Yes, you would like to place an order for pick-up, please and thank you.
Ordering Chinese takeout is easy. Ordering healthy Chinese takeout takes a little more thought. But finding the healthiest food from your favorite Chinese restaurant shouldn’t be hard—hi, that defeats the whole purpose of ordering in—so we’ve put together something of a healthy Chinese food options cheat sheet for you. We asked registered dietitians how they navigate the menu when there’s just no way they’re cooking tonight. The themes we heard over and over again? Watch out for sauces that go overboard on the sodium, steamed is healthier than fried (duh), and load up on veggies.
What if your favorite dish doesn’t make this list? Well, there are a couple ways to think about it. If you’re ordering out of sheer convenience and determined to make the healthiest choices possible, use this advice as a guide to meet this goal. If you’re ordering because you’re seriously craving something in particular…order it, enjoy the hell out of it, and don’t waste your time feeling guilty about it.
These 17 healthy Chinese food options are what registered dietitians order for themselves, and we have to admit, we’re getting hungry just looking at them. Let this list inspire your next takeout order. Who knows, you might even discover a new favorite.
1. Shrimp and Vegetables With Black Bean Sauce
“You get lean protein from the shrimp, and lots of antioxidants, fiber, and even a bit of water from the veggies,” says Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., and founder of Nutritious Life in NYC. She always orders her sauce on the side, so you can control how much is on there.
2. Beef and Broccoli
This classic dish gets a thumbs-up for its filling power. “I like beef and broccoli with brown rice,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D. “You don’t need too much beef to feel full.” Chicken and broccoli is a good option, too.
3. Mixed Vegetables
You’re probably not surprised that vegetables made the list. Patricia Bannan, M.S., R.D., recommends ordering steamed or even lightly stir-fried veggies on the side—the more, the better.
4. Extra Vegetables
Rather than ordering a separate dish, see if the restaurant will bulk up your current order with extra veg. “Ask for extra broccoli, carrots, or snow peas in any dish,” suggests Sarah-Jane Bedwell, R.D., L.D.N. “These are three veggies that Asian restaurants typically have on hand.” This tactic is one of her favorites for filling up her plate.
5. Moo Shu Vegetables
Maxine C. Yeung, a registered dietitian, personal trainer, and wellness coach, and owner of The Wellness Whisk, likes to order this dish, which is typically served with hoisin sauce and thin pancakes for wrapping. “This dish is majority vegetables—a mix of diced egg and vegetables, such as cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and sometimes cashews, flavored with scallions, ginger and garlic,” she says, adding, “It’s low in carbohydrates if you limit the number of pancakes or substitute with lettuces for wraps.”
6. Moo Shu Chicken
Glassman goes for the chicken version for the lean protein it provides. “But make sure to ask for light sauce,” she says. “It’s most likely high in sodium and (unhealthy!) fat.” Yeung also points out that the hoisin adds unnecessary sugar.
7. Steamed Anything
“I usually ask for my dish steamed with the sauce on the side,” says Scritchfield. “Steamed helps to reduce the oil in the dish, making it lighter in calories and possibly a bit easier to digest. You can get most any dish steamed.” This works for veggies, lean protein, rice, you name it.
8. A Small Soup
Eating a broth-based soup first can help you eat less later on, explains Alissa Rumsey, R.D. She prefers hot and sour soup, while Bedwell goes for wonton. Keri Gans, R.D., always orders egg drop soup. “A one cup serving is only 66 calories, so even though your serving from a restaurant is larger, the calories are still in check. It also provides around 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber per one cup serving.” It’s high in sodium, thought, which is something to keep in mind if you’re trying to watch your intake.
9. Moo Goo Gai Pan
Entrees that come with plenty of veg are always good options, says Rumsey. “Moo Goo Gai Pan typically consists of stir-fried chicken with mushrooms and other vegetables, providing a balanced meal with just a light sauce. It comes with a lot of vegetables, so they are the main part of the meal, not just an afterthought.” This is a favorite of Bedwell’s, too: “It’s flavorful and lean with chicken, mushrooms, and other mixed veggies and is not as high in sugars and fats as many other dishes.”
10. Chinese Eggplant With Garlic Sauce
“I like Chinese eggplant in spicy garlic sauce because it’s all vegetable! In addition to the eggplant, it usually comes with broccoli too,” says Scritchfield.
11. Steamed Dumplings
“If you want an appetizer, [go for] a vegetable dumpling that is steamed and not fried,” says Gans. You might also recognize these as potstickers—either way, they get top marks when they haven’t been fried in oil and they’re filled with veggies.
12. Brown Rice With a Scrambled Egg
Scritchfield has a simple, healthier swap for fried rice: Order brown rice and ask for a scrambled egg on the side. “Most takeouts have eggs for the fried rice, and they are willing to do this for you,” she explains. “Brown rice has a lower glycemic index as compared to white rice, which helps reduce insulin spikes.”
13. Shrimp or Tofu Entrées
While Gans herself typically prefers broccoli and garlic sauce, “If it is a higher-end restaurant I might opt for some shrimp,” she says. Bedwell adds that steamed shrimp is a great way too add lean protein to your meal—if you’re a vegetarian, she recommends grilled tofu instead.
14. Kung Pao Chicken
Bring on the spice. Order Kung Pao chicken instead of sweet-and-sour chicken, sesame chicken, and General Tso’s chicken, says Bedwell. “It comes with abundant vegetables, sans the fried chicken!”
15. Buddha’s Delight
“If I want to do a vegetarian meal, I’ll go for Buddah’s Delight since it is a flavorful dish that is primarily steamed veggies with a little tofu for protein,” says Bedwell. This is a personal favorite of Rumsey’s, too.
16. Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Glassman calls this “an obvious choice to get veggies and protein all in one.” Plus, they’re fun to make and eat.
17. Sauce on the Side
This tip came up again and again. “By getting it on the side you can better control the amount you eat,” says Rumsey. “Often I take two or three tablespoons of the original sauce and mix it with low-sodium soy sauce.” Bannan adds, “For comparison, one tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce has 22 percent of your days’ worth of sodium and one tablespoon of regular soy sauce has about 38 percent of your days’ worth of sodium.”
Mix-and-match dinner components for healthy, relaxing meals, featuring slow-roasted salmon, rotisserie chicken, zucchini spaghetti, and more!
Dinner is a mystery to me. It is definitely my favorite meal to eat – but being in charge of getting it on the table can be kind of dispiriting. It just comes around and comes around, and even though you just made dinner last night, it is time to make more of it, to make it again and again, whether or not you are out of ideas and whether or not you have family members milling around like a school of hungry sharks.
