Look out almond butter — this sesame seed paste can help smooth out the kinks in your diet.

Tahini is peanut butter’s Middle Eastern kissing cousin, and this sesame seed paste is fast becoming a pantry staple. Here are five ways to use this nutritional overachiever that go well beyond humble hummus.

As a Mood-Boosting Breakfast Bowl

Tahini has more fiber than most nut butters, and a study in the journal Nutrients found that higher intakes of dietary fiber can help combat depression. 

Granola Tahini Smoothie Bowl

Granola Tahini Smoothie Bowl

Blend together ¼ cup milk, ⅔ cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon tahini, 2 pitted soft dates, ½ teaspoon vanilla, ⅛ teaspoon cardamom and 1 frozen chopped banana. Pour into a bowl and top with ½ cup granola.

As a Cancer-Busting Creamy Soup

Tahini provides sesamin, a unique compound reputed to have cancer-fighting powers: It appears that sesamin fends off inflammation and helps put the brakes on cancerous cell division. 

Roasted Cauliflower Tahini Soup

Roasted Cauliflower Tahini Soup

Slice 1 head cauliflower into 1-inch florets, and cut 1 yellow onion into 1-inch-thick pieces. Toss with 4 whole peeled garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and roast 25 minutes at 400 F, stirring halfway through. Blend together 4 cups vegetable broth, roasted cauliflower/garlic/onions, ¼ cup tahini, juice of ½ lemon and 2 teaspoons za’atar seasoning until smooth.

As Bone-Bolstering Energy Balls

Sesame seeds are rich in calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that play a vital role in maintaining bone health. Phosphorus also acts as a buffer and helps maintain your body’s pH. 

Apricot Tahini Balls

Apricot Tahini Balls

Pulverize ¾ cup rolled oats in a food processor. Add 1 cup dried apricots, ¼ cup tahini, ¼ cup ground flaxseed, 3 tablespoons honey, zest of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon ginger powder and ⅛ teaspoon salt and process until a sticky mixture is formed. Using damp hands, roll into 1-inch balls. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

As an Energizing Sauce

Tahini boasts a good cache of thiamine, the B vitamin involved in maintaining metabolism and helping break down and produce energy from the carbs, fats and protein in your diet. 

Smoky Tahini Sauce

Smoky Tahini Sauce

Whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons tahini, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 grated garlic clove, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon cumin powder and a couple pinches salt. (Thin if needed by stirring in warm water 1 teaspoon at a time.) Use sauce on grain bowls, steamed vegetables, sweet potatoes or grilled chicken and fish.

As a Heart-Healthy Muffin

A good chunk of the calories in tahini hail from unsaturated fat, and a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that replacing 10 percent of the dietary calories that come from saturated fat with unsaturated fat improves the markers associated with heart health. 

Tahini Banana Bread Muffins

Tahini Banana Bread Muffins

Stir together 2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, ¾ teaspoon baking soda and ¼ teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl, beat 2 eggs, then stir in 3 mashed bananas, ½ cup brown sugar, ⅓ cup tahini, ¼ cup melted butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Combine wet and dry ingredients, then fold in ⅓ cup dark chocolate chips. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake 20 minutes at 350 F, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out nearly clean.

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Looking for something quick and healthy that the entire family will love? Check out these three simple recipes to make your mornings easier.

Back-to-school season is a busy time of year and often translates to morning chaos. While getting kids out of bed and organizing lunches, breakfast can be overlooked. Most parents would agree that it’s important to kick-start their child’s day with a healthy meal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s time to make something fresh and nutritious.

Instead of falling into a morning rut, consider planning ahead so breakfast is one less thing you have to worry about. Check out the recipes below for some crowd favorites you can prepare the night before to ensure you are fueling yourself and your littles ones.

