If you’re alarmed by the number on the bathroom scale, you probably want to find a way to lose weight fast. But healthy weight loss takes place over time, not over the weekend.

Small, manageable changes to your diet and exercise will yield lasting results—even if it feels too slow. It’s important to think about weight loss as a sustainable solution, not a quick fix. This kind of thinking isn’t your fault.

The idea that you can lose a lot of weight quickly and maintain it long-term is a classic weight-loss trap. Avoid it by sidestepping the well-trod path of rigid diets that leave you feeling hungry. These diet plans produce results that may not last long. You could quickly tire of the restrictions and find yourself rebounding into old habits. And it’s more likely you gain the weight back than see lasting changes.

That’s because quick weight loss isn’t the best way to settle at a healthy weight. In other words, it simply isn’t sustainable.

Incremental changes over a longer period of time aren’t flashy or cool, but they are the best path to a healthy weight. This includes lifestyle modifications and shifts in the way you think about food, rather than just how much you eat.

Eat up these facts about how this measured approach is the right one for healthy weight loss that will last.

Why Healthy Weight Loss is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Here’s a fun fact: It takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose one pound (equal to about 0.5 kilograms) of fat. If that seems like a lot of calories, that’s because it is. The average recommended daily calorie intake for adults is 2,000 calories. So, one pound of fat represents almost as many calories as two full days of eating.

This is one reason why healthy weight loss is a gradual process. If you want to lose weight, you have to start by reducing the number of calories you consume. If you eat 500 fewer calories each day than you burn, you can expect to lose one pound over the course of a week.

You can achieve this calorie deficit with diet alone. Or you can mix in exercise to burn more calories in a day. Thirty minutes, five times a week is a great place to start. Focus on any type of exercise or activity that increases your heart rate and moves your body.

By incrementally altering your diet and exercise habits, you can safely lose one to two pounds a week. At the same time, you’re creating manageable lifestyle habits that can stick.

The Open Secret to Weight Loss: Calorie Deficit


No matter what new diets promise, the proven way to lose weight is by creating a calorie deficit. Calories are converted from food into cellular energy by your body during metabolism. They power muscle contractions, breath, brain activity, and so much more. But when you consume more calories that your body needs to operate, they are stored as fat (including visceral fat) for later use.

Learn more about calories in this helpful overview.

Typical Changes in Your Weekly Weight-Loss Rate

Even a gentle, incremental start to losing weight can provide you with an encouraging beginning. That’s because it’s possible to lose more in the first few weeks of your weight loss journey.

Build on the momentum, but understand what’s going on biologically. This quick start is the result of your body ridding itself of extra water weight. But staying the course means your weekly weight-loss rate could eventually settle around a pound or two per week—the incremental, sustainable rate you want.

Be cautious of diets and exercise programs that promise faster results. And remember that it’s typical to experience a weight-loss plateau a few weeks after you start. This is your body’s natural response to a sudden drop in weight. Along with the fat loss you’re aiming for, it’s possible to lose a bit of muscle mass, too.

Since muscles are the calorie-burning machines of the body, decreasing their mass can hurt your rate of calories burned. You can minimize muscle loss by ramping up your exercise and keeping your protein intake high. That way you’ll bust through the plateau in no time.

One way to break through periods of changing weight-loss rate is to focus on why you’re doing it. People lose weight for many different reasons. But the fact is, living at a healthy weight benefits your overall well-being.

The heart is one of the first organs to see lasting benefits. Maintaining a healthy weight supports your cardiovascular function, circulation, and reduces the workload on your heart.

Sleep issues are often linked to being overweight. So, one added benefit of your healthy weight loss could be improved sleep. Healthy weight loss can also be good for your mood and help support healthy energy levels. You may find you have more strength and endurance than before, along with a boost in self-esteem that often comes with weight loss.

Designing a Sustainable Weight-Loss Diet: Quality of Calories vs. Quantity of Calories

Diet is one of two main ways to control your calorie balance sheet. So, what you eat obviously plays a key role in the success of your weight loss journey.

While the numbers vary individually and by gender, adults need between 1,600 and 3,000 calories each day to thrive. As you’ve read above, a moderate, consistent calorie deficit will be enough to trigger weight loss.

But you should think beyond simple calorie counts.

It’s important to know all foods are not created equal. Some are high or low calorie. Some foods are filling, while others are not. Look at what you’re eating to determine if the calories in your food are being put to good use.

High-calorie, low-quality foods eat up a large piece of your daily intake, but don’t fill you up. Take soda for example. A 12-ounce serving of the sugary drink represents about 150 calories. These empty calories are all liquid, without fiber or other nutrients, and leave you hungry. Eating 150 calories of filling, fibrous vegetables have a different outcome.

Cutting out empty calories will bring you closer to your weight loss goals. Aim to make high quality, whole foods—like vegetables and lean protein—the center of your diet. Poultry, lean beef, and fatty fish provide quality nutrition and ample energy without the extra calories, starches, or sugars typically found in processed foods. Green vegetables are naturally low-calorie and packed with fiber that leaves you feeling full long after you eat.

On a daily basis, that means limiting high-calorie, low-fiber foods—like sugary drinks, fruit juice, and candy. Replace the drinks with water and snack on an apple instead. Always remaining mindful of where your calories are coming from can help you take control of your diet and create lasting, healthy weight loss.

Up the Ante on Exercise

It often takes healthy eating and exercise to create lasting weight loss. Experts recommend 150 minutes of exercise each week to achieve healthy weight loss. That can look like 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week, or three 50-minute workouts.

One of the best tips for your meeting long-term weight loss goals is to find a physical activity that suits you. Exercise isn’t limited to grueling days at the gym. It can look like a walk or jog with a friend, a hike in the woods, playing a sport, or a group fitness class in your neighborhood.

Don’t beat yourself up if your exercise routine is at a beginner level. Everyone starts somewhere. You will gain strength over time. Your endurance will improve. Soon you’ll find you can do more, have more fun, and feel better.

Celebrating Non-Scale Victories Helps with Long-Term Weight Loss

Over the course of your weight-loss journey, there will be hiccups that slow or halt your progress. You might indulge in too many sweet treats, catch a cold, or suffer an injury. When these obstacles pop up, don’t fret.

Trust the process. Continue to eat well. Also keep incorporating regular exercise to help break out of your slump. No matter whether your weight loss is flourishing or has plateaued, celebrate achievements other than the number on the scale.

Here are some examples of non-scale victories worthy of revelry:

  • Fitting into old clothes
  • Keeping up with your kids
  • Increasing endurance during exercise
  • Experiencing better sleep
  • Developing a new love for healthy food
  • Feeling more energized
  • Gaining self-confidence
  • Noticing an improved sense of overall health and wellbeing

These non-scale victories will make the excitement of reaching your goal weight even sweeter. You’ll feel better in your body and see all the fruits of your hard work.

Remember that a slow, steady pace is the key to long-term weight-loss success. When you focus on the whole-body benefits of weight loss, you’ll summon the willpower to keep going. If you need more motivation, think of your heart, mental health, sleep, and endurance improving each day. Reaching a healthy weight has added benefits that set you up for a happy and full life ahead.

It’s easy to recognize how great you feel when you eat well. When you make healthy eating a habit, this sense of wellbeing can become your new normal. That’s because you’re laying a foundation of broad-spectrum nutrition that’s essential for encouraging your body to thrive.

To maximize your health you need consistent, high-quality nourishment. Use your diet and supplements to stockpile the solid foundational nutrition your body can draw from always.

Build Health Brick by Brick

Consider the idea of foundational nutrition. Just like a home stands atop a strong foundation, your body builds its health on a base of broad-spectrum nutrition.

A healthy, complete diet is full of micro- and macronutrients—vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and it even includes water. Like bricks, these pieces of your diet fit together to support your body in all it does to keep you feeling your best. Whole foods and essential nutrition give you a firm footing and solid start toward the goal of overall wellness, and cells need water to support healthy, proper function.

These bricks in your dietary foundation need mortar to hold them together. A high-quality dietary supplement acts a lot like that glue. Supplements can provide a variety of nutrients that might not be prevalent in your real-world diet. These fill the nutrient gaps that exist when eating perfect isn’t possible. And they can help strengthen your nutritional foundation when your body needs extra support.*

How does foundational nutrition benefit your body? Basically, in every way:

  • Ensures basic dietary requirements are met
  • Builds up stores of important vitamins and minerals
  • Supports the immune system*
  • Maintains brain health and cognitive function*
  • Helps preserve heart and lung health*
  • Supports the body’s defenses from free radicals and oxidative stress*

Your body does its best when your diet provides more than the bare minimum you need to survive. A wealth of resources from a nutritious diet amplifies your health and your body’s ability to maintain that feeling of well-being—no matter what life throws at you.*


Essential Nutrition and Your Health

The word “essential” comes up a lot when talking about nutrition. Nutrients are considered “essential” when they cannot be made by your body, so they have to come from your diet. Vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fatty-acids, and amino acids are all essential nutrients.

These nutrient bricks are used by your body for everything you do. You secure that foundation by laying new bricks of essential nutrition every day. Since carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals are all important, make sure you supply your body with plenty of each from your daily diet.

When your eating isn’t as healthy as it should be, you start to miss out on the nutrients that keep you in tip-top shape. So, secure your nutritional foundation with a wide variety of healthy foods and help reinforce it with supplementation.


