Tag Archive for: healthy eating

eating bugs

eating bugs

If eating bugs makes your skin crawl, you might be in the minority.

With more than 1,900 species of edible insects on Earth, bugs are a regular item on the dinner menu. Two billion people regularly munch on insects. Entomophagy (the practice of eating bugs) is common in Africa, Asia, and South America. Insects are even considered local delicacies in tropical paradises.

So reprogram your taste buds because insects are actually quite nutritious—and even delicious. Bon appétit!

Eating Bugs is Part of Our Human History

Humans have been eating bugs for ten thousand years. Entomophagy (the practice of eating bugs) was first done by hunter-gatherers to survive when resources were low. They learned which bugs were edible by observing animals. This helped them steer clear of poisonous insects and spiders. Bugs quickly became a regular source of nourishment—one that has persisted to this day.

At first glance, insects do not seem to make a great meal. But when compared to other protein sources, those tiny bugs offer more than meets the eye. Grasshoppers are more densely packed with protein than beef. And they differ from beef in two other categories: fiber and fat. Per ounce, grasshoppers have less fat and more fiber.

Grasshoppers are not the only insects worth mentioning. There are several other bugs on dining tables throughout the world.

People Eat Insects All Over the World

South America and Africa

Beetles are a favorite snack of people living in the Amazon basin and parts of Africa. They are richer in protein than other insects. Beetles are also great at turning cellulose (plant sugars) into digestible fats.

Australia

Ants are tiny but they have a lot to offer your body. Aboriginal peoples in Australia eat honeypot ants as a sweet treat, because these ants’ bellies are chock-full of a nectar-like substance. In Colombia, a type of leaf-cutter ant is toasted and eaten as a snack.

Thailand

Red ants are often cooked or added to salads in Thailand. One-hundred grams of red ants provide more protein than 100 grams of egg (about two boiled)—approximately 14 grams for ants to 12 grams for eggs. Ants are low in calories and carbs, so they’re a real bargain for the calorie-conscious.

Latin America, Asia, and Africa

Crickets, grasshoppers, and locusts are the most commonly eaten insects. This could be because they are easy to find and catch. Many people say that roasted crickets taste nutty. These bugs pick up the flavor of whatever they are cooked with and are popular in stir-fries and curries.

Bees are already sources of a crowd favorite—honey. But bees themselves are eaten, too. The indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, Australia, and Mexico eat bees when they are still young. The egg, larval, or pupal bee brood taste like peanuts or almonds. Watch out for adult bees. They can sting.

South Africa

Stinkbugs are hidden treasures of insect cuisine. Consumed in Zimbabwe and parts of South Africa. They are said to add an apple flavor to your cooking and are a rich source of iodine.

Food of the Future: Insects Are a Sustainable Protein Source

The current world population is seven and a half billion. To feed their growing populations, many world leaders are looking for sustainable sources of protein. Eating bugs provides a solution.

Insects made headlines in recent years because raising them is cheap to grow and easy on the environment. Crickets for example, take up very little space, reproduce quickly, and can sustain themselves with composting scraps and a little bit of water. Many call bugs “eco protein” because of their efficiency in converting plants to protein.

This makes insect farming more efficient than raising cattle.

Bugs require less water than livestock and take up less space. One-hundred pounds of cattle feed is required to produce 10 pounds of beef. But the same amount of feed yields 45 pounds of cricket.

Fans of “eco protein” are also excited about eating bugs as a method of pest control. Harvesting insects may be a more environmentally conscious solution to controlling the pests that destroy crops. That’s why insect cuisine is gaining traction as an alternative to pesticides.

Protein—Bugs or No Bugs—is Essential for Your Health

Whether you eat bugs, beef, chicken, fish or vegetable sources, quality protein in your diet is a must. Protein is essential to physical fitness. Most people understand that protein builds muscle, but it does much more than that. Your connective tissues are rich in protein. Hair, antibodies, blood, and enzymes all require protein to function properly.

Dietary protein is often misunderstood—with many not understanding the current recommendations and guidelines.

Current dietary recommendations say you should get 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories from protein. There are lots of ways to do that. Animal meat is a good source, but so are Greek yogurt, milk, beans, cheese, nuts, and eggs.

And you can consider insects in that list of protein sources, if you are brave enough to try eating bugs.

Are There Cons to Eating Bugs?

Every big change has pros and cons. There are great reasons for eating insects, but let’s touch on a few downsides to consider before adding bugs to your diet.

It’s important to note that all the “cons” listed here only present a very small risk, no greater than the risks associated with the foods we already consume. Experts agree that the benefits of eating bugs significantly outweigh the risks.

Food Allergies

While insects have been consumed for centuries, modern science knows very little about how they affect our bodies.

One study found that insects have the potential to trigger the same kind of allergic reaction that shellfish (like shrimp and lobster) do.

Insects and shellfish are both classified as arthropods, which means they have an exoskeleton. This similarity in anatomy and physiology could be related to the possibility of allergens.

If you know you have a shellfish allergy, you may want to pass on the roasted grasshoppers.

Bacteria

Insects should always be raised in a clean environment. If the farm isn’t hygienic, there is a chance for a small amount of spore-bearing bacteria, or a parasite to find its way in.

Regulating the conditions in which bugs are farmed would likely be enough to eliminate this risk entirely.

Pesticides

There is very little research on pesticide use in insect farming. One study found very low levels of certain harmful chemicals in raised bugs. However, these levels were no greater than what we find in our animal-based foods already.

Toxins

Ants, bees, and many other insects produce toxins as a defense mechanism for predators. These toxins can be dangerous to humans if consumed. Some can even kill you.

You should have some knowledge of which insects are safe to eat. This risk is much higher with eating insects in the wild as opposed to bugs raised by an insect farmer.

How To Start Eating Insects

If you’re sold on the benefits of eating bugs, you’re probably wondering how to get started. The retail market for insects is small, so you’ll likely be purchasing them online.

One of the least shocking ways to start is with cricket flour. This can be purchased ready-to-use and added to baked goods, salads, soups, and smoothies.

You can also order dried and prepared crickets. But remember that these bug snacks are akin to eating beef jerky. The texture and consistency are nothing like an actual steak.

The tastiest way to start eating insects is to order them live, directly from an insect farm.

Freeze your live bugs for 2-10 hours. Wash them well. Then prep and cook them like you would any regular meat. You can sauté them with garlic or vegetables, or bread them with flour and fry them in oil or add them to pasta. There are plenty of recipes online for inspiration.

Grow Your Own Bugs

Once you order some bugs, you’ll probably realize that they’re just as delicious as a lot of other foods! The most environmentally and financially sustainable way to incorporate bugs into your diet is to raise your own bugs at home.

Crickets, mealworms, and waxworms are some of the most available bugs and require as little as two square feet of space. The size of a plastic bin. You can purchase a pre-built hive, or download a plan and build your own habitat.

Eat a Bug, They’re Good for You

If you’re looking to spice up your diet, look no further than the bugs outside. Eating bugs is perfectly safe—as long as you get the right ones—and it’s an excellent source of protein. Your body needs protein to keep you healthy and active.

But if you’re nervous about trying a bug with your next meal, consider the positive environmental effects associated with bug farming. And you won’t be alone. Join the billions of people who make insect protein a regular part of a healthy diet.

Family going to holiday on summer vacation

Family going to holiday on summer vacation

Travel with family means a lot of baggage—literally and figuratively. It’s enough to deal with the regular stress of making sure everyone packed the right clothes, has their tickets and identification, are properly fed, and not actively crying. The last obstacle you need thrown in is a health challenge of any kind.

There’s no sure-fire way to avoid illness and injury while traveling. But there’s good news: you can take certain steps to help you and your family stay safe and healthy on your next adventure. All it takes is a little bit of planning. So before your next vacation or road trip, utilize the family travel tips you’ll read below.

Prevention is the Best Medicine: Preparing Your Family for Travel

Before embarking on a trip with your family—whether it’s a short road trip or a transoceanic flight—it’s important that everyone is already healthy. If you (or your children) haven’t been to the doctor for a checkup in a while, it’s a good idea to go in for an appointment before any major travel. This is especially true if your upcoming travel will take you into remote areas or countries with developing healthcare infrastructure.

Additionally, traveling—especially to a new country—can expose you to different diseases and put you at greater risk for contracting various illnesses. Thanks to modern medicine, numerous vaccines are available to help protect you. Before traveling abroad, it is important that you and your family are up to date on your vaccinations. Your doctor may also recommend additional vaccinations or prescription medications to further protect your health. Because many of these prescriptions require several days to operate effectively, plan ahead and consult your doctor as early as possible.

