Tag Archive for: healthy eating

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.


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 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 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.


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.

Your gut isn’t shy about letting you know when you’ve wronged it. The signs of strife can pop up anywhere along the digestive tract. Absent of obvious chaos, your level of digestive health may remain a bit of a mystery. If it’s working right, you might not notice. The nine-question digestive health quiz will paint a more vivid picture of your gastrointestinal wellness.

The dietary and lifestyle decisions you make shape your gut health. So the questions in this digestive health check will primarily focus on what you’re eating. Unless you keep a food journal, it may be hard to be completely accurate. That’s OK. Think about what you’ve eaten on an average day or week in the last month.

After the quiz, you’ll be able to see your score. You’ll also find extra information about what impacts your score and tips to help optimize your digestive health.


The first part of the digestive story receives the most fawning attention. Everyone likes a beginning, and eating is a winning topic. The grinding, churning breakdown of digestion makes for an industrial middle section. Then there’s the end. “Waste is expelled.”

But everyone is a digestive magician whose failsafe trick is turning delicious food into poop. It’s normal. It’s essential. And it’s time the finale of the digestive story had its moment—it’s time to talk about what your poop means and what your poop says about your health.

Don’t cower from this poop talk or think yourself uncouth for your interest in the topic. Don’t hold it against yourself or scold your inner child for giggling. By the end, you’ll see that poop is important—if a little gross—to consider and discuss. You can handle the types of stool and what poop color means.

Poop can be a funny word, an uncivilized topic, and a key to understanding your health—all at once.

Look to the Large Intestine for Keys to Understanding What Your Poop Means

Poop is formed from the solid parts of food your body can’t absorb or use in another way. It’s purely waste—the scatological leftovers—collected and compressed in your large intestine.

And your colon is a great starting place for this indelicate discussion. That’s because various stool types and what your poop says about your health begins in the large intestine. Many of the factors broken down below have their origins here.

Before proceeding further, let’s explore a bit more about what makes up your poop. No matter the consistency, poop contains a lot of water—approximately 75 percent. You’ll also find undigested matter, which mainly means fiber. Stool also contains:

  • live and dead bacteria
  • intestinal mucus
  • proteins and fats
  • salts
  • a variety of other cells and discarded cell parts

This mashup of your body’s trash collects in your large intestine. It solidifies the longer the mixture stays here because water is absorbed through the large intestine.

When it’s time to go, your defecation reflex starts. The literal movement of your bowels is driven by peristalsis. These muscle contractions in the rectum, like those along the digestive conveyor belt, initiate the final act of digestion.

During your follow-up work in the bathroom, a lot of questions can pop up. The biggest one seems to be, “Is that normal?” People don’t regularly—no pun intended—talk about what their usual stool is like, so comparison is hard to come by.

That being said, you can look at the characteristics below and better understand what your poop means. The information you’ll receive from your own quick stool study won’t be medical quality, but it can begin to illuminate what your poop says about your health.

What Stool Color Means

The color palate of your poop should exist in shades of brown. The exact variations and hues are determined mostly by the raw materials of your diet.

The leftovers will look a lot like what you ate, so the exact color can change day by day. More leafy greens one day will add a touch of green. Beets can produce a shocking red. But brown remains dominant because that’s the color of used up digestive enzymes, bile, and bilirubin.

Divergences in poop color that are unexplained by your diet may be signals from your body. Here’s an explanation for what stool color means:

  • Black: Some iron supplements and copious amounts of black licorice could be the culprit. Outside of those explanations, black poop is a serious matter to bring to your doctor’s attention. It can mean bleeding is happening in your upper intestinal tract.
  • Red: Your first thought is blood. And, in the absence of red foods, you’re probably right. But, unlike black poop, the bleeding is happening later in the process—in the large intestine or rectum.
  • Really Green: If you skipped the spinach and still have very green poop, the issue lies with bile. Your body hasn’t had time to fully utilize and dismantle the bile before your bathroom break. That suggests your food’s cruise down the digestive highway is happening at higher-than-normal speeds.
  • Grey/White: Green means too much bile leftover, and grey or white is the opposite. This coloration may mean inadequate bile supplies earlier in the digestive process. Talk to your doctor about reasons this may be consistently happening.
  • Yellow: Fat is typically at fault for yellow-colored poop. If this is a persistent problem, you can talk to a health-care professional about potential absorption issues.

