Food / Nutrition

‘Diet Culture’ Isn’t Just About Smoothies and Food-Tracking Apps

‘Diet Culture’ Isn’t Just About Smoothies and Food-Tracking Apps

These days, you can’t get into a conversation about nutrition and wellness without someone mentioning diet culture. It’s all over social media, in both anti-diet spaces and more general wellness ones. Celebrities are calling it out. It’s mentioned in academic research. Even the young teenagers I work with in my nutrition practice use the term. They talk about how their parents don’t keep certain foods in the house, their friend is trying to lose weight, or their coach told them to avoid sugar, “because, you know, diet culture.”But just because a term is ubiquitous doesn’t mean that it’s universally understood. While many people think diet culture is just about, well, diets, it’s actually far more complex and far-reaching. Diet culture is an entire belief system that associates food with morality and thinness with goodness, and it’s rooted in the (very colonial) belief that every individual has full control and responsibility over their health.What’s worse, diet culture is so ingrained, especially in Western society, that we often don’t even recognize it. That’s why SELF asked experts to address some of the most common questions and misconceptions about the term to give you a better understanding of what diet culture really means and why it’s so problematic.What’s the definition of diet culture?Although there’s no official definition of diet culture, Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, author of Anti-Diet, published a great one on her blog in 2018. Harrison defines diet culture as a belief system that “worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue,” promotes weight loss and maintaining a low weight as a way to elevate social status, and demonizes certain foods and eating styles while elevating others. Diet culture also “oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of ‘health,’ which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities,” Harrison writes.We’re all surrounded—and influenced—by diet culture, all the time. “There’s this idea that diet culture only affects people who choose to diet, but that’s not true,” Sabrina Strings, PhD, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine, who studies diet culture and fatphobia, tells SELF. “Diet culture is the culture we’re all steeped in; it’s the belief that we can control our bodies based on what and how much we eat, and it places a moral judgment on food and bodies.” In other words, it makes us believe, consciously or not, that certain foods and (thin, usually white) bodies are good, while other foods and (fat, often Black or non-white) bodies are bad.What are some of the roots of diet culture?In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, American protestants started to publicly equate deprivation with health, and health with morality. The most famous example is probably clergyman Sylvester Graham (namesake of the graham cracker, which was originally much less delicious than it is now), who promoted a bland vegetarian diet of bread, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as a way to quell sexual urges, improve health, and ensure moral virtue.There’s also plenty of racism and anti-Blackness baked into this colonial idea that thinness and food restriction equal goodness. In her book Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia, Dr. Strings talks about how white colonial thought used body size as a way to argue that Black people were inferior. “During the height of slavery in the 18th century, there were prominent Europeans who believed that being thin and controlling what they ate made them morally superior,” Dr. Strings says. “And thus, African people were inherently viewed as inferior, because they tended to have larger bodies, which was equated to being lazy.”

Do You Really Need to Care About Your Daily Sugar Intake?

Do You Really Need to Care About Your Daily Sugar Intake?