If you are traveling with young children, there is a chance they will not have completed their routine vaccinations. Before going on your trip, be sure to talk to their pediatrician. In some cases, the doctor may recommend a slightly accelerated vaccine schedule for your child or advise against travel entirely.

What to Bring to Keep the Family Healthy While Traveling

You’ve booked your tickets, planned your route, secured accommodations, and consulted your family doctor. Now it’s time to pack. Everyone will need to bring appropriate attire for the trip, but some other travel essentials may be less obvious. Check off items on the list below to make sure you have your family’s health essentials covered.

  1. Sunscreen: Sun exposure is nearly impossible to avoid. If you go outside, you’re going to catch some rays. But there’s also a downside to sun exposure: sunburns, dehydration, and—in intense heat—heatstroke.
    To protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, it’s important to wear sunscreen throughout the day. If you’re out in the sun for extended periods of time, remember to reapply your sunscreen every few hours. Otherwise, you might run the risk of a nasty sunburn!
  2. Medications: Naturally, if there are any medications or prescriptions you or other family members take on a regular basis, you should pack them when you travel. You should also bring emergency medications—such as those prescribed for acute anxiety or EpiPens—if there is any chance you’ll need them.
    Certain medications may have restrictions on how much you can travel with, so do your research beforehand. It’s also a good practice to bring documentation for your prescriptions. You might not need it, but if someone starts asking for proof, you’ll be glad you packed it!
  3. Water Bottles: Dehydration is one of the most frequent health challenges people face. Fortunately, it also has one of the easiest solutions: drink more water. There are several ways to keep you and your family hydrated (more on that later), but a great starting point is packing water bottles. If you’re flying, remember that you won’t be able to bring liquids through security in some countries—so pack reusable bottles and fill them once you’ve made it past the checkpoints.
  4. Healthy Snacks: Food is fuel—it gives your body the energy it needs to perform essential functions on a day-to-day basis. Nutritious food can help you feel satisfied, energized, and can even support quality sleep. And all these things are important while traveling.Most of your food intake, even when you’re on the road, should come from full meals. (If you’re looking for tips to eat healthy while traveling, check out this article!) That being said, it’s not always possible to sit down and enjoy a meal. Sometimes you need a snack to hold you over for a few hours.
    As you pack snacks for your trip, your focus should be nutrition. High-protein foods and whole grains will leave you feeling full and energized for longer than sugary, processed foods. If any family member experiences motion sickness—either in a car or on a plane—pack bland foods that are easy to keep down. These will come in handy if you or one of your kids is feeling nauseous but still needs to eat.
  5. Protective clothing: Clothes can protect you from your environment—whether that’s toxic plants on a hike or temperatures well below freezing. As you plan for your trip, consider the environmental factors you might face. Will it be hot? Cold? Raining? Your wardrobe choices should reflect the environment and weather.While it can be fun to buy new clothes for vacation, it’s also a good idea to bring along some old, reliable outfits—those you know you can walk in comfortably for several miles. There’s nothing worse than gearing up for a day of exploring a new place, only to have your clothes chafe or tear.

Hydration on the Go for You and Your Kids

When it comes to healthy travel (and health in general), it’s hard to overstate the importance of water and hydration. Water seems to do it all for keeping your body running smoothly. So getting inadequate amounts of liquid can cause all sorts of health difficulties.

Staying hydrated at home can already be a challenge—and, when you’re on the road, it doesn’t get any easier. This means hydration should be a priority when you travel with family. There are many ways to ensure everyone stays hydrated, and your approach will probably depend on how you’re traveling.

  • Hydrating on planes: The prohibition on bring bottles of water through airport security can pose a problem for people trying to stay hydrated without paying ridiculous airport prices for a bottle of water. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution: pack reusable water bottles for every member of your family. Once you’re through security, you can fill them at a water fountain and bring them on your flight.
    Once on the plane, your water supply can be limited. You can’t just fill the bottle up at a fountain. To avoid getting dehydrated, especially on long flights, limit the amount of alcohol and caffeine you drink. Replace it with plain water instead.
  • Hydrating on road trips: Nothing says summer like a multi-day road trip. Traveling by car isn’t the fastest option out there, but it does give you the ability to bring a lot more with you. And when it comes to hydration, this is a plus. Reusable water bottles are still a great option for road trips, but you should also have a large supply of emergency water in your trunk. Long car rides can take you through remote areas, so if the car breaks down, you’ll need enough water to keep everyone hydrated until help arrives.
    It might seem counterintuitive, but your water intake doesn’t have to only come from water. You can also help keep your body hydrated by eating foods with a high water content. A cooler full of watermelon, oranges, or pineapple chunks makes for a healthy, hydrating snack on a road trip.

Bring Everyone into the Travel Conversation—Even Your Kids

You know your body and your needs better than anyone else. Similarly, you know what keeps you feeling your best mentally and physically. The same is true of your partner, your children, and anyone else you may travel with. You can only do so much planning and preparation for other people’s health—at a certain point you’ll need to bring them into the conversation.

As you prepare for your trip, talk to your kids. Ask them what you can bring that will help them feel relaxed, comfortable, and happy. This could mean packing an extra book, a tablet for movies and games, or music they want to hear on the trip. Try to pack snacks that are nutritious, but well-liked by your travel buddies.

And, of course, don’t forget to take care of yourself and have fun. Looking out for everyone else’s health is exhausting. Ask yourself what you’re doing for your health. Take time to practice self-care and kick back a little bit—after all, travel and vacation should be a time to blow off a little steam.

health and wellness

health and wellness

If asked, most people will say they’d like to live a healthier lifestyle. But when it comes to actually changing—well, that’s another story. So why do so many of people’s health goals go unrealized? One of the most common answers: “I want to be healthier, but I just don’t have time.”

If you’ve ever had a similar thought, you may need to reframe the way you think about healthy living. Being “healthier” doesn’t necessarily mean adding more to your already crammed calendar. Instead of further bloating your busy schedule, try integrating healthier habits into your established routines. It’s all about adjusting and substituting (more on that later).

So what exactly does this look like? As with many lifestyle questions, there’s no single, right answer—it all depends on you, your existing habits, and the changes you’d like to make. Fortunately, you don’t have to dive in without guidance. Whether you’re looking for ways to incorporate exercise into your workday, eat more nutritious meals, or simple health and wellness tips, you’ve come to the right place.

Since healthy living is highly personal, remember that what follows isn’t an exhaustive list, nor a set of steps to follow exactly. Think of it as a tasting menu—you can try different approaches out to see what fits with your schedule and helps you feel your best.


What is Healthy Living?

Most people are familiar with the basics of health and wellness: eat nutritious foods, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. These are great starting points, but there’s just one problem—these practices are all rather vague. How much should you exercise? What foods should you eat? And how much sleep is “enough”? There’s a good chance you’ve asked yourself (and the internet) similar questions.

Internet searches have probably returned some general guidelines. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States), for instance, recommends adults get at least an hour and a half of exercise each week. And there are plenty of articles on nutritious eating that can help you out.

There’s so much available information that it can be intimidating. It can also prove difficult to distill these general guidelines and suggestions into specific, actionable steps for your life. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed as you navigate your health and wellness journey, refocus on the most important factor: you.


Health and Wellness Tips for the Workplace

The main culprit responsible for people’s busy schedules is work. Most can agree on one thing: too much time is spent working. This can make it difficult to incorporate wellness practices—especially exercise—into daily life. People typically try to exercise in one of two blocks of time: before or after work.

A pre-work exercise routine is a great way to start the day, but it’s not for everyone. And the same can be said for evening workouts. Fortunately, there are other options—you’ve just got to be a little creative. Here are a few ways you can sneak some exercise at work.

  • Try a treadmill desk: You’ve probably seen, or at least heard about, standing desks. If not, the concept is simple: it’s a desk you stand at rather than sit behind. Standing desks have been all the rage in recent years, in part because of their perceived health benefits. And while there may be slight benefits to sitting less and standing more, recent studies suggest the difference in calories burned is minimal.
    Enter the treadmill desk. Rather than simply standing at your desk, you have the option to walk in place. This simple change can drastically increase the number of calories you burn each day, and, if you walk at a brisk pace, help amp up your heartrate during the workday.
  • Cycle during meetings: Treadmill desks are expensive, but workplace exercise doesn’t have to break the bank. For a cheaper—and often more discrete—exercise option, try cycling at your desk. Obviously, you’re not going to actually ride a bicycle in the office, but there are under-desk cycles that have become increasingly popular.
    Basically, these cycles are a set of bicycle pedals on a small stand that can sit under your desk. As you sit in your office chair, you can pedal away to get the blood flowing. Most machines have variable intensities, allowing you to customize your workout each day. And the best part? You can still sit at your desk for virtual meetings.
  • Change up your commute: Not everyone has the benefit of living close to their work. And many of the people who do live within walking or cycling distance of their office still opt to drive. It’s just the default mode of transit—especially in the U.S. where, as of 2019, roughly three out of four American commuters drove their car to work.
    If you’re looking to add a little exercise to your day, however, your commute is a great place to start. Sure, it might take a bit longer than driving, but a brisk walk or bicycle ride in the morning can help clear your mind, wake you up, and prepare you for a day at the office. Plus, it’s built-in workout time. You must be at work one way or another. Would you rather spend that time in traffic or promoting your physical and mental wellbeing?