Fecal Firmness and Texture Tell You a Lot

You can feel when something is off about the firmness and texture of your poop.

Ideally, your stool is smooth, firm, soft—but not too soft—and passes without issue. Think of this as the center of a continuum. The further your feces strays from that middle point in either direction, the less healthy it is.

Moving left and away from the center, the stool types grow increasingly lumpy and firm. Some lumpiness is OK. The far-left side of the spectrum is poop that’s like hard, little, problematic pebbles.

The opposite is true for the far-right side of the stool spectrum. The further you go, the softer it becomes—ultimately hitting diarrhea at the extreme right end. A little softness in the stool is still accepted as healthy, but once you start seeing cloud-like pieces with ragged edges, you may be on the way to diarrhea.

There’s a lot of space between pebbly feces and a smooth stool, as well as diarrhea and the perfectly formed poop. Your bowel movements can and will slide along the spectrum depending on your diet and daily blips in digestive health.

Time spent in the colon is responsible for a lot of differences in texture and firmness. Poop hardens up when it spends too much time there, but it gets softer the faster it moves through.

This speed can tell you a bit about what’s going on in your digestive health. Hard, pebble-like stool signals constipation and might also be a sign of dehydration or a lack of fiber. On the other side, diarrhea is your body’s way of quickly ridding itself of unwanted items. Those can include bacteria, viruses, and foods it doesn’t easily tolerate.

Bigger digestive issues can be tied to the extremes of the stool spectrum. If issues persist, consult with your health-care provider.

Judging Your Bowel Movement’s Buoyancy

Unlike color or texture, buoyancy is simple, with no spectrums or charts. There are only two options—sink or float.

You want your poop to sink in the toilet bowl. That’s a sign of good density. It also means your stool doesn’t contain too much fat.

If your poop floats, you may consider cutting back on fat in your diet. Consistent floating issues after a dietary change might mean your body is having trouble absorbing fat—another point of discussion with your doctor.

What Your Poop Says About Your Health if There are Visible Food Particles

Don’t worry too much if you can identify some of the fibrous parts of your diet in your poop. Fiber isn’t able to be digested fully, and the insoluble sort may not change much on the digestive journey.

You can help your guts out by chewing your food better to give digestion an adequate head start. Breaking up fiber-rich vegetables in your mouth won’t make the indigestible parts break down fully. But it will at least make the end of the process less alarming.

Your Last Two Poop Properties to Consider: Size and Smell

No two poops are the same in size. If you eat more, you’ll poop a bit more—whether more frequently or in larger quantities.

It’s normal to poop up to three times a day and as infrequently as every couple of days. And your round, smooth-but-solid stools are ideally a few inches (several centimeters) each. The small, hard pebbles aren’t what you want. But if it’s a bit bigger, that’s not problematic in and of itself—especially if it was easy to pass.

Then there’s smell.

If your poop actually smells like flowers, that would be more abnormal than a bit of unpleasant odor. Poop stinks. And that’s because bacterial breakdown of food is a smelly business. But if the odor is often extremely pungent—to the point where you can’t stand it—you may want to check with your doctor about a potential infection or digestive issue.

A Few Words About Urine

While body waste is at the top of your mind, you might also wonder about urine. It’s another way your body is emptying the garbage. You can learn something about your health from your urine, too.

Pee color is often the first and best signal for hydration status. Properly hydrated people have pale, straw-colored urine. The darker the shade of yellow, the more water you need to start drinking.

Some vitamins may also impact the color of urine, turning it a brighter, more golden color. Medications and food coloration (including natural pigments or synthetic dyes) can make your urine blue, green, or brown. Red or pink urine could also be food related, but blood is often to blame. See your doctor if bloody urine persists outside of dietary factors.

Your pee can also smell different, depending on the balance of waste products and water in urine. If you haven’t eaten asparagus and your pee consistently and persistently smells strong and odd, it might warrant a conversation with a health-care professional.

