colorful eating

colorful eating

Variety is the spice of life, and it’s time your plate matched this proverb. It’s likely your meals could use a makeover by practicing colorful eating.

Surveys show that a troubling majority of adults still don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. In fact, as of 2013, 76 percent and 87 percent of adults did not consume the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables, respectively. That means most adults are missing out on the benefits of a plant-rich diet.

Diversifying your diet with colorful eating is worth it—for your palate and your health. Fruits and vegetables add more than splashes of vibrant color to your diet.

Each color represents different phytonutrients, or plant-derived micronutrients, that can support many systems in your body. So, colorful eating means helping to maintain your cardiovascular and immune system, your eyes, your brain, and healthy cellular communication.

The first step in reversing this deficit is to visually assess the colors on your plate. Ask if your meal looks monochromatic—all one color, like whites or browns. If it is, liven things up by adding in vibrant sides of in-season fruits and vegetables.

Adding color to your diet doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Since each color represents different types of beneficial compounds, any color will do. Below, your options are broken down by the colors of the rainbow. The sections will tell you more about what each color can offer. Lastly, you’ll have shopping suggestions to diversify the produce in your grocery cart and make colorful eating easier.

Red is for More than Roses

colorful eating

Red fruits and vegetables often contain beneficial compounds like carotenoids and flavonoids. These naturally-occurring compounds offer a range of health benefits when consumed regularly.

Carotenoids are a group of pigments synthesized by plants. Commonly found carotenoids include beta-carotene, luteinzeaxanthin, and lycopene. Many of these act as antioxidants in the body, helping to neutralize free radicals. This activity can help protect your cells and support your health.

Additionally, these carotenoids play an important role in good vision. Beta-carotene, for example, is also known as provitamin A. This means that the body converts dietary beta-carotene into vitamin A, or retinol. In the retinol form, it’s a necessary component of a chemical reaction—occurring in the retina—that ultimately helps with low-light and color vision.

Lycopene also deserves a closer look. When regularly eaten, lycopene has been associated with increased levels of antioxidant enzymes and reduction of oxidative stress. Furthermore, observational studies have shown promising data about a link between dietary lycopene and the maintenance of overall health.

To boost levels of lycopene in your diet, reach for tomatoes—fresh or canned. Get creative with how you incorporate colorful eating into your meals. This will keep you from getting bored. Some ideas include: caprese salad, tomato soup, and pasta with marinara sauce.

But there’s more to the color red than just lycopene. Red-hued foods contain vitamin C and phytonutrients, like flavonoids—which also act as antioxidants.

These phytonutrients aren’t restricted to food alone—they can also be found in beverages. So, if you enjoy the occasional glass of red wine, do so guilt-free! Red wine packs a punch when it comes to flavonoids and similar compounds—especially resveratrol.

What to buy: Consider spicing up your shopping list with a variety of red foods.

  • Vegetables: beets, red cabbage, radishes
  • Fruits: tomatoes, red grapes, strawberries, pomegranates, red bell peppers
  • Beverages: red wine, tea

Orange & Yellow—The Bright Side of Fruits & Veggies

colorful eating

Fruits and vegetables that are orange or yellow also provide carotenoids. The most common one found in orange and yellow plants is beta-carotene.

As mentioned above, one possible fate of beta-carotene is its conversion to vitamin A upon ingestion. However, when beta-carotene is not converted, the body uses it as an antioxidant.

Orange and yellow plants also offer essential vitamins and minerals—vitamin C, folic acid, and potassium. For example, citrus provides large amounts of vitamin C, an antioxidant and essential nutrient.

What to buy: Add the following to your grocery list to brighten each meal.

  • Vegetables: golden beets, sweet potatoes, corn, turmeric
  • Fruits: lemon, orange, tangerine, grapefruit, pineapple, cantaloupe, papaya

Going Green

colorful eating

Since you were a kid, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of “Eat your greens.” It doesn’t sound very exciting. But when you look at what these greens are packing, you might find them more enticing.

Green plants provide a wealth of carotenoids and essential nutrients in the form of vitamins A and K, and potassium. Leafy greens also offer a healthy dose of calcium. If that list doesn’t impress you, consider the fact that many green veggies are sources of glucosinolate. This compound is a precursor to isothiocyanates.

These are the compounds that give some vegetables a slightly sour, bitter, or “skunky” taste. But you should learn to love the flavor because of all their health benefits. They play a role in cell signaling, support your detoxification pathways, aid in the production of glutathione and have antioxidant activity.

You can get your fill by consuming cruciferous plants, or vegetables within the Brassica family. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale are some of your options. If you want the most bang for your buck, one group of researchers has shown that mustard greens and cabbage are particularly high in these beneficial compounds.

Also consider chowing down on spinach, kale, turnip greens, or collards if you want your plate to go green.

What to buy: Pick up a variety of these greens the next time you’re at the market.

  • Veggies: broccoli, bok choy, arugula, kale, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, asparagus, herbs
  • Fruit: apples, pears, green grapes, kiwi, honeydew melon, limes

These Blues (and Purples) Won’t Get You Down

colorful eating

Plants that are purple and blue in hue are rich in anthocyanin pigments. Anthocyanins are yet another group of flavonoids. These micronutrients act as antioxidants, primarily helping to protect cells and tissues from oxidative damage.

A group of researchers analyzed 15 fruits and seven vegetables to determine the content of these beneficial pigments in each. Of the blue and purple foods, the following had the highest concentration of anthocyanins: wild blueberry, elderberry, black raspberry, and eggplant.

What to buy: Next time you’re in the grocery store, add some of the following to your shopping basket.

  • Veggies: purple potatoes, purple cabbage, purple cauliflower
  • Fruits: prunes, figs, plums, grapes, eggplant, purple- or blue-colored berries

Color Outside the Lines with Colorful Eating

Understandably, it can be difficult to incorporate these items into meals for picky eaters or those pressed for time. However, you can employ some tricks to increase the amount of colorful eating you’re doing. And here’s a secret: they’ll taste good too!

  • Add mild-tasting greens, like spinach, into smoothies. If you’re averse to vegetables in a smoothie, offset the flavor with something sweet, like strawberries. Try milk and banana for creaminess, your greens, and frozen strawberries to keep it cool and thick. Blend and you’ll be well on your way to the recommended daily five cups of fruits and vegetables in one on-the-go meal.
  • Try a slightly healthier version of mashed potatoes by substituting one-third of them for steamed root vegetables, like carrots and turnips. Even cauliflower can serve as a substitute. Mash the mixture together with salt and a small amount of butter or a healthier alternative—like olive or avocado oil. This alternative will still be the creamy, starchy dish you know and love, but with more phytonutrients in the mix and a dash of fiber to boot. And limiting potato intake has been shown to be a good move for your weight.
  • Opt for a health-conscious dessert by subbing chilled coconut milk and your favorite berries for ice cream. Your sweet tooth will be satisfied and you’ll get a big dose antioxidants and flavonoids, too.

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.


Aschoff AK, et al. In vitro bioaccessibility of carotenoids, flavonoids, and vitamin C from differently processed oranges and orange juices Citrus sinensis (L.) Osbeck. J Agric Food Chem. 2015, 63 (2): 578–587.

Bohm V. Lycopene and heart health. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012, 56 (2): 296-303.

Lila MA. Anthocyanins and Human Health: An In Vitro Investigative Approach. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. 2004, 2004 (5): 306-313.

Moore LV, Thompson FE. Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations – United States, 2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64(26):709-13.

Recommendations – United States, 2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015 Jul; 64 (26): 709-13.

Tang L, et al. Total isothiocyanate yield from raw cruciferous vegetables commonly consumed in the United States. J Funct Foods. 2014, 5 (4): 1996-2001.

Wu X, et al. Concentrations of Anthocyanins in Common Foods in the United States and Estimation of Normal Consumption. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2006, 54, 4069−4075.

lymphatic system

lymphatic system

Here’s a riddle for you: I’m small, but I’m everywhere. I circulate, but I’m not the circulatory system. I’m not a nobody (or an antibody), and I’m certainly not immune to playing defense against invaders. If you think I don’t filter, you gotta be kidney-ing me. What am I? … The lymphatic system.