You are What You Eat: Make the Most of Your Food When You’re Busy

After you drag yourself out of bed in the morning, making a lunch to bring to work is probably the last thing you want to do. Especially when you’re running late. And in this, you’re not alone. Whether it’s the convenience of eating out, lack of groceries in the house, or a dislike of cooking, many people go out for lunch during the workday—if they eat lunch at all.

If you’re looking to improve your nutrition at work, look at the list below. Chances are you’ll find a tip or two that you can use to eat more nutritious foods on a busy schedule.

  • Know your food groups: If you can’t find the time to prepare your lunches, you still have a lot of control over what you eat. You can choose where to go and what to order. And, naturally, some options are better for you than others. In some cases, nutrition is a no-brainer: obviously a salad is a more nutritious choice than a milkshake and fries.
    Sometimes, however, it can be more difficult to identify the most nutritious meals on a menu. This is where knowing the food groups comes in. While nutrition is a complex and nuanced subject, ensuring you eat a variety of foods—dairy, whole grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables—will give your diet a solid foundation. When ordering at restaurants, choose dishes with several food groups represented. 
  • Meal prep on the weekends: Naturally, cooking your own food gives you the most control over your diet and nutrition. But cooking takes time. And when you’re busy, preparing meals is often the first task on the chopping block (pun intended). So why not take care of the cooking on your day off?
    If you have a free day—or even a free evening—during the week, use that time to prepare healthy meals for the week. There are a few different approaches to meal prep. Some people cook a whole bunch of the same meal and portion it out for each day. This is great if you don’t mind eating the same lunch every day for a week.
    If you prefer a little more variety, you can try prepping different foods that can be combined in various ways, giving you a few options for your on-the-go lunches. For example, if you cook enough chicken, rice, and broccoli for the week, you can easily make a rice bowl to take to work. If that’s not speaking to you, you have cooked chicken you can use in a sandwich and have the broccoli on the side. It’s all about mixing and matching ingredients and getting the time-consuming work of cooking done beforehand.
  • Swap soda out for water: Most people don’t drink enough water. So don’t be like most people. The National Academy of Sciences recommends that men consume 15.5 cups (or 3.7 liters) of liquid every day (this total includes water, other beverages, and foods like soup or celery), and women take in 11.5 cups (or 2.7 liters). If you find yourself falling short of that number, try swapping water for other fluids. Instead of a soda in the afternoon, have a couple glasses of water. Not only will this help promote hydration, but it’ll cut down your sugar intake, too!

Finding Health and Wellness Tips That Work for You

Healthy living on a busy schedule doesn’t necessarily mean turning your life upside down. It’s all about finding ways to incorporate healthy practices into the things you are already doing.

Not all the tips mentioned above will work for everyone—and that’s OK! Try them out and see what works for you. Remember, it’s a process—you don’t have to make all the changes immediately. Take time to adjust to each change and be gentle with yourself. Changing routines is difficult, but it is worth it.

healthy food on the go

healthy food on the go

Even instant rice takes five minutes to cook. If possible, push aside the considerable absurdity of that fact and think of it instead as a commentary on the time it takes to cook for yourself. That temporal investment is one of the few cons of making your meals. But if healthy eating on the go is your goal, you may have to toss out the more time-consuming components of cooking.

After all, busy schedules don’t pair well with building layers of flavor over hours of work on a succulent braise. That’s sad for your tastebuds and, possibly, your overall health.

Cooking really is great if you have time. You control the ingredients, level of salt, and tend to produce healthier fare. Not to mention all the other mental, emotional, and financial benefits you cook up by being your own chef.

But slowly steaming yourself for hours over a hot, humid array of pots and pans isn’t the only way to eat healthy. You can still enjoy meals that are easy, quick, and good for you. It just might mean holstering your wooden spoon and spatula in favor of foods you don’t need to cook. The good news is that tasty and healthful options abound.

Browse the menu laid out below to help you pick healthy on-the-go food options. Any one of them is a massive improvement over a trip to the vending machine, drive thru, or spin around your favorite delivery app.

On the Run: Grab-and-Go Healthy Meals and Snacks

Somedays, you’re in such a hurry that you’re basically a cartoon tornado. You’d be lucky to make it out of the house with two of the same shoes on, let alone any healthy on-the-go food. During these most hectic times, you can still take a few minutes (and that’s all it will take, promise) to grab a snack or nutritious meal replacement.

Here are your best options to snag as your whirlwind morning or afternoon slings you out into the world:

  • A high-quality shake with plenty of nutrients and designed for sustained energy
  • One or two snack bars for the day—ideally, packed with whole-food ingredients, a good source of fiber, and appropriate for your dietary goals
  • A protein-packed cheese stick
  • Whole fruits (apples, oranges, and bananas are very portable) or even single-serving applesauce or other no-sugar-added fruit cups
  • A bag of on-the-go veggies, like baby carrots, celery sticks, mini sweet peppers, sugar snap peas, or radishes

Healthy Eats Thrown Together Quickly

There are times you aren’t literally sprinting out of the house. It might not feel like it, but you actually do have time—especially if you cut out a few minutes of early morning doomscrolling on social media—to toss a few ingredients together.

A few of your quick, healthy meal options are as follows:

  • Celery sticks and your favorite nutritious nut butter
  • Carrots (baby or stick style) and hummus
  • A handful of nuts and fresh berries
  • Single-serve popcorn
  • Greek yogurt and a fresh fruit of your choice

Full Meals Done as Fast as Possible

Having a bunch of easy snacks to make is essential to eating healthy on the go. But sometimes your day requires more of a traditional meal to fuel the madness. You don’t need a five-course tasting menu, though.

Quick and easy healthy meal options can include:

  • Veggie or salad wraps
  • Pre-made or easily stirred up salads (go with the bagged kit and replace the dressing with oil and vinegar if the included option is too packed with sugar, fat, or calories)
  • Stuffing a sandwich with fresh veggies and some lean, low-sodium meat (if you want)
  • Skipping the bread and just roll up sliced tomatoes, peppers, or avocados in low-sodium lunch meat
  • Piling sliced or chopped veggies and canned beans into a bowl
  • Avocado toast or other enhancements to toasted bread (nut butter and pomegranate seeds, for one)

A Little Prep Pays Off for Healthy Eating on the Go

It may seem like cheating to count meal prep done by your past self. But that weekend or less-busy version of you could do present, in-a-rush you some favors. To pull this off, you’ll need to do a little bit of planning and commit to working ahead on healthy meals you just need to mix up, mash together, or microwave.

You can boil eggs, bake proteins, prepare produce, and make more than you can eat at your non-rushed meals to guarantee leftovers for the next day. Maybe you only want to—or have time to—cook once a week. Use that time to make batches of soup, grain bowls, or other easy, healthy meals.

Create a future that’s little less frantic food-wise and make healthy eating on the go possible with a little bit of prep work. Whether it’s more planning or a better understanding of healthy on-the-go food, you have the tools to eat smart without spending too much time sweating over the stove.

nutrition on the go

nutrition on the go

Healthy eating is the backbone of any healthy lifestyle. It provides the energy you need to focus throughout the day, helps keep your immune system operating at its best, and fuels your body for physical activity.

Of course, eating right is easier said than done—especially when life gets busy. When you have a lot on your metaphorical plate, it’s tempting to forego healthy, nutritious meals. That might mean replacing them with fast food, a snack from the vending machine, or simply skipping the meal.

In other words, when life gets busy, many people tend to deprive themselves of the key nutrients that will keep them operating at their best. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to learn which nutrients will help power your busy life and how to incorporate them into your daily meals.

Nutrition 101

If you’re completely new to the world of nutrition, don’t worry—this section provides a quick, crash course on the basics. And if you’re a seasoned expert (pun intended), a little review never hurts, right?

Nutrition—in the context of this article—refers to the process of providing your body with the food it needs to support normal growth and development, as well as maintain essential body functions. To do each of these tasks, your body requires a variety of nutrients. These nutrients range from amino acids, fats, and carbs to vitamins, minerals, and everything in between. So when people throw around phrases like healthy eating, nutritional food, or a good diet, they’re referring to eating habits that provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function. But also avoiding—or reducing—the intake of less nutritious options.

