Category Archives: Food

5 All-Natural Sweeteners That Are (Somewhat) Healthier Than Sugar

Have you noticed just how many foods at your local market are now labeled “natural”? According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 73% of shoppers seek out labels with this term (despite the fact that there’s no FDA standard to define it). All of this means that artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup are out—and a whole slew of natural alternatives have popped up in their place. Some are old-school favorites, like maple syrup; while others, like coconut sugar, are derived from familiar foods. Here’s the lowdown on five such sweeteners—including what’s unique about each one, and the best ways to use them in your kitchen.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup is still made the same way it has been for decades: by boiling sap from maple trees. The syrup can then be dried, powdered, and sold as maple sugar.

While maple syrup does contain some vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, the amounts in a typical serving are quite small. For example, one tablespoon provides about 1% of your daily needs for calcium, potassium, and iron. However, it does pack a solid amount of manganese—a mineral that helps produce collagen and promote skin and bone health—with 25% of your Daily Value.

When it comes to choosing a syrup, you might want to consider the color. Generally, syrup made earlier in the season tends to be lighter; while syrup produced at the end of the season, when sap flow slows, is darker. (That said, in some years, nearly all of a season’s crop may be light.) Dark syrups may have higher mineral and antioxidant levels.

Plus, darker syrups tend to have the strongest maple taste, which may help you use less. In fact, that’s another benefit of swapping maple syrup for white sugar: In recipes, you can use three-fourths as much. For example, if a recipe calls for a quarter cup of sugar (or four tablespoons), you can use three tablespoons of maple syrup instead.

Another trick I use is diluting syrup. I’ll swirl together a teaspoon each of maple syrup and water, add spices, like ginger and cinnamon; then drizzle it over foods like oatmeal, yams, baked fruit, or roasted carrots. You still get the distinct flavor and sweetness, but with just 4 grams of sugar and less than 20 calories.      

RELTATED: 5 Ways to Eat Less Sugar

Honey

Honey has been called the nectar of the gods, and used topically for centuries to heal wounds and fight infections. It also offers a number of other health benefits when ingested, as long as you don’t overdo it. This natural sweetener has been shown to possess small amounts of nutrients, antioxidants, and antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory compounds.

A University of Illinois study that analyzed honey samples from 14 different floral sources found that honey from buckwheat flowers packed 20 times the antioxidant punch as the kind produced from sage. While clover honey (which is probably the most commonly available type) scored in the middle of the antioxidant rankings.

Other research, from the University of California, Davis, found that daily consumption of buckwheat honey raised blood antioxidants levels. And a study from the University of Memphis found that athletes who ate honey had steadier blood sugar and insulin levels for a longer period of time, compared to consuming other carb sources.

I recommend buying raw, USDA Certified Organic honey whenever possible, to get the highest quality honey with minimal processing. It can also be sold in dried, powdered form.

As with maple syrup, you can use less liquid honey in recipes than sugar: Generally you can replace every tablespoon of sugar with a teaspoon of honey. (You may also need to adjust the amount of the other liquids, as well as the baking or cooking temperature.)

Just don’t adopt a “honey is good for me, so I can drizzle it on everything” mentality. One teaspoon provides about 20 calories and 5 to 6 grams of sugar.

I think honey is ideal for adding just a touch of sweetness to plain versions of foods, like yogurt and nut butter. It’s also great for jazzing up homemade dressings or marinades. For a simple stir-fry sauce, I like to whisk together a tablespoon each of brown rice vinegar and low sodium vegetable broth, a teaspoon of honey, a half teaspoon each of fresh grated ginger and minced garlic, and a pinch of crushed red pepper.

RELATED: 7 Super-Moisturizing Honey Beauty Products for Your Skin and Hair

Date sugar

If you’ve ever eaten a date, you know they’re incredibly sweet and a bit sticky—which is why they’re used as a main ingredient in so many energy bars. Whole dates are a good source of several key nutrients, including potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron, B vitamins, vitamin K, and antioxidants. However, the nutrient amounts in a teaspoon of date sugar (made from dried, ground dates) are minimal. And that one teaspoon contains 15 calories and about 3 grams of sugar.