French Toast Blueberry Bake

Servings: 9 Calories: 195

Protein 4.8 G | Carbs 33.8 G | Fat 8.6 G

Ingredients

1 loaf challah bread

6 whole eggs

½ cup half-and-half

¼ cup Truvia

1 tbsp cinnamon

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups blueberries

Directions

Spray a 13-inch-by-8-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Slice bread into 1-inch cubes and place into baking dish. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, half-and-half, Truvia, cinnamon and vanilla. Pour mixture over bread and evenly coat bread cubes. Mix 1 cup blueberries into bread mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. Remove bread mixture from refrigerator and allow to sit 5 minutes while oven is preheating to 350 F. Bake casserole for 45 minutes. After 30 minutes in the oven, top casserole with remaining 1 cup blueberries and place back in oven for the remaining 15 minutes. The top of the bake should be a golden brown. Enjoy!

Ham and Cheese Croissant Casserole

Servings: 6 Slices Calories: 292

Carbs 19 g | Protein 17 g | Fat 15 g

Ingredients

1 can Pillsbury Crescents

6 whole eggs

½ cup half-and-half

1 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese

5 oz diced ham or turkey sausage

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F and spray pan with cooking spray. Unroll croissants in pan and press seams together. Put pan in oven and cook flattened rolls for 10 minutes. While croissants are cooking, whisk eggs and cream in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to egg mixture. When croissants are done, pour egg mixture over top. Sprinkle ham and cheese on top. Bake 30 to 45 minutes until cooked through.

Apple Cinnamon Steel-Coat Oats

Servings: 3 Calories: 275

Carbs 42 g | Protein 19 g | Fat 7 g

Ingredients

1½ cups unsweetened almond milk

1½ cups water

1 cup steel-cut oats (oat groats)

pinch salt

½ cup chopped apple (leave skin on)

¾ tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp maple syrup

2 slices Applegate turkey bacon

Directions

Coat inside of Instant Pot with cooking spray (my favorite is Trader Joe’s coconut oil spray). Place everything but syrup and turkey bacon in pot. Mix well and secure lid and lock into place. Cook (manual or pressure-cook) for 4 minutes. Serve with turkey bacon on the side.

  • If you do not have an Instant Pot you can cook this on the stove top for 30 mins or until oats are soft.

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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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Think outside the shaker bottle and get creative by cooking with protein powder. Use these tips to add an extra protein boost to just about any food imaginable.

Like they say, bodies are not made in the gym but in the kitchen, and any good athlete knows that protein is essential when trying to add lean, metabolic muscle to your frame.

Since you can only eat so much food over the course of the day, most of us default to protein shakes for an extra dose of aminos. That can get boring, though, especially when you really want to nosh, nibble or crunch. Time to cook creatively — with protein powder.

Incorporate protein powder into real-food recipes.

There are tons of ways to incorporate protein powder into actual real-food recipes, and anything from soup to salad to sweet treats can benefit from a scoop or two. “By treating protein powder as an ingredient versus just the base for a shake, you can create healthy foods that taste unhealthy yet are packed full of nutrition-dense ingredients,” says Anna Sward, MA, Ph.D., author of The Ultimate Protein Pow(d)er Cookbook (Countryman Press, 2014). “My thinking is, Why have a shake when you can have a cake?”

A word of warning, though: Cooking with protein powder is a little more complicated than just chucking in a handful and sticking it in the oven. It takes a little practice and sometimes a good dose of patience. Here is what you need to know before getting your bake on.

Flour Power

Never treat protein powder as a flour substitute because it will not react the same way chemically with the other recipe ingredients — especially whey protein. “Whey is a very unique type of protein,” Sward says. “It has a tendency to dry up your recipes and turn them rubbery, and you end up with hard ‘things’ that are more like weapons than food.”

When baking, make sure that 30 percent or less of your batter is whey protein or default to a plant-based product. “The veggie powders are wonderful because they’ll never turn gross or rubbery,” Sward says. “The worst thing that can happen is that it’ll end up a bit dense.”

And for those dubious souls who don’t think that plant proteins are as good as animal-based ones, chew on this: A study in Nutrition Journal found that rice protein was just as effective as whey in building muscle and strength among active people. And for those who are dairy sensitive or lactose intolerant, plant protein won’t lead to bloat or GI distress.