Weather Life’s Storms with Foundational Nutrition

Broad-spectrum nutrition is necessary to maintain your health during physically trying times. Busy lives bring a host of issues that can send your body into survival mode. Stress, poor sleep, and fatigue are just a few of the ways your body is challenged.*

One example comes from your immune system during busy times. When germs are everywhere one of your best defenses is a nutritious diet. Bacteria and viruses thrive in bodies unprepared for battle. They pick on cells and systems that don’t have the support to fight back.*

That’s why it’s important to lay a strong foundation of essential nutrition. Your body can make better use of dietary resources when there’s plenty available—instead of scrounging for vitamin, mineral, or macronutrient morsels.

Another area supported by foundational nutrition is your body’s response to stress. Work (whether in or outside the home) really takes a toll on your body. A nutritious diet can help alleviate some of that stress. A body flush with vitamins and essential nutrients can dedicate more energy to help balance stress levels.*

Focusing on broad-spectrum nutrition may even help provide more restful sleep. Healthy eating supports healthy sleeping, especially when your diet is full of the B vitamins that regulate melatonin, the sleep hormone. And a good night’s sleep is one of the most effective ways to combat stress and support your immunity.*

You can be prepared to handle the curveballs life throws at you by maintaining that foundation of good nutrition. Combat germs with a great diet. Sleep better and stress less by acquiring broad-spectrum nutrition. A carefully laid base of essential nutrition makes all of this possible.*

Broad-Spectrum Nutrition Helps Create Opportunities for Your Body

Foundational nutrition has benefits beyond fulfilling your body’s basic needs. That’s because the roles of vitamins and minerals are magnified in the body as you build your nutritional foundation. Everything from nutrient storage to additional benefits at advanced levels are possible when you have a strong nutrient foundation.

When you cultivate broad-spectrum nutrition, you store up certain essential nutrients for later use. Vitamin B12 is an example of an essential nutrient that can be stockpiled for future use—if your body has all it needs. Your liver can save extra B12 from your diet for up to four years.

Red blood cells need B12 to work properly and transport oxygen throughout your body. In times when your diet doesn’t supply ideal levels of vitamin B12, the liver springs into action. It taps into the stock to help restore normal levels and maintain red-blood-cell health.*

Antioxidants keep working in your body long after your diet has met your daily requirements. Two examples: Lutein and lycopene. These two powerful antioxidants work tirelessly to help support the health of your eyes.*

When reserves of vitamin A, another natural antioxidant, are built up, it takes on other important tasks. This includes fighting harmful free radicals and helping clean up oxidative damage. Vitamins C and E work in much the same way. Extra vitamins C and E help support your cardiovascular system and immunity.*

Your bones also thrive when your diet includes broad-spectrum nutrition. Vitamin D’s primary role is helping your bones absorb calcium. Once your daily threshold levels of vitamin D are met by your diet, it can work on other important jobs. Vitamin D works on supporting healthy brain function and helping to protect your heart and immune system.*

A strong nutrient foundation helps your body to thrive—not just survive. Powered by the extras in your diet, essential vitamins and minerals help your health and maintain your wellbeing.*

Be Consistent For Lifelong Health

Like any structure, a nutritional foundation requires consistent upkeep. That’s where supplements can take center stage. A broad-spectrum multivitamin and multi-mineral—and other quality nutritional supplements—can help fill dietary gaps to assist in maintaining the constant level of nutrition necessary for healthy living.*

Supplements can be taken daily as a source of essential vitamins, minerals, and other important—but not essential—micronutrients. To maximize their benefit, be consistent with your supplementation. Take your supplements every day, as directed—which may mean with meals for ideal absorption.

Consistency with your healthy diet and supplements means your body can rely on them as solid sources of great nutrition. Creating this base of nutritious foods puts your body on the path to wellness every day. And you’ll be on your way to setting a stable footing for living your best life.

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

A meal can make your day. Or the wrong one can sink your plans—and your digestive system—like a stone. That’s because all foods don’t digest the same way. Digestibility can even change from person to person. This depends on factors like digestive juices and enzyme activity, microbiome makeup, and anatomical differences. But there are some hard to digest foods that are largely troublesome.

These problems are broadly categorized as digestive issues. And it might be best to leave it at that. To describe them in detail would probably end your reading experience right here. You’re likely familiar with the variety of feelings that result from eating the worst digestion foods out there. It isn’t pretty or comfortable.

And that’s good enough reason to figure out how to swap out these six potentially day-derailing foods.

Fried Foods Burn Your Day to a Crisp

A diet full of fried foods provides a variety of issues. They are a main culprit in the modern, Western dietary descent into the unhealthy. Eating fried foods has many links to unhealthy weight gain and all the associated issues.

While your waistline might be the first thing that jumps to mind, don’t forget the impact fried foods have on your digestive system. Frying any food adds fat. No surprise, since you’re literally immersing food into liquid lipids.

This abundance of fat can trigger a variety of gastric issues for some. It also has been found to have adverse effects on the healthy diversity of the gut microbiome. And that community of microbes play a big role in digestion. That makes fried foods a double-whammy of digestive difficulties.

Eat This Instead: Baking or roasting foods instead of frying will cut down on added fat without sacrificing some of the crunch and crisp of fried foods.

Sugar Substitutes Aren’t Sweet on Your Digestive System

You or someone you know is cutting back on sugar consumption. This is a good goal. But turning to highly processed sugar substitutes may create digestive issues.

Some alternative sweeteners—especially sugar alcohols—have been tied to gastrointestinal unpleasantness. That’s because these substitutes aren’t fully digestible. And consuming too many of various sugar alcohols—frequently found in chewing gum and other sugar-free foods—can sour your day.

Eat This Instead: Cutting out sugar is tough, but there are natural, plant-based substitutes that aren’t linked to substantial digestive issues.

Fatty Meats Make Hard to Digest Foods

Just because the fat is present before cooking doesn’t make fatty meats easier to digest than fried foods. Once again, you need to trim the excessive, unhealthy fat.

The same concerns about your microbiome exist with fatty meats. But your anatomical digestive processes can be upset by eating too much fat, as well. That’s because fat impacts the speed of stomach emptying. Altering the timing of movement and the flow of food through your digestive tract could wreak havoc.

Whether it slows down emptying or speeds up the process, you will feel it.

Eat This Instead: Protein is a key component of a healthy diet. You absolutely need it. But that well-marbled steak isn’t essential. So, replace fatty meats with leaner—or plant-based—protein sources.

Processed Foods Interrupt Your Digestive Processes

Your body has developed to eat what’s around you. For a long time, that meant whole foods from plant and animal sources. Now food scientists and manufacturers can develop foods that take parts and pieces from many sources to make a new whole.

This processing often strips fiber, which is great for digestive health. It also adds fat, sugar, and salt—all of which aren’t good for digestion in excess. More digestive issues could come from the prevalence of artificial ingredients and preservatives that may be hard for your body to handle.

Eat This Instead: Stick, as much as you can, to whole or minimally processed foods—fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.

Dairy can be Disastrous for Digestion

If you’re lactose intolerant, the dairy aisle has many hard to digest foods. That’s obvious. Many lack the enzymes necessary to process lactose (or milk sugar). There are remedies, but dairy digestion could remain hard no matter what, especially soft cheeses and milk.

Eat This Instead: Fermented dairy products like yogurt. Also lactose-free milk and harder cheeses are easier because lactose isn’t present or is limited. That’s because it has already been taken care of. So, turn to these easier options to get your dairy fix.

Carbonated Drinks Don’t Do You Any Favors

Many carbonated drinks have alternative sweeteners or are loaded with sugar. Both can be bothersome. But the bubbles are the real problem.

Some people deal with carbonation better than others. But filling your stomach with gas can easily lead to bloating for anyone. And when those bubble pop, the air has to escape somewhere.

Drink This Instead: Plain water is always your best bet for hydration. If you need something a bit more interesting, try adding fruit or switching to green tea.

Aren’t Fiber-Rich Grains, Fruits, and Vegetables Hard to Digest Foods?

vegetables

You’ll see fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains on lists of foods that may menace your digestive system. You can blame fiber.

It’s true that fiber—both soluble and insoluble varieties—aren’t fully digested. Given what you know, that seems bad. And packing yourself with a bunch of fiber-rich foods does generate a gastrointestinal reaction.

But the reason fiber-rich plant-based foods aren’t on the list above is because these foods have so many positives. And there are easy ways around the digestive dysfunction they could cause.

First of all, fiber also aids in digestion, adding bulk and helping the movement of waste products. It also acts as food for your microbiome (prebiotics). And finally, fiber has ties to multiple health benefits and weight management success.

Vegetables and fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. So, you don’t want to skip them because they were on a list of hard to digest foods. You just have to be smart about how they are prepared and how much you eat.

Gradually increase your consumption of raw vegetables—especially cruciferous types, like cabbage and broccoli. That way your body and microbiome have time to adjust to the incremental increase in fiber and other plant material. Cooking vegetables will also help with their digestibility, and, in some cases, improve the bioavailability of certain nutrients.

When it comes to fruits, moderation still matters. But selection is important, as well. Berries and bananas—and other low-fructose fruits—are easier on your digestive system than choices like pears or apples. Also, don’t overdo it with acidic fruits.