Date sugar can replace white sugar in equal amounts, but using two-thirds also works well in most recipes, especially if you add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, and cloves. These “sweet” spices help enhance existing sweetness. It’s also important to note that date sugar doesn’t dissolve well, so it’s not the best choice for smoothies or coffee. And like brown sugar, it tends to clump. To soften it before use, try placing some date sugar in a glass or ceramic bowl with a moist paper towel and cover it with a lid or plate overnight.   

Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar is made from sap extracted from the buds of coconut palms. Like table sugar, it has about 15 calories and four grams of sugar per teaspoon.

Coconut sugar does provide small amounts of nutrients, including thiamin, iron, copper, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, and antioxidants. This sweetener also contains inulin, a naturally-occurring, indigestible carbohydrate that acts as a prebiotic, or “food” for beneficial gut bacteria.

Coconut palm sugar is also considered eco-friendly. Growing coconut trees requires minimal amounts of water and fuel (especially compared to sugar cane production); and the trees produce sap for two to four decades. Coconut sugar’s consistency and flavor is similar to brown sugar, so many people use it as an equal replacement in recipes that call for brown sugar (like baked beans and cookies).

RELATED: 9 Ways to Quit Sugar for Good

Blackstrap molasses

This thick, dark syrup is the byproduct of processing sugar cane. In other words, it’s the liquid left over after the sugar has crystallized. The sweetener retains some of the nutrients naturally found in sugar cane, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, copper, selenium, and manganese. One teaspoon provides about 15 calories and 4 grams of sugar. It also contains a notable 6% of the Daily Value for iron and calcium. Plus, it has been shown to have higher antioxidant levels than any other sweetener, according to research from Virginia Tech.

However, the rich, intense flavor and aroma of blackstrap molasses can narrow its use. I’ve used it in coffee and tea recipes, gingerbread cookies, energy balls, overnight oats, pumpkin pie and pumpkin smoothies, baked beans, and yam dishes.

One final note

While all of the sweeteners above are natural, and less processed and more nutritious than white table sugar, it’s important to note they still count as added sugar. So you should consume them within the recommended limits for added sugar. That’s no more than six teaspoons (or about 25 grams) per day for women, and nine teaspoons (or about 37.5 grams) for men.

Some of my clients don’t even come close to these limits. But I’ve seen others overindulge in treats, smoothie bowls, and drinks made with these sweeteners, thinking it was fine because they’re natural.

So, yes, stir maple syrup in your coffee instead of sugar or an artificial sweetener. And opt for one of the sweeteners above when cooking or baking. But be sure to moderate your total sugar intake from every source, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that better-for-you means it’s okay to eat an unlimited amount.

Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.

Is It Dangerous to Eat Really Hot Peppers?

It’s standard for spicy food to cause your upper lip to sweat, your nose to run, and your mouth to feel like it’s on fire. But can eating hot peppers mess with your health post-meal? The question is worth considering, especially as the ALS Pepper Challenge (AKA the Ice Bucket Challenge 2.0) gains popularity.

Stars like Kelly Clarkson and Shaquille O’Neal have been spotted swallowing spicy stuff for the challenge, which aims to raise awareness and funds for the neurodegenerative disease. But while we watched them struggle to chomp on crazy hot peppers, we couldn’t help but wonder: What makes chilies so darn fiery and are they even safe to nosh on in excess? Here, we pepper nutritionist Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, with all our burning questions. Read the below before you eat a heap of habañeros.

RELATED: What a Love of Spicy Foods Might Say About Your Personality

What makes peppers so hot?

The main compound that gives chilies their signature kick is a phytonutrient called capsaicin. “Capsaicin attaches to the receptors on the taste buds that detect temperature and sends signals of spicy heat to the brain,” explains Bazilian, who’s also the author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean.

The amount of heat a pepper packs has to do with the level of capsaicin it contains. To figure out how spicy a certain type of hot pepper is, adventurous eaters can refer to the Scoville scale, which ranks varieties from most to least spicy based on their capsaicin concentration. The scale ranges from standard bell peppers that have no capsaicin to ghost peppers and the Trinidad scorpion–the spiciest chilies around.