Though it can sound involved—and, frankly, intimidating—eating a well-balanced diet can be done easier than you think. In fact, simply eating a large variety of whole foods can provide the building blocks of a balanced diet. You can reach for a variety of different foods: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy.

Between these food groups, you can get most of the nutrients you need on a day-to-day basis. So if you’re eating the recommended daily amount of each food group, your diet likely has a strong foundation. From there, you can adjust your eating habits to focus on specific nutrients—but more on that later!

The Importance of Nutrition on the Go

The food you eat directly fuels your energy levels. Carbohydrates such as sugar, for instance, can provide quick, temporary bursts of energy. But the benefits of good nutrition go far beyond your energy levels.

Nutrition is the unsung hero (or villain) of your day-to-day experiences. Whether it’s the quality of your sleep or your ability to focus throughout the day, nearly every element of your day is affected, in part, by what you put in your body.

This makes nutrition especially important when you’re busy. An inability to focus can set you behind on the day’s tasks. Similarly, a poor night of sleep can throw off your entire day. But in both cases, you can set yourself up for success by focusing on your eating habits.

Naturally, the optimal meal plan looks a little bit different for everyone. It’ll take time and experimentation to figure out what works best for you. But there are some general guidelines to start you on the right path. The next section breaks down some of the nutrients you’ll likely need to fuel your busy life and why they are so important.

Key Nutrients to Get You Through Busy Days (And Where to Find Them)

A well-balanced diet ensures you have a solid foundation, but you’ll still need to pay close attention to the foods you eat. Each day, you should strive to consume a variety of foods. This will help you maintain a baseline level of nutrition to keep you going.

Once you’ve established that baseline, you can focus on other key nutrients. The list below outlines some of the vitamins and minerals that especially power your busy lifestyle. This is not an exhaustive list of what your body needs, but rather a list of key nutrients involved in healthy energy production that you can use to help supplement an already balanced diet.

B vitamins: It’s been said many times, but it bears repeating—food is fuel. That being said, your body has to perform chemical processes to convert the food you eat into usable energy. This is where vitamins B1, B2, and B3—AKA thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin—come into play. These three B vitamins help support the ways your body breaks down and processes macronutrients. These processes, which spark electron transfers, also need support from B vitamins to produce one of the body’s main sources of energy.

When it comes to energy production, vitamins B5 and B7 (pantothenic acid and biotin) also play an important role. Similar to the other B vitamins, these two vitamins facilitate a number of chemical processes and reactions that help your body metabolize various substances and create usable energy.

B vitamins aren’t all about energy production, though it is one of their main functions. Vitamin B9, AKA folate, helps your body build DNA and RNA, supports tissue growth, and promotes the regeneration of red blood cells. Obviously, these are important bodily functions.

To metabolize—or break down and process—folate, your body needs vitamin B12, or cobalamin. So remember how folate helps your body perform a number of crucial functions? Well, your body also relies on vitamin B12 for those same processes.

At this point, hopefully one thing is clear: the B vitamins do a lot. So where can you find them? The B vitamins can be found in a variety of foods including pork (B1), brown rice (B1), leafy greens (B2, B3, and B9), dairy (B2 and B5), and fish (B3, B7, and B12). For an in-depth look at each of the B vitamins, check out this guide!

Electrolytes: Contrary to popular belief, electrolytes are more than just salt. Electrolytes are water-soluble substances that conduct electrical charges. Some of the most common electrolytes found in your body are calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

Your body uses electrolytes—and their conductive properties—to support healthy muscle contraction, chemical reactions, and fluid balance. Because your body is about two-thirds water, nearly every cell contains electrolytes.

Electrolytes exit the body through fluids—usually through urine and sweat. Those found in your urine are typically excess electrolytes, meaning your body doesn’t need them. If you’re sweating a lot, however, it may be necessary to deliberately replenish your body’s supply of these electrically charged minerals. So how do you do this?

It’s simple: just eat and drink electrolyte-rich foods and beverages. These include bananas, dairy products, coconut water, avocados, and watermelon. (It’s important to note that excessive amounts of electrolytes can also have detrimental effects on your health. If you suspect you have too many or too few in your diet, you can have a urine test done to measure your levels.)

Calcium: Calcium is mentioned twice in this list because it’s one of the body’s most important nutrients—crucial enough to merit its own section, too. You’ve probably heard that calcium helps maintain strong bones. While that’s true, calcium does a whole lot more, too.

That includes supporting:

  • healthy muscle function
  • nerve signals
  • a healthy heart beat
  • normal cell signaling

As you can see, calcium plays a vital role in your body’s daily function. Additionally, too little calcium in your diet can negatively impact cognition—which can be catastrophic during a busy day.
You can find calcium in dairy products, tofu, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale).

Magnesium: Like calcium, magnesium is also an electrolyte. The essential mineral also plays a vital role in your body’s ability to produce energy. And it helps regulate your body’s levels of another key nutrient—calcium. Too little magnesium in your diet may result in muscle weakness and fatigue.

If you’re looking to add more magnesium to your diet, consider snacking on whole nuts or pack a salad of leafy greens for lunch.

Iron: As with most of the nutrients listed, iron plays a vital role in energy production. It also helps your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue—which can throw a wrench in your busy day.
Meat is one of the main sources of iron in many people’s diets. If you are vegetarian, focus on eating iron-rich foods, such as beans and nuts.

Vitamin C: Nothing interrupts a busy schedule like a cold. Not feeling your best makes it incredibly difficult to take on your daily tasks. Enter vitamin C, which supports the production of leukocytes—white blood cells that help maintain your health.
Most nutrients have many roles, and vitamin C is no different. In addition to supporting a healthy immune system, this vitamin also helps optimize your body’s creation of metabolic energy (energy extracted from nutrients.). Specifically, vitamin C supports the process your body uses to transport and process fatty acids.

So whether you’re looking to maintain a healthy immune system or support healthy energy levels, it’s crucial that your body gets enough vitamin C. You can load up on this vitamin by eating more citrus (or drinking orange juice), broccoli, or Brussels sprouts. Snacking on raw bell peppers is another good option.

Zinc: Like vitamin C, zinc plays a key role in the health of your immune system. (It also does a whole lot more, from supporting eye and kidney health to helping optimize DNA production.) Zinc is most commonly found in meat, seafood, and eggs. So vegetarians and vegans, take note: you might need additional sources of zinc in your diet. This could mean eating more legumes and nuts, or simply taking a dietary supplement.

Water: Good old H2O. Pretty much everyone knows they need to drink a lot of it, and yet many people don’t. Dehydration can cause headaches and fatigue. Fortunately, there’s a surefire way to avoid this: drink more water. If you struggle with proper hydration, consider investing in a large water bottle to carry with you throughout the day. There are even apps that can help you track your hydration!

Balancing Your Diet and Your Schedule

When it comes to healthy eating, it’s easy to let your schedule interfere. But eating a balanced diet doesn’t necessarily require a lot of time. It just means more planning and a little bit of prep.

If you find yourself munching on vending machine snacks throughout the day, consider stocking up on nutrient-rich snacks like nuts or fresh vegetables and hummus. Similarly, a homemade, vegetable-packed sandwich can make an excellent, nutritious lunch—you just have to set aside time to make it.

At the end of the day, balancing your diet might mean balancing your schedule. Nutrition doesn’t necessarily require hours and hours of planning and preparation—15 or 20 minutes of meal prep in the morning can make all the difference. In an hour or two on Sunday, you can knock out your meals for the week. Find what works with your schedule and stick with it.

Nutritious meals might seem time consuming, but they’ll supply the fuel you need to push through a busy day. And with optimal energy levels and focus, maybe you’ll find that nutrition saves you time after all.

Good nutrition is the backbone of any healthy lifestyle. Without satisfying necessary caloric and nutritional needs, your body can’t keep you thriving. This includes everything from basic functions—like breaking down and removing waste and protecting itself against toxins—to growth, development, and maintaining energy levels. But what exactly is “good nutrition”?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. As your body grows, changes, and develops, so do your nutritional needs. Though the basics of nutrition stay the same throughout life, your nutritional needs will vary depending on your physical activity levels, lifestyle habits, and age. This article will focus on that last one: nutrition by age.

As your body changes from infancy to adulthood—and everything in between—it requires slightly different nutrients to optimize growth, development, and function. And some of these nutrients might not be what you’d expect! So take a closer look at some of the surprising nutritional needs for each age group.

Newborn Nutrition: 0-12 Months

Whether you decide to feed your newborn breastmilk, formula, or a combination of the two, your baby’s nutritional needs should be a top priority. In their first year of life, most babies more than double their weight. That’s a lot of growth—not to mention the brain development that occurs during this time period. All these changes in babies’ bodies require the proper fuel.