Dinner prep can be especially tricky if you’re trying to lower your overall carb intake since easy, comfortable favorites like spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese, or even breakfast for dinner have to be tinkered with. That’s why my recipes are meant to be the meal equivalent of practical wardrobe separates: you can make them as stand-alone recipes, or you can mix and match them into complete meals. They are generally low-carb, nutrient-dense, and also fairly straightforward and quite delicious. Plus, you can add whatever seasonings you like to make them even more interesting for yourself or the people you’re feeding – in other words, you can dress them up, dress them down, serve them with jeans, etc. Or that’s the hope.
I want to say here, in the interest of full transparency, that lots of people at diaTribe, including our own Adam Brown and me, are increasingly convinced that lowering carbohydrate intake substantially helps stabilize blood sugars and makes people feel better. But then we’re not completely avoiding carbs, and we don’t want to assume that you are. (Although if you are, that’s great!) We are thinking of some of these foods – the quinoa, for example – as better options than the ones like bread or pasta that have lots of carbs that go in fast. But please feel free to tell us what you’re thinking, what you’re wanting to cook more or less of at home. Because we really want to know!
Okay, that’s a kind of inaccurate headline because you’re not really making 10 entire meals from a single chicken. It’s more that I’m giving you 10 different meal ideas for when you’ve bought a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, but you don’t really want to have just the plain chicken (again). I love supermarket rotisserie chickens because they’re inexpensive and they’re tasty – and because they lend themselves to such a lovely range of meals, without the fuss of first prepping and cooking the chicken. (Plus, nobody will know that you peeled off and ate the entire bronzed chicken skin while you were cooking. Chef’s prerogative!)
(Serving size and carb counts will depend on individual preparations, but I’m indicating what the source of carbs is below)
Lettuce Wraps (The carrot will add up to 3 grams of carbs per serving)
Butter or Boston lettuce leaves + shredded chicken + slivered carrots and/or cucumbers + basil and/or mint + a simple peanut dressing made by whisking together 2 tablespoons peanut butter (try to get the no-sugar ones), 1 tablespoon balsamic or rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon cayenne, and enough warm water by the spoonful to make it creamy and drizzle-able
Chicken Caesar (The chickpeas will add up to 15 grams of carbs per serving; feel free to omit them)
Cut-up Romaine lettuce + shredded chicken + grated parmesan + Caesar dressing + chickpea croutons (below). Adam’s Brown shared his Caesar dressing recipe, one he’s modified from The Keto Diet book: In a blender or food processor, whiz together 1 cup olive oil, ½ cup mayonnaise (use full-fat; look for Best Foods or Hellmann’s; otherwise, check that there are 0 grams of sugar per serving), one small tin of anchovy fillets, 6 tablespoons lemon juice, 2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 4 cloves of garlic (or 2 teaspoons garlic powder) and a grind of black pepper until creamy and smooth. This makes enough to dress 10 large plates of salad.
Green Noodles with Chicken (The red pepper will add up to 3 grams of carbs, the zucchini noodles around 6 grams)
Sautéed zucchini noodles (see below) + pesto + shredded chicken + red bell pepper + toasted pine nuts + grated parmesan cheese
Ginger-Miso Chicken Salad (The miso will add 2 grams of carbs, the almonds or peanuts up to 2 or 3 grams)
Cut-up Romaine lettuce + shredded chicken + sliced celery and/or cucumbers + toasted sliced almonds or roasted peanuts + miso-ginger dressing made by whisking together ¼ cup white miso + ¼ cup rice vinegar + 2 teaspoons finely minced ginger + 1 teaspoon soy sauce + 1/3 cup vegetable oil + 1 tablespoon warm water
Chicken Burrito Bowl (The beans will add up to 10 grams of carbs, the avocado up to 3 or 4 grams)
Shredded chicken + black or pinto beans + shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese + sour cream + salsa + diced avocado
Buffalo Chicken Salad (The blue cheese dressing might add a gram or two of carbs)
Cut-up Romaine lettuce and/or mixed greens + shredded chicken + sliced celery + blue cheese dressing + a few shakes of Frank’s Red Hot or Louisiana hot sauce
Mexican Chicken Soup (The tomato will add up to 5 grams of carbs, the avocado up to 3 or 4 grams)
Chicken broth + shredded chicken + canned tomatoes + sautéed onion and garlic + oregano and chili powder + lime juice + avocado + sour cream
Cobb Salad (The tomato will add up to 4 grams of carbs, the avocado up to 3 or 4 grams)
Vietnamese Chicken Salad (The carrots will add up to 3 grams of carbs, the Sriracha or hot sauce up to 1 gram)
Slivered napa cabbage + shredded chicken + grated carrots + chopped mint and/or cilantro + lime vinaigrette made with 3 tablespoons lime juice + 3 tablespoons fish sauce + 3 tablespoons vegetable oil + 1 clove minced garlic + Sriracha or other hot sauce to taste
Makes: 2 servings
Total carbohydrates: 6 grams per serving
Hands-on time: 5-15 minutes (depending on whether you’re spiralizing yourself)
Total time: 5-15 minutes
So, yes, oodles of zoodles and all that – it’s true that spiralizing vegetables, i.e. slicing them into spaghetti-shaped strands, is kind of a food trend. But zucchini noodles are light and delicious, naturally low in carbohydrates, and naturally high in fiber and nutrients. Plus, if you give them the spaghetti treatment – sauce and cheese, a spoonful of pesto, or even simply a little pat of melting butter – you just might convince any squash-wary family members that they’re worth tasting.
A note on gadgets: I have a super-simple double-sided pencil-sharpener type spiralizer, and I find it quite easy to use. I would also recommend the SpiraLife Vegetable Spiralizer ($13.99), a hand-held no-bells-and-whistles model that I like because it’s a) relatively inexpensive and b) entirely mechanical, which means you don’t need to plug it in and it won’t break.
However, you can invest in a more efficient gadget if you anticipate eating this a lot (Adam really likes this one) or you can even buy your veggies already-spiralized in some places if you want to pay a little more.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound zucchini noodles (also called zoodles) or 1 pound zucchini (about 2 medium), spiralized
Heat the oil in a wide skillet (ideally nonstick) over medium-high heat.
Add the zucchini and sauté, tossing gently with tongs as it cooks, until it is just barely tender. This will take around 3 minutes, and you should stop before you think it’s completely cooked because it will keep cooking and you don’t want it suddenly sitting in a flood of water. Likewise, don’t salt it until you’re done cooking it, since the salt also will pull water from it.
Salt and sauce as you like.