RELATED: 7 Fat-Burning Foods That Boost Metabolism

Dangers of eating hot peppers

“It’s a bit of a myth that hot peppers can actually create physical damage to the esophagus or tongue,” says Bazilian. But that doesn’t mean there are no dangers associated with noshing on fiery foods. Why? When we eat very hot peppers, the brain receives “pain” signals that can result in an upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting, says Bazilian. The stomach reacts as if you’ve consumed a toxic substance and works to release whatever was just eaten–i.e. spicy peppers–stat.

“If vomiting occurs, the acid that comes up from the stomach can irritate the esophagus,” explains Bazilian. Depending how hot a pepper is, that irritation can cause serious damage. Back in October 2016, one man actually burned a hole in his esophagus after consuming (and subsequently retching) ghost peppers during an eating contest. Other potential reactions to eating super-spicy peppers include numbness and breathing difficulties.

RELATED: The 13 Best Chili Recipes of All Time

Health benefits of hot peppers

To complicate things, eating hot peppers can also deliver health benefits. Research suggests that certain capsaicin-rich ingredients, like cayenne pepper, can help eaters slim down by curbing appetite and revving the body’s calorie-burning abilities. What’s more, cayenne has also been shown to help clear sinuses, ease pain, and curb the growth of some bacteria.

To reap the benefits of hot peppers, choose varieties that aren’t too high on the Scoville scale and consume them in tasty meals, rather than straight up. “This way the impact on the tongue, esophagus, and stomach is less, too,” says Bazilian.

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And if you’re planning on entering a hot pepper eating contest or taking the ALS Pepper Challenge, remember this: “When we consume things that aren’t appetizing to us and in quantities that are unreasonable, the possibility for adverse outcomes and discomfort are very real,” says Bazilian. Consider yourself warned. 

10 Things You Should Not Refrigerate

They can get mealy in the fridge, so leave them on a counter, out of plastic bags. To speed ripening, store in a paper bag. Once ripe, they’ll last for about three days.

8 Time-Saving Meal Prep Ideas Nutritionists Actually Use

If you’re trying to clean up your diet, preparing your own meals is key. But when you come home exhausted after a long day at work, the last thing you want to do is dice onions or wait around for a chicken to roast.  

The way to avoid giving in and calling Seamless is to do your food prep ahead of time, say on Sunday, so you have all your ingredients ready to hit the microwave—or even better, a stash of pre-made meals ready to put on your plate. To help you organize your prep time, we reached out to five nutritionists for the easy tips they use in their own kitchens.

RELATED: 10 Nutritionists and Health Editors Share What They Actually Eat for Dessert

Chop a bunch of veggies

If you’re prepping meals just for yourself or one other person, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to wash, peel, and chop all the vegetables you’ll need for the entire week ahead. Julie Upton, RD, suggests prepping enough greens for four to five days, so you’ll have them to toss into a stir-fry, throw in a sheet pan, or even munch raw.

Don’t love the idea of breaking out a cutting board and dirtying up your kitchen counter? “Buy pre-chopped veggies to make a quick meal,” suggests Brooke Alpert, RD, author of The Diet Detox. Sure the pre-cut kind are more expensive, but if it helps you eat healthier, it may be worth the extra cash.

RELATED: 14 Clever Cooking Hacks You Need to Try

Cook one or two protein sources

Pan-fry chicken breasts, grill salmon fillets, or hard-boil a half-dozen eggs at once, and you’ll have versatile, high-quality protein that can last the entire workweek. Upton has a trick for prepping a large serving of chicken: “I will Instant Pot a whole chicken, then I’ll use the cooked chicken during the week for various dishes like soup or casseroles.” 

Vegans and vegetarians can steal this hack too by cooking a big pot of lentils, chickpeas, or beans all at once, with an eye toward adding them to veggie-based dishes all week long.

Pack food in storage containers

Pick up food storage containers in varying sizes, so you have places to separate and stash pre-made veggies, sauces, protein, and other items. The containers will help them stay fresh too. “I also like to use rectangular glass meal prep containers, so they can be refrigerated, and then baked, and/or microwaved straight from refrigerator,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN.