From birth until about six months, it’s recommended to feed your baby exclusively breast milk or newborn formula. This will help them acquire the fats, proteins, and other nutrients they need. If your infant is breastfeeding, their nutrients come from the person feeding them. For this reason, it’s important for that individual to stay on top of their own nutrition and supplement their diet with the nutrients their baby needs. So what exactly are those nutrients?

You’re probably familiar with the more common staples of infant nutrition—calcium to support bone strength and growth, for example—but let’s take a look at some of the less talked about nutritional needs of infants.

  • Folate: The less-known vitamins and minerals are an often-overlooked aspect of nutrition. This is the case with folate, aka vitamin B9, which plays a vital role in cell division. And that’s one of the key processes behind infant growth and development.
    To ensure your infant has appropriate amounts of folate in their diet, check their formula for the levels of vitamin B9. Or, if you’re breastfeeding your child, eat plenty of folate-rich foods, such as leafy greens and legumes.
  • Zinc: No single nutrient is more important than the rest. That being said, if you were asked to name a nutrient as MVP of your diet, zinc would be a strong contender. The mineral helps maintain a healthy immune system, supports cellular growth and repair, and helps optimize DNA creation—all of which are important at any stage of life, but are especially vital for infants.
    Babies born prematurely often have zinc deficiencies, which is a problem because they need zinc to catch up on their growth. When breastfeeding, be sure to stock up on zinc rich foods—nuts are a great, calorie-dense option!

Early Childhood: From Toddlers to Preteens

Growth and development don’t stop after infancy. From the terrible twos up through adolescence, the body continues to undergo rapid changes. It’s a formative time, and not just for an individual’s personality. Proper nutrition during these periods of change set the stage for a healthy adulthood. So what are some key nutritional needs for children and preteens?

  • Fats: Pop nutrition has given fats a bad reputation. But not all fats are bad. In fact, some fats are a crucial part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. This is especially true when it comes to children’s nutrition.
    When people talk about fat in food, they typically mean: saturated fats or trans fats. Children should eat saturated fats, or fats that come from meat, dairy, and eggs, in moderation. And trans fats, which are created when some foods are processed, should be avoided as much as possible.
    But what about the good fats—the ones that can provide children with energy, support overall health, and help them process other nutrients? These fats are found in foods like olives, nuts, and seafood. And these beneficial forms should make up most of the fat in a child’s diet.
  • Sodium: When it comes to sodium, the problem most children face is not too little of it in their diet, but far too much. Fast food is a frequent meal in many households. And understandably so: it’s quick, affordable, and picky eaters may actually eat it. But these foods also contain lots of sodium.
    The recommended daily value for sodium changes with age. Young children—up until age four—only need about 1,500 mg of sodium per day, while preteens should take in up to 2,200 mg. According to a 2011 survey, 90% of children in the U.S. exceeded the recommended daily value for sodium, with average daily intake coming in at a whopping 3,256 mg per day. That’s more than 1,000 mg higher than the recommended value.
    So what’s the big deal? In moderation, sodium is a vital part of a healthy diet. It helps nerves function, plays a role in muscle function, and helps the body maintain proper fluid balances. Too much sodium, however, can lead to blood pressure issues.

Adolescence: Nutrition During the Teenage Years

Parenting teenagers can be a challenge (to say the least). It’s a period marked by mental, emotional, and physical changes—all of which can be difficult to handle individually. Put these changes together, and you have the perfect storm. If there’s one thing teenagers need, though, it’s the space to exercise and explore their independence. And this might include choosing more of the foods they eat.

That being said, good nutrition should still be a priority. Adolescence is, after all, a period of change. And when the body changes, it requires fuel. Teens are likely familiar with the basics of their nutritional needs but might need some additional guidance when it comes to specific nutrients. The list below outlines a few of the unsung heroes of teen nutrition.

  • Iron: You’ve maybe heard that iron-deficiency can lead to anemia—a condition that can lead to extreme fatigue. But maintaining energy levels isn’t all iron is good for. High iron intake is also crucial during periods of rapid growth—teenage growth spurts, for instance.
    Monitoring your iron intake as a teen is especially important if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Meat, poultry, and fish are some of the most common sources of iron—if you don’t eat any of these foods, you’ll need to be extra diligent about eating other high-iron foods, such as beans, broccoli, and spinach.
  • Sleep: This one is, admittedly, not a nutrient. But it is an often overlooked element of teen health. When it comes to adolescent growth and development, a well-balanced diet is only one piece of the puzzle—and sleep is the other. Sleep can help your immune system stay strong, helps support your brain and body to grow and develop, and can optimize mood and emotion regulation. As a teenager, you should sleep 8-10 hours a night. It might seem like a lot, but it’s worth it!
    Getting enough sleep isn’t simply a matter of getting in bed at a reasonable time. A variety of other factors affect sleep including ambient noise, blue light exposure, and even diet. While there is no single nutrient that will solve your sleep problems, a well-balanced diet has been shown to support quality sleep. In this case, well balanced means supplying your body with enough magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. (Not sure where to find these nutrients? Take a look at this vitamin guide and essential mineral overview for a quick crash course!)

Nutrition Later in Life

If there’s one guarantee in life, it’s that you’re not getting any younger. And as you age, you might notice your body experiencing a little wear and tear. To a certain extent, this is inevitable. With the right diet and healthy lifestyle choices, however, you can help keep your body running smoothly well past 60.

They say that prevention is the best medicine—and by paying attention to your nutritional needs as you age, you can help keep yourself feeling good. You’ve probably heard that calcium is crucial for maintaining bone strength later in life, but that’s not all is needed at this stage of life. So let’s take a look at some of the less talked about nutrients.

  • Magnesium: Calcium gets all the credit when it comes to supporting bone strength, but magnesium also plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy, strong bones. Additionally, it helps both the heart and immune system continue to function properly.
    As you get older, your body absorbs magnesium less efficiently. This means you need more of this important in your diet to actually get the necessary amount. What’s more, many medications also affect magnesium absorption—so be sure to ask your doctor about any side effects!
  • Water: Everybody needs to drink water. That never changes because healthy hydration is an important aspect of nutrition and a healthy life. However, some studies indicate that your body requires more water as you age. The effects of dehydration can also lead to more serious health consequences for older individuals. Fortunately, the remedy for dehydration is simple: just drink more water.
    To ensure you are staying properly hydrated, look at your urine. It might not be the most pleasant part of your day, but it’s a simple way to check your hydration levels. If your urine is dark and cloudy or bright yellow, you likely aren’t drinking enough water. (There is an exception to remember with urine color. Even well hydrated individuals taking high dosages of vitamin C and B vitamins can have very bright yellow urine.) Typically, your urine should be somewhere between pale yellow to clear.

Nutrition by Age

As you age, your body grows, develops, and changes in countless ways. This probably isn’t news to you. Navigating these changes can be tough but properly satisfying your body’s nutritional needs at each stage of life can help optimize the aging process. And no matter your age, it’s never too late to start caring about nutrition. So, with what your read above as a guide, take charge of your health one nutrient at a time!

With the ever-increasing popularity of fad diets and pop nutritionists, the world of healthy eating can feel intimidating. Everyone from your neighbor to your doctor to your mom seems to have advice on what you should—or should not—eat. And this advice is often contradictory.

But healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the simplest foods and meals are often the best for you. This is the guiding logic behind taking the clean eating approach to your diet.

Clean eating is the practice of filling your plate with primarily unprocessed, whole foods. It doesn’t outline how much you eat or when, but rather how you should select the foods you consume.

Bite into the Benefits of Clean Eating

Before diving into the ins and outs of clean eating, you should know one thing: clean eating takes commitment. It means diligently monitoring the foods you buy and eat—at home and when you’re out. That being said, the benefits of clean eating make it worth the effort. Take a look at why that is.

Food provides your body with the essential nutrients, energy, and building blocks to keep your body going. And, if you’re lucky, the food tastes good, too. People often think that the two are mutually exclusive: food is either healthy or tasty, not both. With clean eating, you can experience the best of both worlds.

Clean eating is an excellent way to provide your body with fiber, antioxidants, plant-based fats, and whole grains—all of which will help you feel energized and maintain overall health. And on top of that, a clean eating diet is full of flavorful, fresh foods that often taste better than their over-processed counterparts.

So if you’re looking to make your diet nutritious and tasty, keep reading to find the recipe for clean eating success.

The Key to Clean Eating? Stay Closer to Nature

Clean eating is all about focusing on foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. This means limiting the processed foods you eat. Think about potato chips: if someone showed you a chip, would you be able to identify the plant it came from without any prior knowledge? Sure—they’re made from potatoes, but those root veggies are processed to the point where they’re no longer instantly recognizable.