Perfect Slow-Roasted Salmon
Makes: 4 servings
Total carbohydrates: less than 1 gram per serving
Hands-on time: 5 minutes
Total time: 20-30 minutes
This is my very favorite way to cook salmon (or cod or striped bass, for that matter): the fish ends up meltingly tender, with a velvety texture and a very fresh, mild flavor. Don’t expect it to brown (alas), and don’t expect it to look the way you might expect cooked fish to look, since it won’t turn pale pink and opaque. It’s perfect as a regular main course, or atop a salad for a leafier meal.
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil (divided use)
Grated zest of 1 lemon (quarter the lemon after zesting it)
1 clove garlic, smashed, peeled, and minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped, or another herb of your choosing (optional)
4 pieces of thick salmon fillet (ask for center-cut), 1- 1 ½ pounds total
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Simple tartar sauce, below (optional)
Heat the oven to 275° F. Cover a baking sheet with foil, then brush or rub it with the half tablespoon of olive oil.
In a small bowl, stir together the lemon zest, garlic, and remaining tablespoon of oil.
Put the fish on the baking sheet, skin side-down. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper, then drizzle the lemon-garlic oil evenly over the fillets.
Roast for 15 to 25 minutes, until the flesh is just beginning to flake when you press a fork into it, and you can separate the fish from its skin. It might look different from the way you’re used to cooked fish looking – rosier and less opaque. That’s okay!
Serve with the lemon wedges, warm, at room temperature, or cold.
Simple Tartar Sauce
Whisk together ½ cup mayonnaise (use full-fat; look for Best Foods or Hellmann’s; otherwise, check that there are 0 grams of sugar per serving), 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped capers, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and ½ teaspoon salt. Feel free to add finely chopped cornichons (mini sour pickles) or dill pickles, and/or chopped dill.
Makes: 6 servings
Total carbohydrates: 20 grams per serving
Hands-on time: 5 minutes
Total time: 20-30 minutes
Quinoa is a wonderful grain… or seed… or superfood of the Andes. Whatever it is, it’s somehow simultaneously tender and crunchy, and also nutty and delicious. Plus, it’s gluten-free, high in fiber, and super-high in protein. Try swapping it into any dish or meal that you’d typically use rice for, since it offers so much more nutritional value. And if you’re serving the quinoa as a plain side dish, try stir in the juice and grated zest of half a lemon. Yum. (But also, if you’re aiming for fewer carbs, try making something like cauliflower “rice” instead, which you can find in some frozen vegetable aisles – Trader Joe’s has great options.)
1 ½ cups quinoa
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
Bring a medium or large pot of water to a boil over high heat and salt it heavily. It should taste as salty as the sea, so we are talking a fair amount of salt.
Add the quinoa and stir, turn the heat down to medium-high and cook it for 10-15 minutes, uncovered, until it is just tender and the grains have spiraled open a bit. It will continue to cook as it steams, so don’t cook it until it’s soft at this point – just fish a little out with a fork to test.
Drain it really, really well in a fine sieve – I mean, really shake it around to get the water out – then put it back in the pot, stretch a doubled dish towel over the top of the pot, and put the lid back on. Leave it to steam for 5 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the butter or oil and serve.
The Best Roasted Vegetables
Makes: 4 servings
Total carbohydrates: around 10 grams per serving
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25-35 minutes
1 large head broccoli or cauliflower, or 1 ½ pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
Optional: ½ teaspoon of sugar
Note: If you feel weird adding sugar to your vegetables, please feel free to leave it out. That seems completely reasonable to me, and the vegetables will still be totally good! However, because it helps the vegetables brown, because it only adds only a 1/2 gram of carbs per serving, and because this has, for years, been the best recipe I have for getting vast quantities of vegetables into the bodies of my children, I include it.
Lemon wedges, for serving
Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a large rimmed baking sheet on the rack, and heat the oven to 500 degrees.
If you’re using broccoli, peel the thick stems with a sharp paring knife as best as you’re able. Then cut the stem into long ½-inch-thick pieces and the rest into long, narrowish florets. If you’re using cauliflower, trim out the core with a sharp paring knife, then cut it up into florets, ideally cutting each in half so there’s a flat side. For Brussels sprouts, trim off the bottoms and any discolored leaves, then cut them in half.
Put the vegetables in a bowl, drizzle with the oil and toss well until evenly coated. Sprinkle with the salt and sugar, and toss to combine.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven, then dump on the veggies, spreading them in an even layer and placing flat sides down wherever possible.
Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast until the stalks are well browned and tender and the vegetables are lightly browned: about 10 minutes for broccoli; 15 minutes for cauliflower; 15-20 minutes for Brussels sprouts. Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately with lemon wedges.
Makes: 1 cup (4 servings)
Total carbohydrates: 15 grams per serving
Hands-on time: 5 minutes
Total time: 25-20 minutes
I love these so much more than traditional croutons and they are better for you! They’ve got all the crunch, flavor, and saltiness you expect, but then they also add a ton of protein, fiber, and vitamins to your Caesar or green salad. Use a nonstick or well-seasoned pan, if you’ve got one.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and spread to dry on a double thickness of paper towels
Salt to taste (use plenty)
Garlic powder (optional)
Heat the oil in a medium pan over medium heat until it is medium hot.
Add the chickpeas in a single layer, salt them liberally, and leave them for a few minutes, unpestered by you and your spatula, so they can start to turn a bit golden on the bottom. Now start flipping and turning them every so often, shaking the pan around, until the chickpeas are as crisp and brown as they could be without burning. This will take 10-15 minutes.
Add a sprinkle of garlic powder, if you’re using it, then taste for salt and remove the chickpeas to a paper-towel-lined dish to cool a bit before their introduction to the salad.
It’s important food for your cells, but is it possible to overdo it?
With so many protein bars, shakes, and supplements on the market, it’s kind of been hammered into our heads that protein is the wonder nutrient.
It is an important building block for our cells, essential to repair old ones and build new ones. Which is why we think about it most commonly as a post-workout muscle-builder. Recent compelling studies have shown that a higher-protein diet may potentially help with weight management—particularly by helping us feel more satiated, and helping burn fat mass and maintain lean muscle. It also may have benefits for your heart. But the research is small and far from conclusive.
So how much protein should you eat? And can you ever eat too much? We talked to nutritionists and scoured studies to find out how much protein is healthy to pack into each day.
First of all, there’s no easy one-size-fits-all recommendation on how much protein you should get.
The current USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend protein make up somewhere between 10 and 35 percent of your daily calories (but some nutrition experts think 35 sounds really high). A lot of people automatically think of 2,000 calories a day as the standard, but that might not be right for you—you may be eating more or less depending on your weight, fitness level, weight loss goals, and if you’re pregnant.