Obviously, avoid grains if you’re allergic to them. And legumes (beans, lentils, and peas) are tough because they’re full of fiber and you may not have the enzymes needed to break them down. Soaking beans before cooking is a step towards mitigate beans’ impact on your guts.

Do a Favor for Your Digestive System

There are so many factors to consider when planning your meals. You can focus on macronutrients, micronutrients, calories, and on and on. Just don’t forget about what happens after the food leaves your fork.

Cut the food that you eat into small pieces and chew each bite completely before swallowing, as this can aid in digestibility. Swap out or limit the hard to digest foods you eat for ingredients easier on your gastrointestinal tract. That way eating will be energizing, filling, and satisfying instead of a form of culinary sabotage for your day.

hand planting corn seed

hand planting corn seed

You’re a gardener—even if you don’t have the green thumb to prove it. You may never have planted a seed and cared for it until it sprouts from the earth. But you’re still a gardener of sorts. That’s because your gut is like a garden and your diet acts as the soil and fertilizer.

What you put into your garden influences your microbiota (the microbes that grow there). Specifically, the mix of fiber, protein, carbohydrates, fat, and micronutrients in your diet determines whether your microbiome will flourish.

The microscopic residents of your gut include fungi, viruses, yeast, and other microorganisms. But bacteria are the most notable gut flora. Because their lifespan is short, bacteria can adapt to environmental changes rapidly. They can also take genetic material from neighboring gut flora, which can benefit both bacteria and the host they live in (you!).

These characteristics are what make bacteria so impactful on human health. And that’s why it’s important to understand how your diet cultivates the health and diversity of bacteria and other gut flora.

How Your Gut Garden Started

Last Months of Pregnancy

You weren’t born with the bacteria you now have in your gut. This profile was built over the initial years of your life, starting with the way you were born. Cesarean versus vaginal delivery dictated the initial dominant bacteria in your gut. Then, what you were fed rounded out your gut’s early bacterial profile.

Studies on mother’s milk really illustrated the role and importance of gut microbiota. Researchers initially were unsure why the milk contained such complex carbohydrates. These molecules were known to be indigestible for infants. The babies lacked the necessary enzymes. However, early research revealed the complex carbohydrates are actually present in mother’s milk to nourish the infant’s gut microbiota, and not the infant.

So, your gut garden began at this early stage in life. Mother’s milk acted as the rich soil that nourishes bacteria within. The result was symbiotic for the bacteria and baby. The bacteria flourished, and in doing so, protected the baby’s gut lining. This was important for healthy immunity and nutrient absorption—and remains important as an adult. Proliferation of good bacteria meant they can crowd out possible pathogens and break down the complex carbohydrates into digestible parts.

After your first two years of life, your microbiome’s profile was nearly set. And even with all the variety in flora, lifestyle, genetics, and anatomy, there are some bacteria typically found in the gut microflora.

The most common types of bacteria found in the human gut belong to the phyla firmicutes and bacteroidetes, actinobacteria, and proteobacteria. These phyla (a biological classification) contain bacterial species you may have heard of before, like Lactobacillus, Prevotella, Bifidobacteria, and H. pylori.

There has been a concerted effort to extensively analyze the human microbiome. More research needs to be done before one profile is proclaimed the healthiest. But even with a lack of definitive answers, an educated conclusion can still be made.

One confirmed characteristic of a healthy gut is a diversity of microflora. Diverse bacterial communities tend to be more resilient. This means they’re better at fending off potential pathogens that might invade and try to take over space. When the gut microbiota is filled with a plethora of various good bacteria, the bad kind don’t have empty space to take up residence.

This is a constant battle for space and resources. And you play a big role. As the gardener, you control the soil and fertilizer, which determines what grows best. That’s where what you choose to eat comes into play.

How Your Diet Affects Your Gut Microbiome

vegetables

Research shows differences in microbial profile exist based on the content of your current diet—just like the differences explained by feeding mother’s milk versus formula. That means a diet rich in fruits and vegetables (which contains more fiber) will produce a different bacterial profile than one rich in animal protein and fat, or another full of simple and processed carbohydrates.

But what kind of dietary soil grows the most diverse and robust gut-flora garden? And which diets fail to yield advantageous bacterial profiles?

The table below will give you an idea of how gut microbiota shifts with different diets. You don’t need to be an expert on the different bacteria listed below to get an idea of that key characteristic of a healthy gut—diversity.

Increasing Species Decreasing Species Diversity
Western diet Bacteroides Bifidobacteria Less
 

Mediterranean diet

Bifidobacteria

Lactobacilli

Prevotella

 

More

 

Vegetarian diet

Bifidobacterium

Lactobacillus

Prevotella

 

Bacteroides

 

More

 Western Diet

This type of diet is high in saturated fat and sugar, and it features processed foods. Because it lacks a variety of fruits and vegetables, the modern Western diet lacks fiber. If you remember from earlier, fiber is what feeds your gut microbiota. That’s why fiber is often called a “prebiotic.” That’s because it feeds the bacteria that ultimately help nourish you.

Without that fiber, there are fewer species of flora in your gut that can thrive. This means microbial diversity is less than with other diets rich in fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Decreased microbial diversity leads to decreased gut resilience, which can spell problems for your health.

Mediterranean Diet

On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet is known for healthy variety. That includes:

  • Various fruits and vegetables
  • The inclusion of legumes and whole grains
  • A generous use of healthy fats—like olive oil
  • Minimal intake of animal-based proteins

This mix creates a diet rich in fiber—or prebiotic material—that your gut microbiota literally lives for. And, as you might have guessed, the Mediterranean diet promotes microbial diversity. One review of diet-induced microbial changes noted no decreasing species in those who consumed a Mediterranean diet. On the other hand, researchers noticed an uptick in at least three species.

Not convinced? One study focused on a group of Italian participants who ate a Mediterranean diet. Over the course of three weeks, the participants provided three samples that were pooled and analyzed for gut microbial content. The researchers found those who best adhered to the diet had more diverse flora in their guts. More specifically, in plant-based eaters (no animal-based protein), they found an increase in Prevotella bacteria.

Vegetarian

Eating vegetarian yields increases in similar bacteria found in adherents of the Mediterranean diet. Additionally, vegetarian diets also cause an uptick in diversity of microbiota, thanks to all that vegetable-based fiber.

Another notable shift is the decrease in Bacteroides species—the opposite trend seen in Western diets. The main difference is the consumption of animal-based protein. Bacteroides are not inherently bad, and can have a beneficial relationship with the gut. But, should they escape that environment through the gut lining, they can cause issues.

You (And Your Gut Microbiota) Are What You Eat

There’s still much research to be done on the gut microbiome and all of its intricacies. But some things are very clear.

First, you gut microbiota’s health is inherently tied to your overall health. One of the main reasons? Your gut flora help digest food and nourish your body. They also play a role in signaling the brain with various messages, like when we’re hungry or adequately satiated. And flora also play a role in maintaining healthy immunity.

Second, it’s established that you should strive for diversity of microbiota in your gut. And before you worry, there’s no need to completely overhaul your diet to achieve this goal. Instead, start by thinking about ways you can incorporate more fiber into your diet.

Luckily, you have a lot of options for doing so. Try a few of these easy options:

  1. Make small, easily applied changes. Like swapping out rolled oats for steel-cut oatmeal. Or eating whole-wheat pasta al dente versus cooked soft. Feeding yourself whole grains that take a little more effort to digest means you’re giving your microbiota more fiber to chew through.
  2. Consider replacing a processed snack with fruits or vegetables. And you can make it fun! Apples or carrots can be more exciting when paired with your favorite nut butter. A salad also tastes brighter with fresh strawberries.
  3. Skip the peeler when you can. Vegetable and fruit skin (or peels) can have a lot of healthy fiber and nutrients. When you peel them away, you miss the nourishment they provide you and your microbiota.
  4. Take a wholly different approach to grains. Love white bread and other grains? You’re not alone. But substituting a serving here or there for a whole-grain option is a good start. Try a multigrain bread, whole-grain pasta, or a new grain altogether (bulgur, quinoa, farro, or brown rice). It can spice up your cooking routine and help your gut.

Woman using antibacterial hand sanitizer

Lastly, consider easing up on antibacterial soaps and ideology. You want to keep pathogens away from your homes and bodies. But it’s easy to go overboard when it comes to cleanliness. This might mean not washing your hands after petting your dog, or making sure you really need antibiotics before taking them. The common cold is caused by a virus, so you won’t benefit from antibiotics.

The state (and diversity) of your gut microbiota is fairly stable in adulthood, but that’s not the case when you take antibiotics. They can wipe out bad and good bacteria. That’s like depleting a garden of all its organic material, richness, and nutrients at once. And that wonderful, fertile microbial soil will need to be rebuilt. One study found that it can take up to four weeks for your gut microbiota to return to its normal diversity.

Now that you’re in the know when it comes to your microbiota, you can trust yourself to be a master gut gardener. Whether your soil isn’t where you want it to be or not, you have the knowledge and tools to make changes and grow a healthy gut microbiota garden that can benefit your health.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

If your diet is perfect, you can stop reading right now. This story is for people who occasionally hang out with foods best described as bad nutritional influences. That’s because even dietary troublemakers have redeeming qualities and you can find surprising sources of nutrients everywhere.

That doesn’t mean your whole diet should—or even can—be filled with foods that lean so heavily into the unhealthy. You need to limit the foods mentioned below. And for good health and weight maintenance, fill up on nutritious whole foods and plenty of plants.