The headline might have given away the answer. But the collection of lymph nodes, tissues, and vessels is kind of a riddle. It runs parallel or works with many systems in your body—immune system, circulatory system, lymphoid system, and your large detoxification organs. And it’s so important, you’d think it would garner more attention.

This unsung hero of the body absorbs and transports large molecules (including protein and cellular debris) too large to be collected by veins and capillaries. This lymph fluid is then transported to lymph nodes that act as “filtering stations” in the body. In other words, the lymph system drains all of the waste materials that are produced by every cell within the body. Think of it this way, the lymphatic system is like an automatic flushing toilet. Without it, there would be too much waste within the body to process.

In the lymph nodes, white blood cells from the body’s natural defense system, called lymphocytes, help fight bacteria and viruses. There are two major types of white blood cells (WBCs or lymphocytes), namely, T-Lymphocytes and B-Lymphocytes, which are also termed as T-Cells and B-Cells, respectively.

Journey to the Center of the Neck

The fluid that runs through your lymphatic system is called lymph—makes sense, right? This colorless liquid is moved through the body in its own vessels. The lymph makes a one-way journey from the interstitial spaces in your body to the subclavian veins at the base of your neck.

Unlike the blood circulatory system, your lymphatic system lacks a pumping organ for the movement of lymph through its network of channels. The smooth, upward movement of lymph is assisted by the pressure created by the muscle and joint movement and the heartbeat. (And, as a bonus, a properly conducted massage is known to help improve lymphatic flow. So, if you need another excuse to get a massage, now you have one.)

As the fluid moves upward toward the neck, the lymph passes through lymph nodes. These sanitation stations filter the lymph to remove debris. If potential pathogens are present, they’re sequestered in the lymph nodes until immune cells come to kill them off.

Once it gets a thorough rinsing, the cleansed lymph continues to travel in only one direction—upward toward the neck. When it’s completed the journey to the neck, cleansed lymph flows into the subclavian veins on either side of the neck. Finally, it’s mixed with blood and taken to the heart where it’s pumped through the circulatory system.

Where to Find Your Lymphatic System

Everywhere. Your lymphatic system is all over your body. Most people have between 500 and 700 lymph nodes scattered throughout their body.

The lymphatic system network is situated in several areas of the body with a specific drainage pathway for each area. You’ll find the largest number of nodes in your groin, neck, and underarms.

Your lymph nodes come in two categories depending on location—superficial and deep.

Superficial Lymph Nodes Include:

  • Axillary: Located under each arm, these nodes receive fluid from the arm, chest, back, and breast tissue.
  • Inguinal: Located at the bend of the hip, these nodes receive fluid from the leg, lower abdomen, gluteal region, and external genitals.

Deep Lymph Nodes Include:

  • Supraclavicular: Located at the neck just above the collar bones, this important node group receives fluid from the head and shoulders. That’s why, in the case of illness, the treatment of these lymph nodes precedes all other treatment.
  • Deep Abdominal/Pelvic Nodes: The abdomen is richly invested in lymph nodes—they surround the organs and intestines. These nodes also receive fluid from the superficial inguinal area as well. Congestion in this area alone can cause swelling in the lower extremities, abdomen, and genitalia.

Lymphatic tissue is also found in other areas of the body, including the tonsils, spleen, intestinal wall, and bone marrow.

Immunity, the Lymphatic System, and the Gut

A large percentage of the body’s lymph tissue is associated with the gut and surrounds intestinal organs. This is partly due to the fact that the digestive tract is the main path of entry for unhealthy or offensive substances such as bacteria, allergens, heavy metals, fungi, and other contaminants.

Several aspects of the digestive system – enzymes, acids, and intestinal flora – attempt to neutralize the pathogens that invade our body. But, those that make it through are taken up and acted upon by the gut-associated lymphatic tissues (GALT).

GALT receives information from the microenvironment of the intestines in the form of which pathogenic agents get through. It then decides which of these deserve an allergic response, calling the immune and endocrine systems into action.

In general, healthy GALT function inhibits allergic responses and decreases food sensitivity. But this is complicated and often relies on the current state of an individual’s health status. It’s accurate to say that the healthier your gut-associated lymph tissue, the less sensitive you are likely to be to food-borne bacteria and chemicals. If the digestive tract is functioning poorly due to constipation, diarrhea, or other GI disorders, or even from something such as food sensitivities or stress, the flow of lymph fluid can be diminished.

Supporting Your Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system works constantly to keep you healthy and clean. Here are some lifestyle steps you can take to support the health of your lymphatic system:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Reduce your body’s toxic burden by limiting processed food, emphasizing whole foods—with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The less waste and toxins your lymph has to deal with, the more efficiently it will flow.
  • Drink plenty of clean water. Avoid being dehydrated. Your body needs hydration to keep the fluids running.
  • Practice deep breathing. Breathing deeply from the diaphragm—not shallowly from the chest, and through the nose rather than the mouth—is a good way to move lymph fluid through your body.
  • Stay active. Because lymph fluid moves slowly without aid of its own pump, inactivity can seriously restrict its flow. Muscular contraction through exercise and deep breathing is the primary means by which our lymph circulates. Moderate exercise such as walking, stretching, jumping on a rebounder, or yoga works. But anything active that you enjoy and do consistently is a good way to keep your lymph system pumping.
healthy breakfast

healthy breakfast

After a good night’s rest, you’re recharged and ready to take on a new day. It’s important to fuel your body with the energy it needs to get work done. Eating a healthy breakfast is your best bet and sets you up for your entire day ahead.

Even if you aren’t hungry in the morning, it’s a good idea to eat a healthy breakfast. And it can come in many shapes and sizes. But there are a few things you can do to maximize your morning meal.

Amp up the Protein

Protein is an important component of a healthy diet. Many scientific studies have shown that consuming a high-protein breakfast reduces the urge to snack on high-fat and high-sugar treats. Eggs, yogurt, and lean meats provide the fuel your body needs to make it through the day. These foods are rich in protein and provide long-lasting energy.

Your muscles also need protein to stay in shape. Your recommended amount of protein per day depends on your weight. It’s 0.8 grams per kilogram of weight (or 0.36 grams per pound). To find your number, multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8 or your weight in pounds by 0.36. For example, if you’re 70 kilograms (155 pounds), you need to get at least 56 grams of protein each day to supply energy and maintain muscle mass. Divide your daily protein requirement by your number of meals to find how much protein you need for breakfast.

Plugging protein into your healthy breakfast can help throughout the day. You can fight your snack cravings and maintain your muscles by starting each day with a protein-packed breakfast.

Choose Low-Glycemic Options

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly your body absorbs sugar. Sugar, or carbohydrates, are an important and essential part of a healthy diet. But you have to be deliberate in the carbohydrates you chose.

When you opt for high-glycemic options, your blood sugar quickly spikes. This isn’t healthy and your body knows it. As a response, it dumps a lot of hormones into our blood stream (the major one of course is insulin) to coax your cells to absorb it—quickly.

As a result, even more quickly than your blood sugar rises, it comes crashing down. This can result in low blood sugar (also an unhealthy circumstance). When this happens, you can feel tired and lose focus. The response is your brain telling you to eat something—and anything—quickly. As a result, you reach for the closest thing (snack), which tends to be an unhealthy option.

To break this high-glycemic rollercoaster ride, choose carbohydrates that are absorbed more slowly to keep your blood-sugar levels low. This will also help you keep feeling full for longer and will provide a longer-term source of energy for your body (and brain) to use. And because your blood sugar won’t come crashing down, you get hungry slowly and this gives you time to make healthy food choices for your upcoming meals.

It has also been shown that people who eat breakfast—and especially low-glycemic breakfasts—tend to eat fewer calories through the day.

Choose Whole Grains for a Healthy Breakfast

Now that you have the protein taken care of, let’s help you chose the healthy carbohydrates in your breakfast. Here you want to focus on fiber. That’s because it aids in digestion and keeps you feeling full after a meal.

Whole grains have higher fiber content than their refined counterparts and are better for you. By choosing whole grains, your body can help maintain steady blood sugar and avoid sudden spikes or drops. Whole grain foods help maintain healthy cholesterol already in the normal range and support heart health.

