of your go-to olive oil. When purchasing avocado oil, look for labels that state it’s organic, unrefined, cold-pressed and extra-virgin.

2. Hempseeds

Hempseeds or hemp hearts are the seeds of a hemp plant — their nutty flavor profile not only tastes delicious but also serves as a wonderful source of fiber, fat and protein. “Hempseeds are rich in fiber and can keep you feeling fuller longer and aid in digestive health,” says Catalano, noting that 1 ounce of hempseeds contains 9.2 grams of protein. “I love adding hemp seeds to my morning smoothies or enjoying hemp milk in my coffee or in baking.” She recommends buying organic and storing them in your fridge in an airtight jar or container because they are sensitive to heat and light. 

3. Spirulina

It’s no wonder spirulina is one of Catalano’s favorite superfoods — this blue-green algae contains protein and is packed with antioxidants. “Some major benefits include helping fight off candida because of its anti-microbial properties, boosting energy and pulling heavy metals out of the body,” she says. Try adding spirulina to smoothies or homemade protein bites, or simply add a small spoonful to water or juice. (The sweetness from the latter will help offset its earthy taste.) Choose brands that are organic and non-GMO, and Catalano recommend steering clear of spirulina coming from India and China because of their higher amounts of heavy metals. Store open containers in the fridge, and consume within a few months of opening.

4. Jackfruit

Not familiar with jackfruit? You may have seen it at the grocery store and wondered what the heck it was — it’s one of the largest fruits in the world, reaching up to 100 pounds. “Jackfruit is becoming incredibly popular as a meat substitute, is packed with antioxidants and is rich in magnesium,” says Catalano, describing the highly versatile fruit as having a banana-like flavor with a meat-like texture. “Jackfruit is also wonderful for improving digestion because its seeds are rich in fiber.” If you choose canned jackfruit over fresh, avoid products that contain additives like sugar, soy or chemicals. What makes jackfruit ideal for cooking is its ability to take on whatever flavoring you season it with — Catalano likes jackfruit grilled with sugar-free barbecue sauce and veggies, but you also can use it in soups, baked goods, chips and jams.

5. Camu Camu

Found in the rainforests of the Amazon in Peru and Brazil, camu camu is made from the berries grown on this shrub. “It’s the perfect superfood to enjoy year-round because of its incredible vitamin C content,” Catalano says. “This powerful berry is also rich in manganese and carotenoids that help fight off disease, and it’s wonderful for boosting the immune system and helping block free radicals.” You can find camu camu in powder form at your local health food store, and simply add it to beverages. Since its taste is very tart, it also pairs well with desserts, such as homemade coconut ice cream. Look for camu camu that is organic, non-GMO and is free of synthetic additives like soy, corn and chemicals.

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Your eating style and workout routine may be supporting your sweet tooth.

There’s more to food — and your relationship with food — than calories and macros. From my perspective as a health coach, traditional nutrient facts are only the tip of the “food iceberg.”

Have you heard of the concept “the polarity of food,” coined by professional chef and author Annemarie Colbin? It’s pretty straightforward. The premise: Everything has two extremes — or two “polarities.”

For example, hot and cold are extremes of the pole temperature, whereas loud and quiet are the extremes of the pole noise. In its essence, when you find one thing, you’ll also find the potential for its opposite.

So how does this apply to what we eat?

Food is more than just fuel. It has energetic qualities that go beyond the science and mechanics of calories, fat grams and other nutrient values.

Have you noticed how some foods naturally leave you feeling lifted and light, while others leave you tense or weighed down? Imagine how you feel when you eat a sugar-loaded treat (wired, antsy, “high”?) versus a savory comfort food (cozy, groggy, tired?).

This is an example of the polarity of food.

Everything in life — including food — can be viewed as expansive or contractive. I’m not saying you’re literally expanding or contracting, but this concept can change how you use and create energy.

So what does this polarity spectrum look like, and how might it contribute to your cravings?

Imagine a pendulum swinging left to right. On the far right are the “expansive” foods, and on the far left are the “contractive” foods. If the pendulum swings too far in either direction, the momentum will bring it back with equal force to the opposite side.

Examples of expansive foods are alcohol, caffeine and sugar. (You can find a more comprehensive list here.) The energy of these foods can make you feel relaxed and happy — blissful! But when you eat too many “bliss” foods, you may feel spacey, foggy or forgetful.

Examples of “contractive” foods are salt, eggs, red meat and other animal products. These foods can make you feel grounded and focused, but when you eat too many, you may feel tight, agitated and even angry.

How does this relate to sugar cravings?

Life is a balancing act. You navigate circumstances and confront obstacles that have an effect on you every day. So if life is full of opposites and your body is the pendulum always trying to find its center point, what do you think happens if you’re eating too many contractive foods?

What does your body crave in order to balance itself out? The opposite of contractive foods: sweet, expansive bliss foods!

The challenge lies in recognizing where and when you’re indulging in too many contractive foods, which may be contributing to your sugar cravings without you even realizing it. All the back and forth is signaling to your body that it needs something to re-center itself.

Let’s take it a step further and look at other daily activities through the lens of polarity.

Certain aspects of life are naturally contractive (which create more tension) or expansive (which encourage relaxation).

Examples of contractive activities are overexercising, overworking, partying and staying up late. When you partake in too many contractive activities, you will likely crave more expansive foods because you need relaxation and release.

When you don’t allow yourself to relax, you may find yourself bingeing on wine, chocolate and bread — rather than giving your body a break with sleep, reading, meditation, walking or a hot bath.

If you’ve been hitting it hard in the gym, constantly trying to increase your PR, or being strict with your meal planning, what do you crave? Sweets, bread, a martini? Expansive foods. Your body is craving a readjustment to find its center.

When I’m working with clients to deconstruct their cravings, we look at the foods they’re eating and their lifestyle. This constant swinging back and forth is taxing on the body and will lead to burnout. Your body wants to exist in the center, swinging gently over a short distance.

In my practice, I’ve noticed this cycle is habitual and can leave people thinking there’s something wrong with them for not having the willpower to create lasting change. Developing a lifestyle that works for you isn’t about willpower. It’s about shifting habits and growing into the best version of yourself.

What if you were able to break your bad habits, understand what’s really going on and then make better choices?

This isn’t about worrying about what foods are right or wrong or giving up all sweets. It’s about learning what needs in your life aren’t being met and understanding what’s going on with you on a deeper level so you can change your behavior long term.

If you would like to uncover which of your needs is not being met, learn more about working with Rebecca Pfanner here and sign up for a free 45-minute one-on-one coaching session.

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