“Your [ideal amount of protein] will vary based on caloric needs and whatever else you have going on,” Kristen F. Gradney, R.D., director of nutrition and metabolic services at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF. “For example, if you work out and lift weights three or four days a week, you’re going to need a little more than somebody who doesn’t. It varies.”
You can also use the calculation from the Institute of Medicine, which says the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein for adults should be 0.8 g/kg body weight. To calculate it, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2, then multiply by 0.8. “So for a 130-pound woman, that would be 47 grams of protein,” explains Jessica Fishman Levinson, R.D., founder of nutrition counseling company Nutritioulicious. For an even more personalized look at your protein needs, use this handy USDA nutrient calculator, which also takes into account your height and activity level.
Let’s be honest: all of the different calculations make it a bit confusing. But in the end, you’ll get a very similar result no matter which way you think about it. Just remember that your recommended grams means grams of protein in your food, not the serving size. So for example, a 4-ounce piece of sirloin steak has 24 grams of protein.
Complicated math aside, chances are you’re getting the right amount of protein without even thinking about it.
According to the 2015 USDA dietary guidelines committee, most people are getting just about (or just under) the recommended amount of “protein foods,” meaning meat, poultry, and eggs. Here’s the rub: “protein foods” doesn’t include dairy, soy, or grains, so if you’re eating those things (which you probably are), it’s likely you’re right in the middle of the recommendations without really trying.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition following a protein summit of over 60 nutrition experts found that the average American currently gets 16 percent of their daily calories from protein, but that we could eat more than that. The suggestion to increase protein intake isn’t widely accepted though, and more research needs to be done to determine if the benefits are enough to make sweeping recommendations.
There is a chance of overdoing it, and over time that can lead to some adverse health effects.
“You can always have too much of anything,” Levinson says. “But [overloading on protein] is more common in athletes and body builders, especially those who use protein powders multiple times a day in addition to the other protein they’re getting from their diet,” Levinson explains.
Most nutrients have a certain level that the average person can eat in a day before experiencing negative effects, called the “tolerable upper intake level.” Right now, there isn’t one that’s known for protein because we don’t have enough research to show what it would be.
Eating too much protein over time (months or years, depending on genetics) can lead to kidney problems, though. “Protein is a very big molecule that your body has to break down,” Gradney explains, so overloading puts unnecessary pressure on the kidneys. If your protein sources are animal-based, eating too much can also mean eating too many saturated fats, which can affect your heart and weight negatively.
Other downfalls of eating too much protein: “If intake of protein is more than needed, it won’t be burned and instead will be stored in the body and can lead to weight gain,” Levinson says. Also, eating too much protein might make you eat less of other important nutrients, making your diet unbalanced. If you’re replacing carbs, which your body burns for fuel, your body may start to burn protein instead, which can lead to bad breath, she adds. It can also, weirdly, make your sweat smell like ammonia—it’s one of the by-products when the amino acids in protein are broken down.
In the end, the types of protein you eat (and when) matters the most.
In general, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, we’re eating enough protein. However, Levinson says, we’re not necessarily getting it from the best sources. Many people (especially boys and men) are getting too much of it from meat, poultry and eggs, and not enough from seafood and legumes, which count as both a protein and a vegetable.
Eating a variety of proteins will also ensure you’re not missing out on the other nutrients your body needs, or going overboard on calories. And it’s pretty much impossible to overeat protein on a plant-based diet, so it’s more likely you’ll naturally stay within your ideal intake range versus if you’re only getting protein from red meat and poultry.
Spacing out your protein intake throughout the day may help enhance protein’s effects on your muscles. “Research is showing that protein should be spread out throughout the day rather than the majority being consumed at one meal, which is usually what people do when they eat most of their protein at dinner,” Levinson says. She suggests getting no more than 30 grams in one meal.
Although being black in this world certainly comes with its struggles, I wouldn’t trade that integral part of my identity for anything. Black-girl magic is real. But it’s a sad fact that black women are often plagued with disproportionately high incidences or mortality rates for various health conditions, like heart disease, breast cancer, and more.
It sounds scary—and it can be—but knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your physical and mental health. Here are eight health conditions black women should be especially aware of, plus how to best prevent them.
1. Heart disease, stroke, and diabetes
These conditions often occur together or exacerbate each other, and they’re striking black women hard.
Around 7.6 percent of black women have heart disease, compared to 5.8 percent of white women and 5.6 percent of Mexican-American women, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2011-2013. In 2016, around 46 of every 100,000 black women died from strokes, while 35 of every 100,000 white women did. And while white women’s diabetes diagnosis rate is 5.4 per 100, that number is 9.9 per 100 for black women, according to CDC data from 1980-2014—almost double.
A group of risk factors known as metabolic syndrome increases a person’s chance of getting these diseases. These risk factors include having a waist circumference above 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men, high levels of triglycerides (fat in the blood), a low HDL (“good”) cholesterol level, high blood pressure, and high fasting blood sugar.
Someone must have at least three of these factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, but having even one can signal higher chances of getting heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Those first two are particularly lethal, killing one woman about every 80 seconds.
The black community’s obesity crisis is a symbol of just how at-risk this segment of the population is. “The vast majority of African-American adult women are either overweight or obese,” Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, tells SELF. While 37.6 percent of black men ages 20 or over are obese according to the latest data, that number jumps to 56.9 percent for black women. It stands at 36.2 percent for white women.
Various genetic components are likely at play with metabolic syndrome—for instance, some research points to a gene that might make black people more sensitive to salt, thus influencing blood pressure—but much of this issue is societal.
“It’s the foods we eat—many communities don’t have easy access to healthier options,” Dr. Hutcherson says. A 2013 study in Preventive Medicine found that “poor, predominantly black neighborhoods face…the most limited access to quality food.” Dr. Hutcherson also cites stress and adds that a lack of exercise can be a problem, too, if it’s hard to get access to a gym or the neighborhood isn’t safe.
Lifestyle changes like eating better, exercising, and stopping smoking can prevent 80 percent of heart disease events and stroke and lower people’s chances of developing diabetes, according to the CDC. But clearly, that’s sometimes easier said than done.
2. Breast cancer
Black women have a 1 in 9 chance of developing breast cancer; for white women the odds are 1 in 8, according to the American Cancer Society. But black women are more likely to die from the disease: White women’s probability of dying from breast cancer is 1 in 37, while black women’s is 1 in 31.
“The reasons why black women are more likely to die [from breast cancer than other groups] are very complex,” Adrienne Phillips, M.D., oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, tells SELF, citing “an interplay between genetics, biology, and environment.”