The good news is that these sources of added sugar are not the ones that most nutrition experts and health organizations are taking fire at, even though they’ve gotten swept up in the anti-sugar crusade. “There are people who are very health-conscious coming to me worried about the added sugar in tomato sauce or yogurt,” Dr. Tewksbury says. “But that’s not the source of added sugars that major organizations and dietitians are worried about.”What experts are sounding the alarm on is the foods and beverages that offer sugar (and calories) in high concentrations, and not much else. Added sugars in and of themselves are not unhealthy—in fact, they’re the same as naturally occurring sugars in terms of their chemical structure and how the body processes them. It’s the large amounts of added sugar and the nutrition-lacking foods people regularly consume them in that are an issue.“These products that are basically nothing but added sugar in high concentrations and little other nutritional value are the sources of the vast majority of the added sugar individuals consume,” Dr. Tewksbury says. According to the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines2, created by both the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the top offenders by far are sugary beverages (sodas, fruit drinks that are not 100% fruit juice, sports drinks) and processed sweets (cookies, candies, pastries, ice cream). This absolutely does not mean you can never have these items or should feel guilty about enjoying the hell out of them when you do have them! Sugary foods and drinks can absolutely be part of a healthy lifestyle. Health and nutrition experts are generally most concerned about people consistently bypassing daily sugar intake recommendations in a way that can put their health at risk. What are the daily sugar intake recommendations? The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines advise capping your daily added sugar intake at 10% or less of your total calories. Each gram of sugar equals 4 calories, so if you eat about 2,000 calories a day (we’re using this general number just for math’s sake), the recommendation is to aim for under 200 calories worth of sugar every day, or 50 grams.Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends keeping consumption of “free sugars” (which includes everything that falls under added sugars, plus sugars from 100% fruit juice) at 10% or less of caloric intake. But WHO takes it a step further by saying that reducing intake of free sugars even further, to 5% or less of caloric intake, would offer additional health benefits. No matter the exact number you go by, the general spirit of these recommendations is clearly that “most of us could probably stand to cut back a little bit,” as Dr. Tewksbury puts it.What are the health concerns around added sugar? These numbers may seem arbitrary, so let’s go over why these guidelines exist. Broadly speaking, these recommendations are based on the fact that (a) high added sugar intake over time is associated with negative health outcomes, and (b) most people are eating high amounts of added sugars. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), consuming too much added sugar is associated with cardiac and metabolic health issues like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. That said, multiple studies have found that some of the strongest evidence for the relationship between sugar consumption and weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease applies to added sugar that comes from sugar-sweetened beverages only. And according to the Dietary Guidelines, sugar-sweetened drinks account for over 40% of the average American’s added sugar intake. 

The 10 Best Protein Powders, According to Registered Dietitians

The 10 Best Protein Powders, According to Registered Dietitians

If you’ve ever considered adding a protein powder to your daily routine but aren’t sure what the best protein powder is, then we’ll give you the inside scoop (pun intended). From vegan to whey, flavored to natural, or gritty to soft, the protein powder world is complicated enough to make anyone’s head spin. SELF spoke to registered dietitians to determine the best tips on how to choose the right protein powder.Do you really need a protein powder?First off, how much protein do you really need? It really depends on the person, their activity levels, and any other health concerns that they might have. “The majority of people get enough protein in their diet, but some individuals may need help in getting more protein, especially if they have specific dietary needs or a health condition,” says Valerie Agyamen, RD. “For example, vegans and vegetarians may find it difficult to get enough protein in their diet, so a protein powder may be helpful. Also, if you have had recent surgery, exercise a lot, or are postpartum, you’ll likely have increased nutrient needs where a protein powder might be helpful.” Plus, certain exercise goals—say, if you’re trying to build muscle mass—might require additional protein too.The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. An easier way to think about it? Carolyn Brown, MS, RD says a general rule of thumb is looking at 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal. Most protein powders come with about 18 to 20 grams per serving.What to look for in a protein powderThere are many different types of protein powders, from vegan to whey protein, and how they work for you depends on your dietary preferences and intolerances. “Essentially, one isn’t much better than the other, but it all depends on your goals and what you’re looking for,” Brown says. “Ideally, the simpler the better.” She recommends the following types:Grass-fed collagen protein powder: If you’re looking to soothe your digestive tract or joint pain, or if you want to improve your skin, you may want to look for grass-fed collagen protein powder.Grass-fed whey protein powder: Whey protein works especially great after a workout to repair and build muscle.Plant-based protein powder: These protein powders are made with a combination of organic brown rice, pea protein, and hemp protein. They’re great options if you’re looking to go more plant-based or simply don’t like the taste of animal-based protein powders.What to avoid in a protein powderWhen thinking about which protein powder ingredients to avoid, there’s no one clear answer. Like many things in the nutrition world, the answer to this question is very individualized and depends a lot on which ingredients may not make you feel your best—or ones that simply don’t make a protein shake taste great to you. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking at the ingredient list.

So, Is Coffee Bad for You in Any Way?

So, Is Coffee Bad for You in Any Way?