Moisture Matters

When cooking with protein powder, you might encounter an issue with dryness. “Protein wicks moisture and does not contribute any,” says Courtney Nielsen, BA, AFAA, amateur bikini competitor and author of Protein Powder Cooking … Beyond the Shake (Ulysses Press, 2016). “If you’re baking, take care that the consistency of the batter looks as thin or slightly thinner than your traditional dough or batter. Don’t oversaturate the recipe with protein on the first try, reduce the other dry ingredients slightly or add a little extra baking powder to baked goods.”

Also, not all protein powders dissolve in the same manner, and the added ingredients can change how they react in a recipe. “Casein, for instance, uses more liquid to dissolve than whey,” Nielsen says. “And a cheap brand may put in less actual protein and more fillers to keep costs low.”

Curds of Whey

Anyone who has ever tried to heat milk for hot chocolate can tell you that curdling is an issue, and since whey and casein proteins are milk derivatives, they can act similarly if heated directly. Sward recommends stirring the powder into already-hot things like oatmeal — once they’re fully cooked (and slightly cooled), and if you want to make a sauce or soup, stick to vegetable-based powders. “Pea protein is wonderful to make soups or sauces with,” Sward says. “It won’t curdle and will assimilate nicely into your recipes.”

Go All Natural

Most powders, especially whey, are designed to mix up into creamy shakes when you add liquid, and they thicken because of added gums and emulsifiers. “You don’t need those things when you’re cooking, and those ingredients can actually work against you,” Sward says. “The gums, especially, will make the texture of your foods weird. The best powders to cook and bake with are the ones with only one ingredient: protein and nothing else.”

Another note on sweeteners: Not only have they been shown in clinical studies to trick your metabolism into thinking you’re ingesting sugar, spiking insulin levels and shifting you from fat-burning to fat-storing mode, but they also can make your recipes overly sweet (think: sugary vanilla meatloaf).

Don’t Be a Cheapskate

Cheap powders might seem like a good idea financially, but many subpar products contain added ingredients, artificial colors, hidden trans fats, and even heavy metals such as cadmium, zinc, arsenic, mercury and lead, which have been linked to toxic poisoning and cardiovascular disease.

“Choose an rBGH-free product to ensure it’s made from hormone-free dairy,” Sward says. “For the veggie powders, try to find a non-GMO, organic source. It’s a bit more expensive, but it’s of higher quality and worth spending that little extra on.”

Keep On Keepin’ On

Because of the variety and volume of protein powder brands on the market, even a published recipe might not turn out how you were hoping on the first go. “If you make something that disappoints you the first time, try making it again a little differently next time,” Nielsen says. “Use different ingredients or different amounts of things. It often takes a few attempts to get something right. It can be worth it to find a new favorite!”

Maple banana protein pancakes.

Maple Banana Protein Pancakes

Makes 2 servings

  • ½ cup vanilla whey protein powder
  • ½ cup 2% Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup liquid egg whites
  • 1 ripe banana
  • ½ cup oats
  • 1 tbsp natural maple extract

Mix ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Coat skillet with cooking spray and place over high heat. When spray starts to sizzle, reduce heat to medium and pour batter in small dollops into the pan. (This “toasts” the sides of the pancake without burning it.) When bubbles appear, flip pancakes over and cook through. Repeat process until all batter is cooked.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 283, protein 34 g, carbs 29 g, fat 4 g

Four-Ingredient Protein Pizza Crust

Makes 2 small crusts

  • 1 cup gluten-free oats
  • ½ scoop unflavored pea protein powder
  • 1 whole egg
  • ½ cup liquid egg whites
  • sea salt, rosemary and thyme, to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until a thick, pancake-like mixture is formed. Coat a skillet with cooking spread and place over high heat. Pour mixture into pan and spread with a spoon or spatula to thin out. Reduce heat to medium and cook until bottom is firm. Then flip and cook through. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, then place crust on sheet. Add desired pizza sauces and toppings. Place under oven broiler 15 to 20 minutes, or until cheese melts.