Along with BRCA mutations (which may be higher in black women than experts previously thought), black women are more likely to get triple-negative breast cancer—a particularly aggressive form of the disease—than women of other races. Then there are the environmental factors Dr. Phillips mentions, like socioeconomic issues that lead to trouble accessing early diagnosis and treatment.
Much like metabolic syndrome, lowering your risk of getting breast cancer mainly comes down to exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, not going overboard on alcohol, and quitting smoking. And even though major organizations haven’t found a notable benefit from breast self-exams, many doctors strongly recommend you check your breasts monthly so you’re aware of any changes.
3. Cervical cancer
Research published in January in the journal Cancer found that not only are black women more likely to die of cervical cancer than women of other races, they’re also 77 percent more likely to die from it than experts previously thought. Prior estimates said 5.7 black women per 100,000 would die of the disease, but this new research puts the number at 10.1 per 100,000.
“Unlike breast cancer, cervical cancer is absolutely preventable in this day and age,” Dr. Phillips says. “In 2017, no woman should be diagnosed with cervical cancer.”
That’s partly because the HPV vaccine is excellent at preventing infection of certain strains of human papillomavirus that can go on to cause cancer. But as of August 2016, only 6 out of 10 girls ages 13 to 17 and 5 of 10 boys in the same age range had started the vaccine series, which doctors recommend getting before age 26 for optimal results. Racial disparities are relevant here—a 2014 report from the CDC showed that around 71 percent of white girls 13 to 17 had completed the three-shot series, compared with about 62 percent of black girls in that age group. (The CDC changed these recommendations in 2016: It now says only two doses are necessary for optimal protection if the patient is between 11 and 12, but three are still ideal if the patient is between 15 and 26.)
Timely Pap smears are also wonderfully effective at preventing full-blown cervical cancer. “A Pap smear will detect preinvasive cervical cancer, but…studies have shown women who are having Pap smears may not get appropriate follow-up,” Dr. Phillips says. “A number of barriers exist for proper follow-up, and African-American women may be more vulnerable.”
Another potential factor, though, may be racial disparities in cervical cancertreatment. A 2014 study published in Plos One found that black women in Maryland were significantly less likely than white women to get surgery for cervical cancer instead of radiation or chemotherapy.
“Equivalent treatments are not being administered to white and black patients with cervical cancer in Maryland,” the study authors concluded. “Differences in care may contribute to racial disparities in outcomes for women with cervical cancer.”
A 2016 study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reached a similar conclusion. The study looked at more than 16,000 patients who had received care for advanced cervical cancer, finding that white women received National Cancer Institute guideline–based care 58 percent of the time, black women 53 percent of the time, and Hispanic women 51.5 percent of the time.
“Most of the time, women don’t know they have fibroids because they don’t have symptoms,” Dr. Hutcherson says. “But when [the fibroids] start to grow or increase in number, they can cause a large number of problems, from pain to bleeding to miscarriages, to problems with urination and problems with bowel movements.”
These symptoms can have a lot of other causes, but if you do have fibroids, you and your doctors can work on a treatment plan. To tackle heavy bleeding and pelvic pain, your doctor may recommend hormonal birth control. But doctors can also perform a myomectomy to remove the fibroids or use techniques like uterine artery embolization and radiofrequency ablation to either block the fibroid from getting nutrients or shrink it.
If you’re done having children or are not interested in having them in the first place, as a last resort, doctors can perform a hysterectomy to put a definitive end to fibroids. Since this makes it impossible to get pregnant, it’s an incredibly delicate decision that varies from woman to woman.
5. Premature delivery
Giving birth prematurely, or going into labor before 37 weeks of pregnancy, can predispose a child to breathing issues, digestive problems, brain bleeding, and long-term developmental delays. It can also lead to death—the earlier a baby is born, the higher this danger becomes.
Unfortunately, black women are particularly susceptible to going into labor too early. According to the CDC, the 2015 preterm birth rate in black women was 13 percent; for white women it was 9 percent.
“This is multifactorial—it can be affected by obesity, by stress, by diet, by increased vaginal infections, and the decreased access to care in some of our populations,” Dr. Hutcherson says. Women having access to prenatal care is incredibly important for slashing the risk of preterm birth, but when socioeconomics come into the picture, it becomes a complex situation with too few solutions. However, the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health is working on a variety of state- and national-level initiatives to reduce preterm birth in all women.
6. Sickle cell disease
This is an umbrella term for a collection of inherited, lifelong blood disorders that around 1 of every 365 black babies is born with, according to the CDC. Sickle cell disease is caused by a sickle hemoglobin, which happens when the structure of a person’s hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen to the red blood cells, is abnormal. Instead of being circular, their red blood cells can look like sickles, a C-shaped farming tool, Dr. Phillips explains.
Sickle-shaped red blood cells can get destroyed in the blood stream, so patients may become anemic. These cells can also clog blood vessels, which can lead to infection, chest pain, and even stroke. And if a pregnant woman has sickle cell disease, it increases the probability of miscarriage, premature birth, and having a baby with a low birth weight, according to the March of Dimes.
Black women who are considering children should get screened for sickle cell no matter what, Dr. Phillips says. It’s possible to not have the disease but have the sickle cell trait, meaning you inherited one sickle cell gene and one normal gene from your parents. If your partner also has sickle cell trait, there is a 25 percent chance your child will inherit sickle cell disease. According to a CDC estimate from 2014, 73 out of every 1,000 black newborns was born with sickle cell trait, compared with 3 out of every 1,000 white newborns.
With proper care and caution to avoid complications, kids with sickle cell disease can live healthy, happy lives, Phillips says—it’s essential for their parents to get the proper education about how to keep them safe.
7. Sexually transmitted diseases
Here’s a bit of good news: Rates of reported chlamydia cases in black people decreased 11.2 percent from 2011 to 2015, according to the CDC. There was a similar downward trend with gonorrhea, which declined 4 percent in that time frame. But black women still outpace other groups when it comes to new diagnoses of these diseases, along with new diagnoses of syphilis.
This problem also extends to HIV/AIDS. Besides black men, black women comprise a majority of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses per year (although the number is thankfully falling). For example, according to the CDC, in 2015, 4,524 black women were diagnosed with HIV in the United States, while 1,431 white women and 1,131 Hispanic/Latina women received the same diagnosis.
“It’s not like black women are having more sex than anyone else,” Dr. Hutcherson says. “Access to good preventive care is the crux of it—if [women] could see health care providers on a regular basis and be educated about what they should be doing to take care of themselves, we probably wouldn’t have as much of a problem.”
Economic insecurity is also an element—condoms and dental dams cost money, after all—as is a general reticence to discuss safe sex.
“There’s a stigma around talking about sex, so people engage in risky sexual activity without protection,” Dr. Hutcherson says.