Phytonutrients (nutrients derived from plants) are also abundant in whole grains. They’re important because your body can’t make these essential compounds. Eating whole-wheat toast, or whole-grain cereals can increase the fiber and phytonutrients in your diet and will help you stay full throughout the day.

Skip the Juice, Go with Fruit

Fruit juice is a tempting choice when preparing breakfast. Unfortunately, these drinks are high in sugar, low in fiber, and associated with negative health effects.

So, juices aren’t the best choice for a healthy breakfast. Going with whole fruit is more nutritious. Whole fruit can satisfy a craving for sweets and has the added benefit of fiber, which helps support healthy digestion.

Some of the best fruits to eat at breakfast are berries, grapefruit, and bananas. Berries are loaded with antioxidants and help maintain cellular vitality. Grapefruit is full of fiber and can fill you up faster than pastries and sweet drinks. Bananas are packed with potassium, vitamin C, and other vitamins and minerals. These micronutrients help maintain a healthy body and sustain you throughout the day. And bananas are easy to grab and take with you when you’re in a hurry.

Be Smart About Your Fat Selection

Fat isn’t a bad word. It’s one of the essential macronutrients and provides a great source of sustained energy. Fat can even help you feel full longer. But you have to be selective about the type of fat you choose and be careful about the extra calories they add.

That’s because not all fats are created equal. Trans fats—like margarine—should be avoided altogether. For other fats, you should first consider the source.

An avocado and a pork sausage patty both contain fat. But it’s pretty easy to guess which one is better for your body. As a general rule, fats that come from plants are usually healthier and fats that come from animals are usually less healthy.

So, don’t skip the fat. Just be smart about your selection.

What You Drink Matters

When you find yourself in need of a morning beverage, look to water, coffee, and tea instead of caffeinated soda, juice, or energy drinks—even so-called “diet” options. These sugary beverages can spike blood sugar, dehydrate your body over the course of the day, and in the case of diet beverages, even trigger you to snack more.

Water provides lasting hydration and helps your body function optimally. Tea and coffee are natural sources of energy boosting caffeine and have been shown to activate the areas of the brain that keep you alert and focused. Green, white, black, and herbal teas are also valuable sources of phytonutrients and antioxidants. These compounds are important for supporting healthy cell and immune function.

Pair Your Favorite Healthy Breakfast with Nutritional Supplements

Even when you try to eat right, your nutrient supply can fall short of your daily needs. Multivitamins are quick, easy ways to ensure your body has all the vitamins and minerals it needs to keep your engine running smoothly.

Nutritional supplementation, as recommended by your healthcare provider, helps close the gap between what your body needs and what your diet provides. Supplements can optimize the efficiency of your cellular communication, help support your immune system, and help you turn the macronutrients you just ate (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) into the energy your body needs for the day.

Start your day with a healthy breakfast and a multivitamin to put your body in the best position for success.

Easy Ways to Make Better Breakfast Choices

Eating a healthy breakfast doesn’t have to be difficult. Small changes and substitutions to your current breakfast routine could be enough to improve your morning nutrition.

Here are some simple ways to have a better breakfast today:

  • Substitute white bread with a whole-grain alternative.
  • Try to avoid most cold cereals. Even what looks to be the healthiest choice tends to be high glycemic.
  • Drink tea or other healthy beverages instead of juice. If you need to sweeten, use natural sweeteners like stevia or agave nectar.
  • In a hurry? Make sure your on-the-go breakfast includes a fruit/vegetable, protein, a smart fat, and whole grains. A piece of fruit, hard-boiled egg, and whole-wheat bagel will fill you up, fuel your busy day, and help you make smart eating choices later on. Or alternatively, a low-glycemic meal replacement shake can be quick, healthy, on-the-go option.
  • Take a multivitamin at breakfast each day. After you make it a habit, taking your vitamins will be easy to remember.

Put Your Healthy Breakfast Knowledge to the Test

You’ve read all about what makes a healthy breakfast. Now see how much you learned. This nine-question quiz was cooked up so you can see if you’re a healthy breakfast master.

See how your breakfast-building skills stack up. Take the quiz and share it with your friends.

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.


fruits vs vegetables
nutrition facts labels

nutrition facts labels

You don’t have to memorize the nutrient content of all your foods. You can thank nutrition facts labels for that. It isn’t necessary to recall the sodium content of your breakfast cereal off the top of your head every time you shop. But getting the most information from reading nutrition facts labels can be tough, too.

Here’s six tips for pulling out the facts that matter most to you:

Start with the Serving Size

Every number on that nutrition facts label means nothing without some context. The serving size provides the context you need.

All the amounts that follow are based on that servings size. Sometimes the whole package of food is a serving, but that’s not always the case. That’s why you have to be careful.

Relying on the label’s serving size is a good idea because you can’t trust your judgment. It’s not an insult to you—in general, people are terrible at gauging serving sizes. Research indicates the average person’s estimations are off somewhere between 40-150 percent. So, you could be eating double the number of calories you think you are.

Please fight the urge to skip right to calories or fat content. Don’t start down the label without checking the serving size to put everything else in context.

Figure Out the Type of Fat

Reading nutrition facts is often a dive into the macronutrient content of the food. That’s a helpful way to break things down and give you the information you need. But the raw numbers might not be enough to make good decisions.

This is especially true with fats.

Paying attention to the type of fat and where that fat comes from can be more important than the total number. You want to avoid trans fats, but saturated fat can be more nuanced. That’s why you need to look at the ingredient deck to figure out if the source of fat is vegetable-based (usually healthier) or animal-based (usually unhealthier). Going the extra step will help you make the healthy determination.

Check the Sugar and Find the Fiber

Fats aren’t the only macronutrient that requires extra investigation. When you’re reading nutrition facts labels, look at carbohydrates, but also note the sugar and fiber amount.

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. It has well-established ties to weight gain and can hide in foods that seem healthy. Just think about all the sugar that’s hidden in fruit juice. Checking the sugar content—especially added sugar—is important.

While you might avoid sugar, your diet can benefit from more fiber. These complex carbohydrates aid in healthy digestion and keep you feeling full for a longer time. And you only absorb about half of fiber’s calorie content. All these combined effects help fiber support your weight-maintenance efforts. Make sure to find the fiber when reading nutrition facts labels.

Pay Attention to Protein

Just because it’s the final macronutrient mentioned doesn’t mean protein you should ignore it when reading nutrition facts. Far from it. If you’re managing your weight or exercising, protein is key.

A lot of studies have shown dietary protein’s ability to support weight-management programs. An analysis of 51 studies found that a sufficient increase in protein—over 58 percent per day, on average—showed favorable weigh-management results.

A similar analysis showed that dietary protein increases showed favorable effects for muscle and strength during resistance training.

So, protein is a big plus for those focusing on diet and exercise. But it’s also important for general health. Dietary protein provides the essential amino acids your body needs to carry out its daily functions.

Don’t Miss the Micronutrients

The essential vitamins and minerals are listed on the label. This will help you see how much nourishment you’re actually getting from what you’re eating.

On most labels, you’ll also see a percentage of daily value. That number is based on recommended daily allowances, which are about avoiding deficiencies. It doesn’t consider optimal amounts needed to live your best life.

Sodium is one micronutrient you won’t find with the other vitamins and minerals. It’s typically listed with the macronutrients. And if you’re watching your sodium intake, check this important number.

Keep Your Health Goals in Mind

Every person is different. Everybody has different health goals. That makes each label look different to each individual.

You have to look at labels through the lens of your own health goals. When you do that, each number starts to take on new meaning. Here’s one example: if you’re managing your weight, a low-calorie count might be intriguing. But if you’re a body builder, high calories might be more important.

And don’t lose sight of the big picture. Put what you’re about to consume in the context of what you will or have eaten over the course of an entire day. Think of nutrition as a daily bank account. What have you put into your nutritional savings account and what will you be withdrawing?

Reading is Fundamental

Get in the habit of reading labels and learning about the nutritional composition of your food. Over time this becomes easier and eventually will become second nature. You’ll never have to memorize every detail. But at some point, you intuitively begin to know the nutrient content of the food choices in front of you. Educating yourself will help you reach for healthier alternatives to fuel your life.