Compare this to, say, a baked potato. This is far closer to a potato’s natural form. And you can apply this logic to most foods—but more on that later!

As foods are processed, they undergo a number of changes. Processing can strip foods of nutritional value, and loaded them with sugar, preservatives, and other chemicals. Clean eating can help you maximize the most nutritional value from your food while avoiding those negative additives

Clean eating also means moderating your intake of alcohol. While a little red wine won’t hurt you, it’s probably no surprise that alcohol isn’t exactly good for you. It is, after all, a toxin that needs to be broken down and dealt with by your liver.

A Crash Course in Whole Foods and Food Processing

If you’re looking into clean eating for the first time, you’ll want to ensure you have a good understanding of whole foods—both what they are and how to identify them.

As mentioned above, whole foods are those that have undergone as little processing as possible. Or, in other words, foods that are close to their natural state. Unless you’re eating fruit right off the tree, most of the food you consume will be at least a little processed. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Chopping, washing, mashing, or cooking are all forms of processing. And some are better for your health than others.

Slicing an orange in half and eating it won’t reduce the nutritional value. It’s a form of processing with minimal impact on the food itself. The same is true of, say, washing an apple before you eat it.

Now, think about orange juice from concentrate. To reach that state, oranges are juiced, the liquid is reduced down into a thicker, concentrated form, some preservatives (and maybe even artificial flavorings and sweeteners) are added, and then water is added before use to make it a juice-like consistency once again.

Now, you might think, “that sounds like a lot of unnecessary steps.” And you’re right. At each of those steps, the original produce—an orange—strays further and further from its natural state. Many of these steps reduce the nutritional value of the juice and introduce unnecessary chemicals and sugars into it. Not exactly clean eating—or, in this case, drinking.

So how can you identify whole or minimally processed foods? The supermarket is full of options, but it can be difficult to parse out which foods are truly whole foods and which are simply being marketed as a health food. Fortunately, there are a few simple tips and tricks for selecting whole foods that you can use the next time you’re at the supermarket.

Tips for Selecting the Best Foods for Your Clean Eating Meal Prep

  1. Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. Beans are another great whole food—just be sure to watch for added sodium in canned versions!
  2. Opt for whole grains. Refined grains—which are the more common form—contain less fiber and fewer overall nutrients. To check if your bread is truly whole grain, look at the ingredients label. Does it show “whole-wheat flour” as the first ingredient? If not, it is probably made from mostly refined grains.
  3. Don’t be afraid of food in its natural state. A bundle of dirty, fresh beets might seem intimidating at first, but with a little practice and research, you’ll be able to prepare and cook them to perfection!
  4. Read nutrition facts labels and ingredient lists. So many foods at the grocery store have added sugars, artificial flavors, preservatives, and other additives. Be sure to know what you’re buying—and eating.

Eating as Clean as Possible—Even When Life Becomes an Obstacle

There isn’t a clear line between clean and unclean eating. It’s a spectrum. And there’s room in your clean eating approach for a variety of foods—including some processed items that meet certain criteria.

In the real world of whirlwind schedules and limited time, you need to be realistic. Sometimes you have to rely on a nutrition bar, shake, snack, or other more acceptable processed food choices. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Moving to more whole foods and picking the right convenient options still mean your clean eating approach is working.

When you have to reach for processed snacks or meal replacements, look for these qualities:

  • Nutrient rich
  • Full of fiber
  • Packed with protein
  • Low in calories, low in added sugar, and—if possible—low on the glycemic index
  • Made with quality ingredients

This means you need to do a little research. Take a look at the nutrition facts panel and ingredients list to make the best choices.

And remember: making the better choice is always good enough. Choose progress over perfection. That means it’s OK to skip the fast food or potato chips in favor of a shake or nutrition bar that provides fiber and protein without a lot of extra sugar.

Start by Creating Your Clean Eating Meal Plan

If you’re sold on the benefits of clean eating, you don’t have to make the shift all at once. Fortunately, starting is the easy part.

As you begin making the shift towards clean eating, start with small changes. In each meal, try to identify one processed food that you could replace with a whole-food counterpart. If, for instance, you typically make sandwiches on white bread, try using whole-grain bread instead. If you eat cereal for breakfast every morning, try steel-cut oats instead. For snacks, see if you can stick to fresh fruit, vegetables, and lightly roasted nuts.

If you typically cook your meals from scratch, follow a similar process. You have total control over the ingredients, so it’s just a matter of choosing the right ones.

As you make these substitutions and small changes, you’ll figure out what works best for you. Your grocery list will gradually develop to include whole foods. And remember, clean eating looks different for everyone. So figure out what you like by exploring different ingredients and cuisines. Then make favorite meals the cornerstones of your weekly clean eating meal prep.

At the most basic level, traditional Chinese nutrition is all about balance. It starts with the importance of finding a daily balance of flavors (sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, and salty) and thermal properties (cold vs hot). The philosophy extends even to the choice of each ingredient, which plays an important role in this balance, as well. Herbs, for example, are not viewed as a simple seasoning or addon, but as a way of balancing an entire meal.

The balancing act of traditional Chinese nutrition has been going strong for centuries. Long before modern medicine and clinical trials, knowledge about healthcare was formed over generations by individuals testing what was available to them. When a food or ingredient proved beneficial, that knowledge was passed onto the next generation.

This combination of balance and a long history of health benefits explain why tea, ginseng, mushrooms, ginger, and more play such a large role in traditional Chinese nutrition. Modern research and knowledge about the chemical compounds in these foods expands on these benefits and further exposes the underlying reasons why they are seen as beneficial.

You can take advantage of this deliciously healthy mix of traditional Chinese nutrition and scientific exploration in your kitchen. Read on to learn more about the benefits of several foods important in traditional Chinese nutrition and how you can incorporate them into your modern life.

Tea

All teas (white, green, black, oolong, and others) are ultimately derived from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. So whatever you are steeping or sipping is differentiated by the way the plant is grown and the method of leaf preparation. Green and white tea, unlike black and oolong tea, are not fermented, so many of the plant’s active constituents remain intact.

Tea plays an interesting role in balance for traditional Chinese nutrition, because it can fit on both sides of the thermal spectrum. Green tea is thermally considered cold and would be the choice for the warmer spring and summer seasons. Black tea, meanwhile, is warm and considered perfect for cold climates. In some Chinese populations, consumption of tea amounts to several cups per day.

Whether hot or cold, tea has long been used as a stimulant in Chinese culture. Now through modern analytical techniques, the caffeine content of tea can be measured. That allows you to better understand how many cups you’d like to drink—or at what time you should partake. As a general rule of thumb, your typical cup of green tea 30-70 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. Black teas, on the other hand, range from 45 mg to 90 mg.

Caffeine isn’t the only compound in tea researchers have quantified. Many phytonutrients have also been discovered. In fact, green tea is a rich source of catechins, a class of bioflavonoid compounds with strong antioxidant potential. The green tea catechins with the highest antioxidant activity are epigallocatechin-3-gallate, epicatechin-3-gallate, epigallocatechin and epicatechin.

It’s fairly easy to incorporate the caffeine and catechins of tea into your life. You may already be drinking it—many people around the world do. But if you’re a coffee person, replace a cup with green or black tea. For those sensitive to caffeine, go with a decaffeinated black tea. Herbal teas don’t actual contain the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, so—while they’re a delicious and healthy drink—they don’t provide the benefits seen from traditional Chinese nutrition’s most beloved beverage.

Ginseng

Ginseng was used in China and throughout much of eastern Asia as a warming herb that also helped invigorate Qi—or life force. Qi can be measured in several different ways, but is generally thought of as the total vital energy within a person.

Ginseng’s reputed role in Qi is backed up by modern clinical studies on this herb. And those are mainly tied to compounds in ginseng called ginsenosides.

Ginsenosides can help support healthy nervous system function through protection from oxidative stress. The compounds have also been shown to support cognitive function, specifically in psychomotor performance. Actions that involve cognitive function and physical movement, like playing a musical instrument, rely on psychomotor performance.

You can experience the support of ginseng’s ginsenosides in many ways. Traditional Chinese nutrition uses ginseng steeped in water to create a kind of tea. You can also use ginseng as an addition to a variety of tasty soups.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese cooking for hundreds of years as a way of optimizing Qi and supporting the immune system. Even in the modern Chinese diet, mushrooms highlight Chinese dishes that are eaten every single day. You can also find mushroom in teas and supplements.

Their widespread use is about more than the fungi’s ability to soak up flavors and provide umami. Mushrooms support your health by adding essential vitamins and minerals to your diet. Recent research goes further and shows mushrooms also contain beneficial compounds that aren’t found in many other foods. One of these is a polysaccharide (complex sugar) called beta-glucan.