Nutrition Facts (per 2 crusts — without toppings): calories 269, protein 28 g, carbs 26 g, fat 6 g

Red Pepper Protein Wraps

Makes 4 servings

  • 1/8 cup ground almonds or ground oats
  • 1 cup unflavored whey protein
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • sea salt, to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Coat a skillet with cooking spray and place over high heat. When spray sizzles, reduce heat to medium and spoon mixture into the center of pan and spread with a spoon. Cook through on one side, then flip and cook through on the other side. Repeat for all batter. Fill wraps with chicken, veggies, cheese or hummus.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 59, carbs 4.7 g, protein 7.6 g, fat 1.2 g, fiber 3 g

The first three recipes excerpted from The Ultimate Protein Pow(d)er Cookbook: Think Outside the Shake, by Anna Sward, Countryman Press, 2014.

Homemade tomato sauce.

Quick Homemade Tomato Sauce

Makes 8 servings

  • 1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes
  • ½ (6-oz) can tomato paste
  • ¼ small yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ¼ cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • ½ tsp white or black pepper
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup plain protein powder

Add all ingredients except protein powder to a blender and blend until smooth. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high, then add mixture. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly add protein powder, whisking constantly to incorporate without curdling. Serve over zoodles or chicken.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 51, protein 5 g, carbs 7 g, fat 0 g, fiber 1 g

Mashed cauliflower with protein powder.

Mashed Cauliflower

Makes 10 servings

  • 1 head cauliflower, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup plain protein powder
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¾ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • ½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan with cooking spray and spread cauliflower out evenly. Place on the middle rack and bake until soft, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and place cauliflower in blender with remaining ingredients and puree. Add seasonings (to taste).

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 126, fat 5 g, carbs 5 g, fiber 2 g, protein 17 g

Vanilla Breakfast Cookies

Makes 35 cookies

  • 1½ cups + 2 cups rolled oats, divided
  • 1/3 cup vanilla protein powder
  • 6 medjool dates, pitted
  • 6 dried apricots
  • ½ cup liquid egg whites
  • 3 oz (6 tbsp) pureed avocado
  • 6 tbsp granulated stevia
  • 6 tbsp Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Place 1½ cups rolled oats into a food processor with other ingredients and blend thoroughly. Scoop mixture into bowl and add remaining 2 cups rolled oats. Mix until well-combined. Spoon 1½-tablespoon portions of dough onto cookie sheet and bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown on top and soft in the middle. Allow to cool, then serve.

Nutrition Facts (per cookie): calories 56, protein 3 g, carbs 10 g, fat 1 g, fiber 1 g

The second three recipes excerpted from Protein Powder Cooking … Beyond the Shake: 200 Delicious Recipes to Supercharge Every Dish With Whey, Soy, Casein and More, by Courtney Nielson, Ulysses Press, 2016. 

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For a lean lunch or dinner, these Baja fish kabobs do the trick.

Ready in 15 minutes • Makes 4 servings

Baja Fish Kabobs Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb firm white fish (red snapper, cod, mahi mahi, swordfish), cut into 32 pieces
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp chili peppers
  • ¼ tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, cut into 1″ chunks (16 pieces)
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes (16 pieces)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 orange bell pepper, cut into 1″ chunks (16 pieces)
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 8 metal skewers (or wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for 15 minutes)

Directions

1. Preheat grill. Place juice of 1 lemon, lime juice, lemon zest, chili peppers, cumin and paprika in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add fish to marinate for 5 minutes.

2. Prepare avocado sauce while fish is marinating. Add avocado chunks, juice of 1 lemon and cilantro to a blender and purée.

3. Thread 4 pieces of fish, onion, tomato and bell pepper onto each skewer.

4. Place skewers onto grill and cook 2 to 3 minutes; flip and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with avocado dipping sauce.

Nutrients per serving (2 skewers): Calories: 222, Total Fats: 9 g, Saturated Fat: 1 g, Trans Fat: 0 g, Cholesterol: 40 mg, Sodium: 78 mg, Total Carbohydrates: 13 g, Dietary Fiber: 5 g, Sugars: 3 g, Protein: 23 g, Iron: 1 mg

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These summertime snacks are all gluten- and dairy-free, can be made in less than 15 minutes, and can be stored in your freezer.

There are few things more satisfying during the dog days of summer than a refreshing treat — but ice cream, ice pops and frozen fruit bars can be loaded with sugar, artificial coloring and preservatives. Surprisingly, they also can make you feel hotter.