This is all part of getting serious about your food. In coordination, you should write down your health goals. Then ask how you want food to fuel your life, and what ratios of macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) make you feel the best and help you achieve the health you desire? After you have your health goals, utilize a nutrition facts panel to help you achieve them.

But, remember, there is still no substitute for eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible, exercising, choosing healthy sources of protein, and ensuring you get optimal amounts of all essential micro- and macro-nutrients your body needs for optimal health.

Check out this great resource for more tips on reading nutrition facts labels.

understanding calories

understanding calories

The Mystery of a Healthy Diet

There’s lots of information about what a healthy diet is. It’s on the internet, crowding bookstore shelves, and passed between friends and family members. With so much information available, you might assume becoming a health expert should be easy. Instead, the overload of information can be quite confusing and even daunting. Perhaps this is true because the most basic measure of diet—the calorie—is also shrouded in mystery. So understanding calories is your first step to making healthy, informed choices.

When you sit down for a meal, you may be too hungry to worry about whether it’s a balanced one. Or maybe you abide by the “ignorance is bliss” mentality. In either case, knowledge is power. Learning the basics of macronutrients and the number of calories they provide can help you create well-balanced meals. Arming yourself with accurate nutritional information will allow you to live your healthiest life.

Understanding Calories in Your Food

Simply put, a calorie is a unit of energy. Calories indicate the energy content of the food and beverages you eat and drink. Understanding calories can help you make educated decisions about your diet and exercise.

There are three main sources of calories in the human diet. They come from the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Carbohydrates are the main source. They provide four calories per gram. Fat comes in second and offers more than twice as many calories, at nine calories per gram. Protein is the third source, which delivers four calories per gram. (Some countries use kilojoules instead of calories to measure food energy. This article uses calories. But here’s the conversion rate you need—1 calorie = 4.2 kilojoules.)

A common question is whether all calories are created equal. On paper, it’s hard to argue why they wouldn’t be equal. Remember, calories are a measurement. So a calorie from fat should provide the same amount of energy as a calorie from protein. But really, this question should be posed to the gut.

Your gut absorbs almost all of the calories from the carbohydrates, protein, and fat you eat. But your gut treats fiber (a type of carbohydrate) differently than the other macronutrients. Instead of taking on all the calories fiber has to offer, your gut will only absorb about half. That’s because fiber is difficult for the gut to digest completely.

On top of that, fiber easily absorbs water. This process can help you feel fuller for longer, and helps you cut back how many calories you eat—or at least absorb. Combined with the other health benefits of fiber, it’s no wonder that The American Heart Association recommends adults consume 25 grams per day.

Your Body at Rest

Most people are familiar with the idea that exercise burns calories. However, your body also expends energy by merely existing.

The amount your body uses at rest is called your “basal metabolic rate” or BMR. It makes up for two-thirds of your daily calories burned.

This is a significant chunk because metabolism requires a lot of energy. Metabolism includes processes like body temperature regulation, blood circulation, and cell growth, to name a few. Your brain chews up about 20 percent of your calories—about 450 for an average diet—per day by itself.

If you’re counting calories, you can think of these as freebies. Understanding calories your body burns just to maintain itself will help you plan your diet and exercise better.

How Many Calories Should You Eat?

You need to consume a certain number of calories each day for your metabolic processes to occur effectively and for your body to work properly. For men, this number is roughly 2500 calories per day. Women need approximately 2000 calories per day.

These daily requirements fluctuate depending on a few factors—age, sex, weight, and activity level.

  • Age: Infants and children require fewer calories than adults. As adults age through the lifespan, energy requirements decrease. This is true, in part, because activity levels of older adults tend to decrease with age.
  • Weight: Calorie needs are a function of weight. A larger person needs more calories because carrying more weight takes more effort and requires more energy. They also have more living tissue to support. This is also true in the opposite direction—smaller person, fewer calories.
  • Sex: Men typically require more calories per day on average because their BMR is higher.
  • Activity level: Athletes are a great illustration of the effect of activity level on calorie needs. Calories burned through intense physical activity need to be replaced to ensure the body’s metabolism can continue, unaffected. That’s why athletes take in more calories and stay fit.

When determining your unique calorie needs, consider whether you’re trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight. (This topic will be further explored in a later section.) Imagine you’d like to lose weight. Losing one pound of body fat is the equivalent of burning 3,500 calories. So if you either burn or cut out 500 calories per day, you would lose one pound per week.

Here are some other ideas on how to be more mindful of your calorie intake:

  1. Add more fluids to your meals. Maybe start with soup or increase your water intake. Either way, consuming more fluids can help you feel full.
  2. Increase your fiber intake. Fiber is not easily digested and, as a result, the gut only absorbs half of fiber’s calories. Additionally, fiber will keep you feeling full for longer.
  3. Add protein to your breakfast (if this isn’t already part of your routine). Protein will help you feel full for longer. Protein can also help support lean body mass, which will help increase your BMR.
  4. Limit empty calories when possible. These are usually found in added sugar and solid fats. While these foods provide energy, they lack important nutrients.
  5. Read nutritional labels for macronutrient and calorie content. Pay attention to the number of serving sizes in each package. The nutritional information represents only one serving.

Understanding Calories and Exercise

Now that you’re familiar with the calories in your diet, let’s explore how calories relate to exercise.

You already know exercise is the best way to burn calories. And burning calories is one way to manage your bodyweight. Vigorous exercise can burn as much as 20 calories per minute.

But this type of effort is difficult to maintain for a long period of time. The good news is that sustained, moderate activity burns the most calories.

In fact, a documentary by the BBC demonstrated this with a small comparison between three families. Though it wasn’t a scientific study, the findings of the comparison are interesting and noteworthy.

One family remained sedentary. Another did housework for a few hours. The third participated in a short, vigorous workout. The family that did housework burned more calories than the family that exercised vigorously. Even though the housework was not an intense activity, the family kept at it for much longer.

So don’t worry about working up a sweat. If you don’t have the energy for a big push, focus on moving your body for a sustained period of time.

Knowing that you’re burning calories is different than being aware of the exact amount you’ve worked off. Calculating calories burned is helpful because it can make achieving your bodyweight goals easier—whether that be weight loss, maintenance, or weight gain.

Many gym-based exercise machines and wearable activity trackers make calculating calories burned an effortless task. Still there may be times you’re exercising without a machine or smart technology.

The good news is published data exists on an assortment of exercises and how many calories each activity burns. The Compendium of Physical Activities is a good place to start. It provides categories of activities listed by speed or intensity. Beside each activity type is the corresponding MET value, or Metabolic Equivalent of Task.

  • Under 2.9 METs: light activity (gardening or fishing)
  • Between 3.0 and 5.9 METs: moderate activity (mowing the lawn or snowshoeing)
  • Greater than 6.0 METs: intense activity (shoveling snow or playing soccer)

With a simple calculation, METs can be converted to calories burned. The only other variables you need to supply are your body weight in kilograms (kg) and the length of time the activity was performed (in hours).

(MET Value of Activity) x (Body Weight in kg) x (Time in hours) = Calories Burned

Let’s say you weigh 150 pounds, or 68 kilograms. Check out the list below to see how many calories you would burn doing different activities for 30 minutes.

  • Biking (light effort) = 119 calories
  • Biking (moderate effort) = 231 calories
  • Walking (light effort) = 102 calories
  • Running (moderate effort) = 282 calories
  • Running (high effort) = 374 calories
  • Swimming freestyle (light to moderate effort) = 197 calories
  • Water aerobics = 187 calories
  • Circuit training (moderate effort) = 146 calories

The Relationship Between Calories and Bodyweight

Understanding calories from your diet (calories in) and those you burn (calories out) makes weight management a matter of simple math. There’s still a lot of effort, but it’s all about balancing calories in and calories out.

understanding calories

You can control calorie intake by paying attention to your diet. And you can change how many calories you burn by incorporating a range of physical activity into your lifestyle.

If you’re consuming less than your daily calorie requirement, you will likely lose weight. If you’re matching the requirement, you should maintain your current weight. And if you’re consuming significantly more than your baseline requirement, you will likely gain weight.

Weight loss: Calories In – Calories Out < 0

Weight maintenance: Calories In – Calories Out = 0

Weight gain: Calories In – Calories Out > 0

Recall the factors that will influence your daily calorie needs (age, weight, sex, and activity level). These affect your “calories in” and, consequently, how many calories you need to expend to reach your goal.