8. Mental health issues
In addition to the usual biological culprits that can contribute to mental illnessissues, economic insecurity and racism can negatively impact mental health status in the black community.
Overall, black people are 10 percent more likely to report experiencing serious psychological distress than white people, according to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
“In 2017, we still face a lot of economic insecurity and racism in general. It’s a problem that causes stress and anxiety, which then can lead into depression, and that’s something we never discuss,” Dr. Hutcherson says. “I wish we could make it more acceptable to talk about this and seek care.” Just like in many other cultures, the black community is wrestling with the stigma of seeking help for mental distress. There’s also the reduced access to this kind of counseling in the first place, and the fact that mental health care can be prohibitively expensive. Many counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists don’t take health insurance, which may deter people from getting the help they need. Combined, these factors resulted in 9.4 percent of black adults getting mental health treatment or some form of counseling in 2014 versus 18.8 percent of white people age 18 and older, per the Office of Minority Health.
Black women are especially vulnerable to wrestling with their mental health, consistently reporting higher feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and the sense that everything is an effort than white women do. “Black women are frequently the pillars of our community, taking care of everyone’s health but our own,” Dr. Phillips says. “But it’s very important for women to practice self-care and not forget about themselves when trying to be so strong.”
You’ve got your leggings, your sports bra, your sneakers, and a hair tie. You’re ready to work out, right? Actually, you’re missing one crucial ingredient: food. What you eat before a workout is important. If you’re going to put the machine that is your body through the paces, you want to fuel it first with proper nutrition. And did you know that what you eat after a workout is really important, too? Indeed, re-fueling after exercise gives your body what it needs to recover from the exertion and build bigger, stronger muscles. That means being thoughtful about what you eat before and after exercising will help you maximize the benefits of all your hard work at the gym. And, no, I’m not talking about pre-workout supplements, I’m talking about real, delicious meals and snacks. The kind of things you would enjoy anyway—and will enjoy even more when you know they’re helping you reach your fitness goals.
As a registered dietitian, here are the top tips I give my patients regarding eating right both before and after your workout. Consider this part of your training plan.
What to eat before a workout:
I counsel my patients to eat before exercise because I think it will give them the best chance to get the most out of their workouts. Not eating enough before a workout can make you dizzy, lightheaded, nauseated, or lethargic. It can also make you more likely to injure yourself. And even if none of these things happens, skipping food can negatively impact your performance and reduce your gains.
But I know that realistically everyone won’t always have the time (or desire) to eat before a workout. On nights when you’re scrambling to get from the office to your favorite studio for that 6:00 P.M. class, it might feel impossible to squeeze in a snack on the way. And what do you do if you’re a morning workout person who doesn’t like to eat breakfast? (Psst: It’s fine to not eat breakfast every day, despite all that most important meal of the day talk.) The truth is, for most people it’s OK to workout on an empty stomach (I would not recommend doing that if you have blood sugar issues). So if you can’t even grab a protein bar, or the idea of forcing down a bite makes you want to gag, that’s all right. But ideally you should fuel up before you work up a sweat—and definitely, definitely drink water before, during, and after. Here’s how to fuel up right.
1. Carbs are good.
Carbs = energy. When we eat them, they break down into glucose, enter our muscle cells, and give us fuel to exercise at our maximum capacity. Your muscles store glucose in the form of glycogen, and dip into these reserves when you’re putting them to work. Eating carbs before you exercise ensures that you’ll have extra glucose on hand if you need it to replenish those glycogen stores. If you’re strapped for glucose during your workout, you’ll likely feel weak, tired, and tempted to call it quits and take a nap. Before a workout, it’s good to eat simple carbohydrates, because they are digested fast and provide quick energy.
a granola bar
a piece of fruit
Greek yogurt (this contains carbs and protein)
a rice cake
a piece of toast
2. And don’t forget about protein.
In addition to carbs, it’s a good idea to consume a little bit of protein before your workout—especially if you are doing weight training. When we do strength training exercises, like lifting weights, we create small tears in our muscle fibers. When you rest, your body repairs those microtears, building up your muscles bigger and stronger than they were before—and it needs protein to do it. But that doesn’t mean you want to pound a burger before a workout. Instead, go for sources of protein that are easily digestible, and don’t eat too much, so you don’t get an upset stomach halfway through your 5-mile run.
Examples of good sources of protein to eat before a workout include:
a slice of turkey
a hardboiled egg
milk or soy milk
3. Timing is everything.
The ideal time to eat is between 30 minutes to three hours before your workout. That way you’re not still digesting when you hit the gym floor, but you haven’t gone and used up all those helpful calories yet. Having said that, this can be customized. You may have to experiment to see which timeframe does your body good. If you’re working out first thing in the morning, you probably won’t be able to eat a whole meal before you hit the gym. A small snack or mini-breakfast should suffice. I like to start sipping on this protein-packed green smoothie 30 minutes to an hour before I hit the gym, and finish the other half when I’m done. If you are exercising later in the day, I recommend having a 100- to 150-calorie snack 30 minutes to an hour before your workout, or working out 2-3 hours after a well-balanced meal.
4. Drink up.
It’s best to get your body hydrated before you even think about heading to the gym. One way to determine your overall hydration status is to check out the color of your urine first thing in the morning. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, lemonade-colored urine is a sign of appropriate hydration, while dark colored urine (think apple juice), indicates a deficit in H20.
While there is no one-size-fits-all method to determining fluid needs during exercise, a good place to start is drinking about 2 cups of water 2 to 3 hours before exercise and 1 cup of water 10 to 20 minutes before working out. The goal here is to minimize dehydration—which can cause low energy, and muscle cramps or spasms—without drinking too much water. You should try to also stay hydrated throughout your workout. Consider drinking 1 cup of water for every 15-30 minutes of intense physical activity, especially if you are sweating profusely or are training in a heated environment. Again, this may take a bit of experimentation until you find what works best for your body.
Here are a few pre-workout snack and meal ideas I recommend:
Snack: An apple or pear with 1 tablespoon of nut butter
Snack: ¾ cup of Greek yogurt with 1 tablespoon granola and ½ cup of berries
Snack: 2 tablespoons of dried fruit and 1 tablespoon of raw, unsalted nuts
Snack: 100-calorie granola bar
Snack: 1-2 rice cakes topped with 1 tablespoon of nut butter
Meal: Oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter and ½ cup of fruit
Meal: 4 ounces of baked salmon, ¾ cup of brown rice, with 1 cup of roasted veggies
What to eat after a workout:
You need to eat after a workout. Period. Eating after a workout is all about replacing the calories you used up. For one, it’s important to replenish the glycogen that has been depleted during your exercise. Secondly, eating protein after a workout is a must for a speedy muscle recovery, particularly after weight training. Plus, food contains electrolytes (which are minerals that your neurons need to fire properly), which you lose when you sweat.
