Brushing your teeth might help change your mood or prepare you for a good night’s sleep. It’s simple advice for good oral health. But the reality is that your mouth is one of your body’s most complex places. Partly because it’s the gateway to your digestive tract. And with everything you put into your mouth on a day-to-day basis, you’re inviting and hosting scores of different types of life—collectively known as the oral microbiome—inside your oral cavity.

It might sound a little scary, but there are colonies of bacteria everywhere inside your mouth. On your teeth. In your gums. On your tonsils. Beneath your tongue. On the inside walls of your cheeks.

The oral microbiome contains over 700 prevalent species of bacteria, according to the American Society of Microbiology. And all of these various bacteria come to hang out and play their part in your oral and overall health.

That’s right. There’s a big connection between oral health and your long-term health. But what do the different types of bacteria living inside your mouth provide in terms of functionality? What influences the makeup of these varying types of microbes? And perhaps most importantly, what’s the key to maintaining a healthy balance of oral bacteria?

Science helps break it down.

Why Oral Bacteria Exists

The fact is, bacteria and other microbes are almost inescapable. They live everywhere around you, on you, and inside you. That’s prompted experts to refer to these microbes as “permanent guests.”

The oral microbiome is no different. Various bacteria and microbes contribute to health—positively and negatively. And this complexity has been a topic of focus among cell biologists, microbiologists, and immunologists over the last decade. These microbial communities create a fascinating world for experts to explore. Purnima Kumar, professor of periodontology at Ohio State University, said every time a person drinks a glass of water, they’re swallowing millions of bacteria.

Kind of gross. Also fun to think about, right? But it’s not much fun for the residents of the oral microbiome.

There’s a battle raging inside your mouth. It’s a life-or-death fight for space and food. And the outcome is important to you. Some bacteria in what is also called your biofilm help protect your mouth and maintain the health of your teeth and gums. Others create issues for your dental health.

The ongoing fight between the good and bad sides can be easily swayed based on things you do. That includes behaviors—like diet and poor oral hygiene—as well as recurring health problems. One interesting development scientists have figured out is your overall oral health is generally influenced by your mother’s oral health. That’s because you’re more likely to be born with similar bacteria.

That’s right—you weren’t born with teeth, but you’re born with oral bacteria.

It’s Time to Start Caring About the Composition of Your Oral Microbiome

You know that gross feeling when you wake up every morning? With the film on your teeth and your breath not at its best—to put it kindly? What if that was permanent? No thanks.

The easy answer to this issue might be to remove all the bacteria in your mouth so you don’t have to feel that way. But if you wiped away all the bacteria in your mouth, you would be ridding yourself of those that work on your behalf, too.

Certain bacteria fighting on your team can help your breath stay away from nasty territory. On top of that, some bacteria of the oral microbiome work to break down foods in an enzymatic reaction that starts with your saliva.

Some strains of bacteria like Streptococcus and Neisseria are linked in studies to the maintenance of esophageal health. And Neisseria has proven to play a part in the breakdown of toxic substances like tobacco smoke.

There are bad guys in there, too. And they can have their say both in the short-term and the long-term health of your mouth. So, the important thing is to create a balance of bacteria that is beneficial to your health. Just like you can do in your gastrointestinal tract.

It’s all about space and food. That starts with good hygiene. Experts will tell you what your parents have said all along: brush and floss to keep bacteria under control. That’s why when you let oral care slide for a while, things in your mouth can get dicey. Bacteria levels can rise, which could cause issues for your teeth and gums.

There are other factors you might not think of—like saliva. It helps wash away lingering bits of food and provides protection from acids produced by bacteria. But some medications can reduce the flow of saliva in your mouth. Be aware of this if you take some decongestants, antihistamines, and antidepressants.

Your diet also plays a role in the health of your mouth and your oral microbiome. That means concentrating on a healthy diet that supports the growth of good bacteria instead of bad ones. Adding an oral probiotic also might be useful to support a healthy balance for your oral microbiome. You’ll find more tips later on in the story.

What Kind of Bacteria Live in Your Mouth?

Don’t worry, there’s no way to cover all the types of bacteria in your oral microbiome on one page. There’s simply too many. Covering the hundreds and hundreds of different species would require a full book.

But here are some common types of bacteria you should be familiar with:

  • Streptococcus: One of the largest players in the oral bacteria community, there are several different strains that fall under the Streptococcus family. Usually they are oval-shaped chains of bacteria cells. And some can cause issues for your teeth. Streptococcus mutans, for example, is a potential pathogen that can convert sugar to lactic acid. And that acid buildup is bad for your teeth.
  • Porphyromonas gingivalis: This is one type of bacteria you don’t want to see show up. Luckily it isn’t usually present in a healthy oral microbiome. Avoid it to maintain the health of tissues and bone structures that support your teeth.
  • Lactobacillus: These strains are long, rod-like bacteria that have thick cell walls. Like Streptococcus strains, Lactobacillus helps change lactose (a milk sugar) into lactic acid. This means more acids that shouldn’t be allowed to linger in your mouth. But Lactobacillus is a beneficial bacteria for your gut, which is why it’s in many probiotic products.
  • E. Coli: Most E. coli in the human body is found in your guts, but a trace amount of the bacteria is also part of the oral microbiome. Thankfully, not all E. coli strains are alike. And these aren’t the same as the ones you hear about on the news from contaminated foods.

The oral microbiome’s residents are created equal. In fact, different strains of the Streptococcus family actually are helpful. Streptococcus salivarius K12 aids in fighting bad breath. Like you read above, Neisseria helps breakdown bad substances like cigarette smoke, and some strains help break down food.

It’s not currently possible to design your bacterial mix to be purely good. So, maintaining a healthy balance in your mouth microbiome is what’s important. And there are several ways you can support this healthy balance.

Tips to Maintain a Healthy Balance of Oral Bacteria

There will always be a variety of neutral, harmful, and helpful oral bacteria renting out space in your mouth. That’s just the reality of the situation. Don’t fret, though. There are simple answers for keeping your oral microbiome in good shape.

First and foremost, it’s about maintaining the necessary level of oral hygiene. Brushing—twice a day—and daily flossing keeps bacteria at bay.

Your lifestyle and diet also have a big impact on the bacteria in your mouth. A healthy, whole-food diet that’s mostly plant-based is a great start. You also need to avoid things that stimulate the growth of bad bacteria. Sugar is a big source of food for oral bacteria. Also stop smoking—or, better yet, never start. Nicotine is damaging to your oral microbiome. Stress is also as bad for your bacteria as it is for you.

Oral probiotics can also help add more beneficial bacteria to the microbiome, too. Researchers have found that supplementing with oral probiotics can be a useful tool in supporting and maintaining the health of your mouth. Oral probiotics are generally chewables or in tablets of various forms that allow the bacteria to set up shop in your mouth and adapt to their new environment.

The gateway to your body is one of the most complex parts of you. Understanding what’s going on inside your mouth and your oral microbiome can help maintain your long-term health. The oral microbiome is the initial line of defense for your overall health, so start taking steps to care for it every day.

Let’s face it, sugar is delicious—especially if you have a sweet tooth. But it’s clear a diet high in sugar isn’t great for your health or weight. Alternative sweeteners or sugar substitutes have emerged in recent decades as an option to cut back on table sugar while still enjoying the same sweet sensation. The truth, though, is a lot more complicated.

One of the reasons sugar can be so detrimental to health is that it can add up quickly. Sugar contains nearly four calories per gram. The average 12-ounce (355 ml) can of soda contains 39 grams of sugar. So, that’s 156 calories!

In other words, you don’t have to consume many sugary foods to get a huge dose of calories. And the more calories you consume, the harder your body has to work to burn them off. If calories aren’t burned, that can translate to weight gain.

Alternative sweeteners typically contain far fewer calories per gram. That’s what makes them so appealing for those looking to limit calories without suffering sweets withdrawals.

Luckily, you have a lot of choices.

Table Sugar: Glucose and Fructose

Before the conversation shifts to alternatives, let’s talk about the real thing—simple table sugar. It is by far the most widely used sweetener, over 175 million metric tons were consumed worldwide last year.

Table sugar, or sucrose, is what is called a disaccharide. That’s a carbohydrate made up of simple sugars called monosaccharides (made of a single sugar molecule, which makes a disaccharide those sugars made of two saccharides). In this case, the monosaccharides are glucose (also known as dextrose) and fructose.

As already discussed, sucrose isn’t the healthiest substance to consume in large quantities. The body breaks it down into glucose and fructose. And the glucose is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. This often results in a quick boost of energy, but makes it a poor choice for those looking to maintain their healthy, normal blood-sugar levels.

But what about the primary components of sucrose—glucose and fructose? Both are among the most abundant simple sugars on the planet. They’re present in many fruits, vegetables, and even honey. Both are also available in refined forms. Glucose doesn’t have the same sweetness level as sucrose, because it doesn’t contain fructose. Fructose has the ability to easily adhere to the sweetness receptors in your mouth. But both fructose and glucose contain a similar number of calories as sugar—about four per gram.

Glucose’s ability to quickly raise blood sugar levels also makes it a trigger for the release of insulin. Insulin is a hormone made in your body that allows sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates to enter cells for use as energy. This is a big reason why glucose is used as the reference food for Glycemic Index (GI) testing. GI is a test designed to measure how quickly a carbohydrate food raises blood glucose levels compared to glucose. Consuming pure glucose is not suitable for most people. Although the sweetener can be ideal for athletes or those needing quick energy during a workout.

You’ll find glucose as a common additive in foods because it is easy to produce. That comes from the fact that it can be derived from starches like potatoes and rice.

Fructose, meanwhile, has a higher sweetness level than both glucose and sucrose, nearly 1.7 times that of normal table sugar. It’s the sweetest of the naturally occurring sugars. Fructose is commonly found in fruits, vegetables, fruit juices, and makes up part of honey.

Like other simple sugars, a diet rich in fructose could lead to weight gain and potential health problems. Fructose must be converted to glucose in the liver before it can be used for energy. So, it doesn’t raise blood-sugar levels as quickly. Because the body processes fructose differently than other sugars, an excess of fructose could contribute to higher levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, and could cause the liver to store excess fat.

Now that you have a good idea about regular table sugar, let’s dig into some of the most popular sugar substitutes.

Stevia: A Potent Plant

One of the most widely used alternative sweeteners is derived from Stevia rebaudiana, a shrub native to South America. Stevia is anywhere from 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, but contains zero calories. It also doesn’t raise blood-sugar levels. That makes it a good choice for people who want to support healthy blood-sugar levels already in the normal range.

Stevia leaf and extracts are classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a “dietary supplement,” but have not been granted Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) status yet. However, Rebaudioside A—one of the chemicals in stevia—was granted GRAS status in 2008, and is used as a “food additive” and sweetener.

There are no known serious adverse health effects from stevia observed during human trials. There are, however, some commonly reported side effects. They include bloating, nausea, and a bitter aftertaste.

Xylitol: Best for Oral Care

Xylitol is what’s known as a sugar alcohol—a carbohydrate found in many different types of fruit. Don’t let the name fool you though, it doesn’t contain any of the alcohol most are familiar with.

Xylitol does have a sweetness very similar to sugar with about 40-percent fewer calories. It also doesn’t have a noticeable effect on blood-sugar levels.

Some studies have indicated that xylitol may support dental health, which is why you will find it in many different types of chewing gum and oral-care products. The bacteria in your mouth also can’t feed off of xylitol, which may help maintain good oral health and hygiene.

There are a few concerns with xylitol, though. It doesn’t break down in your gut as efficiently as sugar does. So, if you consume it in a high enough dose, it can cause diarrhea or gastrointestinal pain. The U.S. FDA has granted xylitol GRAS status. But it can be highly toxic to dogs, so be careful if you have pooches at home.