There are many calorie calculators available online that take these factors into account. The USDA provides a Body Weight Planner that can help you determine the activity changes and calories needed to manage your weight.

Which Is the Most Important Side of the Calorie Balance Equation?

As you can see above, exercise only burns about 100-400 calories per 30 minutes of activity—or about 200-800 calories per hour. Whereas the average person needs to consume approximately 2,250 calories per day. Probably the easier side of the equation to immediately affect is “calories in.” It is hard work to burn 500 calories through exercise. Yet pretty easy to put the fork down—or stop eating the empty calories through junk food—and consume 500 fewer calories every day.

This isn’t to underscore the health benefits of exercise. Everyone should be exercising at least 30 minutes per day at least four days a week. This will help you experience the health benefits of exercise.

To make the easiest impact on your weight, slowly begin to consume fewer calories. If you have a hard time restricting your calories at first, increase your exercise routine accordingly. But to make the quickest impact on your weight, work on both sides of the calorie balance equation. Combine eating less, making healthy food choices, and increasing your daily exercise routine.

Putting It All Together

Developing a healthy regimen of balanced meals and exercise can be daunting. Understanding calories can be a big help. And fortunately, there are many resources available to make this process easier. Start by learning about your energy needs based on your age, sex, weight, and activity level. This gives you a great starting point.

Gather the information you can from food packaging to make educated decisions based on the labels. This will help you meet your daily calorie requirements while building out your snacks and meals. Then, based on your weight management goals, you can decide how many calories you should be consuming compared to your baseline energy requirement.

Finally, determine how many calories you can burn based on the physical activities you enjoy. This will give you an idea of how long and how often you should exercise to achieve your weight management goals.

Understanding calories can be the first step to a healthier you. No matter what your health and fitness goals are, you’re now armed to navigate the decisions more confidently.

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.


Ainsworth BE, et al. 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities: A second update of codes and MET values. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2011;43(8):1575-1581.

Bushman, BA. Wouldn’t You Like to Know: How Can I Use METs to Quantify the Amount of Aerobic Exercise? ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 2012; 16(2): 5-7.

“Finding a Balance.” Healthy Weight. (2016, November 16).

“The Truth About Calories.” Films Media Group, 2015, Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

“Whole Grains and Fiber.”




Introduction to Plant Compounds

Plants are a large portion of a healthy diet. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide your body with essential nutrition and nourishment. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, these food groups play an active role in keeping you healthy. But your favorite produce has more to offer than meets the eye. Plants are packed with powerful compounds called phytonutrients.

These plant chemical compounds can promote and maintain good health. But your body can’t make these important nutrients. So it needs a reliable source of these plant compounds. Eating a variety of plant-based foods can help supplement your diet with the phytonutrients your body needs.

A well-rounded diet can provide you with dozens of phytonutrients. And each performs a specialized role in the plants they’re derived from—and in your body. Antioxidant ability is one of the most important functions of phytonutrients. These plant compounds also help protect your eyes, maintain a healthy immune system, and help facilitate cell signaling. Phytonutrients are interesting, important, and valuable to your health.

Important Terminology

Understanding how phytonutrients work in the body requires a grasp of some new vocabulary. Learning the following terms will help you understand the importance and value of phytonutrients to your health.

  • Phytonutrient: A chemical compound found in plants that has positive impacts on human health and nutrition. Phytonutrients can also be referred to as phytochemicals.
  • Free Radicals: Any molecule containing an unpaired electron. Free radicals are very reactive and can trigger oxidation.
  • Oxidant: These molecules contain oxygen and are highly reactive. They easily react with other molecules changing their chemical nature. These changes can ultimately become toxic to the cell.
  • Antioxidant: A molecule that slows or reduces the damage done to an organism by free radicals and other oxidants. Antioxidants help prevent a chemical reaction called oxidation from occurring. They do this by neutralizing unpaired electrons on potentially dangerous molecules.
  • Carotenoids: A class of naturally occurring plant pigments. Carotenoids produce red, orange, and yellow color in fruits and vegetables. These phytonutrients protect plants from oxidative damage.
  • Polyphenols: These phytonutrients are concentrated in the leaf tissue of plants. They deter predators and help keep plants healthy. Polyphenols are the largest class of antioxidants in your diet.
  • Bioflavonoids: Bioflavonoids are a subcategory of polyphenols. They share the same function in plants, but differ in chemical structure. Bioflavonoids contain unique chemical signatures, like ketones and alcohol groups (carbon-oxygen double bond and oxygen-hydrogen single bond, respectively).

Phytonutrient Function in Your Body

In plants, phytonutrients act as pigments, giving fruits and vegetables their vibrant color. They also protect, fortify, and strengthen healthy plants. But these compounds can also play a role in helping maintain your health.

Phytonutrients act as antioxidants, helping protect your body from free radicals. Your body needs to maintain a balance of oxidants (free radicals, etc.) and unreactive molecules. When this balance shifts in favor of oxidants, damage can be done to your healthy cells.

These plant compounds help neutralize oxidants and help maintain that healthy balance. They do this neutralizing unpaired electrons on potentially dangerous molecules. This chemical interaction stabilizes the oxidant and keeps oxidative damage from taking place.

Classes of Phytonutrients


Below, you’ll find information about some of the major classes of phytonutrients and examples of each. Although they may differ in structure, each phytonutrient works for the same goal: reducing oxidative damage and protecting your health.


Photosynthetic bacteria, algae, and plants produce more than 750 pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids help protect the plant from harmful wavelengths of light so plants can use the sun for energy. These pigments also protect the photosynthetic portions of plant cells.

This class of phytonutrient is the source of the bright red, orange, and yellow colors of fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants and are critical in protecting your eye health and helping facilitate smooth cellular communication.


Beta-carotene is probably the most well-known carotenoid and phytonutrient. It is a precursor to vitamin A. Since your body can’t make vitamin A, you need a provitamin like beta-carotene in your diet. So your body can turn it into vitamin A when it needs.

Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and supports healthy eyes. This conversion is accomplished in the duodenum (the first part of your small intestine) when intestinal enzymes split beta-carotene into two active vitamin A molecules called retinal. That’s the usable form of vitamin A in the body. And it’s involved in many complex processes in your body.

Lycopene, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin

These three carotenoids also help maintain eye health. But they work differently than beta-carotene.

Light entering your eye is focused on the retina and filtered by cells in your eye called rods and cones. The chemical structures of lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin allow them to absorb light, too. These pigments specifically absorb blue light, which has been shown to cause light-induced oxidative damage.

But that’s not all these phytonutrients do. Carotenoids like those listed above help your body’s cell signaling be more efficient and reliable. How do they do it? Carotenoids stimulate the manufacture of proteins called connexins. These proteins help neighboring cells exchange information, faster.


Polyphenols have a distinctive shape and a name that describes their chemical makeup. To understand them a bit more, let’s dive deep into the chemistry.

Chemical compounds come in all shapes and a variety of unique organizations. The order and placement of atoms in each molecule determine its function. Polyphenols are made primarily of two kinds of atom patterns: benzene rings and alcohol groups.

Benzene rings are cyclical chemical rings made of carbon and hydrogen with alternating double bonds. Alcohol groups consist of oxygen and hydrogen attached to another atom, like carbon. Together, one benzene ring plus one alcohol group equals one phenol. When multiple phenols are strung together, polyphenols are born. This chemical shape is important because it literally lets polyphenols absorb and neutralize extra electrons.

Polyphenols are the most numerous antioxidants in your diet. They are known to promote cardiovascular health. Two polyphenols, resveratrol and curcumin, are especially important in a healthy diet and are key ingredients in dietary supplements.


Resveratrol is an antioxidant polyphenol found commonly in your diet. You can find it in peanuts, berries, grapes, and red wine.

The positive effects of resveratrol have only recently been uncovered. In the 1990s, scientist stumbled upon resveratrol while studying the health benefits associated with red-wine consumption.

For many years the diets of French people had been under scrutiny. The French regularly eat foods high in saturated fats, yet they have healthy hearts and blood vessels. They also consume large amounts of wine. This phenomenon is referred to as the “French paradox.” After resveratrol was discovered in red wine, researchers took a closer look to see if it could help explain these paradoxical observations.