For some foods, plastic bags work just as well. Katherine Brooking, MS, RD, suggests storing your prepared veggies in plastic baggies in the proper proportions for the meals you plan to eat. “I put them in an air-tight baggie with a date so I can just grab and use during the week.”

RELATED: 15 Foods a Nutritionist Always Keeps in Her Fridge

Keep measuring cups nearby

Once you have containers filled with a week’s worth of food, it can be hard to eyeball the proper serving size for one meal. Cynthia Sass, MPH, Health’s contributing nutrition editor, suggests leaving clean measuring cups in the fridge on top of your food containers.

“I can just scoop them out in the right proportions,” Sass says. “I aim for two cups of veggies, a half cup of cooked pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas), or a half cup of wild salmon salad, and a half cup of cooked starch (sweet potato, quinoa, brown rice, purple potato).”

Double up on servings

When whipping up dinner for her family, Upton makes extra servings of vegetables, grains, and chicken to use as ingredients for future meals. It’s a no-brainer way to keep your prep time minimal yet always have ingredients ready for a quick, fresh dish the next night. “For example, extra veggies become fillers for frittatas,” she says. 

RELATED: 15 Sheet Pan Dinners That Will Make Weeknight Meal Prep a Breeze

Buy food in cans

Canned foods have a reputation as not-so-healthy sodium bombs. But staples like canned tuna, crushed tomatoes, and beans provide healthy protein and can be stored safely for months, so they’re worth keeping in your pantry on the ready. The trick is to scan the label of each canned product you’re thinking of buying, to make sure it’s not drowning in added salt, sugar, or other additives.

Invest in time-saving appliances

“I love the idea that I can spend just 15 to 20 minutes in the morning and then have a delicious meal ready by 5 p.m. by using my slow cooker,” says Brooking. Slow cookers are simple to use and make eating healthy so much easier; Brooking stocks up on beans, tomato sauce, and tomato paste to make a slow cooker chili. Other time-saving tools include a microwave and an Instant Pot, the multi-tasking appliance that acts as a pressure cooker, rice cooker, and more.

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Rely on a few versatile recipes

“The secret to meal prep is finding a basic recipe that you really enjoy and that works in a few different ways,” says Palmer. She likes to make a large batch of turmeric rice, then top it with different veggies and protein throughout the week. Tweaking the same simple yet delicious recipe keeps your meals fresh and satisfying, but they do away with the stress of making a new dish every night. Palmer suggests stocking up on whole grains, kale, or pasta, which work well as the bases of many hearty, healthy dinners.

10 Antioxidant-Rich Foods You Should Be Eating

Many of us take the bait at the word “antioxidant,” buying health and beauty products without knowing exactly how these mysterious compounds actually benefit us. Let’s clear that up: “Antioxidants act like little bodyguards to protect our cells from damage that can lead to premature aging and disease,” explains Cynthia Sass, Health’s contributing nutrition editor. They neutralize harmful free radicals, molecules that play a role in cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and more.


Though there are many antioxidant dietary supplements on the market, health experts typically recommend getting them the old fashioned way: through your diet. In fact, Sass says you should be eating antioxidant-rich foods multiple times a day.


Luckily, increasing your daily antioxidant intake is pretty simple; they’re found in many of your favorite fruits, nuts, veggies, and even sweets! Wondering where to find the most antioxidants? We combed through a database of more than 3,100 foods, drinks, herbs, and spices (originally compiled and published in Nutrition Journal in 2010) to find the top 10 antioxidant-rich foods (per 100 grams) that you need in your diet.


RELATED: The 50 Best Weight Loss Foods of All Time

Your ‘Healthy’ Breakfast Could Have More Sugar Than a Dessert. Here’s How to Fix It

There’s no shortage of trendy, healthy breakfast options online. We’re talking smoothie bowls, overnight oats, yogurt parfaits, and even flourless breakfast cookies. Pinterest and Instagram feeds are filled with thousands of melt-in-your-mouth posts gushing about how these nutritious and balanced morning meals will jumpstart your day by giving your body the fuel it needs to conquer the world.