Erythritol: Great for Taste

Another sugar alcohol, erythritol, is also found naturally in many different fruits. Erythritol has about 70 percent of the sweetness of sugar, at a fraction of the calories. With 0.24 calories per gram, it contains six percent of the calories of sugar.

One of the major advantages of erythritol as an alternative sweetener is that it tastes remarkably similar to sugar. It manages to do this without having major effects on blood sugar, either. So, it’s another good sugar alternative for those looking to maintain healthy blood sugar already in the normal range.

The human body does not have the ability to break down erythritol, so most of what is consumed is excreted unchanged.

The powdered, commercially available form is produced by industrial methods. And it was granted GRAS status in 2001.

As with most sugar alcohols, consuming a large amount can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Several studies have shown that erythritol does seem to be better tolerated by the body than other alternative sweeteners.

Two More Sugar Alcohols: Mannitol and Sorbitol

Mannitol is another sugar alcohol that has a variety of uses, particularly in the pharmaceutical field. It’s most commonly used as a diuretic (which helps your body expel salt and water). And mannitol has many other medical applications, to go along with its role as an alternative sweetener.

Mannitol has roughly 40 percent of the calories of sugar, but only about half of the sweetness. This makes it a poor choice for those counting calories. However, mannitol isn’t absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, which makes it an ideal choice for people concerned about maintain healthy blood-sugar levels already in the normal range.

It is also nonhygroscopic, which means it doesn’t absorb any moisture from the atmosphere until the humidity level is above 98 percent. This makes mannitol effective as a hard coating for candies, chocolate flavors, dried fruits, and chewing gums. Like other sugar alcohols, it can have a laxative effect in high doses.

Sorbitol is a sweetener with an abundance of commercial and culinary applications. This sugar alcohol does occur naturally in many fruits like pears, apples, peaches, and prunes. Technically, sorbitol is not an artificial sweetener, but, as an additive, it’s most often highly processed.

Sorbitol contains about 2.6 calories per gram, or about 65 percent that of sugar. Like mannitol, it has roughly half of the sweetness. So, there are better options for people on a low-calorie diet. Similar to other sugar alcohols, sorbitol is good choice for those concerned about supporting healthy blood-sugar levels already in the normal range. That’s because it isn’t absorbed by the body quickly.

Sorbitol is popular in the production of sugar-free products like chewing gum, mints, and toothpaste. One non-sweetener benefit is it can control moisture content and act as a preservative. Sorbitol also doesn’t metabolize in the mouth, so bacteria can’t feed on it. This is another reason why it’s commonly found in chewing gum. Like other sugar alcohols, it can have a laxative effect.

Aspartame: Controversial and Effective

You may have seen aspartame marketed as Nutrasweet® or Equal®. Under either name, this artificial sweetener has become somewhat controversial over the years. Anecdotal evidence abounds on the internet blaming the substance for everything from hair loss to more serious health issues.

There was some early research done in Italy that linked aspartame to certain types of health problems in rats. But later evaluation of the data cast doubt on the research. To date, there have been no studies linking aspartame to any adverse health effects, and the U.S. FDA has granted it GRAS status.

Aspartame has roughly the same number of calories per gram as normal sugar—around four. But it’s 200 to 300 times sweeter, which means the same sweetness level can be achieved by using a small amount of aspartame.

Like most low-calorie sweeteners, aspartame doesn’t have an effect on blood sugar. People working to maintain healthy blood-sugar levels already in the normal range have been using it for years. And it’s one of the most common artificial sweeteners on the planet.

It should be noted that individuals with the rare genetic defect known as phenylkenoturia (PKU), should avoid aspartame altogether. Aspartame contains the amino acid phenylalanine. People with PKU (a genetic disorder) can’t metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine efficiently and must avoid it. If blood levels get too high, neurological, behavioral, and dermatological problems can occur.

Maltodextrin for Sweetness?

Maltodextrin is a white powder produced from a variety of starches like rice, potatoes, wheat, and corn. It is a common food additive, typically used as a thickener to increase the volume or consistency of a processed product. It’s easy to produce, you can find maltodextrin in everything from gelatins to sauces, salad dressings, powdered drinks, and even lotions or shampoos. It’s also used as a preservative.

Maltodextrin is generally tasteless and contains a relatively low amount of sugar. But it’s still highly caloric—around four per gram—and is highly processed. Maltodextrin is also absorbed into the blood stream quickly, which makes it a poor choice for people concerned about maintaining healthy blood-sugar levels.

But maltodextrin is a quickly digested carbohydrate. That makes it an excellent ingredient in sports drinks and energy bars. Since it also doesn’t require a lot of water to digest, you can get efficient calories without risking dehydration.

Yacon Syrup: Great for Gut Health

Yacon syrup is an alternative sweetener that has recently become very popular as a weight-loss option. It is derived from the yacon plant, also called Smallanthus sonchifolius, which is native to South America. And the syrup has received GRAS status.

Unlike many other alternative sweeteners, yacon syrup does contain some sugar in the form of fructose, sucrose, and glucose. These sugars give yacon syrup its sweet taste—similar to molasses. It’s still a sweetener that is very low in calories, though, packing about 1.3 calories per gram. That’s about a third as much as sugar.

Yacon syrup is primarily composed of what are known as fructooligosaccharides, a type of soluble fiber. These fibers aren’t digested when consumed. Instead, they make their way down the large intestine, where they can feed the helpful bacteria in your gut. Many studies have indicated that having healthy gut flora has positives for overall health—including weight management and immune support.

Yacon syrup is a sugar alternative that isn’t capable of handling the high temperatures associated with cooking or baking. So, just use it to flavor already cooked or raw foods.

What About the Health Benefits of Honey?

Humans have been eating and enjoying honey for millennia. And it is often advertised as superior to sugar. The truth is that honey still contains a large amount of sugar. It comes in the form of glucose and fructose, which means honey carries some of the same problems as normal table sugar when overconsumed.

Honey contains roughly 75 percent of these common sugars, with the remaining 20 to 25 percent split between water and traces of fat, fiber, and protein. With 3.34 calories per gram, honey has slightly fewer calories then sugar. But it’s also denser than sugar. This means if you flavor your coffee or tea with a tablespoon of honey, instead of a tablespoon of sugar, you would actually consume more calories.

What sets honey apart from other sweeteners is that it contains antioxidants like vitamin E. Dark buckwheat honey and other floral honeys tend to have the most antioxidants. And consuming antioxidants is important. They can help support overall health by fighting free radicals in the body.

Just make sure you aren’t relying on honey as your sole source of antioxidants. That would mean you have to consume a lot of honey to meet your needs. This would put you well over the daily recommended amount of sugar. Most fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants in significantly higher concentrations and are more important to a healthy diet.

Honey is considered safe for most. There is a risk of botulism that is rare, but potentially life threatening, if honey is consumed by infants. So, don’t give honey to children younger than 12 months old.

Honey is also available in powdered form. Because liquid honey has the ability to absorb moisture in the air, the sugars can ferment and cause it to spoil. This is why regular honey is best kept in a sealed container.

This isn’t a problem with honey powder. It is very shelf stable and will last for years. Honey powder does really well as a replacement for honey when used for baking. It doesn’t brown as quickly as normal honey.

If you’re going to use honey powder, just be mindful to check the ingredient label. Make sure it’s the pure stuff. It can often include additives that aren’t as healthy as the powdered honey itself.

Alternative Sweeteners and Your Skin

Sugar frequently makes the lists of food to avoid if you’re interested in healthy skin. There are many popular links to skin issues with sugar-filled diets, but the scientific evidence isn’t crystal clear. There appears to be a link between acne and high glycemic diets, although more research is needed to confirm. But how do alternative sweeteners effect your skin?

There isn’t concrete evidence in studies that show alternative sweeteners impact skin. The advice that is scientifically validated will sound familiar. Eat a wholesome diet with plenty of veggies and fruits is a good way to support healthy-looking skin.

Be Mindful About Your Use of Alternative Sweeteners

If you’re choosing between alternative sweeteners, there are a lot of factors to consider. Safety, effectiveness, and potential side effects are important. One positive side effect seems to make honey and yacon syrup better bets for your health. That’s because they can be helpful to your gut flora.

Because many alternative sweeteners are significantly more potent than sugar, it’s possible that your sugar receptors may become overstimulated. If you become dependent on something so sweet, it’s likely you could find genuinely healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, less appealing.

While it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid sugar, the good news is you don’t have to. Naturally occurring sugar can be found in many foods, and is a healthy part of a balanced diet. An apple, for example, has a high amount of sugar, but also contains fiber and various micronutrients that offset many of the negatives from the sugar. The danger comes from the added sugar found in many of your foods, usually included by manufacturers to enhance flavor.

Whether you are dieting, concerned about your skin, or have other health issues, there can be a role for naturally occurring sugar and healthy alternative sweeteners. But moderation is always the most important consideration. Just because you use alternative sweeteners, doesn’t mean you can consume excessive amounts of sugar in other places. In other words, don’t reach for the donut just because you drank a diet soda.,

The importance of exercise to your overall health can’t be emphasized enough. Regular exercise can help boost heart health and manage weight, while increasing endurance, strength, and flexibility. It’s not just the countless physical benefits, either. Regular exercise can contribute to a healthy state of mind. That means increased social interaction, better sleep patterns, and the release of stress-fighting hormones like serotonin and endorphins.

Basically, exercise is absolutely essential for well-being. But a busy schedule doesn’t always leave a whole lot of time for exercise.

Going to the gym may be a difficult, if not impossible, proposition. Some people just don’t like gyms, either. If you can’t handle the culture you find or don’t appreciate people watching you exercise, a gym membership might go unused.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up exercise entirely, though. There are many ways to stay in shape right in the comfort of your home. Let’s take a look at some of the most affordable and effective ways to exercise without even taking a step outside your front door.

Bodyweight Exercises are Efficient and Free

The gym might have more machines, free weights, and treadmills than you know what to do with. But remember that you can get a great workout without investing a dime towards equipment. Instead, use the bodyweight you already have as resistance for your workout. All you need is a bit of space in your living room, office, bedroom, or even hotel room.

In addition to saving money, bodyweight training can help save time. It requires no special equipment or gear, which means it can be done anywhere and is accessible for almost anyone. Whether on a trip, or busy at work, you don’t have to make it to the gym to stay in shape.

Quick sets of exercises that focus on the full body—like lunges, burpees, squats, crunches, and planks—can be very effective for building muscle. In fact, when done regularly, bodyweight training has shown to be more effective than cardio for weight loss.

Ready to use your built-in workout equipment? A quick search on Google or YouTube will yield more than enough exercises to keep you busy and build a bodyweight workout routine to take anywhere.

Free Weights, Much Better than Machines

Most gyms have a large amount of space dedicated to big resistance machines. That doesn’t necessarily translate well to a house or apartment. The good news is a set of free weights, like barbells, can be tucked into the corner of a room or closet. To make it even better news: free weights offer an all-around better workout than those huge machines.

Most resistance machines require you to sit down and lift weight with a limited range of motion. Free weights, on the other hand, don’t move on a fixed path. This means you have to keep the weights from wobbling around. Your body not only has large muscles like biceps and quadriceps, but lots of smaller stabilizer muscles and a core. Free-weight exercises hit all of these muscles with one simple workout like bicep curls. Because so many muscles work all at once, free weights burn more calories per rep than machines. Muscles working together also means your balance and flexibility improve, too.

Free weights are also readily available, and can often be picked up secondhand for really cheap. Some of the more space-efficient dumbbells can adjust their weight settings from five to 50 pounds. That puts a whole gym in your closet.

For those who might have a bit more space available, it’s tough to beat an old-fashioned adjustable weight bench and barbell. While they can be underappreciated, squats and bench presses are tried and true exercises that work many different muscles in your body. Just the ability to sit, or have the back braced can add stability while focusing on several upper-body muscle groups.

Despite all of the modern machines and technological advances of late, the adjustable weight bench usually is the most-used piece of equipment at most gyms. And it could be at your house, too.