It’s pretty easy these days to find a matcha-sipping wellness influencer who raves about how much life has improved after they quit coffee. But…is coffee bad for you in any way, really? Is there any truth at all to the idea that you could be doing your body harm by sipping the steaming hot, deliciously aromatic, magically energizing drink that helps you crawl out of bed in the morning? Or, if not actual harm, simply making your body feel not as great as it can?Being able to get just a yes or no answer would be really nice, wouldn’t it? But as with many (if not most) questions in the world of health and nutrition, the answer is more nuanced than that. Everybody is different, and food, beverages, and nutrients affect each person differently. And, ya know, science can be pretty complicated.That said, generally speaking, we actually do have mountains of evidence showing that for most people, coffee isn’t harmful in the slightest—and likely delivers some pretty sweet benefits. But the reality is that whether or not you ought to steer clear of (or just cut down on) the java can be fairly individualized. There are other people who drink it and don’t feel so great—and it’s important to pay attention to those signals from your mind and body.So how can you decide whether coffee is good for you? What are the potential pros and cons for your health and wellness? And, if coffee is good for you, how much caffeine should you have in a day? Figuring out the answer is definitely one of those things where you need to just do you. And the best place to start with that exploration is with getting the plain facts first.Let’s take a little dive into what the science really says about the health benefits of coffee (there are actually a bunch!), the potential drawbacks when you overdo it, and how to figure out what overdoing it even might mean for you. From there, you’ll be able to figure out whether the upsides of your cup of joe are worth it for you personally—or, if you’re on the fence, whether limiting your caffeine intake or avoiding coffee completely is the right move.How much caffeine is in coffee?Before getting into all the details, let’s take a quick look at what you’re actually getting when you down a cup. An 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains approximately 96 mg of caffeine according to the Mayo Clinic.If you’re more of an Americano person, a shot of espresso has 64 mg of caffeine. (By comparison, a cup of brewed green tea has 28 mg.) And of course, caffeine content can vary widely across beans and brew methods—like French press, drip, pourover, or unfiltered coffee.As far as other coffee nutrition facts go, its macronutrients are pretty much negligible. A cup of plain black coffee—no milk, cream, or sugar—has about two calories and basically zero carbs, protein, or fat, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Coffee also contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and niacin. And coffee is packed with a whole bunch of other, lesser known substances, too. “Coffee beans have over 100 biologically active compounds,” Nicole Weinberg, MD, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, tells SELF. That includes antioxidants, like phenolic acids and flavonoids, that are associated with a wide variety of positive health effects. (More on what those are and what they do coming up.)What are the benefits of drinking coffee?Let’s start on a positive note here. Coffee has a wide variety of potential benefits for your brain and body, from immediate and direct effects on your mood and energy to long-term associations with a lower risk of certain health issues.

What’s So Super About Superfoods?

What’s So Super About Superfoods?