There’s just one problem: While the Insta-famous breakfasts tend to have sinful names—think: hot chocolate oatmeal and blueberry pie smoothie—and are promoted as clean, wholesome, and nutritious, the truth is many of these meals resemble a decadent dessert rather than a powerhouse breakfast. If nutritionists were asked to rename these recipes, we’d most likely call them berry milkshakes, yogurt sundaes, and oatmeal cookies!

RELATED: The 20 Best Foods to Eat for Breakfast

Before mistaking a sweet treat for a morning meal, check out these breakfast culprits to be wary of.

Granola

It’s a healthy breakfast essential, undoubtedly made with good-for-you ingredients like oats and nuts. But most commercial varieties are packed with added sugars and fat. A poll conducted by the New York Times found that 80% of shoppers said granola was a healthy option, while only 47% of nutritionists felt the same. That’s because most granola is calorie-dense, with some having up to 600 per cup; it can also pack up to 10 grams of added sugar per serving. The recommended serving size for granola is just 1/4 to 2/3 of a cup to keep calories, fat, and sugar in check–but that amount does little to keep you satisfied.

RELATED: 21 Homemade Granola Recipes That Slash Sugar

Smoothie bowls

I’ve seen smoothie bowl recipes online with 19 grams of sugar–and that’s before adding the toppings like granola, chocolate, and berries featured in the eye-catching pics. Depending on your preferred toppings, a smoothie bowl could easily exceed your total daily added sugar allotment of 6 teaspoons or 25 grams per day.

Breakfast cookies and overnight oats

Oatmeal is considered a healthful whole grain, but oat-based flourless breakfast cookies and overnight oats aren’t always sugar-conscious. Most recipes for overnight oats and oatmeal breakfast cookies include a variety of ingredients to sweeten them up, whether it’s sweetened almond milk, dried fruit, chocolate chips, cocoa nibs, honey, or maple syrup.

Yogurt parfaits

Yogurt parfaits are a combo of two of the sneakiest sources of sugar: sweetened yogurt and granola. As a result, commercial parfaits are among the worst choices you can eat for breakfast. If you purchase a yogurt parfait at a breakfast spot or supermarket, it will likely have 350 to 400 calories and 8 to 10 teaspoons of added sugars—more than you should get in an entire day!

Instead, plan a healthy breakfast with natural sweetness

Even though they look gorgeous, social media food trends aren’t always healthy. (Remember unicorn frappuccinos? ‘Nuf said.) If you’re considering making a breakfast recipe you found online but the nutritional information is not provided, find a different recipe.

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I recommend Greek yogurt for breakfast, because it’s protein-rich and will have low sugar counts if it’s unflavored. An a.m. meal that provides 20 to 30 grams of protein may help curb your appetite all day long. Sweeten with fresh berries–which provide more filling fiber than blended fruit–and no more than a tablespoon of granola. You can use these toppings to sweeten oatmeal too, or add just a bit of your favorite sweet granola to a low-sugar, high-fiber cereal.

3 Recipes to Make When You Feel Super Stressed

When you’re feeling frazzled, it’s easy to be tempted by a handful of M&Ms, a couple of cookies, or an entire pint of ice cream. Stress and anxiety are known to trigger cravings, and not necessarily for a grain bowl or kale salad.

But it is possible to harness those cravings for good! Turns out a handful of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can actually help relieve negative feelings. The magnesium, zinc, and omega-3s in nuts, for example, may help stabilize cortisol levels and keep your mood steady. Even dark chocolate (in moderation, of course) could help calm your nerves on harried days. “Research has shown that it can reduce your stress hormones,” Health contributing nutrition editor, Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, said in a prior interview. “Also, the antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation.”

Looking for a nutritious snack to take the edge off? These three simple recipes from Lindsey Smith‘s new book Eat Your Feelings: The Food Mood Girl’s Guide to Transforming Your Emotional Eating ($16, amazon.com) are designed to do just that. They all star mood-stabilizing ingredients (including chocolate!), which makes them sweet treats you can feel really good about. 