“I recommend nutrient-rich, cooling snacks that aid the body in digestion, which helps decrease heat created during the digestive process,” says Alexandra Catalano, a holistic nutritionist and creator of the popular lifestyle brand Eat Cute. “For relief from that summer heat, it’s important to choose healthy snacks without refined sugar that also have a high water content.”

Catalano shares four of her favorite tasty summer treats below. Bonus: They are all gluten- and dairy-free, can be made in less than 15 minutes, and can be stored in your freezer so you can have them on hand for those extra hot days.

“I always encourage my clients to keep snacks like these ready to alleviate the temptation of sugary poolside snacks,” Catalano says. “Stacking the odds in your favor by keeping healthy snacks handy will leave you feeling radiant, keep you on track with accomplishing your health goals and give you energy.”

Photo Credit: Rebecca Buenik 

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Boost metabolism, improve cognitive health and increase muscle gain with these research-backed nutritional powerhouses.

A few cups of green tea per day can improve overall health and well-being.

Green Tea

Green tea offers a host of benefits, the latest of which hits you right in the gut — in a good way. In a recent study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, mice fed a high-fat diet that included 2 percent green-tea extract (about the equivalent of 10 cups of tea) gained 20 percent less weight, had less inflammation and had more beneficial microbes in their intestines than those that did not consume the extract. The green tea encouraged the growth of good gut bacteria, which led to a series of cascading benefits that significantly lowered the risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease and liver disease.  

You don’t need to hit the 10-cup mark each day to garner the benefits, though. Even a few cups per day, when paired with a healthful diet, will improve overall health and well-being.

Two portions of cooked mushrooms weekly can reduce cognitive decline.

Mushrooms

A six-year study out of Singapore reported that consuming two portions (one portion equals ¾ cup or 150 grams) of cooked mushrooms weekly could reduce the odds of mild cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness and memory loss, by 50 percent. The study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease concluded that a specific compound in mushrooms called ergothioneine has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that promote cognitive health, while other ‘shroom compounds protect the brain from neurodegeneration and promote the synthesis of nerve growth factors. Incorporate mushrooms into your weekly meal planning by adding them to pizza, sandwiches, soups or salads.

Casein protein directly leads to muscle gains.

Casein Protein

Recent research published in Frontiers in Nutrition determined that drinking a shake made with casein protein before bed leads to increased muscle gains. Muscles grow and repair themselves overnight when provided with adequate amounts of the necessary building blocks — aka amino acids. Because the body does not release amino acids into the bloodstream for energy as it does glucose, they are not always in circulation when you go to bed and are therefore less available for muscle synthesis. Drinking a casein shake pre-sleep means more available aminos and more potential for reconstruction while you snooze.

Bonus: A separate study found that a pre-sleep casein shake increases fat metabolism the following day!

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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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This one single element can help you sleep better, recover faster and look fabulous.

Collagen is the most abundant form of protein in your body, and as a major component of skin tendons, bones, hair and nails, it’s responsible for your basic corporeal structure and strength. Collagen is composed primarily of the amino acid glycine, which performs countless functions in the body, including wound healing, joint health, immune response, digestion and sleep. Since your body only produces about 3 grams of glycine per day on its own, it’s important to get plenty through your diet.

Collagen is responsible for the body’s basic corporeal structure and strength.

Unfortunately, the richest sources of glycine are (ugh) gelatinous meats, connective tissues (such as tendons and ligaments) and the skin of animal proteins. If the very words “gelatinous meats” make you want to hurl, never fear — this is where supplementation comes in.

Supplemental collagen has been shown to provide a wide spectrum of benefits. Here are just a few:

Joint Checking

Collagen is a major component of joints and connective tissues, and if you’re lacking collagen in your diet, you could experience undue pain and/or stiffness in your joints. However, multiple studies have shown that collagen can help alleviate these issues.

Case in point: A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that 40 milligrams of collagen taken daily for four months significantly reduced postworkout knee pain. And a second study showed it to be safe and effective at combating pain, improving mobility and generally increasing the quality of life in those who live with chronic pain.