Don’t Waste an Opportunity to Keep an Eye on Your Health

People’s trash tells interesting stories. You can learn a lot. Poop is your body taking out the garbage, and there’s much to glean from the types of stool you have. So stop shortchanging the end of the digestive story and pay a bit more attention to what your poop says about your health and your lifestyle.

But it’s easy to overreact to a peculiar poop. Your strange stool might have you rushing to the internet to dabble in self-diagnosis. Don’t do it.

What your poop says about your health is worth paying attention to. But clear signals tend to bear out in the long-term more than on a single occurrence. You should immediately address bleeding or black stool, and quickly deal with diarrhea or constipation. Other indications about what your poop means may change as quickly as the calendar flips from day to day, though.

If you’re looking for positive poop interventions, start with your diet and lifestyle. Changes in diet can upend your fecal expectations. Switching to a higher-fiber diet will make an impact you’ll see in the toilet bowl quickly. Same goes for lowering your fat intake. Other lifestyle tweaks to form more perfect poops include healthy hydration, regular exercise, and supporting a balanced microbiome.














Usually you can ignore the snack drawer. At a certain point in the day, though, those little treats start creeping into your mind. An hour later, the snacks summon you, pulling you closer like a tractor beam. When that happens, your best hope to avoid dietary disaster is learning smarter snacking concepts. That includes planning, learning how to snack smarter, and understanding what makes a snack healthy.

When you add up each of the eight key concepts below, you’ll have a base of practical knowledge about how to snack smarter. Follow along and you’ll start turning to healthy snacks in no time.

Smarter Snacking Has a Purpose

Purposeful action yields better results than an improvisational approach. Smarter snacking is no different. You don’t have to bounce from craving to craving.

Instead, learning how to snack smarter starts with your purpose for eating between meals. Consider your daily schedule to ascertain physical- and mental-energy needs. Is a snack required to prepare for a workout or recover after? Answering these kinds of questions lends purpose and direction to help you achieve smarter snacking.

Understand Your Snack Sensations

Part of identifying the purpose of snacking is examining your hunger. What’s making you want to eat? Are you hungry or is something else driving your urge—thirst, boredom, or an emotional response?

Thirst can easily be mistaken for the sensation of hunger. A glass of water may be all you need. If your craving is led by emotion or boredom, try an activity—walk, ride a bike, or do a home workout. After all that, if your body really needs calories or nutrition, focus on finding a healthy snack with skills you’ll learn below.

Think of Snacking as a Chance to Add More Nutrients

Once you grasp the purpose and understand your urge to eat, it’s time to think about what to snack on. The best advice starts not with a list of acceptable foods, but with a mentality to take into your smarter snacking.

Here it is: snacking is a nutritional opportunity, not just about satisfying a craving.

That means seeing your snack as a way take in more essential and beneficial nutrients. Use your snack to add fiber, plant-based fat, protein, specific micronutrients, prebiotics, probiotics, or water-rich foods to your daily diet. Start reframing snacking from chasing comforting flavors to gaining a nutritional leg-up.

How to Snack Smarter? Stay as Close to Whole Foods as Possible

Whole foods—especially fruits and vegetables—are key components of a healthy diet. Those same whole foods are also the bedrock of smarter snacking.

What makes a snack healthy can be as simple as its closeness to whole foods. An apple and some almonds? Those whole foods are absolutely healthy snacks. Spreading almond butter on apple slices instead is still good because you’ve stayed close to the original foods.

Seeing how far your snack has shifted from its whole-food origins can help you easily identify the healthy snacks to target.

Minimize Overly Processed Foods, Sugar, and Sodium

Stick close to whole foods helps avoid a lot of the pitfalls of overly processed snacks. But foods that are heavily processed often contain more fat, sugar, and sodium than you need—even though they’re convenient. And the calories these options pack also comes without much in the way of fiber or essential nutrients.

If whole foods aren’t available or easy to snack on—because ease is key when a snack attack happens—you can opt for minimally processed foods. Good options exist. You’ll recognize them by their simple ingredients and minimal sugar, low sodium, and no trans fats in the nutrition facts.