When you don’t eat after a workout, you can end up fatigued and battling low blood sugar. You’re also inhibiting your body’s repair process. If you routinely skip eating after a workout, it will be harder to reach your fitness goals.
1. Make sure to eat something soon.
Especially if you just worked out really hard, your body has just used up the energy it needs to function at max capacity. Ideally, you want to refuel within about 30 minutes of working out to get those energy stores back up. If you aren’t able to eat a full meal right away, have a snack within 20 minutes of your training, then a full meal 3 to 4 hours later.
2. Refuel with carbs and protein.
Remember, you’ve blown through that glycogen and torn up your muscles. Therefore, your post-workout meal should be high in complex carbohydrates (you don’t need them to break down fast like you did beforehand) and loaded with healthy protein.
Complex carbohydrates include:
whole wheat bread
Healthy proteins include:
3. Athletes: Your protein needs may be increased.
For athletes doing intense weight training for long periods of time (45 to 90 minutes), you may require a little bit of extra protein (especially if your goal is to build muscle). You can customize your protein needs using this simple formula:
Divide your weight by 2.2 to get kilograms
Multiply that number multiplying by 0.4 and 0.5. to get a range of recommended protein intake
Okay so let’s do the math. If you weigh 130 pounds, divide that by 2.2 and you’ll get 59 kilograms. Then multiply that number by 0.4 and 0.5 to get a protein range. In this case, it’s 24 to 30 grams. Keep in mind that 4 ounces of chicken has 30 grams of protein, so these numbers aren’t that hard to achieve if you have a meal immediately after working out. Remember that these protein calculations are used determine protein needs for athletes doing intense resistance training for long periods of time. For those of us who do a cute (but equally tough!) 25 minutes on the treadmill and 20 minutes in the weight room, our protein needs may not be as high, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here are some dinners perfectly suited for after a not-so-hard workout.
4. Don’t overcompensate.
Here’s the thing, it’s really easy to overdo it with your post-workout snacks, and end up eating or drinking more calories than you actually burned. That’s fine if you are trying to gain weight, but for folks who want to lose or maintain their weight, this is counterproductive. Skip the energy drinks, bars, sugary smoothies, and smoothie bowls at the gym juice bar. You don’t need ’em. Try to keep your post-workout snack around 150 calories and your post-workout meal under 500.
5. Rehydrate ASAP.
Replenishing the fluids you lost while sweating as soon as you can is even more important than eating right away. Don’t stop drinking just because you’re done shvitzing. Getting enough water after exercise depends on many factors, namely the length and intensity of the exercise, the environmental conditions, and your individual physiology. If you want to get all scientific about determining your fluid needs post-workout (trust me, I love to go there) you’ll need to bust out that smartphone calculator. Start by weighing yourself before and after exercise and recording both numbers. After your workout, drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound you’ve lost. Again, do what feels right for your body. And as mentioned above, use your pee as a guideline for your overall hydration status.
Here are a few post-workout snack and meal ideas I recommend:
Snack: 1 cup of chocolate milk
Snack: 1 slice of whole wheat toast with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and ½ sliced banana
Snack: 2 graham crackers with a tablespoon of peanut butter
Snack: 1 to 2 hardboiled eggs with a slice of whole wheat toast
Meal: A 7-inch round whole wheat pita stuffed with grilled veggies and 2 tablespoons hummus
Meal: Veggie omelet with avocado and ½ cup of roasted potatoes
Meal: 4 ounces of steamed trout with a baked sweet potato and sautéed spinach
And remember that these are only guidelines.
The beauty of it all is that everyone’s body is different and will have specific needs and preferences. I should also note that it’s probably not a good idea to experiment with any nutritional changes on a game or race day. Limit any diet tweaks to training. Happy training!
If you’re jonesing to give your life a major upgrade in 2018—and beyond—setting a few doable goals is the first step. That means nixing bad habits that may be sabotaging your progress in addition to promising to do more stuff that’s good for your health. Out with the old, in with the new, right? In that vein, experts discuss 10 of the most harmful habits you should leave behind in 2017.
1. Spending too much time on the couch.
While downtime is good for both your body and mind, too much of it can be damaging. “People living a sedentary lifestyle tend to be less healthy,” women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF.
You should also be strength training, because it’s great for your bones, muscles, and health in general (it’s also an effective way to help increase your metabolism, if weight loss happens to be one of your goals). Aim for at least two days of strength training per week. To see exactly how to fit it all in, here’s what a perfect week of working out looks like.
2. Regularly drinking your way into a hangover.
Drinking a lot is a clear (if enjoyable) way to compromise your health. Moderate drinking is one drink a day for women, and heavy drinking is around eight or more per week, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Routinely blowing past these parameters can lead to issues such as weight gain, unintentional injuries like falls, and chronic diseases like liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and various cancers.
But! It’s not all bad news. Moderate drinking—while perhaps not the magical good-for-you habit that we’ve been led to believe—can be a perfectly fine thing to do, if you want to do it. Just understand that it’s probably not benefitting your health, and drinking too much can have detrimental effects.
3. Starting a strict diet, then falling off the wagon time and time again.
Yo-yo dieting is the result of routinely embarking upon diets that are too restrictive. When you inevitably dive into a pile of food, you’ll eventually gain back any weight you lost, and your baseline weight will inch up bit by bit, Wider explains. “It’s much better to adopt habits that will sustain a healthy weight—you don’t want to always be looking to lose weight,” she says. Plus, yo-yo dieting can have longterm effects on your health; studies have linked yo-yo dieting (repeatedly gaining and losing a significant amount of weight) to chronic issues like heart disease, stress, and high blood pressure.
But if you do want to lose weight and keep it off for good, it’s about building your life around eating patterns that aren’t rooted in deprivation, even though extreme cleanses and quick fixes might sound more appealing. They just don’t work—here’s what does.
4. Using electronics before bed.
You already know you should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleepper night. Putting a moratorium on before-bed Instagram scrolling will help you turn in for the night more quickly, sure. But it can also help you get better quality Zs, Wider says, by lowering your exposure to sleep-disturbing blue light, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Most sleep experts recommend finishing any screen time at least 20 minutes before you’re ready for bed.
Quitting smoking: Easier said than done? Yes. Completely, utterly worth it? Also yes, Wider (and every expert worth their salt) says. Smoking lowers life expectancy in many terrible ways, including boosting your risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and cancers anywhere else in the body, and issues like emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
“Watching other people put forward manufactured lives on social media can leave you feeling bad about yourself, so you want to limit that,” Wider says. But social media can also give your happiness a lift by keeping you connected with people you love and admire.