But for the sake of your happiness or sanity, sometimes you need to stray—even momentarily. So, the following list of surprising sources of nutrients isn’t meant to absolve your dietary indiscretions. Instead, use it to help you pick a pleasure with at least a sliver of a nutritional silver lining.

Dark Chocolate Could be Your Choice for Unexpected Nutrition

This is probably the most well-known example of important nutrients in a delicious disguise. But let’s get something straight—this isn’t a blanket statement about all chocolate. Only the dark variety (cocoa—the unsweetened powder, not the drink—content at 50 percent or above) brings the hidden nutrient payload.

White chocolate is basically sugar and fat—without any actual cocoa in it. Milk chocolate is ubiquitous, creamy, delicious, and lacking many cocoa solids, which almost eliminates any nutritional upside whatsoever.

Dark chocolate contains more of the actual source material—the pods of the cacoa plant—which makes it more bitter and nutritious. That’s because this dark delight retains some soluble fiber, beneficial fatty acids, minerals, and small amounts of caffeine.

The phytonutrients in dark chocolate are also a big part of the surprising nutritional profile. Chocolate’s bio-active plant compounds have the ability to provide antioxidant support. And cocoa’s profile of phytonutrients—in this case, flavonols, catechins, and polyphenols—compares favorably to some berries.

That doesn’t mean you should permanently replace your afternoon handful of blueberries with a bar of dark chocolate. Even though it’s a surprising source of nutrients, dark chocolate is an unsurprising source of calories and fat. Any nutrient density is unfortunately balanced with the density of calories. So, eat dark chocolate in moderation—an ounce (28 grams) here and there won’t hurt. And you now have the information to back up your decadent decision.

What Nutrients are Hiding in Dark Chocolate?

  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Phosphorus
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • Flavonols
  • Fiber

The Shocking Nutritional Power of Potatoes

These tubers get a bad reputation. But why do potatoes have to be so delicious when fried and salted? Without the unhealthy preparation, potatoes absolutely qualify as a surprising source of nutrients.

Potatoes are just plants, after all—starchy nightshades grown underground to be exact. That’s the same family as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. And potatoes share vitamin and mineral content with their conventionally healthy cousins.

The white or gold varieties of potato—sweet potatoes are different and often considered healthier anyway—have vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6, and certain polyphenols. Since they’re mostly carbohydrates, potatoes also contain a small amount fiber. What is there mostly takes the form of resistant starch and insoluble fiber.

A majority of potatoes’ helpful nutrients aren’t hiding deep inside. They’re right on the surface, in the skin. So, when you cook potatoes, wash them thoroughly to remove dirt, but don’t peel them. You’re throwing a significant percentage of the nutrition in the garbage or compost.

There are plenty of nutrients to make potatoes worthwhile parts of your plate. And they are a staple food around the world. But overeating these starchy vegetables can be detrimental to weight management. That’s partly because plain potatoes are high glycemic and fairly calorie dense.

So, when potatoes are on the menu, make sure to pay attention to preparation (leave the peel) and cooking method (baked or boiled—not fried or cooked without excess fat). To lower the glycemic impact of potatoes, eat them as part of an entire meal (with protein, added fiber, and fats) to help slow the rate of digestion. And know when you dig in, you’re doing something surprisingly good for your health.

What Nutrients are Hiding in Potatoes?

  • Insoluble fiber
  • Resistant starch
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B9 (folate)
  • Choline
  • Antioxidants from various polyphenols (including catechin and lutein)

Looking for a Surprising Source of Nutrients? Say Cheese!

Cheese can be gooey, melty, creamy, or delightfully funky. It’s also full of saturated fat, calories, and quite a bit of salt. That’s not all that awaits cheese lovers, though.

The delectable dairy treat sports a bevy of beneficial nutrients to help balance some of the negatives. It has protein, a variety of essential minerals (calcium, zinc, and phosphorous), and vitamins A, B2, and B12. Depending on the milk source, cheeses can even contain conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin K2, good bacteria, omega-3s, and other fatty acids.

And you have your choice of different cheeses. If you’ve visited any grocery store lately, you know the variety of cheeses is staggering. Each type of cheese offers a different level of healthfulness, too.

It’s time to slice up the nutritional goodness for a few common varieties of cheese:

  • Cheddar: A popular addition to a variety of dishes—or simply delicious on top of crackers—this cheese, per ounce (28 grams), has: 115 calories, seven grams of protein, 20 percent of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium, and some vitamin K2.
  • Blue Cheese: A rich cheese with veins of mold that has about 100 calories per ounce, six grams of protein, and a third of your RDI of calcium.
  • Feta: Crumbles of this salty cheese can give your salad a big boost of flavor, protein, and calcium without too many calories—80 per ounce, six grams of protein, and 10 percent of your daily calcium.
  • Mozzarella: This lower fat, lower sodium cheese is also lower calorie—about 85 per ounce—but still has plenty of protein (six grams) and calcium (14 percent of your daily recommendation in just an ounce).
  • Parmesan: A hard cheese that’s great as a topping contains about 110 calories per ounce, 10 grams of protein, 34 percent of your RDI of calcium, and about 30 percent of your recommended intake of phosphorous.
  • Swiss: Don’t let the holes fool you, there’s still plenty of protein (eight grams), not a lot of sodium, and very few carb (less than a gram) in this popular cheese—which also has about 111 calories and a quarter of daily calcium intake in an ounce.

All the fat, calories, and sodium necessitates a moderate approach to cheese consumption. And it’s obviously a no-no for those avoiding dairy for any reason. But if cheese melts your willpower, don’t fear too much. It’s still a surprising source of nutrients you need.

What Nutrients are Hiding in Cheese?

  • Protein
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B2
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin K
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Phosphorous
  • Fatty acids—like palmitoleate, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and omega 3s
  • Good bacteria

Crack Open the Cold, Hard Facts About Hidden Nutrients in Beer

Moderation is the best mode when considering alcohol as part of your lifestyle. And avoiding it altogether is the only path that works for some. But if you’re going to pour yourself something stronger than water, beer is an unexpectedly good option.

Imbibing moderate amount of any alcohol has been found to have health benefits. Wine usually drinks up a lot of the publicity about healthy alcoholic beverages. But don’t sleep on the surprising nutrients lurking just below the foam of your sudsy lager or ale (especially those that haven’t filtered out all the grain proteins, hop material, and yeast from solution).

The B vitamins, soluble fiber, and very small amounts of various essential minerals help balance out some of the negatives brought on by beer’s high calories and carb count. You couldn’t, and shouldn’t, turn to beer for any significant portion of your nutritional needs, though.

There is one interesting and beneficial organic compound that is hard to find in other sources—xanthohumol. This bioflavonoid (a special kind of polyphenol and phytonutrient) comes from the hops used to bitter and flavor beer.

Research on this emerging compound isn’t robust, yet. But early results are promising. It’s found that your body may like xanthohumol because of its antioxidant properties, which means it helps fight free radicals. The most effective doses of this bioflavonoid are much higher than what you’d get in even the hoppiest beer, though.

So, if you don’t drink alcohol, that’s probably a good decision for your overall health. Those that do choose to tip one back every once in a while—always responsibly, moderately, and legally—can find surprising nutritional content in their favorite pint.

What Nutrients are Hiding in Beer?

  • Soluble fiber
  • B vitamins
  • Silicon
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Fluoride
  • Copper
  • Selenium
  • Manganese
  • Zinc
  • Antioxidants from phytonutrients in the ingredients (barley and hops)
  • Xanthohumol

Surprises are Good—Sometimes

Knowing where to find surprising sources of nutrients is a good way to pick and explain away your guilty pleasures. You might even impress your friends with these fun facts. Again, though, these foods shouldn’t make up the bulk of your diet.

You can feel good about finding buried nutritional treasure in seemingly irredeemable foods and beverages. But remember there are more obvious sources of important nutrients that should be the focus of your meal planning.

Vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, lean protein, and whole grains might not offer the rush of the foods above. But they’re the foundation of the healthy diet that allows you to occasionally opt for something a little more fun—with a few hidden nutrient surprises, too.

women eating

women eating

You aren’t what you eat. But you are what your body absorbs. That’s because all of your food isn’t used by your body. And if you don’t absorb the nutrients in your food, they do no good for your cells, muscles, brain, and more.

But how are nutrients absorbed by the body? The simple version of this process has five components:

  1. Chewing and the introduction of enzymes in your mouth
  2. Churning and mixing with acid (gastric juice) in your stomach
  3. Contact and absorption in your small intestine—your nutrient absorption center
  4. Entrance into the bloodstream
  5. Carrier proteins bringing nutrients into your cells

Click to expand

But the journey is much more interesting and complex. A lot goes on behind the scenes to get the good stuff in your meal to enter the bloodstream.

So, follow along as the vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in your food make their way into your cells. And learn how you can help your body continue healthy nutrient absorption.

Your Digestive Systems Prepares Food for the Small Intestine

To sustain your body, your food needs to be broken down into usable pieces. Carbs, proteins, and fats become glucose, amino acids, and fatty acids, respectively. The vitamins and minerals in food need to be extracted, too.

That’s what your digestive system does. And digestion starts right after the first bite. Teeth tear up food into manageable chunks. The enzymes in your saliva (called salivary amylase) break down the food’s chemical structure.