On the Mend

One of the functions of glycine is wound healing, and collagen could help you recover from injury as well as daily intense training: In one study, subjects with bedsores who were given a collagen supplement healed significantly faster than those who received a placebo, and another study found that glycine supplementation repaired an Achilles tendon injury more rapidly and made the tendon more resistant to future ruptures. Why? It appears the glycine induced the synthesis of important tissue components that led to a rapid “remodeling” of the tendon.

Sounder Sleep

Sleep is one of the most important factors when it comes to results, recovery, metabolism and even cognition, and research has found that supplementing with glycine can help you fall asleep more quickly, experience better-quality slumber, suffer less daytime sleepiness and improve cognitive performance. Glycine lowers your core body temperature, something that occurs naturally at the onset of sleep and that is maintained during slumber.

All Aglow

Collagen has been touted an anti-aging supplement with good reason: A slew of studies show that collagen supplementation can decrease wrinkles, increase skin elasticity and reduce overall signs of aging. Ingesting collagen supplements can help thicken skin, which in turn minimizes the appearance of wrinkles and helps skin maintain moisture.

Add Joint Tech by Dymatize to your diet for a boost of collagen.

More Gain, No Pain

Joint Tech by Dymatize is a specifically designed forumlation that supports hardworking bones and joints. Each capsule contains 10 milligrams of collagen and 100 percent of your Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin C, a major cofactor in collagen synthesis.

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Muscles. Memory. Mood. Metabolism. Fish oil betters them all.

The promise of a new protein technology or preworkout formula might seem super sexy, but when it comes to supporting the fundamental systems of the body — the very foundation of good health and razor-sharp fitness — nothing beats the multi-pronged attack of fish oil.

Scientists first noticed a correlation between people who ate fish and a lower incidence of heart disease in the 1970s. Since then, research has linked eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the two main components of fish oil, with improving everything from erectile dysfunction to eczema. Fish oil is truly the Swiss Army knife of supplements.

Fish oil offers an array of nutritional benefits.

Fish Oil, Muscle Gain and Fat Burn

When it comes to burning fat and improving body composition, fish oil is key. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that subjects who took 4 grams of fish oil per day for six weeks increased muscle mass and reduced body fat, and another study published in the journal Clinical Science found that healthy subjects who took 4 grams of fish oil for eight weeks enjoyed a greater muscle-building response to insulin and dietary amino acids.

Fish oil also can improve performance in athletes: A study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine showed that elite female soccer players who took 3.5 grams of fish oil (specifically DHA) per day for four weeks saw significant improvement in neuromotor function and reaction time.

Researchers believe that fish oil increases the activation of the mTOR pathway, a signal in the body that initiates protein synthesis, while also decreasing cortisol levels. Elevated cortisol has been linked to sugar cravings, fat storage and metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and obesity, and reducing cortisol should be on everyone’s list of get-lean goals.

Fish Oil and Mental Health

A mountain of clinical research supports the potent depression-fighting powers of daily exercise. However, depression often robs people of their motivation to work out. Fish oil can help break this cycle of depression and inactivity and create a self-perpetuating momentum of exercise and improved mental health: A study published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry showed that subjects with depression who ate a combination of a diet rich in fish oil and supplementation for six months reported greater mental health improvement than subjects who attempted to attenuate depression through social interactions alone.

It’s not known exactly how fish oil alleviates depression, but depressed people often have deficiencies in both EPA and DHA as well as a smaller hippocampus, the area of the brain that regulates emotions. Fish oil has been shown to stimulate hippocampal growth while also counteracting the deficiency of EPA and DHA in depressed people.

Fish Oil Supplements

The best food sources for EPA and DHA are (obviously) fatty fish such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel, tuna and albacore. Foodstuffs such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and certain types of fortified eggs also contain decent levels of EPA and DHA. However, in most of the studies, the greatest benefits of fish-oil supplementation occurred when subjects consumed about 4 grams per day. Since fish can be expensive and time-consuming to cook, supplementation is a good option for those dedicated to healthy living on a budget. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Fish Oil

Dymatize Omega-3 Fish Oil is a high-potency source of EPA and DHA. Each serving contains 1,660 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, with an equitable distribution of EPA and DHA. Every two-capsule serving also contains a small amount of DPA (docosapentaenoic acid), a third type of fish oil that is currently being studied for its impressive ability to fight inflammation.

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