Resistance Bands are a Light, Portable Solution

Resistance bands are long, thin pieces of rubber that have handles attached at either or both ends. They pretty much do what their name suggests—provide resistance to a variety of exercises and movements.

Resistance bands are a great addition to any classic, well-known exercise, and work especially well with bodyweight workouts. They can even add support, not just resistance, to help you work towards more difficult exercises. If you struggle to do a pull up, try using a resistance band to get a little extra boost. Soon enough you’ll be able to perform one unassisted.

Many people struggle with lifting weights, because gravity is providing the primary resistance. This isn’t the case with resistance bands. Their resistance simply comes from the elasticity of the rubber itself. That helps keep your joints safe, while improving range of motion. This is the reason these bands are so widely used by people undergoing rehabilitation after an injury. It also makes them popular for older folks that might not have the strength and balance required for traditional weights.

Some other advantages of bands: they take up little space, are affordable, and especially lightweight. Throw them in a bag on your next out-of-town trip to have easy, quick access to a great workout.

Kettlebells Provide Great Variety

You may have seen kettlebells at the gym. But they also make a great addition to any home gym. While technically a free weight, kettlebells warrant their own discussion due to their incredible versatility.

A kettlebell is a piece of cast iron or other heavy metal that resembles a tea kettle missing a spout. This unique shape is what makes them so effective. A standard dumbbell has its center of mass in the handle, but a kettlebell carries it away from the handle. The kettlebell’s handle is also unique in that it curves into the bulk of the cast iron, which allows the hand to grasp at different angles to open up a wide variety of exercises.

These exercises require more balance and stability to perform than traditional free weights. That provides a total-body workout that annihilates calories. Many exercises cause the heart rate to spike, which means you can achieve a cardiovascular and strength training workout. Some of the most common exercises include kettlebell swings, rows, squats, twists, and presses.

You can find kettlebells at most large retailers or online. They will also fit conspicuously anywhere in your home.

Practice Yoga to Build Flexibility and Mental Health

There is a reason people have been practicing yoga for 5,000–10,000 years. It’s powerful. There are many different schools of yoga that each focus on different aspects of mental, physical, and spiritual practices.

But when most westerners think of yoga, though, they’re referring to Hatha yoga. This type of yoga focuses on performing different poses, or asanas, that have various health benefits.

Regular yoga practice has been shown to:

  • increase flexibility
  • build muscle
  • correct posture
  • improve joint health
  • support mental health
  • balance emotional health
  • provide many other positive health outcomes

One of the major advantages of yoga is that you can do it almost anywhere. A yoga mat is all that’s really needed, and that’s only to make some of the poses more comfortable when the floor or ground contacts your body. A class or two at your local yoga studio can help familiarize you with different poses and important breathing techniques, but there are ample free lessons available online.

Stationary Bikes can be Great for Joint Health

Nearly everyone has seen an old exercise bike gathering dust in a basement for the last few decades. Maybe you even have one stashed away somewhere. If you’re serious about getting in shape or losing weight, maybe it’s time to drag that old behemoth out of storage.

A stationary bike is one of the best ways for fitness newbies to start a regular exercise routine. It burns calories quickly, but doesn’t require the same sort of commitment a treadmill or weight-training regimen might. These bikes are also a good choice for elderly folks or those with back, joint, or knee issues. That’s because there is minimal impact. Stationary bikes are also weatherproof. So, if it’s raining, snowing, or just too hot outside, you can still workout.

Stationary bikes have come a long way in the years since your grandmother bought that creaky, old beast, too. Today’s bikes are capable of tracking workouts, providing interval training, and can even have high-definition monitors to watch your favorite TV show or follow along with a personal trainer. The ability to watch the news, a movie, or other entertainment while putting in your miles is one of the major advantages of an exercise bike. If you can be distracted, you may find working out to be less of a chore.

There are some downsides, though. These bikes tend to take up a lot of space, and can be pretty costly. Plan to spend at least a few hundred dollars to ensure you get a quality product that will last. It also helps to speak with a trainer or professional to find one that will fit your size, body type, and needs.

Treadmills: Tried and True

Ahh, the dreaded treadmill. Long the bane of fitness enthusiasts the world over, these machines often take the brunt of exercise frustrations. Maybe because treadmills are an easy target. Or maybe it’s because running can be pretty hard.

The benefits of regular running are clear, though. Not many exercises come close to the mental and physical health it can provide. And if you’re serious about running, a treadmill can be a great choice for your home gym.

While running is an awesome exercise, it’s not for everyone. It can be particularly difficult for those with knee and joint issues. That’s because the impact of jogging on hard concrete or the uneven terrain of trails can be problematic. Today’s treadmills can alleviate that issue. These machines are designed with softer surfaces, and often have shock absorbers that can help reduce the impact involved with running.

There are other safety issues to consider, as well. Because many people don’t pay enough attention to pedestrians when driving, running outside at night can be dangerous. Women can be particularly at-risk due to the harassment and unwanted attention they can receive. A treadmill can at least help mitigate some of that.

Like a stationary bike or other larger equipment, cost and space can be factors. But if you choose to purchase one, speak with a professional to run over all your options. Perhaps try a few different models out to see which will fit your budget and lifestyle.

Make a Plan, and Stick with It

The type of equipment you ultimately purchase for your home isn’t nearly as important as developing an exercise routine and making it a habit. Whether you wake up early every day or burn some calories just before bed, consistency matters.

Try setting goals and daily alarms to remind yourself. Plan your workouts a week or a month in advance. And track your progress. Working out with a friend can also help you stay accountable.

Whatever the case, having some equipment set up at home can help you on the road to better fitness. Keep at it, and before long you will start to see results.

Taking the time and effort to exercise is an important first step. But, that’s only half the battle. Whether you want to lose weight, build muscle, or compete in your first triathlon, your diet is critical for success. The food you eat serves as the fuel for your workout and building blocks for your muscles. It would be a waste to follow the perfect fitness routine and ignore nutrition. The saying is true­—“You are what you eat”—especially with your pre- and post-workout meal.

Before you exercise, it’s all about fueling your fitness. But if you’ve looked into what to eat after working out or read about post-workout meals, it’s a different conversation. You might run across concepts like nutrient timing and carbohydrate-to-protein ratios. This article will highlight the research on when you should eat your post-workout meal, and the nutrients that you should focus on.

Nutrition for the Rest of the Day

When Should You Eat Your Post-Workout Meal?

Eating after exercise can be pretty intuitive. That comes mostly for one reason, you’re likely to be hungry. This is because your body just used a bunch of calories and wants to refuel itself. Exercise also breaks down muscle, and you need to eat protein to rebuild it.

The hunger you may feel after exercise isn’t the only guiding force for your post-work meal. Science also shows you should eat after exercise.

Some of the first researchers on the subject gave athletes chocolate milk post-workout (more about the nutrients in this “ideal” drink later). Chocolate milk improved energy and muscle recovery compared to those who had nothing after exercise. The timing of the milk was key to these benefits.

The window you have to eat after a workout for maximum benefit is referred to as “nutrient timing.” Most of the early research had test subjects eating their post-workout meal immediately after exercise, 15 minutes after, or 30 minutes after. This is why you might have heard people say you should eat within 30 minutes of your workout. However, most of these early studies didn’t do a comparison to more delayed time periods.

Recent studies have expanded on the early studies. Researchers tested eating one hour and up to two hours after exercise. They also examined the difference between fasted exercisers compared to those who had a pre-workout meal. The results turn out to be more involved than “eat within 30 minutes of your workout.”

What the Research Says

The results show a post-workout meal is more important in certain situations. It’s most important if you start your workout fasting or with only a small pre-workout meal. Like if you exercise in the morning, before breakfast.

A post-workout meal is also more critical if you’re on a calorie-deficit diet (losing weight). This means those trying to lose weight, should ration some calories for immediately before and after a workout.

The benefits are less pronounced if you started with a large pre-workout meal or your diet has a calorie surplus (gaining weight). But you still see some benefits from eating a post-workout meal, and should plan one.

The newer studies remove the urgency on the timing of your post-workout meal, though. So, you don’t need to rush straight from the gym to the kitchen. You can eat immediately, or wait up to two hours after exercise and still receive the benefits of a post-workout meal.

The Nutrients to Eat After Working Out

As you already know, your body needs food for energy and to use as building blocks. Physical activity increases those needs. But those needs don’t increase equally for all nutrients. Some play a much larger role in recovery and muscle growth than others.


Protein is the building block for the muscles in your body. Muscle is broken down when you exercise, and your body needs dietary protein to rebuild itself. Exercise also triggers extra muscle growth. That’s why weightlifting makes you stronger. This creates an even greater need to eat more protein and makes it one your top priorities after exercise.

Your protein needs depend on your size and the amount of protein you eat throughout the rest of the day. Aim for 20–40 grams (0.25-0.40 g/kg body mass) of protein after exercise. If you’re a smaller person, aim for 20 grams. A larger person would need closer to 40 grams of protein after exercise.

In addition to protein after your workout, you should try to eat that same amount of protein (20-40 grams) four to five more times throughout the day.

Focus on high-quality protein sources that contain all the essential amino acids. Some of the best sources of complete protein are milk, eggs, soy protein, and meat. Protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) is a tool for measuring protein quality. It will help you know which protein-rich foods to focus on.


Just as protein is needed to repair broken-down muscle, carbohydrates are required to replenish expended energy. Glycogen—stored glucose—is your primary source of energy for the first hour of exercise. The longer and harder you work out, the more your glycogen storage deplete. You will have to eat more carbohydrates to replenish it.

The research conducted 15+ years ago suggested consuming carbohydrates in 3:1 to 6:1 ratio compared to protein. While this is still valid, more recent research suggests you should take into account the exercise done and your overall daily diet.

Eating carbs can start before and during your workout. Eating them before exercise will help fuel your workout and maximize its potential. If you plan a long, difficult workout, also add some carbs along the way.

For post-workout carbs, you need to look at how many calories you plan to eat for the day. Refueling with carbs is important after a workout. But eating too many carbs right after a workout could quickly use up your day’s calories. This is especially true if you’re trying to lose weight. Prioritize protein first, then add carbohydrates as your calorie budget allows.

If you aren’t trying to lose weight and just finished a really hard workout, a few hundred grams of carbs might be appropriate. But you should eat fewer carbs (less than 50g) if your workout wasn’t particularly hard and you’re trying to lose weight.


Fat doesn’t play as direct of a role in exercise recovery as protein or carbohydrates. Too much fat can, in fact, slow down the absorption of the protein and carbs your body needs. That doesn’t mean you should avoid it, though.

Feel free to eat a mixture of high-protein and high-carbohydrate foods that also contain fat. Just don’t overdo it or worry about targeting a set amount of fat.

Chocolate Milk?

As mentioned above, some of the earliest research on recovery nutrition used chocolate milk. This research showed positive results in muscle and energy recovery. This lead many to turn to chocolate milk for their recovery meal.

Chocolate milk became so frequently used and referenced that many began to call it the “ideal” post-workout drink. It was also stated to have the “ideal ratio” of carbohydrates to protein. When you look into this ideal ratio, though, sometimes it is stated as 3:1 (carbs to protein), other times 4:1, and even as high as 6:1.

Why all the confusion? Well, different mixes of chocolate milk have different ratios of carbs to protein. The various researchers, nutritionists, and trainers also each had slightly different formulas they were using. And finally, as we have learned from additional research, there is no “ideal ratio.” Your post-workout needs are individual, and depend on your body, exercise, and diet.

Ask Yourself How Much You Sweat

Water is an important part of keeping your body running well. When you exercise, you lose some water through sweat. And it’s important to replenish it.

Make sure to drink plenty of water during your workout. The body can lose one to three liters of fluid per hour through sweat. Your post-workout goal is to replace any fluid lost that you didn’t drink during your workout.

And you lose more than water when you sweat. It also contains a large amount of sodium, which needs to be replenished.