Digestion continues in the stomach, where powerful acid disassembles food even further. With the help of peristaltic motion (rhythmic digestive movement) the food you consume is stirred and mixed as it prepares to enter the small intestine.

If you’re interested in a deeper dive into digestion, take a trip through your digestive tract.

Small Intestine: Headquarters of Nutrient Absorption

The workings of the small intestine can be complex. But its role can be simply summed up in two words: nutrient absorption. That’s because your small intestine is in charge of pulling glucose, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals out of food to be used by the cells.

This is accomplished by tiny projections called villi. The microscopic, brush-like lining of the small intestine acts like a comb that grabs important nutrients out of the digested food that leaves your stomach.

Villi are great at absorbing nutrients because they increase the surface area of the inside of small intestine. With hundreds of thousands of villi lining your gut, that’s a lot of surface area for nutrient absorption.

Each villus (a single protrusion of the villi) is composed of a meshwork of capillaries and lymphatic vessels (called lacteals) underneath an ultra-thin layer of tissue. This special structure makes it possible to pull macro- and micronutrients out of your meals and send them to the bloodstream.

Water is also essential to this process. The small intestine uses a chemical process called diffusion to extract nutrients. Diffusion moves water and water-soluble compounds across barriers, like the villi in the small intestine. These compounds include:

  • Glucose (simple sugars)
  • Amino acids (parts of proteins)
  • Water-soluble vitamins (B vitamins and vitamin C)
  • Minerals

Once these nutrients are diffused into the villi, it’s a straight shot to the bloodstream. That’s where these nutrients can work in cells to make proteins and create energy.

Fats and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) require a few extra steps to enter the bloodstream.

First, bile acids from the liver mix with fats in the small intestine. This breaks the fats down into their component fatty acids. Then, the fatty acids and other fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed by the villi into lacteals. These lymphatic vessels transport the fat-soluble compounds to the liver. That’s where they are stored and released in the body as needed.

And there’s a lot of use for fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. Cells use the fatty acids to build cell membranes. And vitamins A, D, E, and K are useful in the body to support the health of your eyes, brain, heart, and bones.

Nutrient Distribution into Your Cells

Absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream isn’t the end of the journey. To make energy, move muscles, sense touch, and generally propel your life, the nutrients you eat need to enter your cells.

This is easier said than done.

Surrounding each of your cells—no matter the type—is a cellular membrane made of fatty acids. It protects the cell, and controls what can enter and exit. Some materials, like water, can pass into the cell easily. Others need assistance.

Proteins embedded in the cellular membrane act as ushers. They help carry nutrients from the bloodstream into the cell. Glucose, amino acids, fats, and vitamins use carrier proteins to get inside cells.

Once through the membrane, nutrients play many important roles. Some cells, like muscle fibers, need minerals like calcium to flood the cell in order to move your arms and legs. Others, like nerve cells, need sodium and potassium to be pumped in and out so your brain can pick up sensory information.

Cells use the glucose in your bloodstream to create energy by making ATP, the cellular energy currency. And amino acids are the building blocks for all DNA. When they’re brought into the cell, amino acids help transfer genetic information so cells can replicate.

Nutrients and the Blood Brain Barrier

While the small intestine readily absorbs and distributes nutrients to cells, the brain is more guarded. As a precaution, your brain is selective about the compounds it allows to enter through the bloodstream. This transport of nutrients is managed by a mechanism called the blood-brain barrier (BBB).

The BBB consists of the vessels and capillaries that deliver blood to the brain and surrounding tissue. These vessels are made of tightly packed cells that only allow the smallest molecules to pass through to the brain. Larger molecules can only enter with the help of specialized transport proteins.

Glucose is one of the nutrients that has the easiest time crossing the blood-brain barrier. And with good reason. Glucose is the fuel your brain thrives on, so it’s important that it can freely enter the brain.

Fatty acids also travel across the BBB easily. That’s because your brain’s health relies on them. Omega-3s are especially important for supporting growing brains.

It’s not so easy for amino acids. Carrier molecules attach themselves to amino acids to guide them to the brain. Without the carriers, these protein components wouldn’t be able to do their job in the brain. That includes manufacturing neurotransmitters that help regulate your mood and nervous system.

Other nutrients can enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier. Vitamins B6 and B12 also rely on carrier molecules. But vitamin C can cross the BBB on its own and has been shown to help other helpful compounds make their way to the brain.

3 Tips to Maintain Healthy Nutrient Absorption

Now you understand how nutrients are absorbed by the body. And have a good idea of the importance of this process. But how much of nutrient absorption is within your control?

Quite a bit, actually. Maintaining your digestive health and making smart dietary decisions are two major factors under your control. Here are three simple suggestions to support nutrient absorption. Pick one to work on and see how it makes you feel.

  1. Focus on your good bacteria ratio with a probiotic

Your digestive system is helped by the members of your gut microbiome. That’s why probiotics are great for supporting healthy digestion. They help maintain healthy bacterial diversity, which assists your gut in breaking down some types of food so they can be properly absorbed.

  1. Make healthy fat choices

Remember those fat-soluble vitamins? They rely on fat to get from the small intestine to the rest of your body. Healthy fats are necessary for storing up vitamins A, D, E, and K. Choose healthy fats (plant sources) over saturated or trans fats to help your body absorb these important nutrients. Just another reason to take your supplements with food.

  1. Give your body plenty of nutrients to absorb

This sounds like the most obvious advice, but it’s important to remember. Make a goal to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to optimize the vitamins you’re getting on a daily basis. Start by eating different colored foods. This can help you meet your nutrient goals. Red and orange foods have lots of vitamin A, while green veggies are packed with B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Colorful foods also contain phytonutrients that support good health. So, try to fill your plate with different colors to meet your daily needs.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

washing face

washing face

As you go about your everyday life, you are not alone. No need to be paranoid. You aren’t being haunted by ghosts or followed by anyone. But there is a community of nearly 1,000 different species of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and mites you constantly tote around with you—on your skin. It’s known as the skin microbiome, and it’s important for the health of your largest organ.

That’s right—what you can’t see in the mirror might be having a huge impact on your skin.

What is the Skin Microbiome?

woman washing face

The billions of microbes living on you are called your skin microbiome. These microorganisms (sometimes called skin flora) are harmless or even beneficial—playing a vital role in your immune system and skin appearance. Evolved over thousands of years, the human microbiome consists of many distinct types of colonies, depending on the location and condition of the microenvironment.

The microbiota survive off of the salt, water, and oil (sebum) your skin releases to keep itself cool and lubricated. And several factors determine the habitat of the various microbiota, like:

  • body temperature
  • skin thickness
  • amount and size of folds
  • skin pH
  • the density of hair follicles and glands

In other words—and not all too surprisingly—the microbiota on your face looks different from the microbiota on your armpits. Areas with higher density of oil glands, like your face, back, and chest, thrive off of the lipids (fats) in your sebum. Warm, humid areas, such as the groin and between the toes, host microorganisms that love a danker environment. Meanwhile, dry, cool patches—like your arms and legs—have far fewer micro-colonies than the rest of your body. In all, the average person carries around two pounds of microbes on their body at all times.

The sheer amount and diversity of skin flora may sound scary. But it’s actually a good and healthy thing. Having a bountiful, well-balanced microbiome plays an important role in your overall health, and the appearance of your skin. The microorganisms help produce vitamins, hormones, and chemicals that affect everything from your mood to metabolism to immune system.

What Skin Flora Do for You

skin microbiome

Most people know the skin is the body’s first line of defense against injury or potential pathogens. But it’s not actually your skin’s cells that act as the front lines of the cavalry. It’s the skin’s microbiome.

Your skin’s inherent environment is rather unfriendly to bad bacteria. It’s cool and dry. The pH is acidic. Even sebum, your skin’s lubricant, is antimicrobial. And, ideally, your skin has a bountiful amount of microbiota to combat all the bad bacteria you come into contact with.

A healthy skin microbiome, which prefers the acidic environment your skin provides, helps your immune system out. This likely starts by skin flora overcrowding pathogen overgrowth. Also, your skin’s immune system and microbiome communicate and respond to one another’s needs.

But your skin could be left vulnerable if your skin’s microbiome has been damaged in one of many ways:

  • soaps
  • incorrect or overuse of antibiotics
  • harsh skincare products
  • environmental factors

Unfortunately, the diversity in many modern societies’ microbiomes is as much as half as diverse as it once was. The culprits of the dwindling number of microbiota? Modern hygiene practices—such as daily showers or baths and the use of aggressive soaps and detergents—along with less healthful diets. Also a lack of interactions with plants, soil, and the microbiomes of livestock and other wildlife, may have an impact.

On the individual level, many factors can shape the diversity of your skin flora. Your job, age, lifestyle, clothing, hygiene habits, and even how much time you spend in the sunlight can all affect the types and amount of microorganisms inhabiting your microbiome.

The lack of diversity can become obvious, even to the naked eye. It can lead to dryness, overproduction of sebum, breakouts, redness, or other afflictions. Therefore, keeping the proper balance of microbiota, and maintaining proper pH, can help protect your skin and microbiota from undesirable conditions.

The relationship between your skin’s appearance and microbiome isn’t completely clear. That’s partially because the vast majority of skin flora haven’t been cultured or extensively studied yet. But more research and information is likely coming. That’s because the subject of the skin microbiome has caught the attention of many large beauty and skincare brands. It has even inspired the creation of some startup cosmetic brands who are experimenting with adding microbes to their products.