Fiber is the Friend of Smart Snackers

A simple and accurate answer to “what makes a snack healthy” could be one word—fiber. Whole fruits, vegetables, and grains have plenty of these key complex carbohydrates. And that fiber does so much for your body:

  • Helps support satiety (feeling full for longer)
  • Optimizes healthy digestion
  • Acts as a prebiotic to support a healthy gut microbiome
  • Plays a role in helping maintain heart health

There’s a lot more fiber benefits. But you already have an idea about the importance of including complex carb as part of your smarter snacking approach.

Keep Snacks in the Context of Your Daily Diet

Your body doesn’t recognize snacks as separate from your regular meals. Food is food. Snacks are digested and shipped to the body just like breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Since there isn’t a special category for snack calories, you need to make sure they fit in your targeted calorie count for the day. Also pay attention to the amounts of macronutrients—fat, protein, and carbs—in your snacks.

Putting your snacks into your daily calorie and macronutrient counts keeps them in the right context—an important step when learning how to snack smarter.

Plan for Smarter Snacking Success by Budgeting

You know how many calories you need for your weight-management and lifestyle goals. (If you don’t there are resources to help.) And you already know you don’t want snacking to burst your caloric bubble.

That’s where you snack budget comes in. The concept piggybacks off of the advice above to put your snacks in the context of your full daily diet. It can help you plan out snacks before you hit the point where you’re ready to eat anything within reach. Proper planning—that’s easy to execute—will set you up for healthy, helpful snacking.

If you paid attention to the previous concepts, you won’t be surprised by the considerations for building a snack budget. Here’s what you should ask:

  • How many calories are available to allocate to snacks throughout the day?
  • What’s the amount of fiber, fat, and protein in the snacks compared to daily requirements or goals?
  • How many times a day do feel like a purposeful, healthy snack could be useful?
  • When is the best time to snack to optimize their impact?

With these answers, you’ll know your needs and you can start picking foods that fit into your daily budget. Making snacks part of your meal planning helps you scheme out your snacks for a week at a time, if you want.

Knowing How to Snack Smarter is Only Half the Battle

Turning what you’ve learned from these smarter snacking concepts into action is the next step. Fair warning: it can be a battle against your habits and cravings.

But you have the power to shift a potentially unhealthy habit into a powerful propellant toward your wellness goals. Start by understanding your needs, planning out your snacks, and identifying healthy options to reach for when cravings hit.

The last thing to remember is that—like developing any healthy habit—smarter snacking is a process. Don’t beat yourself up if a potato chip or two sneaks in now and then. Value the progress you make and you’ll learn to love eating healthy snacks.

Each glass of water fills up your tank—lifting you closer to levels of healthy hydration. You knew that, though. And you’re likely familiar with the benefits of proper hydration. That’s why you’re counting ounces, glasses, or bottlefuls. The connections between hydration and health run deeper than you may have previously even thought, though.

There are many well-known hydration benefits, including:

  • Maintaining healthy fluid and key electrolyte balance
  • Supporting skin health
  • Helping maintain healthy saliva production
  • Aiding in optimal digestion
  • Maintaining kidney health
  • Supporting proper elimination of waste
  • Playing a role in optimal nutrient absorption
  • Maintaining joint health
  • Supporting healthy temperature regulation (through water’s role in sweating)
  • Helping maintain the health of your blood supply

That’s an impressive list of important, wide-ranging benefits of proper hydration. But that’s only the beginning of what healthy hydration can mean for your overall wellness. Pour a tall glass of water, and dive into the exciting—and sometimes surprising—connections between hydration and health.

Healthy Hydration Levels Help Optimize Weight-Management Efforts

Water is heavy. And it makes up a significant portion of your body weight. That’s why boxers sweat off pounds before weighing in.

While you might not want to drink a liter of water before jumping on the scale, maintaining proper hydration is good for your long-term weight-management goals. Study after study strengthens the case for many weight-related benefits of proper hydration. And it can make an impact on the number you see on the scale in a few ways.

The first is satiety. Water makes you feel full. Researchers have found drinking water before meals—30 minutes prior seems to be the best timing—helps you eat fewer calories. And consuming fewer calories drives progress toward weight-management goals.