RELATED: 12 Superfoods for Stress Relief

PB Banana Chip Muffins

Serves: 12 to 14

2 large ripe bananas

1/3 cup coconut oil

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup peanut butter

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 egg

1¼ cups nut flour, gluten-free flour, or whole grain flour, sifted

Pinch of sea salt

Dark chocolate chips, to your liking

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large food processor or blender, combine the bananas, coconut oil, maple syrup, peanut butter, vanilla extract, and egg. Blend until smooth. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt with the liquid mixture until mixed thoroughly. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour the mixture into lined muffin tins. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

RELATED: 17 High-Protein Snacks You Can Eat On the Go

Cookie Dough Contraband

Serves: 12 to 16

½ cup almond butter

1/3 cup honey or maple syrup

1 cup almond or cashew flour

1¼ cup dark chocolate chips

Combine the almond butter and honey or maple syrup. Add the nut flour and mix until a ball of dough forms. Add the chocolate chips. Roll into bite-size balls and freeze for 30 minutes.

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Pistachio Chocolate Bananas

Serves: 6

3 bananas

6 popsicle sticks or cake pop sticks

Coconut oil

½ cup dark chocolate chips

½ cup pistachios, crushed

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel the bananas and cut in half crosswise. Insert a stick halfway into each banana half. Place in freezer. Add a little coconut oil to a small saucepan, put on low to medium heat, and add in the dark chocolate chips. Stir until melted, but make sure it doesn’t burn. Take the bananas out of the freezer, dip in the chocolate, and sprinkle the pistachios on top. Freeze for at least 30 minutes or more before serving.

From Eat Your Feelings: The Food Mood Girl’s Guide to Transforming Your Emotional Eating by Lindsey Smith. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted with permission of Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

Here’s What Can Happen to Your Body When You Cut Out Alcohol

The latest New Year’s trend has nothing to do with alcohol—literally. For millions of people, January 1 marks the first day of not just a new year, but a “dry” January, or month-long break with booze. Started by the UK’s Alcohol Concern organization in 2013, the movement’s main goal is to help people “reset their relationship with alcohol.” But what happens to your body when you become a temporary teetotaler?

“Nothing bad,” says Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD, a hepatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “[Abstaining temporarily] is only going to be beneficial.” (One caveat: heavy drinkers should only quit with medical assistance, since they can experience a life-threatening form of withdrawal.)

Thirty-one days of sobriety might even help you cut back long-term: A 2016 study published in Health Psychology found that six months after the end of Dry January, people who had participated in the movement (even those who didn’t abstain for the entire month) reported having fewer drinks per day, drinking fewer days a week, and getting drunk less often.

In general less booze is a good thing: “The effects of alcohol are cumulative,” says Dr. Wakim-Fleming (who was not involved in the study). “If people drink one glass a day starting in their teens, they may be fine after 10 or 20 years—but after 40 or 50 years, they might start to experience liver problems.”

And while it’s true that moderate drinking (that’s one drink a day for women, two for men) might improve your heart health, research suggests not everyone may experience these benefits. What’s more, our relationship with alcohol may not be as healthy as we’d like to think. Case in point: According to government statistics from 2015, about 1 in 4 Americans over 18 said that they had binged at least once in the past month.

Inspired to give Dry January a go? Here’s what you can expect during your month off the sauce. 

RELATED: 6 Really Good Things That Happen When You Quit Sugar

You may lose weight

It’s no secret that alcohol is loaded with calories. At 7 calories per gram, a standard glass of wine (5 ounces) can contain about 130 calories, and a serving of beer (12 ounces) nearly 330 calories. And there’s some evidence that the boozing catches up with us: A 2017 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who binged on alcohol at least once a month over the course of one year were 41% more likely to become overweight after a 5-year period. (Bingeing, for women, is more than four glasses of alcohol in one sitting.)

You’ll get deeper sleep

It’s true that a nightcap can help you doze off faster, but according to a 2013 study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, alcohol disrupts the most restorative phase of sleep that occurs later in the night.