5 Tips for a Flourishing, Healthy Skin Microbiome

drinking water

Many of the factors that control the makeup of your skin microbiome are out of your control. But there are some things you can do to protect the delicate communities of skin flora. To keep your skin’s microbiome happy, healthy, and thriving, implement these five tips:

Cleanse—and dry—correctly.

There’s a fine balance between having good hygiene and overdoing it. Avoid over-washing or using harsh cleansers. And don’t go crazy with the scrubbing. Too much friction can strip your skin of its healthy microbes, and create micro-tears in the skin at the same time. These tiny tears can be a breeding ground for unhealthy pathogens. When it comes time to dry off, gently pat your skin dry instead of vigorously rubbing yourself with the towel.

Eat well and hydrate.

As with most aspects of your health, your diet plays a vital role in keeping your skin healthy. Eating a diet rich in healthy fats, vegetables, protein, and fiber helps your gut bacteria, which may in turn help your skin microbiome. Also, be sure to drink at least 64 ounces of water per day. Being chronically dehydrated can negatively impact your microbiome. Finally, try to work up a sweat regularly to help feed your skin’s microbiome.

Avoid synthetic fabrics.

Choose natural fibers like cotton over synthetics whenever possible. Man-made fabrics, especially those that are tight or worn closely to the skin, can cause an imbalance in your microbiome. Remember that microbiota thrive on different areas of the body because of their unique environments. If you often wear items that cause your temperature, sebum or sweat  production, or otherwise affect the normal skin conditions, you could create an environment in which good skin flora cannot thrive.

Choose products wisely.

Avoid antibacterial soaps and step away from hand sanitizer. In many cases, they kill the beneficial microbes along with the bad ones. Beyond the antibacterial type, soaps in general are alkaline, which can upset the balance of your acidic skin and actually make you more vulnerable to alkaline-loving potential pathogens. If you want to go the extra mile to ensure your hygiene isn’t damaging your microbiota, try one of the microbiome soaps that are now on the market. When it comes time to moisturize, be aware that many lotions have ingredients that are not microbiome-friendly. Use gentle, water-attracting moisturizers with ingredients like hyaluronic acid.

Embrace Your Skin Microbiome.

While it may go against everything you’ve been taught for decades, not all bacteria or other microbes should be killed or avoided. And, in reality, it would be a futile endeavor. So, instead of being grossed out by the billions of life forms with which you share your body, embrace the little guys that make up your skin microbiome and do your best to protect them as well as they try to protect you.

The human body is an amazing vessel. But it’s not intended to sit still—like in a modern sedentary lifestyle. Your body was meant to move. It’s made up of 360 joints and nearly 700 skeletal muscles. This allows for a range of motions in every direction.

That means running, stretching, jumping, sliding, pushing, pulling, and so much more. Through such actions, your body allows you to more fully experience the world. From the most elementary and overlooked feat—that your body can deliver you from one place to another—to the magnificent: Drinking in beautiful sights beyond your house. Dancing to your favorite song. Experiencing the competition and triumph of sports.

However, humans are—for the most part—doing the opposite. Instead of moving, today, you’re probably remaining largely motionless, settled into a sedentary lifestyle. What exactly is that? Being “sedentary” means engaging in a waking behavior that involves sitting or lying.

So, where people might have once moved, they now sit. Walking has been replaced with driving. Interactive play has given way to streaming TV binges. Talking in person is now rarer because of email and text messages.

“Couch potato” was an accurate description for choosing to relax in front of a screen. But the age of the iPhone now calls for a new definition. After all, if you’re sitting and looking at a screen for hours on end out of obligation—like for work—does “couch potato” really fit?

What happens when being sedentary is no longer a decision to relax? What does it mean for your health when, instead, it’s an obligatory lifestyle? Let’s find out.

Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle

Whether by choice or duty, a sedentary lifestyle can greatly impact your health. It’s related to health issues both physical and mental in nature. Take a look at the risks involved with sinking into a sedentary lifestyle.

Physical Health

Inactivity requires fewer calories than an active lifestyle. So, the balance of the “calories in vs. calories out” equation shifts. Long, habitual periods of inactivity make it easier to gain weight. And while a few pounds here or there may be relatively harmless, continually being sedentary and gaining weight can lead to more serious issues. That includes impacts on your mobility, flexibility, and heart health.

Risk for cardiovascular problems also increases with more time spent motionless. One study collected self-reported data from a group of men about their time spent riding in a car and watching TV. Researchers compared the amounts of time for each activity separately and combined. Then they analyzed it against data for this group over 20 years later. Researchers found that long hours spent in a sedentary position were associated with declining cardiovascular health.

The ties between sedentary behavior and cardiovascular health extends to your blood pressure. One group of researchers analyzed the results of several studies looking at sedentary lifestyle and blood pressure. Participants self-reported the amount of time they spent sedentary. With each hour increase in a sedentary position, blood pressure increased proportionally. That’s bad news for those trying to maintain healthy, normal blood pressure.

Mental Health

It’s widely understood that exercise and physical activity have a positive effect on mental health. Moving contributes to a state of well-being. Research shows that extended screen time can have a negative impact on mental health for a variety of reasons (lack of interpersonal connection, loss of sleep, etc.). Plus, screen time usually implies sedentary behavior. Taken together, you can start to see the connection between a sedentary lifestyle and poor mental health outcomes.

One group of researchers analyzed several studies looking at adolescent screen time and depressive symptoms, with a special consideration for sedentary behavior. They found that in two out of three studies, prolonged screen time was associated with depressive symptoms, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and more.

Bouts of Exercise Do Not Negate Sedentary Behavior

Exercise is not the opposite of sedentary behavior—activity is. Activity requires moving your body, regardless of the end result.

Health guidelines suggest 150 minutes of exercise every week. That does not include time spent moving to combat the dominant sedentary lifestyle. Only five percent of American adults participate in the recommended 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Globally, 60-85 percent of people also lead sedentary lifestyles. Consider how many people are sedentary and how few of them are combating it with general activity. It becomes obvious how far-reaching this issue can be. So, what can be done?

The truth is that you can’t exercise the sedentary behavior away. Sitting for eight hours before hitting the gym for 30 minutes will not cancel out all that inaction. That’s because the harm of a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t come from the lack of sweating and sore muscles. Rather, the danger of being sedentary is much simpler. It’s about ignoring the body’s natural purpose: movement.

Exercising is great for the body. You should do it, as recommended. But you should also remember to move your body so you aren’t occupying the same position for hours at a time. If you need more proof, consider a recent study.

Participants who exceeded the 150 minutes of exercise per week recommendation were no better off than those who reported never exercising. So, there is something to moving throughout the day even if they’re micro-movements. Instead of saving the effort for one session of exercise, consider incorporating these micro-movements throughout your day.

Managing A Sedentary Lifestyle with Micro-Movements 

Many companies have sprung up creating stand-up desks to offer an easy solution to the sedentary office life. And while standing might seem preferable to sitting, it’s still not the magic bullet. Standing might keep you from resting on your backside, but it’s still a rather motionless act. The benefit is in moving from one position to the next. So, consider this mantra: The best posture is the next posture.

A sedentary lifestyle can be broken up by adding in small or subtle actions throughout the day. This could be something as simple as taking a break from sitting to stand and stretch every 15 minutes. That’s a good staring place. Here are a few more ideas:

  • If you have a short commute, consider walking or biking. You can also add in these options to a longer commute. Bike to the train or walk to the bus. If driving is a must, park further away from your destination once you arrive. The extra steps will add up.
  • Take walking meetings. You’ll get your blood pumping, joints moving, and allow you to think more creatively.
  • If you must be at a desk for hours at a time, set a recurring alarm every hour. This will serve as your reminder to stand up for 5-10 minutes. And once you’re up, you might as well move and stretch a bit.
  • Sending interoffice mail or email? Try delivering the message yourself to add in more steps.
  • Skip the elevator and take the stairs. While it may only add one or two minutes of activity, consider how many times this might happen per day and over the course of a week. Remember that combating sedentary behavior happens repeatedly in small bouts throughout a day, not just in one big push.
  • Reframe housework as activity. You might not have considered housework, like gardening, folding laundry, or cleaning, as moving your body. But it keeps you moving and out of a sedentary position. Reframing chores in this way might help them seem more enjoyable—a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Find natural breaks in work or play and turn them into an opportunity to move. Perhaps you’re enjoying a movie on TV when a commercial break pops up, or you get put on a long hold while making a call. Find a movement or two to do while you wait for the commercial or hold to end. This could be simple things like shoulder rolls, arm circles, or pacing. You could even challenge yourself and do something with a little more intensity, like calf raises, jumping jacks, or lunges.
  • Make your environment work for you. You don’t need a gym to move your body. If you find a few extra minutes throughout your day, repurpose your environment and its contents to your advantage. Got a heavy water bottle? Imagine it as a dumbbell. Have a sturdy chair? Use it as a box to step on, or a bench for incline push-ups.

Live Your Movement Mantra

The sedentary lifestyle is the default for so many people around the world. You might even get caught in it, too. While it can seem like a beast to tackle, there are so many simple strategies you can employ.