It’s not hard to get on board with adding more “superfoods” to your diet. Who doesn’t want their food to be super? But here’s a followup question: What are superfoods, really? And what does it take for a food to be deemed super (as opposed to just, ya know, regular healthy)?If you’ve been pondering these vexing questions lately, you’re not alone. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults report being more focused on their health compared to a year ago, and sales of “functional” foods—i.e., foods that are sold on the premise of being beneficial to your health in some way—spiked by almost 7% in 2021 compared to the year before, per a recent report on food trends from the Institute of Food Technologists. So if you’re looking for the foods that will go above and beyond when it comes to ticking your nutritional boxes, the whole superfoods concept is probably on your radar (and all over your Instagram feed).The only issue: There’s actually no formal or universal agreement on what actually counts as a superfood. And many items that tend to really let their superfood flag fly tend to be more expensive—and less accessible—compared to those that haven’t earned that sparkly health halo, research shows. As a result, you might be passing up perfectly super (but not so exciting) foods in favor of their flashy, exotic-seeming counterparts—and have a higher food bill to show for it. More luxe and sexy? Yes. More important to include in your diet than many of the more familiar and cost-efficient healthy foods you likely already eat? Not so much, as we’ll discuss.So exactly what are we getting from these so-called superfoods? Who the heck decides what foods qualify as superior? How important of a role do these foods actually play in your diet? And are they worth shelling out on? We spoke to the experts to help sort this all out. Here’s everything you need to know, plus a look at some of the most nutrient-packed and healthiest foods that can fit the super bill. (Some of them might surprise you!)What is considered a superfood?Let’s start with the literal dictionary definition of a superfood. According to Merriam-Webster, a superfood is “a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health.”Basically, superfoods are good-for-you and whole or minimally processed foods that are juuust a little extra. “They truly pack a nutritional punch and deliver a substantial dose of disease-fighting nutrients like phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” Charlotte Martin, MS, RDN, author of The Plant-Forward Solution, tells SELF.For many nutrition experts, it’s those phytonutrients, or plant nutrients—some of which are antioxidants—in particular that set ingredients we often classify as superfoods apart, Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDN, author of The Superfoods Rx Diet, tells SELF. “These plant compounds have the potential function to help support health and reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases beyond simply eliminating potential nutrient deficiencies or supporting energy needs,” Bazilian says. Antioxidants are thought to do this by keeping levels of free radicals—a type of naturally occurring and highly reactive molecule in the body that, in excess, can damage healthy cells—in check, as SELF has explained. (You can read more about the science of how antioxidants are thought to work here.)For instance, phytonutrients like anthocyanins, found in blue-purple foods like blackberries, blueberries, acai berries, and red cabbage are thought to protect against heart disease and diabetes. Carotenoids, found in red and orange foods like tomatoes and carrots, may reduce the risk of certain cancers and protect skin from the sun’s UV rays.The thing is, there are no official qualifications or cut-offs for what counts as a superfood versus, well, any generally nutritious food—no minimum amount of antioxidants they must contain (or any other nutrient, for that matter). Unlike other feel-good food claims such as “healthy,” “excellent source of,” and “organic,” the term “superfood” is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That means that companies or manufacturers can declare anything a superfood, Noah Quezada, RD, owner of Noah’s Nutrition, tells SELF.That can definitely lead to some confusion at the supermarket. (Is this kale-infused cereal a superfood?) On the other hand, a broad definition means that lots of the foods you eat on the regular could probably count as superfoods. In fact, when you squint hard enough, almost any generally nutritious food—think fruits and veggies, healthy high-fat foods like salmon, eggs, beans, yogurt, and whole grains—can fit under that gigantic umbrella. (There’s no official superfoods list, people!) When you look at it that way, “There really isn’t anything that sets a superfood apart from other healthy foods,” Shena Jaramillo, MS, RD, owner of Peace and Nutrition, tells SELF. How does a food become a superfood, anyway?Since there’s no formal criteria for what counts as a superfood, the coveted status is achieved mainly through marketing. Basically, if a brand or manufacturer wants to rebrand a food as “super,” they’ve got free reign to do it, Quezada says.Whether or not a food ultimately catches on as a superfood really depends on whether the rest of us agree. “Foods become superfoods essentially by popularity in the media,” Jaramillo explains. So once a food that has some eye-catching nutrition stats gets a good ad campaign and enough momentum behind it, boom. “If we can notice a large quantity of vitamins and minerals in the nutrient label…that food has a good chance of becoming a superfood,” Jaramillo says.This often happens with foods that have been around for pretty much ever and have always been healthy, but that people weren’t really interested in—think kale or Brussels sprouts. Which is great, because both of those foods are really nutritious and yummy! But there’s a downside, since the trend can cause consumers to think of more commonplace healthy foods (like spinach, oats, beans, or apples) as less nutritionally valuable—or even inferior—despite that not being the case, Kansas City-based dietitian and wellness nutritionist Dianna Sinni, RD, LD, tells SELF.What’s the #1 superfood?Considering that “superfood” doesn’t even have an official definition, it’s impossible to crown one single food the super-est of all. That said, many experts see plant-based foods as more likely to be worthy of the title compared to most animal-based foods, simply because they give you more nutritional bang for your buck, especially in terms of those aforementioned phytonutrients and antioxidants.”Plants are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals,” Quezada says. “When we look at our diet, which is typically low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, we can see that plants are more likely to fill those gaps,” Quezada says. Plant foods are also more likely than animal products to be low in saturated fat, which the USDA generally advises people to limit.Still, some animal foods may fit the bill. Bazilian considers foods like yogurt and kefir to be superfoods because they’re packed with probiotics to support the population of healthy microbes in your gut microbiome (the ecosystem of organisms that is thought to influence not only your digestive system but your health in many ways). Salmon is widely cited as a superfood too, thanks to its omega-3 fatty acids, linked to heart and brain health.Do I need to get more superfoods in my diet?Many experts agree that it’s better to focus on eating a diverse array of whole, natural foods in general rather than chasing down the latest superfood. In other words, you don’t need to eat quinoa and chia seeds every single day. Swapping them out for basic brown rice and peanut butter, or oatmeal and sunflower seeds, is totally awesome.”It’s important to note that a ‘healthy diet’ is one that provides you with all the nutrients you need, and one single food can’t provide everything,” Quezada explains. “The key to a healthy diet is variety and moderation. You need to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups.”On the other hand, it’s usually fine to eat lots of a specific superfood if you really love it. Just keep in mind that no one food will completely change the game health-wise (no matter what you might’ve seen about it on Instagram), Bazilian says. Also, don’t eat so much of one superfood that it ends up crowding out other good-for-you options. Diversifying the nutrients in your diet (not to mention, the tastes and textures!) really is key to supporting your health and generally feeling your best.What’s the new superfood?It’s hard to stay on top of superfood trends given new ones crop up so often (or recycle themselves over the years). Blueberries, green tea, seeds, avocado, spinach (mmm, try these spinach recipes!), kale, salmon, nuts, garlic, ginger, green tea and fermented foods (like yogurt or tempeh) were the big superfood winners in 2021, according to an annual nutrition survey from Pollock Communications.If you want to enjoy these superfoods du jour, go for it! Just remember that there are plenty of foods out there that are pretty damn super, even if they’re not thought of as “super” per se. Many of the foods on the list below, for instance, aren’t the hottest new trendy foods—but they’re all pretty darn healthy in their way. So here are 34 foods you could totally call super…if you wanted to.