Second, thirst is often mistaken for hunger. This error can lead people to snack when they are really just thirsty. Staying properly hydrated—drinking water before you’re thirsty—will help you avoid a calorie-intensive mistake.

Drinking enough water may help support the maintenance of a healthy metabolic rate, too. Studies show ties between water intake and calorie burning. Part of this has been attributed to the thermogenic effort needed to heat water to match the temperature of the body. Other studies have also established connections between hydration levels and maintaining proper metabolism of stored fat.

Lastly, water is a zero-calorie beverages choice. Shunning sugary juice or soda when you’re thirsty is weight management 101. That’s because it’s effective to opt for zero-calorie water to help reduce energy intake, which adds up in your favor throughout the day.

Understanding the Fluid Dynamics of Hydration and Mood

You know food and mood go hand in hand. Think of the last time you skipped a meal and started feeling hangry (being angry because of hunger).

The mood-crushing implications of thirst don’t have a buzzword. That doesn’t make them any less real. Improper hydration—even to a mild degree—can ravage a perfectly fine afternoon with down moods, feeling anxious, irritability, and frayed nerves.

Like much of mood, your body’s messengers (neurotransmitters and hormones) are partly responsible. Neurotransmitters require water for maintaining proper function and balance. Dopamine and serotonin are the two brain chemicals that seem most impacted by improper hydration.

Don’t forget about the hormones, though. A study found the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, is released when you aren’t properly hydrated. And having extra cortisol hanging around isn’t ideal for everything from weight management to memory.

Next time, when you start feeling the creep of a bad mood coming on, downing a glass of water may help wash it away.

The Benefits of Proper Hydration Also Encompass Normal Cognition and Concentration

Your brain is a vociferous consumer of calories. It also has quite a thirst for maintaining healthy hydration.

The need for water goes beyond basic brain-health maintenance. Drinking enough liquid can support your ability to complete tasks because it may help maintain healthy cognition and concentration.

Studies linked even mild dehydration—defined as a drop of about two percent in body weight, which can occur from completing everyday tasks—to several impacts. When healthy hydration isn’t maintained, focus and working memory can be affected. A more severe or prolonged water deficiency may become detrimental to reasoning and thinking.

Your brain doesn’t make you aware of your thirst just because it craves refreshment. It wants water for support—to help successfully accomplish the massive mental tasks you face daily.

Hydration and Energy: Drink Up to Support Physical Stamina and Exercise Performance

Staying hydrated helps your brain maintain its energy and focus to conquer your mental to-do list. Your body is also able to clear physical hurdles with the help of sustained healthy hydration.

You probably already associate water with physical exertion. It’s a glass of ice water after strenuous yard work or the water bottle you tote from machine to machine at the gym.

Staying hydrated during physical activity is important. But striving for optimal hydration throughout the day also provides big benefits. Healthy hydration can help maintain your energy levels and aid in the fight against lethargy. Sufficient fluid intake and eating enough water-rich foods supports your ability to have the physical stamina to thrive.

Muscles move your body. And your muscles are overwhelmingly water—about 80 percent. Researchers have found that water moving in and out of muscle cells plays a key role in muscle contraction. So, keeping yourself optimally hydrated supports healthy muscle function and performance.

The explanations connecting hydration and energy go all the way to the cellular level.

Cells in your muscles—and throughout your body—need water to maintain health, structure, and optimal energy production. Healthy hydration sets up all your cells up for success by helping support the conversion of food into cellular energy (ATP). This fuel helps you crank through your busy days and have enough in the tank for exercise.

And your performance during those workouts is also tied to staying properly hydrated. Exercising requires a whole lot of muscle contractions. So water’s essential role in the mechanisms of this key muscular process make hydration and exercise inextricably linked.

Muscles are only part of the exercise puzzle, though. Movements during your routine also rely on many of your joints. And optimal hydration helps support joint health. Your joints are cushioned by fluid after all.

The problem with hydration and exercise is sweat, which is primarily made from water and salt. When working out, you can lose up to 10 percent of your body’s water weight through your skin. That’s why sports medicine organizations suggest drinking two glasses of water (about a half liter) before your workout and continuing to hydrate early and frequently throughout. This will help you maintain your energy level, support muscle activity, and optimize exercise performance.