Start by always remembering that the best posture is the next posture. Give your body what it craves—frequent movement throughout each day. It doesn’t have to be big, wild, or intense. You just have to change: from sitting to standing, standing to stretching, stretching to walking, and eventually sedentary to active.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

Parenting isn’t easy. It’s hard enough just making sure your child eats healthy, gets enough sleep, takes baths, and that he or she is physically safe. These are all basic needs parents must meet. This gets harder as children grow because they become more emotionally complex and their needs change. But you can’t hold their hands forever. There will come a day when a child must face life’s challenges alone. Raising healthy children means raising resilient kids—teaching them how to overcome adversity.

Resiliency is the ability to deal with these difficulties and recover in an appropriate amount of time. Everyone faces difficulties in life. But being resilient means those difficulties don’t define you. Call it grit, fortitude, tenacity, or whatever you’d like. But resiliency is about trying and failing, and then getting up and trying again.

This is easier said than done though. Building resilience in kids often means not rescuing them from uncomfortable (but not actually dangerous) situations. As parents, your instincts are to protect your kids at all times. And when you see them struggling, it’s hard to resist the urge to step in.

What follows are reasons why, and advice on how, to raise resilient kids.

How the Brain Deals with Stress

Let’s start with the basics about uncomfortable, stressful situations. The brain and body deal with stress and adversity differently than they handle normal situations.

Your heart rate and blood pressure go up. Cortisol, a stress hormone, floods the body. Adrenaline gets pumped into the blood. These are all evolutionary holdovers from your ancestors, when stressful situations could literally mean life or death. But this fight-or-flight response was only meant to last a short amount of time. When these chemicals are continuously released, detrimental effects can take place.

It starts in the amygdala—the part of your brain responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. The amygdala responds to the stressful stimuli by sending a distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus sends a message to the autonomic nervous system that signals a messaging cascade that triggers the release of a chemical cocktail (including adrenaline and cortisol). This response often impairs the prefrontal cortex, which controls executive functions. That includes problem solving, attention, impulse control, and emotional regulation.

In the short term, this is an extremely powerful survival mechanism. There are times when you can’t think about what happens next, and you don’t need any check on your ability to act quickly. Long term, you want your prefrontal cortex running smoothly.

If you were to define resilience on the physiological level, you would say it’s the ability to activate the prefrontal cortex following adverse situations. This also means stemming the release of the chemical cocktail. If this occurs, an individual can increase their ability to recover from or adapt to stressful situations and adversity.

How to Model Good Communication and Coping Strategies for Kids

There are many ways to build resilience in children, but it starts with you. Your children are always watching. And they’re constantly absorbing information during their developmental years. It doesn’t make much sense to preach to children about dealing with difficult emotions if you struggle with them yourself.

Everyone makes mistakes. Having a level head when plans go off the rails can show kids how to handle failure. And if you don’t handle something the way you wish you could have, own up to it. It’s OK to admit a mistake, and in doing so, subconsciously give your child permission to do the same. Have a conversation about it. You can say something like, “I’m sorry I got so angry earlier. I made a mistake. Next time, I will try to be more patient.”

Communication and support are key to coping with stress and raising resilient kids. It’s not necessarily rugged individualism that builds independence in kids. Instead, it’s the unconditional love and support of an adult in their lives.

Relationships are the single most important thing in a child’s life for emotional development. If your kid is having trouble, they have to know they can come to you for help.

So, ditch the phone and spend some quality time with your child. When you’re home together, make it a priority to focus on them. Talk about the issues kids are facing. And let them know it’s OK to ask for help. Also, don’t be afraid to show them your stress coping strategies when you’re going through tough situations.

Raising Resilient Children Means Honoring Their Emotions

Before you had children, you may have had a rosy outlook on parenthood. The media is quick to sell the joys of parenting. And your friends post pictures of magical days at the beach and park where everyone is happy and smiling.

That’s not always reality. It’s hard to prepare for epic meltdowns, temper tantrums, and the refusal to sleep. But these are all a normal part of growing up, and are NOT the exception.

Sometimes parents view these difficulties as problems that need to be fixed. Maybe you chastise your kids, send them to their room, or blame them for simply feeling an intense emotion. Whatever your reaction, it can be easy to teach your kids that sadness, frustration, or anger are not tolerated.

Being resilient means understanding that some emotions, particularly those often tagged as negative—like heartbreak, despair, and anger—are all very human. These aren’t emotions you should run away from, or try to stuff down because they’re too tough to deal with. Rather, try to honor the emotions, and understand why you’re feeling a certain way. Teaching kids to feel and understand these emotions in a healthy way is paramount to children’s mental health.

Labeling emotions can be a useful way to develop emotional intelligence and resilience. Let kids know it’s all right to feel anxious, afraid, or sad. Although they can be powerful in the moment, these emotions usually pass—especially if you can talk about them with someone you love.

Establish Reasonable Boundaries with Empathy

You’ve probably heard the term “boundaries” in relation to parenting. And you may have had a difficult time dealing with what happens when your child crosses them. What’s important is that boundaries exist in the first place.

A predictable routine and a firm set of rules in the household creates a structure children can rely on. Whether it’s around bedtimes, eating dinner, homework, or screen time, structure reduces uncertainty and can help reduce anxiety. You can’t hope to be an effective parent without boundaries. But establishing these guardrails doesn’t mean you can just ignore how your child is feeling.

Kids tend to learn quickly what behaviors get them what they want. So, when the inevitable happens, and your child tries to see how far she can push, you have to hold the line. But that doesn’t mean you can’t approach those moments with compassion.

You can still be there for your child and listen to how they’re feeling, while continuing to say “no.” Talk about the feelings both of you are having, and explain why having the boundary is important. This can go a long way towards teaching emotional intelligence and strengthening your relationship.

Let Kids Skin Their Knees

When your children first start to walk, you tend to never stray too far from their side. It can be hard to let go of this instinct as they grow older. You might follow them around the playground, making sure they don’t fall off the ladder or be there to catch them every time they go down the slide.

In the short term, this is great. And it can’t be emphasized enough how important being there for your child is when he or she is facing a serious crisis. Sometimes you need to help your child stand back up.

The trick is to not do it every time. Learning early on to deal with pain and discomfort that doesn’t have dire consequences makes kids more likely to develop the ability to handle more serious difficulties later in life. A study from Cornell University in 2017 even suggested that early exposure to manageable stress can increase activity in the prefrontal cortex.

Mitigate, But Don’t Eliminate Risk

Dealing with fear is one of the most difficult and empowering skills you have. As a parent, you want to keep your kid safe, but not at the expense of exposing them to new—and, therefore, potentially frightening—experiences.

It can be hard to resist the urge to hover over your children, and offer up solutions to all of their problems. You want to protect your children from feeling pain, even if pain has much to teach. A scary experience can make your child nervous about risks he or she may face in the future. But most failures aren’t life threatening. If kids approach risk with cautious optimism, often they will find themselves better prepared for challenging situations that may arise.

Sometimes children will take risks and experience a negative outcome. Maybe they fall off the ladder on the playground, or crash their bike. They learn that skinned knees and bruises can hurt, but the pain doesn’t last a long time. As a result, resilient kids dust themselves off and try again. Scrapes and bruises don’t become a roadblock for learning a new skill and having fun. The anxiety children might have felt before becomes manageable.

Without this exposure to risk, even small fears can paralyze children. Sure, it might be fear of physical pain at first, but it can easily expand to anxiety around school, social issues, and money when a child grows up. By facing risk and the consequences associated with it, children learn the coping mechanisms needed to confidently and rationally manage risk.

They might have a hard time differentiating something that is dangerous from something that is simply unknown. Kids may never see how truly strong, confident, and resilient they’re capable of being. So, let the kid ride a bike, and take off the training wheels when he’s ready—even if it means falling down and getting angry. Just make sure he wears a helmet.

Develop Kids Executive Functioning Skills

As children grow older, their prefrontal cortex develops more and more. As this happens, kids learn to control their behavior and feelings. They also develop new ways of dealing with adversity. It is possible to jumpstart this process and set them on the path to being a happy, healthy young adult.

Exercise is one of the most important components in developing executive functioning skills. This helps develop the brain and supports growing cognitive functions. During exercise, the brain releases neurochemicals that can help calm anxiety in times of stress. Getting kids outside and moving is always a good idea, especially when it will contribute to their problem-solving skills.

Playing board games is also a great way to develop the prefrontal cortex. Board games require patience, strategy, memory, and mental dexterity. It’s also a great way to bond with your kids. Just make sure to let them win every once in a while—and make losses teachable moments.

Find opportunities where kids can make their own decisions and exhibit leadership. Maybe one night they choose what the family has for dinner, and even help cook! Have children choose and plan a weekend activity. Let them choose what instrument or sport they want to play. Even give them input in the classes they take. The possibilities are endless. Just make sure that once kids make a decision, stick with it.

Encourage children to think independently. This doesn’t mean encouraging arguments with you all the time. But make sure to welcome a discussion when you may have a different opinion than your child. Occupying a position where kids have to think critically is a wonderful exercise for executive functioning. As long as they’re being respectful, it is OK for children to question authority and offer up different points of view.

Always Stay in Their Corner

Raising resilient kids can be just as challenging for the parent as it is for the child. You will both fail. That’s OK! But no matter what happens, love your kids unconditionally, and always be there to support them whatever happens. Taking a step back and letting them find their own way can be difficult. But in the long run, this will lead to a more resilient, confident, capable, and fearless young adult.