5 Chia Seeds Benefits You Should Really Know About

5 Chia Seeds Benefits You Should Really Know About

In particular, chia seeds are a rich source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which, in supplement form, have been associated with increased protein synthesis (i.e. muscle-building) and reduced muscle breakdown with exercise, according to research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. So it may be worth tossing some into your post-workout smoothie.5. They can help support bone health.If you’re looking for a non-dairy option to support a sturdy skeleton, chia’s a top choice. These tiny seeds are a good source of minerals like phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. They’re especially rich in calcium, which is important for maintaining bone health. A serving of chia seeds provides about 18% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for calcium, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Miller often recommends chia seeds as a source of calcium for people on a vegan diet. And since magnesium deficiency can contribute to osteoporosis, that mineral is good for your bones too. “This calcium-magnesium combo is needed for strong, healthy bones,” Bazilian says.How many chia seeds should you eat a day?A standard serving size of chia seeds is one ounce or about two tablespoons, according to the USDA. But as with all serving size recommendations, it’s really more of a guideline than a rule about how much you should or shouldn’t eat.You’re very much allowed to have multiple servings of chia seeds, as long as you keep their high-fiber content in mind. Miller recommends to “eat as much as you’re content, but not uncomfortable.” For more about what that means, keep reading.Can chia seeds have side effects?There are two potential chia seeds side effects you’ll want to watch out for. Because of their fiber content, eating too many at once might mess with your stomach, and if you try to consume them plain they can be a little tough to swallow—and even be a choking hazard.Generally speaking, rapidly upping the amount of fiber in your diet can be tough on your digestion and cause (temporary) side effects. Adding too many fiber-heavy chia to your diet at once can potentially set you up for uncomfortable symptoms like gas, bloating, or cramping—especially if you’re not used to getting that amount of roughage, per the Mayo Clinic.”If you aren’t consuming a lot of fiber, I suggest starting slowly with a couple teaspoons and then gradually increasing the amount of chia to avoid any gastrointestinal discomfort,” Panitz recommends. Drink plenty of fluids too, because fiber generally works best in your system when consumed with plenty of water, as SELF has reported. “Water, tea, and even coffee will help keep the chia and its fiber moving through your digestive tract,” Panitz says.The other potential risk with chia seeds is that eating a spoonful straight-up could be a choking hazard, Atlanta-based culinary and integrative dietitian Marisa Moore, RDN, LD, tells SELF. They can get stuck in your throat thanks to their tiny size and dry texture, Moore says. So just in case you were planning on popping a plain handful right into your mouth—which sounds kind of messy, honestly—try incorporating chia seeds into other foods or drinks instead, like smoothies, yogurt, or pudding. (They’ll taste better and fill you up more that way, too.)Who should not eat chia seeds?You should steer clear of chia seeds if you have trouble swallowing (because of the potential choking hazard) and proceed with caution if you have digestive issues, because of the fiber content.