You could kick a cold faster

Alcohol can suppress your immune system, which might hinder your ability to fight off an illness. Even one night of too much drinking—in this case, drinking until you’re drunk—can interfere with your body’s ability to produce cytokines, or chemicals that help fight off infections, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

RELATED: This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Exercising

Your skin might look younger

Alcohol can act as a diuretic, which can increase fluid loss and lead to dehydration, possibly damaging the skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Plus, adds Dr. Wakim-Fleming, when people stop drinking, they get more calories from foods; this tends to improve their vitamin intake, which can also make their skin appear healthier. (One small study in the 2009 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that twins who abstained from alcohol were perceived to be younger than their identical imbibing siblings.)

You’ll get better at resisting peer pressure

The participants in the 2016 Dry January study not only drank less later in the year, they also felt more confident turning down drinks. “Dry January was associated with healthier drinking habits overall,” says Dr. Wakim-Fleming. “Even though they didn’t stop drinking alcohol completely, they were more likely to say no when they didn’t want to drink anymore.”

Cheers to that.

Eat This Carb and You Won’t Gain Weight

Carbohydrates sound so innocent: mere starches, sugar and fiber that the body uses for energy. Yet health-conscious Americans despise them, designing entire diets just to cut them out.

But out of the pile of cast-off carbs, there are some you should keep. New research around a certain kind of carb, called “resistant starch,” suggests that they could be a key way to help control weight.

When we eat refined carbohydrates, like white bread and cookies, our bodies absorb them very quickly, and the hormone insulin ushers them into our cells. Eat a lot of them, and the body will store most of those calories instead of burning them—which is why we gain weight on high-carb diets.

But that’s not the case with resistant starches, so named because they resist digestion. These kinds of carbs bypass the small intestine (where most food is digested) and head to the large intestine (also known as the colon) to be metabolized. There, they’re fermented and turned into short-chain fatty acids, which the body burns as energy. Resistant starches also serve as powerful prebiotics—food for intestinal bacteria in the colon.

Those benefits—getting digested slower, being converted into fatty acids and sustaining colonies of gut bacteria—set resistant starch apart. Resistant starch is being explored as a healthy food for people with type-2 diabetes; eating it improved certain measures of inflammation, a condition that often precedes type-2 diabetes, and lipid profiles in women with the condition, showed one 2015 study.

“Certain populations and cultures have been benefiting from resistant starches for a long time,” says Paul Arciero, professor in the health and exercise sciences department of Skidmore College. “In my belief, that’s what’s protected them against some of the ravages of the more modern-day high carbohydrate diet.”

Luckily, resistant starch is found in a range of delicious foods. Legumes, beans, whole grains and some seeds have it, as do uncooked potatoes and unripe bananas. Products made from these foods, including bean flour, potato starch, tapioca starch and brown rice flour, also count.

Most intriguing and surprising of all is that so many leftovers contain resistant starch. When you cook a certain starchy food, like white rice, pasta or a potato, and then cool it in the refrigerator, the food develops resistant starches. “Cooking the carbohydrate starch alters the chemical bonds in the food,” Arciero explains. Stick it in the fridge, and as the food cools, those bonds reform in a new design. “The ensuing structure of those bonds during the cooling process is what makes them resistant to then being digested in the small intestine,” Arciero says. Even if you heat them up again, they retain their new resistant starches.

In all of its forms, resistant starch shows promise for helping people control their weight. In a Nutrition Journal study published in October 2015, Arciero and his team cooked a series of four pancake breakfasts for 70 women. The four pancakes were made from ordinary starch, starch plus whey protein, resistant starch (a tapioca-based starch modified to become resistant—much like leftovers are), and resistant starch with whey protein.

Arciero and his team monitored the women after each meal for three hours and used a device to see how many calories they burned, and what type. To Arciero’s surprise, after women ate pancakes containing resistant starch plus protein, they experienced an increase in fat burning, compared to all of the other kinds of pancakes. “After you eat a meal that’s principally carbohydrate, the fact that your body can burn a greater percentage of fat as its energy source is very unusual,” he says. Adding protein to the batter also made the women feel fuller, they found—which hints at a potentially powerful food combo for people trying to control their weight. “If you can combine a resistant starch with a hardboiled egg, or whey protein, or pea protein, or chicken or Greek yogurt, that’s a pretty powerful combination,” Arciero says.