The year is 1665. The Taj Mahal in India was completed 12 years ago. In a little over a year, Isaac Newton will witness an apple falling from a tree, sparking an idea. And somewhere in London, the architect and natural philosopher Robert Hooke places a thin slice of cork into the specimen holder of a microscope. When he looks through the eyepiece, he sees a strange structure.

“I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a honeycomb, but that the pores of it were not regular,” he writes. “These pores, or cells … were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this.”

Hooke has discovered the cell. Plant cells to be specific. He actually coins the term, writing that they remind him of the cells occupied by Christian monks in a monastery he once visited. These cells are dead though, and his microscope is not powerful enough to see inside the cell. It’s not until 13 years later that someone would see a living cell up close.

Using a more powerful microscope of his own design, Dutch businessman and scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek would first observe bacteria and protozoa. He called these single celled organisms animalcules, Latin for “little animals.”

Hooke is long gone now, buried somewhere in the City of London Cemetery. He took the first steps towards what is now refer to as cell theory. This is the understanding that every living organism on the planet is composed of one or more cells.

Cells are the integral unit of structure and function in all living organisms. Every cell that has ever existed came from pre-existing cells that have divided, and divided, and divided, all the way to the 37.2 trillion cells that make your body.

The Two Different Types of Cells

Cells can be split into two main types—prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

Prokaryotic cells do not have a nucleus. Those “little animals” that Leeuwenhoek witnessed were prokaryotic cells. Bacteria, and another family of cell called archaea, are classified as prokaryotic.

The cells that exist in plants and animals are called eukaryotes. This type can be either single-celled or multicellular.

Approaching the Cell

But what makes up a eukaryotic animal cell? If you could shrink down to the size of the cell, and even smaller, what would you see?

Imagine you’re getting smaller and smaller. The world around you gets larger and larger, eventually blurring out of view. As you shrink, you start to focus in on a group of structures, like the little cages that Hooke witnessed long ago.

Soon enough you come to one cell in particular. Now, some cells are more complex on the outside and have accessories other cells lack. Microvilli are one such feature.

Microvilli extend like fingers from the surface of the cell, and are important in the absorption of nutrients. They also greatly increase the surface area of the cell without affecting its overall size.

Cilia extend even further than microvilli, and can actually push different substances along the surface of the cell.

Then there is the flagellum, which is a thin, tail-like structure that can actually propel an entire cell, enabling it to swim!

The Plasma Membrane

All cells rely on the all-important plasma membrane. This acts like a fence, keeping the contents of the cell together while also letting food and nutrients pass through.

The plasma membrane is made up of a double layer of fatty acids called phospholipids. These fatty acid molecules have a head and a tail. The head is what is called ‘hydrophilic,’ meaning it’s attracted to water. The tail, meanwhile, is hydrophobic—repelled by water. This combination of head and tail is what makes the structure and function of the cell membrane possible.

As you get smaller, you pass through the plasma membrane, and journey into the cell. Briefly, you can see the double layer of phospholipids, like a zipper held fast by the chemical attractions of their hydrophobic tails.

Cytoplasm and Cytoskeleton

Once fully inside the cell, you encounter a medium called the cytoplasm. It contains a substance rich in amino acids and potassium, called cytosol. This solution is also referred to as intracellular fluid.

You can also make out a network of what looks like webs or scaffolding. This is the cytoskeleton. It provides structural support and allows the movement of materials inside the cell. The cytoskeleton is made up of three different types of protein fibers called microfilaments, intermediate filaments, and microtubules.

Microfilaments are the smallest of the three, made of twisted strands of proteins that can be pulled together to shorten the cell. This occurs often in muscle cells, and aids in their ability to contract.

Intermediate filaments are twisted strands of proteins that mainly provide framework for the cell and help hold it together.

Microtubules have a spiral shape. When put together, they form a hollow cylinder. These cylinders help maintain cell shape and move organelles (another name for cell parts) within the cell.

They form what is called the centrosome. The centrosome is made up of structures called centrioles which organize microtubules and provide an additional framework for the cell. They also aid in the separation process during cell division.

Between the cytoplasm and the cytoskeleton, you can see the primary support framework of the cell. You can also see several strange-looking structures. These are the organelles. These important cell parts all have specific functions they carry out.

The Endoplasmic Reticulum

The first structure you can see looks like a collection of several long, thin caverns. These are the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). There two different types of ERs.

The first is the rough ER, which extends from the nucleus and has ribosomes attached to the outside of its membrane, giving it a rough appearance. These ribosomes produce what are called polypeptide chains. That’s just a fancy way to say proteins. The proteins created by ribosomes are released into the ER, where they are processed and prepared for release into the cell. When released, the proteins are transported inside enclosed membrane sacks called transport vesicles that pinch off from the rough ER.

It’s important to note that ribosomes are not organelles. They are vital to cells, though. That’s because they’re the protein-producing factories. They can either be floating in cytosol en route to somewhere else in the cell, or attached to the rough ER. Ribosomes are comprised of two components called the small and large subunits. The small subunits read the ribonucleic acid (RNA), which contain instructions on how to assemble the amino acids into polypeptide chains. The large subunit does the heavy lifting of actually assembling the polypeptide chains.

Next you see the smooth ER. This is another organelle with a membrane, but it doesn’t have ribosomes, hence the “smooth” moniker. The smooth ER contains enzymes that alter polypeptides, produce lipids and carbohydrates, and destroy toxins. Most of the lipids and cholesterol that make up cell membranes are made in the smooth ER.

The Golgi Apparatus

Shifting your focus, you encounter the Golgi apparatus, definitely the coolest name of all the organelles. The Golgi apparatus is another membranous organelle that modifies, packages, and stores proteins.

It looks like a group of larger and larger cisterns expanding out from its center. Transport vesicles deliver proteins to the Golgi apparatus from the ER. As the proteins move throughout the cisterns of the Golgi, they are modified. This can happen by adding or rearranging molecules with different enzymes. Sometimes carbohydrates are added to form what are called glycoproteins.

After moving through the last cistern, proteins are cordoned off in a different vesicle called the secretory vesicle. Most of these proteins are directed toward the plasma membrane. They either become part of the membrane, or are released outside of the cell.

Lysosomes

The Golgi is fundamental in the production of lysosomes. These are vesicles that pinch off from the Golgi apparatus and function as the garbage trucks of the cell. Lysosomes are enclosed by a membrane and contain digestive enzymes that pick up cellular waste or defective organelles to be recycled or converted to waste. They are also vital in protecting the cell from bacteria and viruses.

Proteasomes

Passing out of the Golgi apparatus, you come across the proteasomes. These organelles manage the existing proteins in the cell. They are found throughout the cytoplasm. Proteasomes break down abnormal or misfolded proteins and normal proteins the cell doesn’t need anymore.

Another protein called ubiquitin is placed on the proteins marked for recycling by enzymes in the cytoplasm. The targeted proteins are then pulled into the proteasomes and broken down by a process called proteolysis. In this process, the peptide bonds of the proteins are broken. The leftover peptide chains and amino acids are then released into the cell to be recycled.

Peroxisomes

Moving on, you come across a curious structure called a peroxisome. While not technically an organelle, and not technically an enzyme, peroxisomes can best be described as protein complexes.

They have a membrane, and are also pinched off from the ER. Peroxisomes are responsible for breaking down long-chain fatty acids and amino acids. In this process, they can produce the byproduct hydrogen peroxide, which can be dangerous to the cell because it can react with many substances. Because of this, peroxisomes also carry an enzyme that converts hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. Talk about cleaning up after yourself!

Mitochondria

Once past the peroxisomes, you spot a baked-bean-shaped organelle called a mitochondrion (when there are many, they’re called mitochondria). These are the hyper-efficient power plants of the cell. They take food particles brought into the cell and convert it to a molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. This is known as the “currency” of the cell. ATP is capable of storing and transferring energy to other parts of the cell.

Mitochondria have both an inner and outer membrane, and their numbers can vary depending on the type of cell. Typically, the more active a cell is, the more mitochondrion it will contain. Liver cells, for example, contain thousands of mitochondria. In the cells that make up your muscles, aerobic activity can actually increase the number of mitochondria. No wonder you have more energy when you exercise frequently.

The Nucleus

Finally, you arrive at the nucleus. The largest of all the structures in the cell, the nucleus has two membranes forming what is called the nuclear envelope.

Along with small pores on the surface of the membrane, this envelope encloses the nucleoplasm. While the nuclear envelope functions as a wall, the pores act as a gate that lets certain molecules in and out of the nucleus. Nucleoplasm is similar to the cytoplasm of the cell. It is a syrupy substance that suspends the structures contained within the nuclear membrane.

Suspended in the nucleoplasm is the nucleolus. It is comprised of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), RNA, and protein. The nucleolus is the birthplace of ribosomes, which, remember, make proteins vital to the functioning of healthy cells.

As you get smaller, you can start to make out the twisted double-helix structure of the cell’s DNA. You reach out, trying to touch it, closer and closer, smaller and smaller. And finally, you make contact. In a flash, you return to your previous size, not sure whether or not you actually touched what you were reaching for.

Somewhere in the grassy fields of the City of London cemetery, the first light of a brand-new day strikes a freshly germinated seed of grass. The cells of that seed, enriched by the good earth and sun, divide and divide, sending forth a tiny shoot into the cool morning air.