By itself, resveratrol is great at tackling free radicals and other reactive oxygen species. But it also supports the function of other important molecules. Glutathione, one of the most ubiquitous molecules in your body, pairs up with resveratrol to help protect your cells from oxidative damage, which helps maintain healthy cell function.

Grape Seed Extract


Since grapes contain both resveratrol (found primarily in grape skins) and grape seed extract, the function of these two phytonutrients are very similar. Grape seed extract comes from, you guessed it, grape seeds. It is a powerful antioxidant and supports cardiovascular health.

Circulatory system benefits come from the phytonutrient’s ability to help the body maintain healthy blood pressure already in the normal range. This is done by supporting the healthy function of venous pumps, which help blood return to the heart.


If you enjoy tropical cuisine, get excited. Because some of your favorite foods are loaded with phytonutrients. Curcumin is a polyphenolic compound making waves in human nutrition. This phytonutrient has demonstrated the ability to support healthy brain and joint function.

Curcumin is found in turmeric, a spice derived from the roots of the tropical plant Curcuma longa Linn. Turmeric adds bright yellow-orange color to cooking. This vibrant polyphenol has been used for medicinal purposes in India for centuries. And new scientific research is adding credence to its ancient claims.

A lot of the benefits come from curcumin’s ability to behave like an antioxidant. But it also disrupts the route of cytokines and enzymes like cyclooxygenase. That’s how curcumin helps maintain healthy joint function.

The brain-health support provided by curcumin is achieved in a different way. As a result of aging, memory can be effected by the build-up of “junk” or “plaques” in the brain. Plaques are clumps of protein that stick to brain tissue and interrupt cell signaling. Curcumin has been shown to help dismantle those plaques and makes it harder for them to form. This phytonutrient has also been show to support brain-cell growth and maintain healthy cognitive function and memory.

Green Tea Extract

Green tea is enjoyed by millions of people every day. But there is more to the drink than a natural energy boost. Green tea extract may help maintain a healthy weight.

Green tea extract is natural source of caffeine and it’s full of polyphenols. This phytonutrient has been shown to increase the energy your body uses every day. And using more energy makes reaching a healthy weight more manageable.

Here’s how it works. Green tea extract supports the action of norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter that regulates heat production and fat oxidation. The polyphenol also oxidizes fat cells and increases the rate at which your body uses energy. This increase in metabolism creates heat and burns fat—all without significant impact on your heart rate.

Olive Fruit Extract


Olive fruit extract and other olive-derived compounds work primarily as antioxidants. They protect the body from unhealthy oxidation. That’s how olive fruit extract reduces the toxic chemicals that lead to redness and irritation.

Glutathione function is also stimulated by olive fruit extract. Olive fruit extract and glutathione work together to destroy free-radicals and keep oxidative stress at bay.

This polyphenol also promotes healthy circulation which also helps supports heart function. That’s because healthy arteries help maintain normal blood pressure and promote general well-being.


Bioflavonoids (also known as flavonoids) are a special category of polyphenols. They are further categorized by their chemical structure. And there are hundreds of plant-derived bioflavonoids that work to keep you healthy and strong.

Like other phytonutrients, bioflavonoids are primarily antioxidants. But they can also help protect the liver, maintain brain health, and more. In addition, bioflavonoids can be useful in maintaining normal hormone levels.

Quercetin and Rutin

Quercetin and rutin belong to a group of bioflavonoids called flavonols. This category of bioflavonoid is unique because of the position of alcohol groups in its chemical structure.

Flavonols—like quercetin and rutin—interrupt signals between hormones and promote normal hormone interaction. Quercetin and rutin also provide support to your liver. They work together to assist in a natural process that promotes toxin excretion in the urine.


Hesperidin falls into the bioflavonoid category of flavanones. These compounds are distinguished by the oxygen-carbon double bond in their chemical arrangement.

Hesperidin and other flavanones act as antioxidants that protect the brain. These antioxidants function like curcumin—which is mentioned in the polyphenols section above. Hesperidin can help preserve brain function by fighting against plaque formation. These protein build-ups interfere with brain cell communication. By optimizing brain health and protecting against age-related memory loss, hesperidin and other flavanones help maintain healthy cognitive function.

Flavanones have also demonstrated abilities to support your immune system and help keep you healthy.

Other Antioxidants and Important Plant Compounds

Your body needs adequate amounts of phytonutrients to maintain its fitness. But there are other important molecules and chemical compounds necessary for health that can be found in a proper diet. For detoxification and healthy digestion, the following compounds are critical.

N-Acetyl L-Cysteine

Cysteine is an amino acid necessary for building that all-important detox molecule, glutathione. Getting cysteine in your diet is easier than your think. It’s available in a lot of animal protein. But there’s several plant sources. So all you have to do is just add garlic.

Whole garlic cloves are brimming with a molecule called alliin. It contains the cysteine needed to help produce the glutathione your body needs. But alliin is trapped inside. Crushing, chopping, and chewing garlic releases alliinase.

The protein alliinase frees alliin making it available for our bodies to absorb. Once absorbed, our bodies release the cysteine from alliin making it available for use. One use is glutathione production. Cysteine increases the concentration of glutathione in the body and puts it to work detoxing foreign chemicals and cleaning up free-radical damage.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Glutathione relies on alpha-lipoic acid for help in the detoxification process. But your body also needs this antioxidant for helping to maintain normal blood sugar—provided it’s already in the normal range to begin with. Alpha-lipoic acid does this by increasing glucose’s sensitivity to insulin. This helps maintain your metabolic health.

Dietary Fiber


Fiber is crucial for healthy and comfortable digestion. Plants are full of fiber and carbohydrates geared towards making digestion easier.

Increasing fiber can help your body make better use of the sugars in your food. Fiber also softens stool and can help relieve occasional constipation—one of the more uncomfortable side effects of poor digestion.

Growing evidence suggests that high-fiber diets help in weight control. Fiber-rich foods can prolong the feeling of fullness after a meal. This full feeling keeps the need for mindless snacking in check and can lower the amount of unhealthy food consumed.

High-fiber foods also generally provide more nutrition than their low-fiber counterparts. By filling your belly with a fiber-rich meal, you can get better nutrition to your body and help maintain a healthy weight.

Powerful Produce – Sources of Essential Phytonutrients

Phytonutrients are already in your diet. Your just need to know where to look. Colorful fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of carotenoids. Dark green and leafy veggies are rich in bioflavonoids. Phytonutrients are also hiding in some of your favorite beverages—namely red wine and green tea.

This list of phytonutrient-dense foods can help you make sure your body gets these important plant compounds. This is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start:

  • Red, orange, and yellow peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Squash
  • Berries
  • Oranges
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, kale
  • Dark, leafy, green vegetables
  • Nuts and nut oils
  • Olive oil
  • Red wine
  • Chocolate
  • Turmeric, ginger, and garlic
  • Whole grains high in fiber

And even the best diets may fall short. So use your healthy diet as a foundation of phytonutrients and consider adding supplementation to get everything you need to live your best, healthiest life.


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.



TV watching and weight gain

TV watching and weight gain

Television transports you to foreign lands, fantasy worlds, or into pulse-pounding car chases. But getting sucked into the action may hurt your weight-management efforts. That’s because TV watching and weight gain have some interesting connections.

One study found that two or more hours of television a day ties to high body mass indexes (BMI)—adding fat—in both men and women. So if you’ve ever wondered if binge watching your favorite show is making you gain weight, the answer might be yes.

And there’s two reasons for it—activity and eating.

Time spent in front of the TV often means less time moving around. Sedentary behavior—as opposed to physical activity—contributes to weight gain. So the tie between TV watching and weight gain makes sense. But it goes beyond the comfort of the couch.

Several studies have found that watching TV while eating increases calorie intake. In one study, they found that those watching more television took in more calories from snacks or large evening meals. The findings suggest that television seems to boost snacking overall.

And some types of programming have been shown to be worse than others.

A study from Cornell University compared two types of media—an action movie and a talk show. They wanted to see which encouraged more snacking. The result? Action-movie viewers ate 98 percent more.