Put the Benefits of Proper Hydration to Work for Your Health

Talking about food eats up a lot of energy in the health-and-wellness world. Diet is crucial for health, but it’s time to spare some headspace for healthy hydration.

The list of well-known benefits was long enough before tacking on weight, mood, cognition, and energy. But it’s undeniably impressive what simply downing enough fluids each day can do to help support your overall health. And it’s a much less complicated task than adhering to a diet.

No counting carbs or calories. No weighing portions. No avoiding this food one week and something else the next. Healthy hydration’s benefits can be felt by simply drinking water (plain is preferred) throughout the day.

Focus on the number of glasses, ounces, liters, or times you fill up your water bottle. Practice the bevy of tips out there for helping you manage optimal hydration easily. Do whatever works to maintain a healthy flow of water into your body, and to open the floodgates of the broad, health-supporting benefits of proper hydration.

You and a few friends sit down at your favorite restaurant, order appetizers and a meal, and enjoy each other’s company as you fill up on patatas bravas. Without realizing it, you’ve polish off your plate, sans any portion control whatsoever—over 1,200 calories consumed in half an hour, more if it was washed down with a soda.

Everyone’s been there, stewing in lack of self-control guilt after overeating. But cut yourself some slack—cultural shifts are some the biggest consumption culprits. Restaurant servings sizes have doubled, even tripled, over the last 25 years. This is contributing to a crushing calorie overload and soaring obesity rates.

A fast-food burger ordered in the early ‘90s would’ve weighed in around 4.5 ounces (about 128 grams). Today, that same burger sits at 8 oz. (about 227 grams). In turn, plates at home have become fuller to match the new norm. Preservative-packed prepackaged foods have also steadily become staples, replacing home-cooked meals.

The world is seeing steady increases in average calorie consumption. But you can reverse the trend in your own life with easy, effective planning. Savor your meals, without the guilt, using portion control science.

Weighing the Portion Control Benefits

Why is portion control important? It helps you manage overall caloric intake while ensuring you feed your body the right types of macro and micronutrients. Whether you have a weight-loss goal, want to adjust your BMI, or aspire to maintain a healthy weight, your body will appreciate the beneficial nutrients you may otherwise miss. Your wallet will thank you, too, since every ingredient will go further. And you can say goodbye to mindless munching straight from the package.

The importance of portion control extends to your gut. Too-large portions may cause indigestion and discomfort. If you feel cramped or bloated after a big meal, overeating could be to blame. Measuring out meals will leave you feeling refreshed, content, and energized after eating—defeating the dreaded “post-lunch brain fog” once and for all.

Beyond belly imbalance, a calorie surplus (consuming more calories than your body can burn) has been shown to contribute to overall weight gain, even in active adults and athletes. With the exception of pure protein, overfeeding tends to have a negative effect on body composition, resulting in increased body weight or fat mass.

Eating for Your Body Type and Activity Level

Making portion control science work looks a bit different from person to person. Your genetics and lifestyle play a major part in the amounts and types of nutrients you should eat. Start by determining your body type—endomorph, ectomorph, or mesomorph. This will help define your macronutrient ratio—protein, fat, and carbohydrates—and whether you should err on the side of more or fewer calories on an average day.

Know Your Nutrients

The more you know about nutrients, the easier it is to design a diet that fits your needs and goals. Learn more about macro and micronutrients today.

The next step is inputting your height, weight, and a few other stats into a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) calculator. BMR calculators offer a rough estimate of the energy your body currently expends in a neutral environment (like binge-watching an entire season of your favorite TV show). Factor in your activity level and add in any of your energy-burning hobbies. Here are a few common activities measured out in 30-minute increments by Harvard Health Publishing for a 155-pound person:

  • 112 calories for general weightlifting
  • 130 calories for golf (with a cart)
  • 167 calories for walking at a 3.5 mph average
  • 223 calories using a stair-stepper
  • 260 calories for low-impact aerobics
  • 298 calories for general circuit training

Combine your BMR, general activity level, and all the motions you make to determine the average number of calories you should aim to consume in a day.