The Salt in Your Sweat

Sweat rate: 1-3 L/hour


Sodium in sweat: 0.5-2 g/L


Sodium lost: 0.5-6 g sodium/hour

You can lose 0.5-6 grams of sodium per hour through sweat. You should replace that post-workout through the food eaten to get your protein and carbs. If your workout is longer, you should start replacing the essential mineral during exercise. This is why most sports drinks have sodium added.

Eat for Your Individual Needs

When deciding on your post-workout meal, it’s important to decide how much you will eat. And the amount is individual to you. That’s why the science moved away from simply telling you to drink a glass of chocolate milk. There is nothing wrong with chocolate milk post-workout, and it can be a part of your plan. But you might need something more or even something less.

Your protein needs are mostly determined by your body size. Your carb needs are decided by how many calories you eat each day, and what you ate before and during your workout. Water should be consumed throughout your workout, and continued through your post-workout meal.

All of these factors are different for you than others at the gym. So, consider these elements and listen to your body. That way you can maximize the hard work you’ve just done.

As soon as you get out of bed, your five senses are hard at work. The sunlight coming in through your window, the smell of breakfast, the sound of your alarm clock. All these moments are the product of your environment, sensory organs, and your brain.

The ability to hear, touch, see, taste, and smell is hard-wired into your body. And these five senses allow you to learn and make decisions about the world around you. Now it’s time to learn all about your senses.

Purpose of the Five Senses

Your senses connect you to your environment. With information gathered by your senses, you can learn and make more informed decisions. Bitter taste, for example, can alert you to potentially harmful foods. Chirps and tweets from birds tell you trees and water are likely close.

Sensations are collected by sensory organs and interpreted in the brain. But how does information like texture and light make it to your body’s command center? There is a specialized branch of the nervous system dedicated to your senses. And you may have guessed that it’s called the sensory nervous system.

The sensory organs in your body (more on these a bit later) are connected to your brain via nerves. Your nerves send information via electrochemical impulses to the brain. The sensory nervous system gathers and sends the constant flood of sensory data from your environment. This information about the color, shape, and feel of the objects nearby help your brain determine what they are.

What are Your Five Senses?

There are five basic senses perceived by the body. They are hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell. Each of these senses is a tool your brain uses to build a clear picture of your world.

Your brain relies on your sensory organs to collect sensory information. The organs involved in your five senses are:

  • Ears (hearing)
  • Skin and hair (touch)
  • Eyes (sight)
  • Tongue (taste)
  • Nose (smell)

Data collected by your sensory organs helps your brain understand how diverse and dynamic your surroundings are. This is key to making decisions in the moment and memories, as well. Now it’s time to go deeper on each sense and learn how you gather information about the sounds, textures, sights, tastes, and smells you encounter.


Your skin is the largest organ in the body and is also the primary sensory organ for your sense of touch. The scientific term for touch is mechanoreception.

Touch seems simple, but is a little bit more complex than you might think. Your body can detect different forms of touch, as well as variations in temperature and pressure.

Because touch can be sensed all over the body, the nerves that detect touch send their information to the brain across the peripheral nervous system. These are the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord and reach the entire body.

Nerves located under the skin send information to your brain about what you touch. There are specialized nerve cells for different touch sensations. The skin on your fingertips, for example, has different touch receptors than the skin on your arms and legs.

Fingertips can detect changes in texture and pressure, like the feeling of sandpaper or pushing a button. Arms and legs are covered in skin that best detects the stretch and movement of joints. The skin on your limbs also sends your brain information about the position of your body.

Your lips and the bottoms of your feet have skin that is more sensitive to light touch. Your tongue and throat have their own touch receptors. These nerves tell your brain about the temperature of your food or drink.


Speaking of food and drink, try to keep your mouth from watering during the discussion of the next sense. Taste (or gustation) allows your brain to receive information about the food you eat. As food is chewed and mixed with saliva, your tongue is busy collecting sensory data about the taste of your meal.

The tiny bumps all over your tongue are responsible for transmitting tastes to your brain. These bumps are called taste buds. And your tongue is covered with thousands of them. Every week, new taste buds replace old ones to keep your sense of taste sharp.

At the center of these taste buds are 40–50 specialized taste cells. Molecules from your food bind to these specialized cells and generate nerve impulses. Your brain interprets these signals so you know how your food tastes.

There are five basic tastes sensed by your tongue and sent to the brain. They are sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. The last taste, umami, comes from the Japanese word for “savory.” Umami tastes come from foods like broth and meat.

A classic example of sweet taste is sugar. Sour tastes come from foods like citrus fruits and vinegar. Salt and foods high in sodium create salty tastes. And your tongue senses bitter taste from foods and drinks like coffee, kale, and Brussels sprouts.

A formerly accepted theory about taste was that there were regions on the tongue dedicated to each of the five tastes. This is no longer believed to be true. Instead, current research shows each taste can be detected at any point on the tongue.

So, during meals or snacks, your brain constantly receives information about the foods you eat. Tastes from different parts of a meal are combined as you chew and swallow. Each taste sensed by your tongue helps your brain perceive the flavor of your food.

At your next meal, see if you can identify each of the five tastes as you eat. You’ll gain a new appreciation for your brain and how hard it works to make the flavor of your food stand out.


The third sense is sight (also known as vision), and is created by your brain and a pair of sensory organs—your eyes. Vision is often thought of as the strongest of the senses. That’s because humans tend to rely more on sight, rather than hearing or smell, for information about their environment.

Light on the visible spectrum is detected by your eyes when you look around. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet are the colors found along the spectrum of visible light. The source of this light can come from a lamp, your computer screen, or the sun.

When light is reflected off of the objects around you, your eyes send signals to your brain and a recognizable image is created. Your eyes use light to read, discern between colors, even coordinate clothing to create a matching outfit.

Have you ever gotten ready in the dark and accidentally put on socks that don’t match? Or realized that your shirt was on backwards only after you arrived at work? A light in your closet is all you need to avoid a fashion faux-pas. And here’s why.

Your eyes need light to send sensory information to your brain. Light particles (called photons) enter the eye through the pupil and are focused on the retina (the light-sensitive portion of the eye).

There are two kinds of photoreceptor cells along the retina: rods and cones. Rods receive information about the brightness of light. Cones distinguish between different colors. These photoreceptors work as a team to collect light information and transmit the data to your brain.

When light shines on rods and cones, a protein called rhodopsin is activated. Rhodopsin triggers a chain of signals that converge on the optic nerve—the cord connecting the eye to the brain. The optic nerve is the wire that transmits the information received by the eye and plugs directly into the brain.

After your brain receives light data, it forms a visual image. What you “see” when you open your eyes is your brain’s interpretation of the light entering your eyes. And it’s easiest for your brain to make sense of your surroundings when there is an abundance of light. That’s why it’s so challenging to pick out matching clothes in the dark.

To improve your vision, your eyes will adjust to let in the maximum amount of light. This is why your pupils dilate (grow larger) in the dark. That way, more light can enter the eye and create the clearest possible image in the brain.

So, give your eyes all the light they require by reading, working, and playing in well-lit areas. This will alleviate stress on your eyes and make your vision clearer and more comfortable. Also try installing nightlights in hallways so you can safely find your way in the dark.


The scientific term for hearing is audition. But this kind of audition shouldn’t make you nervous. Hearing is a powerful sense. And one that can bring joy or keep you out of danger.

When you listen to the voice of a loved one, your sense of hearing allows your brain to interpret another person’s voice as familiar and comforting. The tune of your favorite song is another example of audition at work.

Sounds can also alert you to potential hazards. Car horns, train whistles, and smoke alarms come to mind. Because of your hearing, your brain can use these noises to ensure your safety.

Your ears collect this kind of sensory information for your brain. And it comes in sound waves—a form of mechanical energy. Each sound wave is a vibration with a unique frequency. Your ears receive and amplify sound waves and your brain interprets them as dialogue, music, laughter, or much more.

Ears come in a variety of shapes and sizes. But they share similarities. The outer, fleshy part of the ear is called the auricle. It collects the sound waves transmitted in your environment and funnels them toward a membrane at the end of the ear canal.

This is called the tympanic membrane, or more commonly, the ear drum. Sound waves bounce off the tympanic membrane and cause vibrations that travel through the drum. These vibrations are amplified by tiny bones attached to the other side of the ear drum.

Once the sound waves enter the ear and are amplified by the ear drum, they travel to fluid-filled tubes deep in the ear. These tubes are called cochlea. They’re lined with microscopic hair-like cells that can detect shifts in the fluid that surrounds them. When sound waves are broadcast through the cochlea, the fluid starts to move.

The movement of fluid across the hair cells in the ear generate nerve impulses that are sent to the brain. Amazingly, sound waves are converted to electrochemical nerve signals almost instantaneously. So, what begins as simple vibrations becomes a familiar tone. And it’s all thanks to your sense of hearing.


The fifth and final sense is smell. Olfaction, another word for smell, is unique because the sensory organ that detects it is directly connected to the brain. This makes your sense of smell extremely powerful.

Smells enter your body through the nose. They come from airborne particles captured while you breathe. Inhaling deeply through your nose and leaning towards the source of an odor can intensify a smell.

Inside your nose is a large nerve called the olfactory bulb. It extends from the top of your nose and plugs directly into your brain. The airborne molecules breathed in through your nose trigger a nervous response by the olfactory bulb. It notices odors and immediately informs your brain.

Higher concentrations of odor molecules create deeper stimulation of the brain by the olfactory bulb. This makes strong scents unappealing and nauseating. Lighter fragrances send more mild signals to your brain.

You need your sense of smell for a variety of reasons. Strong, unpleasant smells are great at warning your brain that the food you are about to eat is spoiled. Sweet, agreeable smells help you feel at ease. Odors given off by the body (pheromones) even help you bond with your loved ones. Whatever the scent, your brain and nose work as a team so you can enjoy it.

Senses Work Together to Create Strong Sensations

It’s rare that your brain makes decisions based on the information from a single sense. Your fives senses work together to paint a complete picture of your environment.

You can see this principle in action the next time you take a walk outside.

Reflect on how you feel when you’re out walking. Take note of all the different sensations you experience. Maybe you see a colorful sunset. Or hear water rushing over rocks in a stream. You might touch fallen leaves. Paying attention to the convergence of your sense means you’ll find it hard to go for a stroll without experiencing something new.

Here’s a few recognizable examples of your senses working together:

Smell + Taste = Flavor

Just like a walk outdoors brings together several of your senses, a good meal can do the same. Flavor is a word often used to describe the way food tastes. But flavor is actually the combination of your senses of taste and smell.

The five tastes talked about earlier don’t accurately describe the experience of eating a meal. It’s hard to assign sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or umami to something like peppermint or pineapple. But your brain doesn’t have to interpret flavor from your taste buds alone. Your sense of smell helps out, too. This is called retronasal olfaction.

When you eat, molecules travel to the nasal cavity through the passageway between your nose and mouth. When they arrive, they’re detected by the olfactory bulb and interpreted in the brain. Your taste buds also collect taste information. This sensory data from your nose and tongue is compiled by the brain and perceived as flavor.

With the tongue and nose working together, the experience of eating peppermint is more than just a bitter taste. It’s a cool, refreshing, and delicious treat. And a slice of pineapple isn’t only sour. It’s tangy, sweet, and tart.

You can see how smell affects flavor by plugging your nose while you eat. Cut off the path makes you notice a significant decrease in flavor. Conversely, you can get more flavor out of your food by chewing slowly. That way more of its scent can be detected in the nose.

 Senses and Memory

Certain smells can bring powerful memories to mind. This is an interesting phenomenon. Studies suggest that the position of the olfactory bulb in the brain is responsible for smells triggering emotional memories.

That’s because the olfactory bulb connects directly to the brain in two places: the amygdala and hippocampus. These regions are strongly linked to emotion and memory. Smell is the only one of your five senses that travels through these regions. This could explain why odors and fragrances can evoke emotions and memories that sight, sound, and texture can’t.