The authors attribute this difference to the stimulation and excitement of the movie or TV show. The constant action—and cuts to different camera angles and scenes—distracts you. Not paying attention to the food being eaten translates to mindless snacking or overeating. Anxiety and agitation caused by the action on screen may play a role, too.

Avoiding action scenes might not be enough, though.

Another study found food-related content on television increased calorie intake. And the type of food seen on a show can influence cravings, too. Another study showed that if a character finishes eating in a scene, study participants preferred sweeter snacks—those that mimic dessert—to savory ones.

It’s clear that television—and media in general—can have a big impact on your waistline. But that doesn’t mean you should turn a blind eye to the current golden age of television.

You can manage your DVR and your weight at the same time. The key is moderation, mindful eating, and healthy snack choices. Put in the effort so you don’t fall victim to the trend of TV watching and weigh gain.


Bowman SA. Television-viewing characteristics of adults: correlations to eating practices and overweight and health status. Prev Chronic Dis. 2006 Apr;3(2):A38. Epub 2006 Mar 15.

Mozaffarian, Dariush, M.D., Dr.P.H; Hao, Tao, M.P.H.; Rimm, Eric B., Sc.D.; Willett, Walter C., M.D. Dr.P.H.; Hu, Frank B., M.D., Ph.D. Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men. N Engl J Med. 2011 Jun 23; 364(25): 2392–2404.

Tal, Aner PhD; Zuckerman, Scott, MD; Wansink, Brian, PhD. Watch What You Eat:Action-Related Television Content Increases Food Intake. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(11):1842-1843. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4098.

Shimizu, Mitsur; Wansink, Brian. Watching food-related television increases caloric intake in restrained eaters. Appetite. Volume 57, Issue 3, December 2011, Pages 661-664.

Zhou, Shuo; Shapiro, Michael A.; Wansink, Brian. The audience eats more if a movie character keeps eating: An unconscious mechanism for media influence on eating behaviors. Appetite. Volume 108, 1 January 2017, Pages 407-415.

holistic health and wellness

holistic health and wellness

Health is often understood as the absence of disease or sickness. While this definition is valid, it lacks the comprehensiveness of a broader approach. So start assessing your holistic health and wellness on a wider spectrum. This means wellness depends on more factors than simply avoiding the flu each year.

Holistic health and wellness is sustained by eight pillars: physical, nutritional, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, financial, and environmental.

The pillars will give you a sense of how to work toward your optimal wellness, but it’s by no means prescriptive. The path to wellness is not one-size-fits-all. The journey is unique and different for each individual.

Your biology, personality, and environment will determine what wellness means to you. That’s why your approach should be personalized. The common thread for everyone is that wellness requires a holistic approach.

So, let’s learn more about each pillar and how you can strengthen each one.


Most people immediately think of exercise when they hear “physical wellness.” Regular physical activity is an important part of the equation that can’t be ignored. But it’s not the only aspect deserving of attention.

Your body needs more than movement alone. Physical wellness also includes appropriate sleep, hygiene, and a healthy diet (more on this in the next section). If you’re evaluating your physical health, ask these questions: Are you getting enough quality sleep? And if not, what barriers keep you from achieving regular and restful sleep?

Researchers published an update to The National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for adult sleep requirements. Their study reaffirmed the idea that adults should get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

For college students, parents, and workaholics, this can be a tough number to meet. But simple strategies can ensure the sleep you get comes easily and goes on uninterrupted.


  1. Avoid screens 30 minutes before bedtime.
  2. Incorporate a relaxing wind-down routine each night. This can include dimming lights in your home, turning on calming music, and even light stretching.
  3. Block out unnecessary light and noise. This can be done with blackout curtains and a white-noise machine.


Though nutrition is intimately tied to physical health, it’s so important and must be represented by its own pillar. This is especially true because nutrition must be personalized based on age, sex, activity level, and body chemistry.

A balanced diet requires that you consume nutritional foods that feed your body and mind. The USDA recommends that during meals, adults fill half of their plates with fruits and vegetables. The other half should be dedicated to mostly grains, along with a modest portion of protein and a side of dairy.

Diversifying your plate with appropriate amounts of each food group will help you acquire the necessary macronutrients for day-to-day energy, muscle growth and recovery, and other bodily processes.

Unfortunately, in 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nationally, 76 percent of adults didn’t meet the recommendations for daily fruit intake. Even more—87 percent—of adults didn’t meet daily vegetable requirements. When meeting the suggested five cups a day becomes difficult to do, supplementation can help restore the necessary nutrients in your body to appropriate levels.

Strengthening this pillar requires careful attention to your diet and appropriate supplementation. Life’s stressors and time commitments can make these tasks difficult. But nutritional improvements will help strengthen the other seven pillars of holistic health and wellness.


  1. Consume a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Diversifying this portion of your plate will ensure you get the micronutrients your body needs.
  2. Pay attention to portion sizes to help with weight maintenance and adherence to MyPlate guidelines.
  3. Replace refined grains with their whole counterparts to ensure you get enough fiber.


Emotional wellness encompasses the ability to navigate your feelings. This means identifying, assessing, and effectively sharing those feelings with others.

Why is this important? The ups and downs of life can take you on an emotional rollercoaster. But the better you understand, process, and manage those feelings, the smoother the ride will be.


  1. Create a list of those who support you and how best to contact them. When the going gets tough, it can be hard asking for help. Having this quick reference at hand may make it that much easier to reach out.
  2. Seek out a therapist or counselor. Often a third party’s insight can help you navigate rough waters.
  3. Journaling is an easy way to identify and process your feelings, especially if you’re not comfortable sharing them out loud. It’s always a great way to measure your progress or growth. And reminders of your past obstacles and successes will only be a few pages away.


Social wellness is about connecting with others to form positive relationships. And if those falter, it’s about dealing with any conflicts appropriately.

Social relationships create support systems that can carry you through life’s struggles. Harvard’s Study of Adult Development ran for 80 years, collecting data on hundreds of participants. A recent study on a subset of this population—surviving octogenarians—investigated the connections between marital satisfaction, social lives, and happiness. Researchers found that participants who spent more time with others reported greater levels of happiness.

The impact of surrounding yourself with those that care for you can’t be understated. When the demands of life increase and stress mounts, the ability to turn to someone for support and understanding is powerful. Building and maintaining these networks take time and energy, but the work is worth the effort. And it will continue to serve you throughout your life.


  1. Meet new people through social networks like, community events, or volunteer service.
  2. Schedule a recurring time weekly to reach out to out-of-state friends and family. Connect with someone new each week to keep those relationships strong.
  3. Revisit the idea of pen pals and snail mail. Connecting with loved ones through handwritten communication can really strengthen bonds.


The spiritual pillar will look different for everyone because it’s such a personal piece of overall wellness. It will play a stronger role in one person’s life more than another, depending on how each person defines it.

Spirituality is commonly viewed as a sense of purpose, direction, or meaning, without which, values can slip to the wayside, upending life’s balance. Many cultivate their spirituality through meditation, prayer, or other activities that foster a connection to nature or a higher power.

Maintaining your spiritual wellness will look different for everyone. It’s not about a specific religion or belief system. Spiritual health is about personalizing your journey. Some people might practice mindfulness as a way of checking in with their intentions, guiding their actions, and maintaining a values-based approach to life. How you choose to strengthen your spiritual health is up to you.


  1. Dedicate a small chunk of time each day to yourself. Make this time a priority, free of distractions, interruptions, and major activities. This time can be used to relax, reflect, meditate, or pray.
  2. Keep a journal. Writing regularly can help clear your mind and keep you accountable to the goals you’ve set.
  3. Choose your top three values in life and write them down. Reflect on them often. Keeping these values in the front of your mind will help guide everyday decisions—big and small. This practice will make it easier to say “yes” to things that matter, and “no” to things that don’t align with your values.


Intellectual wellness is strengthened by continually engaging the mind.  Doing so can help you build new skills and knowledge that inspire and challenge you, and help you grow. You might choose different ways to keep your mind sharp—depending on your mood. For some, that’s brain games and puzzles, or scholastic endeavors. Even simply engaging in intellectually stimulating conversations and debates can strengthen this pillar.