Master Your Meal Plan

You’ve done the math. Now it’s time for the exciting part: making your own personalized portion control guide. Determine the nutritional content of your favorite foods and ingredients, and read the nutrition facts label found on packaged goods. Pay special attention to the serving size—it will surprise you how microscopic the recommended portions can be on many processed foods. For home cooking, a kitchen scale could be a new staple for fast, accurate ingredient measurements.

While your body type will guide you towards the right type of diet, you can’t go wrong with the “golden ratio” of macronutrients. On average, half your plate should be vegetables, a quarter of protein, a quarter of complex carbohydrates, and a dash of healthy fats. Eating within these parameters ensures plenty of satisfying fiber and a range of phytonutrients and other micronutrients that simply aren’t available in a take-n’-bake pizza. Plus, veggies tend to be lower in calories compared to protein-rich foods, while healthy fats tend to be calorie-dense. This means your meals will still be hearty, even when measuring out portions.

The right ratios don’t have to be boring. In fact, eating a varied diet contributes to gut diversity and is a predicator for a healthier heart and weight range. Challenge yourself to try fruits and vegetables from every color of the rainbow and you’ll enjoy great flavors and beneficial compounds in no time.

The Practice of Portion Control

The importance of portion control becomes less meaningful when it isn’t practiced consistently. Make perfectly measured meals a habit with these tips:

Portion Control Tips

  • Use smaller plates. It’s the simplest, and most effective, method of portion control. Studies show people eat less—or more—depending on their dishware dimensions, regardless of how hungry they were to start.
  • Meal prep during the week. Measuring, cooking, and storing a week’s worth of meals ultimately saves time, allows you to eat on the go, and ensures you stay on track—even on your busiest days.
  • Give yourself a hand. When a scale isn’t available, your hand makes for a solid portion control guide. Protein portions should be about the size of your palm, carbs sized to a clenched fist, and fats portioned to the size of your thumb.
  • Drink a tall glass of water before each meal to help trigger your stomach to signal fullness. Actually, you should aim to stay hydrated all the time—a win-win for your overall health and portion-control goals.
  • Eat purposefully. It can take 20 minutes or longer for your stomach to signal feelings of fullness to your brain. Take your time with each bite, appreciating the textures and flavors. And put down the smartphone at the dinner table to avoid the risk of distracted overeating. (And because it’s rude, of course.)
  • Enjoy healthy, whole-food snacks like almonds, apples, or celery sticks with hummus dip between meals. Utilize the glycemic index to shop for low-glycemic foods—a satisfying way to silence tummy rumbles.
  • Split the meal when eating out, or ask for a half serving. Even if you tell yourself to be extra-vigilant as you order, it’s too easy to overdo it with often-exaggerated portions. At the very least, secure a to-go box at the same time as your food is delivered and divide out your leftovers. Peruse the menu for lighter fare or lunch options—they offer healthier choices and classic meals in smaller portions.
  • Make less mean more. Intermittent fasting is a popular eating option that simplifies eating by condensing your caloric intake into fewer meals. It’s also shown to decrease fat and maintain energy levels.
  • Keep a journal. Jotting down what and how much you eat every day, as well as including brief notes on your daily reactions, can help paint a picture of how nutrition affects your life. Look for trends, and bring up your thoughts with a trusted nutritionist.
  • Ensure enough quality sleep to help regulate hormones associated with hunger. A multitude of other physical and mental health benefits surround a sound night’s slumber.
  • Remove the temptation. Your environment strongly influences your behavior. You know yourself better than anyone, so address your weaknesses. If you often reach for a cola at 3:00 p.m., go for a walk at 2:55 p.m. instead.

Your hand makes for a perfect portion control guide.

Experience the Importance of Portion Control

Society may be eating more than ever before, but armed with the know-how—along with a little practice—you can reign in your dietary habits. You’ll save money, nourish your body with the right nutrients, and lose the overeating guilt. And the next time you visit your favorite go-to restaurant, drink a tall glass of water, portion out a to-go box, and enjoy every bite.

With the right mindset, it’s easy to make portion control science work for you.