Clinical studies show that supplementing with mushrooms that contain beta-glucan provides support for an already healthy immune system and overall daily wellness. Reishi, shiitake, maitake, and turkey tail are mushrooms known to contain health-supporting beta-glucans.

Mushrooms might already be a staple of stir-fry dishes and many other meals with a Chinese flare. So eating more mushrooms might just be a matter of more committed meal planning. Select the versatile shiitake for inclusion in soups, breakfast scrambles, and a variety of different pasta dishes.

Ginger

Due to its spicy taste, ginger is considered a warming food in traditional Chinese nutrition. Ginger’s kick of heat comes from a single phytochemical called gingerol. Modern research has revealed gingerol’s antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.

In addition to being a warming food, ginger also has a long history of use for supporting digestion and maintaining digestive comfort. Today, ginger is used as a seasoning in many popular foods, and it’s found in many herbal teas where it continues to be used for digestive support.

You can add ginger to a variety of stir-fry dishes, soups, stews, curries, or other Asian dishes. Stock up on the ground spice or full root to have everything you need to spice up your diet and support your health with this staple of traditional Chinese nutrition.

Start Incorporating Traditional Chinese Nutrition in Your Life Today

The above foods aren’t an all-inclusive list of ingredients that are important in traditional Chinese nutrition. Garlic, congee, goji berries, rhodiola, walnuts, and many other foods may play roles in helping support your individual health needs.

Some ingredients might already be favorites of your family’s dinner table. But more experimentation with these foods can yield a variety of delicious, healthy meals. By using them as a part of your daily diet, you can take advantage of traditional Chinese nutrition and mix the ingredients in a way that can also help support your overall macronutrient, vitamin, and mineral requirements, too.

Spicing up your weekly meal plan with elements of traditional Chinese nutrition is a wonderful way to vary your diet, explore new cuisines, and help your health along the way.

If you’ve ever seen a master chef taste food, there’s a good chance you were a little mystified. Can they really taste all of that in a single bite? It’s like they’re pulling a rabbit from a hat. Not even the subtlest flavors elude their palates. Experienced chefs can taste each flavor with an acuteness that allows them to create subtle, delicious combinations.

Most people tend to write this off as natural talent. And some of it certainly is. But, as it turns out, everyone—and that means you—can train their palate to be more sensitive and perceptive. Like most things in life, it just takes a little practice.

Here’s the good news: expanding and improving your palate is a straightforward, rewarding process. And you can start your journey towards a more flavorful life today!

Why Bother? The Benefits of Expanding Your Palate (And Improving it, Too)

To improve your palate, it helps to be adventurous (more on that concept to come). But expanding your palate doesn’t have to be an intensive, laborious process—you can put as much or as little into it as you like. Still, you might have one question upfront: why bother at all? Most people like food, and are perfectly happy sticking to their established culinary routines. They cook and eat the same select foods, taste the same flavors, and, at the end of the day, enjoy themselves.

So if it’s not broken, why fix it, right?

Listen to any chef talk about food for two minutes and you’ll have your answer. They’ve worked to improve and expand their tasting experiences and abilities. And to the trained palate, a meal becomes more than just a meal—there’s a connection to the food that wasn’t there before. That connection can open the door to a world of deliberate, mindful, and, yes, healthy eating.

Sold? Good. Let’s get into some palate development tips.

Improving Your Palate Starts With the Basics: The Five Building Blocks of Flavor

As you expand and train your palate, you are, in a sense, learning a new skill. And as with any new skill, it’s best to start with the basics. (Walk before you run, right?)

Your body can detect five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. Before exploring the ways these tastes interact to create complex, satisfying flavors, you should be able to identify each on its own. The first four are pretty straightforward, but umami can be tricky to pin down. The term umami comes from the Japanese word for “savory” and is used to describe the savory flavor found in meat, mushrooms, and broth.

Think of your sense of taste like a muscle: the more you try to pick out individual tastes, the better at it you’ll become. So next time you drink a cup of coffee, slow down a bit. Let it sit on your tongue. What do you taste? Obviously, it’s going to taste bitter. But what else can you detect? There might be a slight sourness, too.

Do the same when you eat fruit. The predominant taste may be sweet, but you’ll likely notice other flavors, too. Is it slightly sour? Bitter? As you practice picking these basic flavors out, you’ll start to get a sense for the way they combine and complement one another.

Follow Your Nose—Or At Least Use It

Most people associate taste directly with the tongue. It is, after all, where your taste buds are located. That being said, your taste buds are actually pretty limited in their sensory capabilities—they can detect the five basic tastes, but not much else.

Your nose, on the other hand, can detect somewhere between 10,000 and 1 trillion unique scents. As you eat, your senses of taste and smell combine to create a single experience of “flavor.”

And when it comes to improving your palate, your nose is just as important as your mouth. Before eating (or drinking), give yourself time to sit with the aromas. What elements of the dish can you pick out using just your sense of smell? By identifying these smells, you’re priming the pump so when you do finally eat the food, your attention to smell will help enhance your experience of the food’s flavor. 

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: Improving Your Palate With Exploration

One of the easiest—and most crucial—ways to improve your palate is simply expanding the variety of foods you eat. If you’re a creature of habit at the grocery store and in the kitchen, it might be time to break the cycle.

This doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a pound of lutefisk the first chance you get. Start small. If you typically stick to “safe” greens like iceberg and romaine lettuce, pick up some beet greens, kale, and chard. And just like that, you’ve transformed the flavor profile of tonight’s salad.

Another great way to explore new flavors is by diving into the cooking traditions of countries and cultures that are different from yours. The world is full of diverse, delicious flavors—there’s no reason you need to stick to the ones you are comfortable with. As you dip your toes into various global cuisines, it’s OK to start by eating at restaurants. When you find new dishes and flavors you love, you can then try replicating (and tweaking!) them in your kitchen.

You might be surprised by the familiar ingredients that go into unfamiliar dishes. Something as simple as a potato—which is typically prepared with salt and other basic seasonings in the U.S.—can be transformed into a vessel for myriad herbs and spices in, say, aloo gobi, a popular dish in Indian cuisine. So go out and buy a new cookbook or subscribe to a new food blog—there’s a world of flavors out there waiting!

Remember: you don’t have to like everything. Part of exploration is discovering the flavors and foods you don’t enjoy.

Hit the Reset Button With Palate Cleansers

Flavors linger in the mouth—some more than others. (Think onions, garlic, and other pungent foods.) It’s a fact that’s ruined many a first kiss, and, as it turns out, your ability to detect subtle flavors. Residual tastes in the mouth can mix with new flavors, masking or altering the true flavor of whatever food you happen to be eating next.

Fortunately, there’s a quick solution to this problem: palate cleansers. These neutral-tasting foods help clear residual morsels off of the tongue and “reset” your palate. It’s the reason sushi comes with pickled ginger and why some swanky restaurants bring you sorbet between courses.

But let’s be honest, most people don’t have pickled ginger or sorbet on hand. Don’t worry, because you can use something as simple as a plain cracker, white bread, or a glass of water to cleanse your palate.

Keep Your Mouth Healthy

At this point, everyone is well aware of the health risks associated with cigarettes. But health risks aside, smoking cigarettes can also impact your ability to taste food.

According to one study, the relationship between smoking and reduced taste sensitivity is linear: the more you smoke, the less acute your sense of taste will become. The good news is that the damage to your taste receptors isn’t permanent. Within two months of quitting, most smokers see their sense of taste return to normal.

Smoking, of course, isn’t the only thing that can affect the sensitivity of your taste buds. You should also try to avoid excessively hot, salty, or sugary foods—all of which can dull your sense of taste.

Make Time for Food

Most of these tips and suggestions have built towards a common theme: slow down and really enjoy your food. Savor the moment. If you’re constantly eating on the go, working as you eat lunch, or watching TV during dinner, your attention is split. And good food deserves your full attention.

There’s a name for this practice: mindful eating. You’ve maybe heard of mindfulness in the context of meditation or mental health treatments. But you can also apply the practice to food!

Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present. What thoughts, feelings, and sensations are you experiencing? Acknowledge and accept each one. So what does this look like during a meal?