Some experience intellectual boons through self-discovery and personal advancement.  Academic efforts, involvement in community activities, or other avenues of personal growth are just a few you can try.


  1. Look for continuing education classes through a local community college or university.
  2. Join a book club or visit your local library and sign up for a card.
  3. Take up journaling or another self-reflective activity.


To be financially well is to live within your means and plan for the future appropriately. It can be tough to accomplish, but small steps can pay off big-time in the long-run.

Financial wellness might sound the least exciting. But pursuing betterment in this area will surely strengthen the other pillars of holistic health and wellness. After all, financial troubles are one of the top stressors that Americans report. Taking small steps to control spending and save money can really lighten the burden on your everyday life.


  1. Make paying off debt a priority.
  2. Create a budget with the help of an online system like Mint or a personal financial planner.
  3. Set aside a fixed amount of money every month for non-essentials, like entertaining, dining out, and recreation.


Environmental wellness is concerned with your immediate personal surroundings and the larger community where you live and work. Specifically, environmental wellness is determined by the reciprocal relationship between an individual and their environment. How do you support your environment? And in return, how does your environment support your health, well-being, and safety?

The effects of strengthening your environmental wellness can be felt personally, and by your larger local and global communities. The more you care for and respect your natural and built environments, the better they can support and sustain your daily life.


  1. Individual: Keep your workspace clear. A clutter-free workspace inspires creativity and productivity.
  2. Neighborhood: Join local clean-up efforts. This could include: producing less waste, recycling, and picking up litter in your neighborhood.
  3. Larger community: Cut back on car trips. Whether it’s combining errands or replacing motorized transport when possible, each small effort can add up to a large impact.

Build Up Your Pillars of Holistic Health and Wellness

Wellness means different things to each individual. And being well gives each person the ability to reach their personal goals. After all, when your body, mind, and soul are cared for holistically, you’re able to pursue and meet your goals with less resistance.

To determine your personalized approach to wellness, reflect on the eight pillars of holistic health and wellness. Figure out which ones most require your attention. And remember, strengthening each one will provide a great foundation for living your best, healthiest life.

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.


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Moore LV and Thompson FE. “Adult Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations – United States, 2013”. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Waldinger RJ, Schulz MS. “What’s love got to do with it? Social functioning, perceived health, and daily happiness in married octogenarians”. Psychology and Aging (2010). 25(2): 422-431.

worst foods for your waistline

worst foods for your waistline

Newsflash! Potato chips still aren’t good for you. That’s probably pretty obvious. And you already know a healthy diet and activity are important for maintaining your weight. But one large, long-term study got very specific about the worst foods for your waistline.

Researchers spent 20 years studying over 120,00 healthy people. Evaluations every four years helped the study pinpoint foods and behaviors that have the biggest impact on weight gain over time.

A More Complex Remedy

You probably already have some guesses. But before we start naming names, there were some interesting overall conclusions. They may reinforce what you know and add information to shape your healthy lifestyle.

Let’s start with the one you might guess. Highly refined or processed foods, liquid carbohydrates, and alcohol consumption were found to contribute to weight gain. But fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains showed the opposite effect—limiting weight gain.

That’s kind of a no-brainer, but the next one is less obvious. Mostly because it’s common to hear “eating less and exercise is all you need.” It’s an easy way to describe the change to a healthy lifestyle. But the study adds some nuance.

Their analysis suggests “dietary quality (the types of foods and beverages consumed) influences dietary quantity (total calories).” So it shifts the conversation from “less is more” to “the right amounts of the right foods.” Overall, it means choosing better, healthier options help keep your overall energy balance in check.

Weight Gain Can Sneak Up on You

Weight management is inextricably tied to the laws of thermodynamics. It all comes back to the conservation of energy—total energy in a system remains constant. Basically, you can’t make energy disappear. If you eat calories and don’t use them, they’re stored.

That reality makes weight gain easy over time. While a cheat meal won’t pack on five pounds of fat, constant calorie overruns impact your weight and health. And it doesn’t take much.

The study found that consistently having an extra 50–100 kcal per day is enough to add weight. Those small increases stack up over time. That’s how the average study participant gained 3.35 pounds during each four-year interval.

Findings like this underline the importance of daily dietary diligence. And shows the wisdom of taking the long-term approach of lifestyle change over quick-fix, fad diets.

Top 6 Worst Foods for Your Waistline

Now the part you’ve been waiting for—time to see how close your guesses were. Here are the worst offenders:

  • Potato chips: The absolute worst—of the foods in the study, at least. Increased servings of these snacks contributed a four-year average gain of 1.69 pounds.
  • Potatoes: You can’t have potato chips without potatoes. It’s probably no surprise that increased servings of the starchy root tacked on a four-year average of 1.28 pounds.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: Exactly one pound was added for study participants who increased sugary-drink intake.
  • Unprocessed red meats: The study found an 0.95-pound average gain for those who increased red-meat servings over four years.
  • Processed meats: You hear about how bad these are for your health. And the study found processed meats accounted for 0.93 extra pounds on average.
  • Alcohol: An additional drink each day meant participants added 0.41 pounds, on average, over four years. Again, that’s almost half a pound for each drink you add per day.

How did you do? Hopefully the clues above about starches, refined grains, and processed foods helped you out. Or maybe you were tipped off by other studies that have found similar results about these types of food.

The authors suggest the satiating inability of starches and refined grains may be to blame. Since they don’t make you feel as full, you eat more to fill yourself up. That could account for the constant extra calories that can really add up.

Foods to Stock Up On

The study didn’t just have bad news for carb cravers. It also identified some of the food types that showed positive effects on weight over each four-year period. Here’s what they found:

  • Yogurt: Kind of surprising that this was the study’s best of the best. The authors admit it could be confounding factors or maybe the bacterial benefits could be to blame. Other research over two decades has linked calcium-rich foods and weight. Whatever the cause, the results showed a four-year average of -0.82 pounds for participants that increased servings of yogurt.
  • Nuts: Nothing crazy about this one. Nuts are constantly mentioned as a part of a healthy diet. The study showed an average of -0.57 pounds for these protein-packed snacks.
  • Fruits: Those who ate more fruit ended up -0.49 pounds, on average over four years. The study didn’t find the same results for 100-percent fruit juice.
  • Whole grains: Unlike their processed cousins, whole grains showed a four-year average of -0.37 pounds.
  • Vegetables: This large variety of this category might explain why vegetables only accounted for an average of -0.22 pounds. But that’s still another reason to eat more vegetables.

The results probably reinforce your ideas about what a healthy diet looks like. The authors list some reasons why this group of foods showed benefits for keeping weight gain in check. And it goes beyond simple calories.

The study suggests satiety may to blame again. With higher fiber content and slower digestion speeds, these foods make you feel full. And if you’re eating more whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, you may not feel the need to fill up on other more processed, higher calorie foods.

Time to Start Healthy Habits

Diet is only a piece of a healthy lifestyle. And this study took a look at behaviors and habits that impacted weight gain over time, as well.

Health isn’t as simple as diet and exercise. But physical activity did have a huge, positive impact. Across all groups, physical activity accounted for a four-year average of -1.76 pounds. So, those who got moving fared well in the battle against weight gain.

A sedentary activity—watching television—had the predictably opposite effect. Study participants added 0.31 pounds per hour, per day. Some of this was tied to the snacking that happens during television session. Either way, it gives binge watching a new meaning.

For most of us, sleep is a pretty physically idle experience. But your sleep was tied to positive outcomes. Those whose nightly sleep averaged less than six hours or more than eight hours showed more weight gain.

The study’s advice might sound familiar—eat a fresh, healthy diet, sleep, and get off the couch. But it adds some complexity to the common “just eat less and lose weight” idea.

And whether your guesses about the foods were right, it’s a nice reminder. Checking your progress towards a healthy lifestyle can have an impact. The authors say repeated assessment over time is important. So use the information to make changes and build your health lifestyle.


Mozaffarian, Dariush, M.D., Dr.P.H; Hao, Tao, M.P.H.; Rimm, Eric B., Sc.D.; Willett, Walter C., M.D. Dr.P.H.; Hu, Frank B., M.D., Ph.D. Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men. N Engl J Med. 2011 Jun 23; 364(25): 2392–2404.