What Happens with Sensory Loss?

Sometimes people experience decreased sensation or the absence of a sense altogether. If this affects you, know you’re not alone. There are many people that experience life just like you do.

Examples include the loss of sight or hearing. Blindness or deafness can begin at birth or be developed later in life. It does not affect everyone in the same way. The important thing to realize is that you can live a full and rich life as a deaf or blind person.

Often, if one of the five senses is reduced or absent, the other four will strengthen to help the brain to form a complete picture of the environment. Your sense of smell or hearing might be heightened if you experience blindness or low vision. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, your senses of touch and sight may become keener.

There are great tools available to those experiencing sensory loss. Talk to someone you trust if you need help with your own decreased sensation. And be respectful of others who live without certain senses.

Support Your Five Senses with Healthy Habits

Your senses add variety and texture to your life. And it’s important to protect their health. It’s perfectly normal to experience some decline in sensation with age. But there are steps you can take to preserve your senses and take care of your body, too.

Here are four important tips:

  • Be cautious with your hearing. Long-term exposure to loud noises can damage the membranes in your ear that create sound. Wear earplugs at boisterous concerts and when operating noisy power tools. Listen to music at lower volume. Take the necessary precautions so you can enjoy good hearing throughout your life.
  • Keep your eyes safe from sun damage by wearing sunglasses. You can also help support your vision by eating foods with healthy fats, antioxidants (especially lutein and zeaxanthin), and vitamin A.
  • Protect your touch-sensitive skin with sunscreen and moisturizers. And drink enough water to avoid dehydration.
  • Develop a taste for a diet loaded with vitamins and minerals. Eat whole foods, fruits, and lots of veggies. Supplementation is also an easy, practical way to add to your already healthy diet, too.

You can put your five senses to work with activities like gardening, walking, and cycling. Take in the sights, sounds, and smells of your surroundings. Make healthy choices so you can continue enjoying life through your senses.

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.

How you wear your hair says a lot about your personality. If you want your style to set you apart, healthy hair care is the place to start. That’s because healthy hair looks good on everyone.

It doesn’t take a trip to the salon for expert hair advice. You can get the mane you want if you understand hair anatomy. Comb over this article and learn all about healthy hair, what hair is made of, and how to take care of it.

Your Hair Growth Starts Below the Skin

Hair is one of the defining characteristics of all mammals—yes, even whales have some. It grows all over the body, with few exceptions. The soles of your feet, palms of your hands, and your lips are the only places on your body without any hair.

The hairs on your head, arms, and legs all begin the same way. It’s part of the integument (the body system that includes skin, nails, and hair). Your hair starts growing in the deepest layer of skin, the dermis.

The portion of hair found in the dermis is called the hair follicle. The visible strand of hair that exits the epidermis (top layer of skin) is called the shaft.

Your hair grows from the follicle. These hollow tunnels of dermal tissue are supplied with blood and nutrients via blood vessels. At the base of the follicle is the bulb—the living portion of hair. The cells of the bulb grow and divide, eventually forming the hair shaft.

When cells at the base of the hair follicle die, they leave behind a tough protein called keratin. This process is called keratinization. As new cells develop in the bulb, this protein is pushed up through the follicle. Keratinized cells build up in layers and exit through the skin. This is the beginning of the hair shaft.

People often refer to hair as being dead. This is true of the strands of hair you can style and touch. The hair on your head is, in fact, the protein from dead cells that originated in the hair follicles. This is why it isn’t painful to cut your hair.

Three layers of keratin make up the hair shaft. The innermost layer is called the medulla. The cortex is the middle layer of the shaft. It’s the thickest layer, too. Outside the cortex is the cuticle. Thin scales of keratin overlap like shingles to form this outermost layer.

As strands of hair exit the follicle on their way through the epidermis, they pass over glands in the skin. These glands are called sebaceous glands, and they secrete sebum. This oil conditions and softens each strand of hair.

During puberty, overactive sebaceous glands can leave hair looking greasy. The glands slow down oil production with age, and hair can sometimes feel dry.

Lifecycle of Healthy Hair

Follicles grow hair at a pretty remarkable rate. Your hair can grow up to six inches (15 centimeters) each year. The only material in your body that grows faster than hair is bone marrow.

Hair grows in cycles. So every hair follicle isn’t active at the same time. The lifecycle of hair has three stages: a growth phase, transitional phase, and a resting phase. They are called anagen, catagen, and telogen, respectively.

The majority of the hairs on your head are in the growth phase, anagen. During anagen, the cells in the hair bulb are rapidly dividing. They push older hair up and out of the follicle.

Hairs in anagen grow about one centimeter every 28 days. They can stay in this active growth stage for up to six years. The length of the growth phase varies from person to person. People with naturally shorter hair have a shorter anagen phase. Long hair signals a longer period of growth.

Next is the transitional phase. Catagen is the part of the lifecycle when growth stops. This is the shortest phase—lasting two to three weeks.

Catagenic hairs are called club hairs. The bulb at the base of the hair follicle hardens and attaches to the root of the hair shaft. A hard, white tissue forms. You can see this club on a hair that has recently fallen out.

Hairs that find their way onto your brush, comb, or pillow are in the final stage of the lifecycle—telogen. During telogen, the follicle that was actively growing hair relaxes. Hairs are shed during this phase. This happens when club hairs are pushed out of the follicle by new hairs growing in their place.

Telogen lasts about 100 days. It’s normal to lose 25 to 100 telogen hairs throughout the day. You’ll notice them falling out when you run your fingers through your hair. Massaging your scalp while you shampoo can also loosen the telogen hairs.

Be careful with your hairs, regardless of which part of the lifecycle they’re in. Short, softer hairs are just starting anagen. Hairs that are more uniform in length are about to transition from catagen to telogen. Always be gentle when brushing and styling your hair. You don’t want to pull out any growing hairs.

Texture and Color: The Style You Were Born With

Lots of people use hair product and tools to make their hair look the way they want. But you were born with a natural hair style. It’s determined by the shape of your hair follicles and the pigment in your hair.

The shape of your hair follicle molds your hair and how it grows. It creates a unique look and texture. If you were to look at a cross section of your hair under a microscope, you would see the shape of your hair follicles.

A round-shaped follicle grows hair that is straight. Some elliptical or oval-shaped follicles grow straight hair, too. Wavy hair comes from elliptical follicles with a large diameter. Ribbon-like hair follicles create curly hair.

But what determines the shape of your hair follicles? Your ethnicity has a lot to do with it.

People of African descent have ribbon-shaped follicles that make hair curly. Those with Asian heritage have much rounder follicles that cause hair to grow straight. Caucasian people typically have more elliptical follicles that can grow straight or wavy hair.

As for the color of your hair, the pigment melanin is responsible. Melanin builds up in the cortex layer of the hair shaft. This is the same pigment found in skin cells (called melanocytes) that determine the color of your skin.

Lots of melanin in the cortex makes hair dark. The less melanin you have, the lighter your hair will be. Gray hairs appear as you age when melanin no longer forms in the cortex at all.

There isn’t just one way to describe all hair colors and textures. Hair grows on a spectrum, with different degrees of straight and curly, dark and light. You can see these variations when you look at the hair of your parents or siblings. No two heads of hair are identical. So, take pride in the unique look and style of your hair.

Your Hair, Skin, and Nails

It’s no surprise that your hair, skin, and nails are all part of the same body system (integumentary system). Since they’re made of the same material—keratin—they have a lot of similarities. Check them out:

  • The keratin in hair is just like what’s in fingernails and toe nails. This protein is what makes hair and nails so tough and strong.
  • Hair grows out of the skin. So do nails. Deep folds in the epidermis at the ends of fingers and toes push layers of keratinized skin cells to the surface. These are your fingernails and toe nails.
  • Skin cells called keratinocytes also produce keratin, which helps the skin work as a protective barrier.
  • Just like it doesn’t hurt to cut your hair, trimming your nails is painless. There are no nerve endings in your hair or nails.
  • Your hair color and skin color are determined by the same pigment, called melanin.

How to Get Healthy Hair

A healthy lifestyle is the best way to help your hair look its best. From your grooming to your diet, there are lots of ways to make your hair happy. It starts with good hygiene practices that keep your hair clean. [Link to WhatsUpUsana blog post]

  1. Wash Your Hair Often

Shampoo and condition your hair on a regular basis—every other day is a good schedule. Washing your hair with shampoo removes build-up of oils and dirt that make hair look dull. Conditioners help add a natural softness and shine to your hair.

  1. Comb Your Hair Gently

Follow washing your hair with a gentle brushing. This will get rid of any knots or tangles that may work their way into your hair. Start de-tangling your hair from the bottom and work your way to the top. This reduces pulling on the growing strands of hair.

  1. Cut It Regularly

A regular trim from a professional hair stylist keeps the ends of your hairs beautiful and soft. When the ends of your hair are damaged, they can begin to fray. This can cause breakage further up the shaft. A haircut clips off the ends of hairs that are beginning to split, which prevents damage from spreading.

  1. Eat for Healthy Hair

When it comes to diet, there are foods you can eat that will help your hair look and feel beautiful. Focus on getting these essential nutrients daily:

  • Iron: You need iron in your diet to keep blood flowing to your hair follicles. Iron can be found in lean red meats, spinach, and iron-fortified grains and cereals.
  • Vitamin C: This powerful antioxidant supports collagen production. Collagen is important in your skin, and it can help strengthen your hair, too. Look for vitamin C in peppers, citrus fruits, and berries.
  • Vitamin A: If you want longer hair with natural shine, value vitamin A in your diet. Sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach are full of vitamin A. This carotenoid helps sebum production, your body’s natural hair conditioner. Vitamin A has also been shown to support thicker, fuller hair growth.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These healthy fats help keep hair shiny and full. Look for omega-3s in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
  • Biotin: This B vitamin supports your body’s natural keratin production. And, severe deficiency has been linked to hair loss (along with other B vitamins, including riboflavin, folate, and vitamin B12). However, despite biotin’s popularity in supplements for hair growth, there’s no clinical research to show benefits for extremely high doses in healthy people. Beef, eggs, and salmon are sources of biotin.

Care for Your Hair

Good habits and proper diet are always in style­­­—and they’re the first steps of healthy hair care. You can keep your hair looking great with good hygiene and regular haircuts. Apply a heat protectant before styling with a blow dryer or curling iron. And supplement your diet with nutrition that works to maintain your natural beauty by taking care of all your body’s needs.

Feel confident with a hair-healthy lifestyle that’ll give you great hair days for years to come.

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.

Omega-3. Omega-6. Perhaps you’ve heard these terms bandied about, yet they’re still shrouded in mystery. Maybe they’re military call signs, social media slang, or something else entirely? Their cryptic names don’t give any hints. But fear not! You’ve come to the right place to learn more about omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids.

What are Essential Fatty Acids?

The world of dietary fats can be a bit confusing. Fad diets and conflicting information can make understanding fats difficult. This is especially true considering that “fat” is a catch-all term for a wide variety of compounds that can work for and against you.

There’s the healthy unsaturated cis fats that provide a good source of energy. And they help you keep your cholesterol in check (as long as it’s already in the normal range), and maintain normal, healthy blood sugar.

Then there are the trans and animal-based saturated fats. These can mess with internal processes like metabolism, blood flow, and hormone functionality. Steer clear of trans fats, and limit your intake of saturated fats. To expand on these points and refresh your memory, review this myth-busting article about dietary fat.

After that little detour, hopefully you’re in the know about fats and how they impact your body. So, let’s move onto the essential fatty acids you can’t live without.

You may have learned that polyunsaturated fats are beneficial for the human body. This is broadly true. But there are specific polyunsaturated fats called essential fatty acids (EFAs).