Here’s What Experts Really Think About ‘Personalized’ DNA Diets

Here’s What Experts Really Think About ‘Personalized’ DNA Diets

When I google “DNA diet,” the first thing I see are four ads for various companies making vague claims about using genetic test results to create individualized food recommendations. These businesses are part of the growing personalized nutrition (or “precision nutrition”) trend, in which consumers are being sold wellness plans and/or products based on their unique health information—everything from lifestyle habits and gut bacteria to, yep, DNA. Frankly, the idea of receiving dietary advice based on your genes is compelling. More and more people are getting hip to the idea that generic diet plans nearly always fail when it comes to weight loss, and that there’s no single way of eating that guarantees health. Still, many folks hope that their “perfect” diet is out there somewhere.Jennifer Williams, 42, for one, did genetic testing through 23andMe in 2017. “I nerded out on my results when I got them,” she tells SELF. And when she realized that she could send her results to a wellness company for personalized diet and exercise recommendations, she was intrigued.Williams says she “technically” fits the medical definition of a person with obesity, but she has worked hard “to not give a shit about that”—especially because research shows BMI is a less-than-perfect measure of overall health. And even though weight isn’t necessarily a determinant of heart health in particular, Williams was worried she could face “a big cardiovascular-health downturn” similar to what her mother experienced. “I thought digging into diet (and to a lesser extent fitness—I know what I like to do exercise-wise) could be interesting,” she says.But when Williams’s diet and exercise recommendations arrived, she was underwhelmed. Even though they were “personalized” based on her DNA, they seemed vague and not very actionable. For example, the assessment indicated a “high sensitivity” to carbohydrates. “The genes in this panel impact the way you metabolize and assimilate refined carbohydrates, and the combined effect of your variants puts you with a slightly increased effect, meaning you are less well placed to deal with excess carbohydrate intake than most,” her report read.There were other similarly general results—low saturated fat sensitivity, raised omega-3 need, normal vitamin B and folate needs, raised salt sensitivity, and more—that came with equally abstract explanations like, “You are better placed than most to deal with fat intake, genetically speaking.” Then there were pieces of advice that lined up with the same general recommendations we hear all the time: “It is recommended that you consume adequate amounts of antioxidants,” and, “It is recommended that you include omega-3 fatty acids in your daily diet.”According to researchers, there’s a reason why the “personalized” DNA diet plans touted by these wellness companies are filled with generalized scientific jargon and loose recommendations that come with no promises: There’s just not enough evidence yet for truly personalized gene-based diet plans.What does DNA have to do with nutrition?“Trying to understand how what we eat affects our genes is super complicated,” Monica Dus, PhD, assistant professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at the University of Michigan, tells SELF. “For one, everything we eat is this extremely complex mixture of things.” There are many different nutrients—carbs, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals—in every food, plus other non-nutritive substances like chemical residues, coloring agents, and additional substances we may not even know about, says Dr. Dus.

What’s the Difference Between Soluble and Insoluble Fiber?

What’s the Difference Between Soluble and Insoluble Fiber?