It’s too soon to tell if resistant starch can help people lose weight. But the new evidence suggests that it may help control weight by altering body composition and increasing satiety. “The potential for a nutritional lifestyle intervention to counter obesity driven by high-carbohydrate food, though we don’t know yet how significantly, is fascinating,” Arciero says—especially when it’s as simple and delicious as reheating your pasta.

5 Good—and Bad—Things That Can Happen to Your Body When You Give Up Processed Foods

You’ve probably heard plenty of nutrition talk about eating “whole” or “clean,” while avoiding highly processed foods. But what exactly is a processed food? “Any food that has been altered in some way during preparation is technically processed,” says Mara Weber, RD, a clinical inpatient dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Most of the time when we talk about processed foods, we’re referring to those packaged items found in the freezer aisle, at the deli, or those junk foods that sit on the shelves for months at a time.”

A diet is typically healthiest when foods are consumed in their most natural, recognizable state, Weber explains, and processing sometimes removes nutritious ingredients. Take refined grains like white bread or rice, for example: “refined” means the bran and germ have been removed, which also “removes fiber, iron, and other nutrients,” she says. Other times, processing may infuse unhealthy ingredients, such as by adding more sugar, sodium, or trans fats. Too much of those things can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or weight gain.

If you choose to cut out processed foods from your diet, your body will undergo some adjustments, Weber says. Here, five things that might happen when you nix packaged cookies, chips, and more.

You could experience fatigue or irritability

Depending on how much processed food you were eating to begin with, you may notice increased fatigue or irritability when you cut those items from your diet. For example, “for those who usually consume a lot of caffeinated beverages, if cut cold turkey, this could also mean headaches,” says Weber, adding that cutting out sugar can have a similar effect. But there is good news: These symptoms don’t typically last long, she says, and your body will likely go back to normal after a period of adjustment.

You may eventually think foods are too sweet or too salty

You aren’t going to suddenly dislike a favorite dessert overnight, but in time, those cravings you experience for packaged snacks or manufactured sweets may die down. “Don’t get discouraged if it takes time to transition to a less processed lifestyle,” says Weber. “There’s always a learning curve, especially if you’re a junk food junkie.” Start by becoming an avid nutrition label reader: “Check the ingredient lists to know exactly what is being added to your foods,” she says. “Limit high-salt foods and steer clear of hydrogenated oils or foods that have one of the first ingredients listed as sugar.”

Once you cut back on hidden sources of sodium and sugar, your body should start to develop a “taste” for the whole stuff. And don’t give up if you have a setback; it just takes time. “When you cut out high-sugar and high-salt foods, your taste buds take some time to adjust,” Weber explains, adding that it can take 10 to 15 days for taste buds to regenerate. Eventually, after ditching processed stuff for a couple weeks, you may find that items with added sugar or salt actually taste overly sweet or salty.

Your GI tract may need time to adjust

Just like your taste buds, your stomach may need to get used to a new diet. “Many changes your body experiences after you consume less processed foods can be linked to those healthy dietary changes,” says Weber. “For example, increasing your fiber intake, an ingredient frequently removed during processing, can cause your body some gastrointestinal discomfort like bloating or loose stools as it adjusts to the higher fiber load.” Don’t worry: Your GI tract adjusts quickly to these beneficial changes, and your gut will be healthier as a result, she adds.

You may lose weight

Over time, eliminating processed food can help your waistline. After removing those additional calories from unneeded ingredients like fats and sugars, you may see the scale dip. “This lifestyle change can help you lose weight and prevent obesity,” says Weber. 

You may feel more energized and focused

Of course, some of the benefits of eliminating processed foods can be experienced almost immediately. “It’s not all delayed gratification,” says Weber. “You may feel more energized, more focused, a better mood, maintain a healthy weight, even sleep better.” Also good: Feeling immediately better will help motivate you to continue making healthy food choices in the future.

Struggling to cut out every single treat? Weber points out that you don’t need to eliminate all processed foods from your diet to experience benefits. Keep an eye on the daily limits for sodium and added sugar outlined in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, but do honor your foodie desires every now and then, she says: “If it’s a food you love and you restrict yourself from ever having it, you may ultimately end up binging on it later.”

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