EFAs are a family of fat compounds that play important roles in your body. They’re called essential because, unlike other fats, your body can’t synthesize them. Instead, you get them from the foods you eat—like nuts, seeds, and fish (more on this later). There are two classes of essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6.

Let’s take them on one at a time, starting with omega-3s.

Go In-Depth on Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for normal development and function, especially within the brain. More specifically, there are omega-3s that keep your body functioning well. These are eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, and alpha-linolenic acid. Alpha-linolenic acid is the only essential fatty acid of the three, but each play important roles in the body. (Eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids are considered conditionally essential.)

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

EPA is very important throughout your life. That’s because it’s a major component of your body’s cell membranes. It gives these membranes structure that also lends a protective quality. This protection happens in a few ways.

First, it inhibits cholesterol formation within the membrane, which optimizes membrane permeability to protect the cell.

Second, EPA helps protect the cell from damage by free radicals. Lipid peroxidation is an oxidative process that denigrates fats. It also creates damaging free radicals. This important fatty acid maintains cell health by keeping the membrane from undergoing this harmful process.

A recent study showed EPA-treated cells were stabilized in the presence of the fatty acid, even when other factors were thrown into the mix. For instance, the stability held under increasing temperatures, a condition that mimicked bodily processes. Additionally, in the presence of increased cholesterol levels—and therefore increased permeability—the same was true.

EPA-treated cells withstood the varying harsh conditions. So, researchers concluded that EPA’s impact on cell membrane structure and fluidity indicates an important role in maintaining cardiovascular and endothelial (cells that line blood vessels) health.

EPA has other ties to supporting cardiovascular health. One byproduct of EPA is an eicosanoid subgroup called prostaglandins, which are known for their positive effect on vasodilation. That’s a lot of big words. But it basically means one of the components of EPA helps support healthy dilation (widening and narrowing) of blood vessels.

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

DHA is arguably the most concentrated type of omega-3 essential fatty acid found in your body. One study notes that DHA represents 97 and 93 percent of all omega-3s in the brain and retina of the eye, respectively.

DHA has been widely studied and its benefits are far-reaching. Decades ago, researchers studied a group of individuals from an Inuit population in Greenland and compared their diets and health issues to individuals from Denmark. The Inuit diet depended largely on fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

The study showed evidence in the Inuit group of maintained cardiovascular and joint health not found in the group from Denmark. Many of those outcomes have been attributed to the mechanisms of DHA working to support normal, healthy immune responses in the body.

Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA)

It’s kind of surprising alpha-linolenic acid is essential. That’s because it doesn’t do much in the body in its native form. But once ingested, this acid can convert itself to EPA and DHA, the more active forms of omega-3 fatty acids. This conversion process isn’t highly efficient, so it’s important to consume enough ALA. Eating foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid, like walnuts, will help ensure at least a small boost in the other essential fatty acids.

Because the conversion from ALA to other omega-3s is rather low, researchers have instead focused their investigative efforts on the impact of EPA and DHA in the body. But some suggest ALA’s impact may have been underestimated in studies in favor of looking more closely at EPA and DHA. Nonetheless, because of its close relation to EPA and DHA, ALA is still widely seen as a beneficial fat that should be included in your diet.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids, Twice as Good?

Not exactly. Just because the number goes from three to six, it doesn’t mean omega-6 fatty acids are any better. In fact, they have similar properties to those of omega-3 fatty acids. They’re just in different forms. Two most common omega-6s are linoleic acid and its derivative, arachidonic acid (ARA).

Linoleic Acid

If you’re seeking the main polyunsaturated fat found in vegetable oil, seeds, and nuts, you’re looking for the essential fatty acid called linoleic acid.

Like EPA and DHA, linoleic acid plays an important role in maintaining a healthy heart. Researchers based this conclusion on studies that swapped saturated fat for an alternative that’s high in linoleic acid. The result was that subjects saw optimized healthy, normal cholesterol levels.

Since vegetable oils are commonly used, it is easy to add this essential fatty acid to your diet. However, you should take a careful look at your intake before you make more substitutions to boost linoleic acid. As you’ll find in a moment, consuming too many omega-6s can have an undesirable effect.

Arachidonic Acid (ARA)

ARA plays many roles in the body. Structurally, thanks to its multiple cis double bonds, ARA is curved like a hairpin. This shape gives your cell membranes their flexibility. As you’ll recall, EPA gives cells structure. But, fluidity and flexibility within that structure is equally important. This flexibility allows for selective permeability, allowing important substances into the cell and keeping others out. Additionally, this characteristic allows ARA to play a role in cellular signaling and regulating ion channels.

When arachidonic acid is metabolized, it gets broken into prostaglandins. These metabolites, which you read about above, can help engage your body’s immune system to support normal, healthy function.

Keeping the Balance Between Essential Fatty Acids

While omega-6 fatty acids are important and have benefits, they only lend those benefits to a certain point. If omega-6s are ingested in high quantities, they no longer help your cells. In fact, if their concentration too far eclipses that of omega-3, they are associated with negative health outcomes.

Don’t be mistaken. Omega-6s aren’t bad for you. Remember, they are necessary, after all. So, you need them. But focusing on balancing your intake with omega-3s is a good idea.

Most scientists agree that the ideal ratio for omega-6s to omega-3s is around 4:1 or 5:1. The trouble is that the typical Western diet is two- to 10-times higher (between 10:1 and 50:1). So, make sure to keep your fat intake—like almost everything in life—in balance.

Putting the Fat Back into Your Food

Deficiency in these essential fats is not common. But boosting your levels of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, and DHA) is always a good idea. Below, you’ll find tips on how to enrich your diet with these friendly fats.

  • Cold-water fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The next time you’re at your local market, ask specifically for herring, mackerel, salmon, and tuna. Here’s a clearer picture of what each type of fish provides:

(3 oz/85 grams)





Herring 0.77 0.94
Mackerel 0.43 0.59
Sea bass 0.18 0.47
Salmon (wild) 0.35 1.22
Salmon (canned) 0.28 0.63
Tuna (canned in water) 0.20 0.17
Yellowfin tuna 0.01 0.09
  • Nuts and seeds are a great option for getting a boost of alpha-linoleic acid. Both are great options for an afternoon snack. You can also reach for these for a fun addition to an existing meal, like a salad.
Nuts or seeds

(1 oz or 28 grams unless otherwise noted)



Chia seeds 5.06
Black walnuts 0.76
English walnuts 2.57
Flaxseeds (1 tbsp) 2.35
  • For a boost in ARA, look to chicken and eggs. While it is present in other meats and seafood, chicken and eggs pack the biggest punch.
  • Vegetable oils are a smart substitute for butter and lard if you’re trying to get more essential fatty acids into your diet. When you’re pan-frying or sautéing a meal, reach for a veggie-based oil versus the saturated-fat options.
  • If the above options aren’t realistic for you based on dietary restrictions or preference, you can always lean on supplements to boost your intake of essential fatty acids. Fish oil supplements, like BiOmega, deliver a healthy helping of omega-3s EPA and DHA.

Mystery Solved

Now that the shroud has been lifted, you’re equipped with the essential knowledge on the essential fatty acids. With this knowledge, you can make educated decisions when it comes to your diet. So, start planning a few meals and snack substitution to balance the fat in your diet. Your cells, brain, and heart will be very happy with you for embracing essential fatty acids.

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.

Chances are good you, or the person next to you, dieted in the last year. Statistics show 49.3 percent of the population tried to lose weight by dieting in the last 12 months. Over the course of your lifetime, you’ve probably dieted at least five times—possibly more.

It makes sense. You live in a weight-obsessed culture. And, you know weight is closely linked to health. So, you try to lose the pounds. You may find yourself wondering, “what is a healthy diet”?

Paleo. Keto. Low-fat. Low-carb. Vegan. Fruitarian. Whole30. Wheat Belly. Jenny Craig. Dukan. Dubrow. Fit for Life. Carnivore. South Beach. Atkins. If you want to lose weight, you have a lot of choices. Each has its own pros and cons.

Here’s a sobering statistic: an estimated 95 percent of people who lose weight on restrictive, fad diets gain the weight back in one to five years. And, with all the different advice, it’s hard to know who to trust or how you should really eat.

Even if a restrictive diet fad helps you lose weight in the short term, is it a good idea to eat that way forever? To never give your body another carb? Or to stop eating fruit? Or to only eat fruit? What about loading up on butter and bacon?

It’s all mind-bogglingly overwhelming. And, looking at the statistics, it’s pretty hard to argue with the fact that fad diets simply don’t work. In the words of ‘90s fitness icon Susan Powter, it’s time to “stop the insanity.”

Say Farewell to Fad Diets Forever

Consider this: If it were impossible for your body to ever lose another pound, would that mean you should give up trying to eat healthier foods? Of course not.

Adopting short-term, fad diets for weight loss will almost always fail. The answer lies in turning your focus to eating for your health—for the rest of your life. It’s not restricting yourself for a short time because you’re trying to fit a number on a scale.

Health comes in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of your weight, you deserve to feel your best every day. Giving your body the nutrition that science has shown it needs to thrive comes with many rewards. You’ll glow with health. Your body will feel good. You’ll have plenty of energy. And, you’ll feel mentally and emotionally ready to tackle your goals and challenges every day.

Then there are the long-term benefits. Healthy eating patterns have been associated with maintaining the health of virtually every part of your body. This includes your heart, brain, bones and joints, and metabolic function, just to name a few.

The key to success is changing your behavior for a lifetime. Finding a way to eat that feels natural and that you can enjoy forever. A more positive relationship with healthy food will help you live a long, healthy life doing the things you enjoy with those you love.

Below you’ll read an overview of a healthy diet packed with foods science shows are most beneficial for health. You’ll also get guidelines and goals you can work toward to help you make a gradual, permanent shift in how you eat each day.

What is a Healthy Diet?

Most people have gotten it wrong. They eat foods that weigh them down and not enough of those that will help them live long, healthy lives.

A 2019 study found consumption of nearly all healthy food is below optimal levels. Researchers reported the healthy foods you don’t eat are as important, if not more so, as the unhealthy foods you may eat too often. They noted that “suboptimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risks globally, including tobacco smoking.”

Low intakes of whole grains and fruit were the worst offenders when it came to negative impacts on health. Not eating enough nuts and seeds, vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and polyunsaturated fats also had negative effects on quality of life. Overconsumption of salt was a serious issue for long-term health, too.

This study shines a light on what you need to add to achieve a healthy diet, instead of only focusing on what you need to cut out. Author Michael Pollan summed it up simply in his book, In Defense of Food, when he observed we should, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Healthy dietary patterns are generally a variation of the Mediterranean diet (modeled after traditional dietary patterns from countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea). These diets emphasize whole, minimally processed foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and beneficial fats (especially from extra virgin olive oil).

This type of diet can be adjusted to fit most dietary, cultural, or ethical preferences. It can be healthy with or without animal-based foods. Although, careful planning is often required to ensure vegan and vegetarian diets are complete and balanced. Many people find that having some meat in their diet helps manage hunger better. But it’s a personal choice only you can make. You may also opt for organic produce and grass-fed or pasture-raised animal products.

And, plain old water is best to quench your thirst.

Chew on the Science of a Healthy Diet

There is abundant evidence that sticking to a whole-food diet based on plant foods supports the health outcomes that matter the most. That means more years in your life and more life in your years.

A healthy diet provides many of the nutrients you need for wellness. This includes omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants—along with a range of vitamins and minerals—that work together to deliver major benefits for health. These benefits have been proven in many studies, in thousands of people.

A study of 23,153 Germans aged 35–65 found high intake of fruit, vegetables, and whole-grain bread, along with low meat consumption, was associated with improved health. The results were even more significant in those who maintained a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), never smoked, and exercised for three-and-a-half hours or more per week.

A study conducted by the World Health Organization found it’s never too late to start eating better. They saw a two-year increase in life expectancy at the age of 60 in those who adhered to healthy dietary patterns.