When you eat these foods, the soluble fiber pulls in and swells up with water in the stomach, partially dissolving within it to form a thick gel-like substance in the stomach that slows down digestion, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This fibrous gel later gets broken down by bacteria in the large intestine, a process that ends up providing a small amount of calories, per the FDA.So, what can this soluble stuff actually do for you? Quite a bit. Because of how it decelerates digestion, soluble fiber has a knack for slowing or lessening the absorption of several substances that can have negative effects on our health if their levels build up too high or too fast.For instance, soluble fiber puts the brakes on the rate at which carbohydrates enter into the bloodstream, according to the FDA, which helps prevent spikes in our blood glucose levels (blood sugar) after eating. “It’s going to ‘trap’ sugar molecules so that they’re absorbed more slowly, which is helpful for keeping blood sugar levels more regular,” Linsenmeyer explains.If you drink a glass of pure orange juice, for instance, that sugar gets metabolized pretty much immediately, causing your blood sugar to climb more quickly. But if you eat a whole orange, which contains soluble fiber, the rate of sugar uptake is more gradual, Linsenmeyer says. This is helpful for anyone trying to maintain steady blood sugar levels, such as those with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, Young says.Soluble fiber also has a regulatory effect on the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol. “It attaches to the cholesterol in food, so that it gets excreted from the body instead of absorbed by it,” Linsenmeyer says. (Remember, fiber doesn’t get digested the way other nutrients do.) This can help lower the level of LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, the “bad” one) in the blood, according to the FDA—and, in turn, potentially lessen the risk of heart disease, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. That’s why Young recommends clients at elevated risk for heart disease incorporate plenty of soluble fiber in their diets.Soluble fiber can also be helpful for slowing down digestion in some individuals with certain gastrointestinal issues. For example, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may find that fiber helps decrease symptoms like diarrhea, according to the Cleveland Clinic.What is insoluble fiber, and what does it do?If you’re guessing “insoluble” means this kind of fiber does not dissolve in water, bingo! Soluble fiber’s sister is found in the highest amounts in whole grains (like whole wheat flour and wheat bran), nuts, beans, and some vegetables (like cauliflower, potatoes, and green beans), according to the Mayo Clinic.Insoluble fiber doesn’t pull in water to form a digestion-slowing gel like soluble fiber—its role is just the opposite, actually. This kind of fiber passes right through us looking pretty much the way it came in, hurrying along the movement of food through the digestive system and adding bulk to our stool, according to the FDA.

Does Iceberg Lettuce Really Have No Nutritional Value?

Does Iceberg Lettuce Really Have No Nutritional Value?

We’ll talk more about comparing iceberg lettuce nutrition to its rival greens in a minute. But first, another big reason for iceberg’s bad rap: the fact that it tends to get involved with foods and dishes that aren’t always seen as meeting our collective standard of good for you, notes Largeman-Roth. It’s typically thrown on top of things like nachos and burgers, or tossed with rich, creamy salad dressings, for instance. Of course, there’s nothing actually wrong with eating nachos or burgers, and all foods have their place in a varied, balanced diet. But because they usually don’t have the nutrition profile and glowing health halo of, say, a fiber-rich quinoa bowl, those foods tend to be looked down upon in the nutrition world—and by extension, iceberg lettuce does too. (The way we define “healthy eating” is pretty fraught anyway, given the influence of diet culture and discounting of important factors like joy and connection, food access, and culture.) Change the lettuce’s context by, say, sticking it in chicken and pepper fajitas or tucking it into a hummus and veggie wrap—foods that more people see as being healthier—and it starts to look a whole lot different.What’s the difference between iceberg lettuce and regular lettuce?Great question. By “regular” lettuce, let’s say we’re talking about things like romaine, red or green leaf lettuce, spinach, kale, or arugula, etc. Nutritionally speaking, all of these offerings are pretty similar in terms of not being a major source of macronutrients. As with other salad greens, there aren’t many carbs in iceberg lettuce (just two grams per shredded cup), as well as a negligible amount of protein (less than one gram) and virtually no fat, according to the USDA.It’s in the micronutrient department that iceberg lettuce nutrition starts to diverge. “In general, it doesn’t pack a nutritional punch like darker greens do,” Largeman-Roth explains. “The dark leafy greens contain more nutrients, like iron, magnesium, folate and fiber.”A quick look at the numbers confirms this. According to the USDA, a cup of shredded iceberg lettuce contains less than one gram of fiber, and only trace amounts of important vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin C, vitamin K, or iron. It’s also pretty low in antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which are present in higher concentrations in many other leafy greens and play an important role in eye health.1Darker leafy greens just offer more of, well, all of those micronutrients. Take veritable nutritional powerhouse kale, for instance. It boasts over three times as much fiber, almost 10 times as much vitamin A, 14 times as much calcium, 16 times as much vitamin K, and almost 30 times as much vitamin C, per USDA nutrition data. The differences in micronutrient content aren’t always quite so dramatic, but they still tend to be pretty significant across the board. When you look at iceberg lettuce vs. romaine, for example, romaine has about the same amount of fiber, but five times as much vitamin K and three times as much vitamin C, per USDA data. On the whole, pretty much any other green will have a greater concentration of micronutrients than iceberg. What are the benefits of iceberg lettuce?All of this might make it sound like iceberg is losing the battle of the leafy greens. But it still has some good stuff going for it, and both Feller and Largeman-Roth agree that you should eat it if you enjoy it.