There are few steps you can take during each meal to make eating a more deliberate, mindful activity:

  • Express gratitude: First, take time to consider the labor, ingredients, and expertise that went into growing and preparing your meal. (This applies to home-cooked and restaurant meals.) A lot went into it—be sure to express your appreciation, even if it’s just internally.
  • Limit portion sizes: When delicious food is on the table, willpower crumbles. It’s tempting to dive right in and eat as much as you can as fast as you can. But ultimately, this takes away from the experience. Start with smaller portions and chew your food slowly and deliberately. You’ll be shocked at the way the flavors open up when you take your time. When you slow down, your body has more time to register how hungry or full you are, and you’ll likely need to eat less to feel satisfied.
  • Don’t come to the table hungry: OK, so this bullet point might be a little misleading. Obviously you should come to the table with an appetite—you want to be able to eat, after all. But you should try to avoid coming into a meal absolutely famished. If you’re ravenously hungry, it’ll be tough to slow down and appreciate the food. Try to find the balance of hungry but not too

What the Destination for Improving Your Palate Looks Like

Picture this: you set out to improve your palate a few months ago and have been gradually enjoying new foods, flavors, and experiences. What’s next? At what point is your palate fully “developed”?

That’s a trick question. Improving and expanding your palate is a never-ending process. As you develop, expand, and improve your palate, you’ll find there’s always more to try. It’s one of the joys of the process, but it can also be a bit imposing. So remember: take this journey on your own terms.

You might not become a master chef, and maybe you’ll always hate Brussels sprouts. At the end of the day, though, all that matters is that you’ve developed a new, exciting relationship to food and flavor.

There are two sides to every vegetable—raw and cooked. You might happily crunch on a bag of fresh baby carrots, but gag at the thought of eating one boiled. And it turns out, cooking isn’t just a matter of taste. People often think of cooking as a way to enhance the flavor of  food—and it is. But, as you prepare your food, you may also want to think about the effect of cooking on nutrients.

With the growing popularity of raw food diets, you’ve likely heard something along these lines: Raw vegetables are the most nutritious; when you cook veggies, you lose nutrients. The same is sometimes said of meat, eggs, and just about every other food group. It’s a plausible claim, but is it true?

The short answer is sometimes. But let’s dive into the long answer. The original question presents a simple binary: Raw vs. cooked. In reality, the situation is much more complicated. There is, after all, more than one way to cook a vegetable. And various nutrients respond differently to each cooking method.

A Quick Overview of Nutrients

Broadly speaking, you’ll find two types of nutrients in food: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the well-known trio of fats, carbs, and proteins. They’re the main components of your diet and supply the body with energy and building blocks.

Micronutrients, on the other hand, are needed in smaller amounts. (But don’t let this deceive you! Micronutrients are just as important to your health as macronutrients.) Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant compounds). These nutrients help regulate and maintain healthy reactions within your body on a cellular level.

Most studies looking into the effect of cooking on nutrients focus on micronutrients—specifically vitamins. And for the purposes of this article, that’s largely the focus, too.

There are two types of vitamins: fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K) and water soluble (vitamin C and the B vitamins). The difference is pretty straightforward. Vitamin C and the collection of B vitamins dissolve in water, whereas vitamins A, D, E, and K dissolve in fat. So what does this have to do with cooking?

Some cooking methods use water and others use fat. The solubility of a vitamin is one of the best indicators of how it will react to certain cooking methods. For instance, the quantity of vitamin C (a water soluble vitamin) in any given vegetable tends to decrease when that vegetable is boiled.

Solubility is a good starting point, but, of course, it gets more complicated. Let’s dig in.

The Effect of Cooking on Nutrients: What’s Happening on the Inside?

There’s no easy equation for choosing the best cooking method for nutrition. Not only do nutrients react differently to various types of cooking, but their reactions also vary across different types of vegetables. A boiled Brussels sprout, for example, loses some of its vitamin C. The levels of beta-carotene in chard, however, increase with cooking.

These variations are caused by the cellular structure of vegetables. Depending on where in the cell a nutrient is stored, cooking can do the following:

  • Make the nutrient more readily absorbed (as the cell wall softens)
  • Break down the nutrient itself
  • Kill off oxidizing agents that would otherwise reduce the quantity of that nutrient

Let’s revisit that initial claim: Cooking vegetables reduces their nutritional value. Clearly, this isn’t always the case. In instances where cooking softens the tissues of plant cells, certain vitamins are released, making extraction—and detection—easier. In other words, some vegetables become more vitamin-rich when cooked.

This means there are three factors to consider when looking at the effect of cooking on nutrition: the method of cooking, the vegetable being cooked, and the specific nutrient being measured.

Let’s take a look at several common vitamins to see how they respond to various cooking methods in a variety of vegetables.

Vitamin C

For most people, vitamin C brings citrus to mind—and the bright fruits are admittedly an excellent source of vitamin C. But you’re probably not cooking your oranges and lemons. The vegetables rich in vitamin C—think broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and spinach—are another story.

Boiling is one of the most popular ways to prepare broccoli and Brussels sprouts. But if you’re trying to get your daily vitamin C, you should opt for a different cooking method—one that doesn’t use water. Because vitamin C is water-soluble, it seeps out of the vegetables and into the water. And that water goes straight down the drain. (In many cases, boiling reduces the vitamin C content of vegetables by more than 50 percent!)

Vitamin C is also heat sensitive. Expose your vegetables to heat for too long and you’ll run into the same problem as boiling. So what does this mean for you and your kitchen habits?

There’s nothing wrong with boiling your broccoli—it’ll taste delicious—but if you’re trying to optimize vitamin C intake, you should choose a low heat, water-free cooking method. Think sautéing, microwaving, or, better yet, leave it raw.

Vitamin K

To remember the role of vitamin K in the body, remember the two Bs: blood and bones. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps support your body’s normal blood clotting processes and maintain healthy bones. Vitamin K is found primarily in leafy greens like spinach, chard, beet greens, and kale.

Vitamin K is less fickle than some other vitamins. Spinach, for example, retains most of its vitamin K content regardless of how you cook it. And most cooking methods will actually increase the levels of available vitamin K in chard.

If you’re trying to up your vitamin K intake, don’t give too much thought to your cooking method. Focus instead on what you’re eating your veggies with. Remember, vitamin K is fat soluble. Preparing those veggies with olive oil or another source of beneficial fats will help your body absorb the essential nutrient.

Beta-Carotene (Vitamin A)

Strictly speaking, beta-carotene is a phytonutrient (a plant compound), which the body then converts into vitamin A. This essential vitamin then helps support the immune system and optimizes healthy retinal function (hence the adage that carrots are good for the eyes).

Beta-carotene is what makes carrots orange, so it should come as no surprise that those crunchy root veggies are packed with phytonutrients. Raw carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, but when they’re cooked—especially boiled lightly or steamed—your body can absorb more of that important phytonutrient.

The same can be said for spinach and chard—both (slightly less) excellent sources of beta-carotene. When boiled, these leafy greens show increased levels of available beta-carotene. (This is caused, as you might have guessed, by the softening of cell walls.)

Vitamin E

Vitamin E helps support your body’s protections from threats. As a powerful antioxidant, it helps neutralize free radicals—highly reactive molecules that can be harmful to cells. Vitamin E also helps maintain your immune system. Long story short, it’s something you want to have in your body.

Root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc.) and leafy greens (spinach, chard, and the like) contain vitamin E. But that’s where the similarities end.

No matter how you cook root vegetables, their levels of vitamin E will always decrease. That’s kind of a bummer, because who likes to eat raw potato? Leafy greens, however, are the opposite. When leafy greens are cooked, the quantities of available vitamin E increase significantly. And by now you know why—the breakdown of the cell walls.

So if it’s vitamin E you’re after, skip the raw potatoes and go for cooked greens.

What About the Effect of Cooking on Nutrients in Meat?

Enough about vegetables, let’s get to the meat of the story. Cooking meat properly is notoriously difficult. At its best, meat is tender, flavorful, and free from bacteria. Prepared wrong and it’s, well, the opposite—bland and tough.

And when you take health and nutrition into account, cooking meat only becomes more complicated.

Although meat is rich in  B vitamins, exposing it to high temperatures for too long can greatly reduce the essential nutrients’ overall availability. Some of the B vitamins are lost in the juices that drip from the meat, but if you collect and serve that juice as part of the dish, you’ll have a tasty sauce and retain valuable nutrients! That’s a win-win situation.

Unfortunately, when cooking meat, your biggest concern shouldn’t be the nutrients you’re losing, but rather the substances you are creating (and then eating). When the fats and juices from meat come in contact with cooking surfaces at high temperatures, they create smoke.

That smoke can contain harmful chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which becomes part of your food. To minimize your intake of PAHs and HCAs, avoid grilling and searing your meat. Instead opt for baking or broiling—both of which can have delicious results!

To Boil or Bake: Selecting the Best Cooking Method for Nutrition

If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s this: when it comes to cooking and nutrition, there isn’t an easy answer. Is raw better than cooked? Sometimes. It depends on what you’re cooking, how you’re cooking it, and the nutrient you’re measuring.

To ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need, eat a variety of vegetables prepared in a variety of ways. This approach will delight your taste buds, too.