Dozens of studies and clinical trials have shown a Mediterranean-style diet helps maintain:

  • healthy waist circumference and body weight/BMI
  • normal cholesterol
  • healthy blood glucose
  • normal blood lipids/lipoproteins
  • healthy blood pressure and circulation
  • normal cognitive function

The Lowdown on Glycemic Index and a Healthy Diet

Generally, a healthy eating pattern consists of food with a low glycemic index or load.

When it comes to the glycemic index, common sense should dictate your decisions. The goal is to limit nutrient-poor, processed foods with refined starches and sugars. Not foods from nature. Many starchy vegetables, such as carrots, and fruits have a higher glycemic index.

But there’s no evidence these foods are harmful.

In fact, a 2018 review showed dramatic benefits linked to eating multiple servings of whole fruit. This is thanks, in part, to their fiber content and prebiotic effects (i.e., how well they feed the good bacteria in your gut). Benefits were seen in cardiovascular, digestive, metabolic, respiratory, and bone health. Plus, eating fruit improved measures of psychological well-being and skin health, too.

A Day in the Life of a Healthy Diet (for Adults)

Now you’ve digested a good overview of what a healthy diet includes. So, let’s look more closely at how those foods could shape your daily eating.

The following standards reflect commonalities and differences of the most well-established healthy eating patterns. These include the Mediterranean diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (commonly called DASH), Mediterranean-DASH-diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND), Flexitarian (or semi-vegetarian), and USDA Dietary Guidelines.

Guidelines for a Healthy Diet
Food Group Number of Servings
Whole Grains 6–8 per day
Vegetables 5+ per day from a rainbow of colors

  • 1 or more from dark, leafy greens
  • 1 starchy vegetable (examples: white potato, corn, green peas, plantains, cassava, green lima beans)
Fruits 3–5 per day

  • Include berries at least 3 times a week
Protein Sources *Meet your target range in grams* (see below)

Aim to increase the protein you get from plant-based sources, including legumes and beans, soy foods (tofu, tempeh), unsalted nuts and seeds

  • Up to 7 eggs per week


If you eat meat, limit to 6 servings per week from a variety of sources:

  • 2–3 fish/seafood per week (6 oz. serving)
  • 2–4 lean meat / skinless poultry per week (3 oz. serving)
Dairy 1–3 low- and non-fat dairy per day
Fats and oils 2–3 teaspoons per day

  • Limit to 1 serving or less that’s not from extra virgin olive oil or another plant-based source
Sweets Sparingly, should only be 5–10 percent of daily calories

  • Try dark chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cacao or higher and keep an eye on sugar content
Beverages Water, enough to stay hydrated (you may want to aim for 8 glasses a day)

Coffee and tea, as desired

1 serving wine/alcohol per day if desired

Salt ~1 tsp TOTAL per day (this includes salt in prepared foods, so watch your food labels)

1,500–2,300 mg of sodium

No foods are off limits—everything can fit into a healthy diet. But that comes with a stipulation: some foods should only be consumed on a very limited basis. Let’s call them “special occasion” foods.

Generally, special occasion foods are the worst for your waistline and your health. Truly savor them without guilt when you indulge. But reserve these foods for only a few times a month:

  • Desserts and sugar-sweetened foods
  • Chips and processed snacks
  • Refined grains, like white bread or pasta
  • Fried or fat-laden dishes
  • Processed and cured meats (bacon, salami)
  • Sodas or fruit juices

It’s all about finding the balance that works for you. To find what you enjoy, pay attention to the signals from your body, not just your taste buds. What does your body like? How do certain foods make you feel? Writing down the answers to these questions in a food journal can help.

Try new things, but don’t force yourself to eat foods you dislike. Your best diet is the one that’s made up of the healthiest, most nutritious foods you will love eating for life.

Mind Your Macros

Experts generally recommend certain ratios of macronutrients in your daily diet. Don’t get too hung up on the numbers. If you eat a healthy diet, like what’s listed above, you should be able to come close to these ranges with a little planning.

Carbohydrates and Fiber

  • 45–65 percent of your dietary calories should come from carbohydrates (mostly from whole grains, fruit, and vegetables)
  • 25–37 grams of fiber per day


  • Aim to consume .8 g–2 grams of protein for each kilogram (kg) of body weight, spread evenly throughout the day. (Mature individuals, people who want to lose weight, and very active individuals should consume protein at the higher end of the range.)
    • To calculate your weight in kg, divide your weight in pounds (lbs.) by 2.205, then multiply that amount by .8 and 1.2 to get the range.
    • For example, if you weigh 150 lbs.
      • 150/2.205=68
      • .8(68) = 54
      • 2(68)=82
      • Your range is 54–82 g protein per day
    • 15–25 percent of your dietary calories should come from protein


  • 20–35 percent of daily calories come from dietary fats
    • Unsaturated fats should be 90 percent of dietary fat intake
    • Saturated fats less than 10 percent of dietary fat intake

A Lifetime of Wellness Starts with a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is only one of the eight pillars of holistic health and wellness. This article summarizes how variations of the Mediterranean diet are proven to support vitality and well-being. Other aspects of the Mediterranean culture are also essential parts of a healthy lifestyle: getting plenty of exercise and adequate rest, along with maintaining strong social relationships.

Each day and every meal are full of chances to make good choices. Establishing positive habits is the key to long-term success. So, commit to saying farewell to fad diets forever and breaking the cycle of unhealthy eating. Start by setting small goals and use the science of self-motivation to begin your journey toward a lifetime of good food and good health today.

To learn more about how to adopt a healthy, whole-food diet, download the USANA® Food Guide. Inside, you’ll find a list of healthy foods, smart swaps, a week of sample menus, and serving sizes. There’s also a suggested shopping list, along with blank shopping lists and meal planning worksheets, and much more.


Your body has a large, complex, and well-trained security force protecting you from the constant barrage of foreign invaders trying to get in. You call it your immune system. And it’s a network of cells, tissues, and organs working together to provide full-time, full-body protection. Without your knowledge, your immune system identifies and attacks a wide variety of day-to-day threats. All while distinguishing these pathogens from your healthy tissues. But this amazing system is sometimes tripped by less evil objects, like pollen. And that’s where your seasonal allergies start.

The symptoms of allergies—running nose, watery eyes, and sneezing—make sense when you consider the role your nose, mouth, and eyes play. They’re easy entry points for invaders, so your tears and mucus are equipped with an enzyme called lysozyme. It’s capable of breaking down the cell walls of numerous bacteria. Your saliva is armed with antibacterial compounds. And your nasal passages and lungs are coated in a protective shield of mucus and lined with mast cells—a type of white blood cell.

Any bacteria or virus that wants to gain entry through these passageways must first successfully navigate through these important defenses. Harmless substances—those that do not pose a threat to your health—also get caught up in these defenses. They are mistakenly targeted for destruction by your immune system. And that’s only the most basic answer for what causes allergies.

But there’s so much more worth exploring, especially if you’re familiar with the runny, watery, sneezy world of allergies. Let’s dive deeper.

Seasonal Allergies: What They Are and How They Happen

An allergen is typically a harmless substance that can trigger an immune system response that results in an allergic reaction. This is considered a type of immune system error.

A seasonal allergy (also called allergic rhinitis or hay fever) is your immune system overreacting to harmless substances in the environment during certain times of the year. Hay fever originally received its name because of the symptoms that people experienced during the summer months when hay was harvested.

Pollen is the most common allergen in sufferers’ seasonal allergies. This fine, powdery substance is produced by trees, grasses, weeds, and flowers mainly during the spring, summer, and fall. Pollination is the transferring of pollen grains from a male part of a plant to a female part so that reproduction can occur. This works when pollen is released into the air, picked up by wind, or carried by insects, bats, and birds to fertilize other plants of the same species.

Pollination is a very important step in the life cycle of many plants. But pollination can be miserable if you experience seasonal allergies.

These tiny, harmless pollen grains float around in the air and can find their way into your nasal passages. This can trigger an immune response inside your nose. That could lead to sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, teary eyes, and an itchy nose, or throat. While these symptoms may sound and feel like a cold, they are not caused by a virus. It’s just your immune system overreacting to that “harmless” plant pollen.

While it can be confusing to determine if you have seasonal allergies or a cold, there are some unique differences:

  • Seasonal allergies do not cause a fever.
  • Any mucus secretions you may experience are typically thin, runny, and clear.
  • Your nose, throat, and ears may feel itching and you may have rapid bouts of sneezing.
  • Seasonal allergy symptoms usually last longer than seven to 10 days as they are tied to pollen production and counts.

How Do Seasonal Allergies Develop?

You weren’t born with seasonal allergies. But you can develop them over your lifetime.

It all begins with exposure to an allergen (molecules with the potential to cause allergy). You’ve been around them all your life without difficulty. But suddenly your body decides a certain allergen is an invader that must be destroyed.

When this happens, your immune system studies the allergen and makes highly specialized proteins called IgE antibodies to act against it. That’s just in case another exposure occurs. Once your body is sensitized, your immune system maintains a lasting memory of that allergen. This process is called priming.

At your next exposure, your previously made antibodies recognize the allergen and turn on special immune cells to fight and destroy it. These IgE antibodies are specific to a particular antigen. For example, if it is ragweed pollen, the IgE antibodies produced by your immune system only attack the pollen from ragweed.

The chance of developing an allergy starts in your genes. While you can’t inherit specific allergies from your parents, the tendency toward developing allergies is passed down. Children with one allergic parent can have up to a 50-percent chance of developing allergies. And with two allergic parents, it can be an 80-percent chance. Anyone can experience allergies, but children tend to be affected more often than adults.

Allergies can take years to develop. And having one allergy can make you more likely to get others. There’s also a threshold for people who have allergies. So, you can handle a small exposure, but too much launches your body into an allergic response. That activates mast cells in nasal tissues and triggers the release of the histamine from basophils and eosinophils (types of white blood cells).

Histamine is an organic compound that causes the symptoms most often associated with allergies. They’re responsible for the itchy nose, throat, or skin; watery eyes; sneezing; cough; and a runny or stuffy nose.

Seasonal allergy sufferers are familiar with antihistamines. These medications are often used to block the effects of histamines. And it’s the most popular way to deal with the symptoms of seasonal allergies.

The Dreaded Season of Allergies

Allergy season is determined by where you live, and what you’re allergic to. Those with pollen allergies likely dread spring, summer, or fall seasons when pollen counts are at their highest levels.

But what pollen producers are most closely tied to what season? Here’s a quick, simple guide:

  • SPRING: Trees (like oak and birch) are the significant source of pollen during spring months. In some areas, they can begin producing pollen as early as January.
  • SUMMER: During the summer months, grasses (like ryegrass and timothy-grass) are a top source of allergy-causing pollen.
  • FALL: Weeds are the top allergy offenders during the fall. This is especially true for ragweed, which grows in almost every environment.

Having one allergy makes you more likely to get others. So, if one year your ragweed symptoms seem more severe than usual, you may also be reacting to another allergen that’s sharing the air.

How Seasonal Allergies Can Cross Over to Food Allergies

Allergies can interact in other unexpected ways. For example, up to a third of people with certain pollen allergies also develop allergies to foods that contain similar proteins. This is called pollen-food syndrome, or oral allergy syndrome.

It’s caused by cross-reacting allergens found in both pollen and raw fruits, vegetables, or even certain tree nuts. It means that you could experience an itchy mouth; a scratchy throat; or lip, mouth, throat, and tongue swelling.

The symptoms of pollen-food syndrome are usually confined to the mouth and throat. That’s because these proteins are sensitive to gastric enzymes, so they are rapidly degraded upon ingestion. That limits the extent of the reaction. In addition, these proteins are sensitive to heat, so cooking the offending food doesn’t cause the same reaction. In most cases, the symptoms subside once the offending food is swallowed or removed from the mouth.