25 Healthy High-Fat Foods to Keep You Full and Satisfied

25 Healthy High-Fat Foods to Keep You Full and Satisfied

Healthy high-fat foods are a wonderful way to incorporate more flavor, satisfaction, and nutrition into every snack and meal. Along with making food taste richer and more tasty, of course, this macronutrient rocks for a few reasons. So before getting into a lengthy, mouthwatering list of fantastic high-fat foods to incorporate into your diet (many of which you probably already have in your pantry or fridge), let’s touch on the benefits of fat and the different types. The important of giving fat a place in our diets may seem like common nutrition knowledge today. But before the days of the keto diet, high-carb low-fat foods and high-protein low-fat foods were widely considered better for you than any high-fat foods. The truth is that health-wise, fats play a vital role in numerous body functions, like cell growth and turnover, brain growth and development, and digestion, as SELF has reported. Fats are also responsible for keeping us full and satisfied for longer periods of time. Plus, a lot of good fat sources are also naturally rich in other essential nutrients, like fiber, protein, and a range of vitamins and minerals. What do people mean when they talk about healthy high-fat foods, though, as opposed to unhealthy ones? First of all, it can be dicey to divide foods into discrete categories of “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Our tendency to label foods this way is a practice supported by diet culture as much as (or more than) science, and generally speaking, all foods can have a place in a varied, balanced diet. Also, like many topics in nutrition, the research into the effects of the various types of fats on our health is evolving, and sometimes a source of disagreement among experts. That said, people generally use the term healthy fats as a simple way to refer to the unsaturated fats that we know are great for us, and unhealthy fats to refer to the saturated fats you may want to moderate. Here’s a brief rundown of saturated vs. unsaturated fats. (And if you want a more in-depth primer on the topic—along with answers to questions like how many grams of fat per day is ideal—check this piece out.)Fats considered ‘healthy’The science here is actually pretty substantial—these are the types of healthy fats we generally want more of. There are two kinds: Monounsaturated fats: “These are among the healthiest of all fats,” Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, tells SELF. Monounsaturated fats help develop and maintain your cells, and can help lower your LDL cholesterol levels, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says. They are found in foods like olive oil, nuts, and avocados (some of the best high-fat foods for vegetarians).Polyunsaturated fats: The two main types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which our bodies cannot make on their own but need for many essential functions, the American Heart Association (AHA) explains. Omega-3 fatty acids especially are beneficial for heart health, including reducing blood pressure and decreasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Omega-3s are mostly found in foods like fish, nuts, and seeds, while omega-6s are found in certain plant-based oils, Hunnes says.Fats experts recommend eating lessAlthough the science here is less clear-cut, there are two main types of fats that are not thought to be as healthy. Nutrition and public health experts generally advise either minimizing or moderating your intake of them. There are two kinds: 

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