Although not everyone with pollen allergies experiences pollen-food syndrome, the following are the commonly associated pollen allergens and foods:

  • Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, and plum
  • Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches, and tomato
  • Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds, and zucchini 

All About Allergy Testing

You may have a guess about what causes your allergic reactions. But testing is the only way to know for sure.

Allergy testing can be done as a skin prick or through blood testing. Both methods are used to help determine what substances you may be allergic to. These tests are provided by medical doctors specializing in the immune system and the treatment of allergies. And they are given in addition to a thorough physical exam and health history.

Skin allergy testing is the most common. It’s considered a reliable method to test for certain types of allergens. For this procedure, a tiny amount of select allergens are put into your skin by making a small indentation “prick or scratch” on the surface of your skin.

The skin allergy test determines specific allergies based on how your skin reacts. And the results show up pretty fast. Reactions on the skin occur within about 15 minutes.

If you have allergies, a little swelling and redness will occur where the allergen(s) were placed in your skin. For example, if you are allergic to birch pollen, but not ryegrass pollen, only the birch pollen will cause redness, swelling, and possible itching. The spot where the ryegrass pollen was applied will remain unaffected.

If you’re tired of the seasonal allergen battle, these tests can help determine which allergens trigger your symptoms. And testing can help determine what steps you need to take to avoid your specific triggers. It also helps identify prevention measures or treatments likely to work best for you.

Train Your Immune System

Depending on the type of allergy you have, it’s possible to train your immune system to become less responsive to certain allergens over time—with the help of an allergist or immunologist. Desensitization or immunotherapy is a preventive treatment for allergic reactions to certain substances, including pollens.

Immunotherapy involves giving gradually increasing doses of the immune-offending allergen either under the tongue or as an injection into the skin. The incremental increase in dosing changes the way your immune system reacts to the allergen over time. This can help reduce the symptoms of an allergy when the allergen is encountered by your immune system in the future.

Before starting treatment, it is important for your allergist to help you identify which pollens or other substances trigger allergy symptoms. Skin and sometimes blood tests are performed to confirm the antibodies to specific allergens before therapy can begin.

For those tired of seasonal sneezing fits and constant doses of antihistamines, immunotherapy is a long-term way to address the way your immune system responds to allergens.

Tips for Seasonal Allergy Avoidance

If your nose is driving you crazy, what can you do? Pollen can be difficult to dodge. But avoidance remains one of the best ways to control exposure to allergens during allergy season.

To minimize your exposure to pollen:

  • Stay informed of your local pollen counts by checking the internet or other community sources
  • Remain indoors when pollen counts are high
  • Avoid exercising outdoors early in the morning
  • Keep car windows rolled up while driving
  • Avoid gardening or yard work when pollen counts are high
  • Wear a pollen mask when outdoors
  • Consider investing in a home air purifier
  • Stay indoors on windy days and during thunderstorms
  • Keep doors and windows closed
  • Wear sunglasses while outside to keep pollen out of your eyes
  • Vacuum often to keep allergens out of your home

Beat the Allergy Season Blues

One of the best ways to combat the impact of seasonal allergies is through knowledge, preparation, and action. Knowing what pollens you’re allergic to, controlling exposure, and treating the symptoms before they become overwhelming can help you navigate the perils of pollen season.

Just like a powerful computer, your body is always taking in data and using it to make decisions. But you have nerves instead of a circuit board and a brain rather than microchips. Together, your nervous system directs your body’s functions according to the messages it receives.

Think of the central nervous system as a biological command center. It integrates information from your surroundings and tells your body how to react. And the nervous system does all this while letting you focus on living your life. So, you don’t need to consciously worry about responding to every stimulus you encounter. That would be exhausting.

To save you the mental energy, you need your nervous system to perform voluntary and involuntary actions. Without it, you couldn’t control your arms and legs, maintain a steady heart rate, or breath.

Here’s some other involuntary reactions that rely on your nervous system:

  • Vision
  • Blinking
  • Sneezing
  • Fight-or-flight responses
  • Withdrawal reflex (pulling your hand away from a hot stove)

Your nervous system also helps you:

  • Walk
  • Talk
  • Clap your hands
  • Brush your hair
  • Exercise

The reach of your nervous system is enormous. Every part of your body is hardwired with nervous-system tissue. You can pick up information from your hands and feet, as well as your joints and gut.

Now it’s time to plug into your nervous system and get a sense of how much it does for you. And also learn about the parts and mechanisms that make your nervous system function.

Anatomy: Nervous System Parts

At its most basic level, your nervous system is a collection of specialized cells called neurons, and supporting cells called neuroglial cells or just glial cells. A neuron can conduct electricity and secrete chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Each nerve cell can pass on information, and receive information from stimuli inside and outside your body. Glial cells surround neurons. Their role is to provide support and protection for neurons.

Neurons have a cell body—just like all other cells. This is called the soma, and it’s surrounded with tiny, finger-like extensions. These are called dendrites. And they receive stimulation from the nerve cells next door.

Protruding out of the cell body is the axon—a long projection that carries electrochemical impulses. Axons are surrounded by a fatty tissue called the myelin sheath. This insulates the axon and speeds up signal transmission. Think of the myelin sheath as the insulation that surrounds the wires in your electronic devices.

The neuron ends at the axon terminal. That’s where signals created inside the nerve cell are sent to the next neuron. Nerve impulses are transmitted from the axon terminal of one neuron to the dendrites of the next. The space where nerve cells meet up and exchange information is called the synapse.

Neurons link up between their dendrites and axon terminals and create a thick, rope-like shape. This bundle of neurons is called a nerve. They pick up signals from your internal organs and outside world and propel the messages towards your brain.

There are thousands of nerves in your body. And they vary in size. The longest nerve is called the sciatic nerve. It stretches from the base of your spinal cord to your foot. The trochlear nerve is one of the smallest. It’s in charge of the rotational movement of your eye.

After neurons and nerves come the bigger organs of the nervous system—the spinal cord and brain.

The spinal cord is essentially one large, thick nerve with a direct connection to your brain. The bones in your spinal column provide structure and protection. That allows messages to travel uninterrupted to and from your brain along the spinal cord.

If you think about your nervous system as a computer, then the brain is the system’s hard drive. It receives every message gathered by your nerves via the spinal cord. Then it interprets that information and initiates a response.

When you want your body to perform an action, it’s your neurons that start working first. They send electrochemical impulses to the brain through the nerves and spinal cord. Your brain returns the necessary instructions to complete the task along the same nerves.

In the next section, you’ll learn more about this process, the role of nerves, and the actions your nervous system can help you accomplish.

How the Nervous System Works

Your body is great at tackling the hard work of your everyday life. And the nervous system is no exception. It divides up the job of sensing and responding to stimuli between its two parts—the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS).

The CNS is the control center of the nervous system. It includes the brain and the spinal cord. All the nerves that branch out from the spine are part of the PNS. Though they operate in tandem, it is important to highlight them independently. That’s because each section of the nervous system has a unique role and function.

Central Nervous System

Your CNS is the boss of your body. It is responsible for coordinating the messages it gets from the PNS to provide the appropriate physical response. This process is called integration.

The wire-like nerves in your body get stimuli from your environment and send those signals to your brain. But the nerves in your hands and feet aren’t plugged directly into your brain. Instead, your spinal cord makes a single connection at the base of the skull.

Protected by bony vertebrae (the bones of the spine), your spinal cord is the cable that collects the information from all over the body. Acting as one large conduit to the brain, your spinal cord can deliver large amounts of data from a single port, rather than thousands of smaller ones.

This makes it easier for your brain to integrate all the sensations you experience with the right actions and movements. And when it’s time to respond to messages, it can send out instructions in bulk. This takes some work off your brain’s plate by leaving the sorting and delivery work to the spinal cord.

Peripheral Nervous System

All of the nerves in your body (except the brain and spinal cord) are collectively known as the peripheral nervous system or PNS. It’s the job of the PNS to use nerves to sense information about your environment. Your voluntary and involuntary actions, reflexes, and intentional movements are initiated by the PNS.

The PNS communicates back and forth with your brain and spine and lets the central nervous system know what the rest of the body is doing. The PNS does this with specialized nerve cells called afferent and efferent neurons.

Afferent neurons are also known as sensory neurons. They send messages to your CNS. They deal in sensory information like sound, taste, touch, and smell. When you touch sandpaper, or smell a cake baking, your afferent neurons take that stimuli to your brain.

To respond to those sensations, your PNS uses efferent neurons. These carry messages and instructions away from your CNS. Efferent neurons can also be called motor neurons. They do just what their name implies—triggering muscle contraction and movement. Motor neurons make it possible for you to scratch your fingers against the rough sandpaper. They also allow you to take a bite of that delicious-smelling cake.

Both afferent and efferent neurons are present in nerve fibers. So, your PNS can send sensory information to your brain and receive a motor response along the same nerve. You need this kind of back-and-forth communication for voluntary movement.

The nerves of the PNS also manage things outside of your conscious control—involuntary reactions to your environment.

A major example of your PNS at work is your fight-or-flight response. This kicks in when you perceive that you’re in danger. It can also turn on when you’re worried and scared. At that time, your body experiences involuntary changes when you feel stressed.

Take speaking in public, for example. As the moment approaches, you might notice your heart start to race and your palms sweat. Your mouth might even get dry.

These symptoms indicate that your peripheral nervous system is working as it should. Salivary glands, skin cells, and your heart muscle get messages from your brain via the PNS to adjust their behavior to keep you safe. When you take a couple of deep breaths and settle your nerves (pun intended), your heart rate returns to normal. You feel safe and are no longer afraid.

The peripheral nervous system operates a complementary response to fight or flight, often called rest and digest. Your nerves send instructions down from the CNS to calm your body when it’s not in any danger. So, your breathing is steady and your muscles and gut are relaxed when you’re not experiencing stress.

Again, all of these changes occur on their own. You can thank your PNS for running on autopilot so you don’t have to worry about elevating your heart rate when something makes you nervous.

And without a peripheral nervous system, decisions and directions made by the CNS would have to be carried out directly by your brain and spinal cord. The central nervous system may call the shots when it comes to responding to sensations and stimuli. But the PNS is the link between your body and your brain that gets the job done.

Nervous System Technical Support

It’s pretty wild to think that electrochemical impulses are shooting up and down your nerves as you pause to read this article. Your nervous system is always working. So, make sure you’re doing your part to keep your electrical wiring up to code. There are a couple great ways to support and protect your nervous system.

Minimize Stress

Remember all the work your nervous system does to prepare your body for fight or flight? When stresses from work, school, or family life don’t let up, it can be hard for your nervous system to ease out of this involuntary response.

If your mind feels clouded with worry, it can be hard for your brain to efficiently integrate all the messages from your nerves. Sometimes this stress can even manifest itself in physical pain.

Combating stress and returning your body to the rest-and-digest phase will give your nerves a break. Deep breathing, mindful meditation, and exercise are all great ways to take a load off. If possible, try easing your mental strain by eliminating unnecessary work or burdens. And ask for help from family and friends when you need it.

Eat Whole Foods with Healthy Fats and Antioxidants

The myelin sheath covering the axon of your neurons are made of fatty tissue. So is your brain, the head of the central nervous system. That’s why you should choose food that reinforces these important structures.

That means healthy, unsaturated fats, like omega-3s. These are liquid at room temperature, but are also found in solid foods. You can find these healthy fats in avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and olive oil.

Another great way to protect your brain long-term is by eating foods rich in antioxidants. Berries and other brightly colored fruits and veggies are excellent sources. Antioxidants help protect brain tissue from damage by free radicals. They also support memory and cognitive function.

Try to incorporate these nutrients—and others, like magnesium, iodine, and a variety of vitamins—in your diet. Switch out foods with unhealthy fats (fried foods and prepackaged foods) with healthier options (grilled salmon or walnuts.) Make a brain-boosting smoothie with lots of berries and green veggies.

There are plenty of tasty ways to take care of your nervous system. And your hard-working brain, spinal cord, and nerves deserve the love.

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.