It’s not about scrubbing your phone of all things social, but browsing mindfully. Know that no one’s life is really what it seems on social media, and remind yourself of that whenever you start to feel down (then go do something that helps you remember all the kickass parts of your own life). Also, maybe unfollow those accounts that always, without fail, leave you feeling like chewed gum stuck on the underside of a table.
7. Convincing yourself that everything you worry about will happen.
“Anything you’re worrying about is usually just a thought, and here’s the funny thing: It’s not necessarily true,” Carter says. Take a moment to breathe, be present, and ask yourself if there’s any logical basis to your worry, Carter says. That should help you separate fact from unnecessary fiction. And if it still feels like your tendency to worry is unmanageable, reach out to a mental health professional for help.
8. Complaining non-stop.
Although it’s counterproductive, complaining actually feels great. “If things feel out of control, it tricks your brain into thinking you’re doing something about it,” Carter says. “But you’re not fixing anything when you complain.” You’re actually priming your brain to only look for the bad instead of the good: “Your braindoesn’t register everything in your environment; you train it to look for relevant patterns. When you complain, you train your brain to look for patterns in things you don’t like,” Carter explains.
When you catch yourself complaining, redirect your attention to something good about the situation, or start working on a plan to change what isn’t up to par. “It doesn’t necessarily mean accepting what you don’t like, but training your brain to look for things you appreciate,” Carter says.
9. Using distractions to numb your negative emotions.
“Every time you feel uncomfortable, the world offers you a host of ways to numb that discomfort. You can check Facebook endlessly, eat a pound of brownies, or have a couple of cocktails,” Carter says. Instead of actually cutting down anxietyor sadness, these tactics just bury those emotions so they can stew and eventually erupt.
You also can’t pick and choose what you’re numbing. To truly experience happiness, you have to let yourself experience the less shiny side of the coin sometimes and work on better coping habits for stress, like these. If you’ve tried these habits and nothing is helping calm your anxiety, you may want to try talking to a mental health professional for more effective ways to treat and cope with anxiety.
10. Making outsize goals that are hard to achieve.
This might sound incongruous after all of the above, but it actually meshes perfectly. “There’s a misconception that if you set a goal, you can achieve it through willpower. But humans change very slowly and incrementally, and people try to change too much too fast,” Carter says.
Instead of setting overly ambitious goals, take small steps and introduce change slowly so you can form the neural pathways that are essential in cementing habits, Carter says. Once you succeed at those, you can take on larger goals from there. If you’re setting a resolution this year, aim for something that is attainable, so you’re more apt to stick to the changes that will help you get there.
It’s much easier, unfortunately, to tell you what not to do. But here at The Upshot, we don’t avoid the hard questions. So I’m going to put myself on the line. Below are the general rules I live by. They’re the ones I share with patients, with friends and with family. They’re the ones I support as a pediatrician and a health services researcher. But I acknowledge up front that they may apply only to healthy people without metabolic disorders (me, for instance, as far as I know).
These suggestions are also not supported by the scientific weight of rigorous randomized controlled trials, because little in nutrition is. I’ve inserted links to back them up with the available evidence. They are not “laws” and should not be treated as such. No specific nutrients will be demonized, and none will be held up as miracles. But these recommendations make sense to me, and they’ve helped me immensely.
Full disclosure: I did not invent most of these. I’ve developed them from reading the work of others, including what may be the most impressive “official” nutritional guidelines,those of Brazil, as well as from earlier suggestions from readers, as in thisgreat NYT interactivegraphic. It captures readers’ responses to food rules by Michael Pollan. He is, of course, the promulgator of the well-known advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
One other thing: Don’t judge what others eat. One of my closest friends has been avoidingcarbohydratesfor months, and has seen remarkable results. Another was a pescatarian — a person whose only meat dishes are fish — for a year and was very happy with that. I, on the other hand, avoid no food groups in particular.
People are very different. Some may have real problems consuming even the smallest amount of carbohydrates. Others may be intolerant of certain foods because ofallergiesor sensitivities. It will most likely take a bit of experimentation, on an individual level, to find the actual diet within these recommendations that works for you. But the above rules should allow for a wide variety of foods and for remaining healthy. At least, I hope so.
I’m curious what readers think of these. I welcome your comments to this column, as well as tweets to me in response.
1.Get as much of your nutrition as possible from a variety of completely unprocessed foods. These include fruits and vegetables. But they also include meat, fish, poultry and eggs that haven’t been processed. In other words, when buying food at the market, focus on things that have not been been cooked, prepared or altered in any way. Brown rice over white rice. Whole grains over refined grains. You’re far better off eating two apples than drinking the same27 gramsof sugar in an eight-ounce glass of apple juice.
1b.Eat lightly processed foods less often.You’re not going to make everything yourself. Pasta, for instance, is going to be bought already prepared. You’re not going to grind your own flour or extract your own oil. These are meant to be eaten along with unprocessed foods, but try to eat less of them.
1c.Eat heavily processed foods even less often.There’s little high-quality evidence that even the most processed foods are dangerous. But keep your consumption of them to a minimum, because they can make it too easy to stuff in calories. Such foods include bread, chips, cookies and cereals. In epidemiologic studies,heavily processed meatsare often associated with worse health outcomes, but that evidence should be taken with a grain of salt (not literally), as I’vewritten about before.
2.Eat as much home-cooked food as possible, which should be prepared according to Rule 1. Eating at home allows you to avoid processed ingredients more easily. It allows you full control over what you eat, and allows you to choose the flavors you prefer. You’re much less likely to stuff yourself silly if you eat home-cooked food. I’m not sayingthis is easy. Behavioral change takes repetition and practice. It also, unfortunately, takes time.
3.Use salt and fats, including butter and oil, as needed in food preparation.Things likesaltandfataren’t the enemy. They are often necessary in the preparation of tasty, satisfying food. The key here is moderation. Use what you need. Seasoning is often what makes vegetables taste good. Don’t be afraid of them, but don’t go crazy with them either.
4.When you do eat out, try to eat at restaurants that follow the same rules. Ideally, you should eat at restaurants that are creating all of their items from completely unprocessed foods. Lots and lots of restaurants do. Follow Rule 1 even while out to dinner. Some processing is going to be fine, but try to keep it to a minimum.
5.Drink mostly water, but some alcohol, coffee and other beverages are fine. As I’vepointed out before, you can find a study to show that everythingeither prevents or causescancer— alcohol and coffee included. But my take is that the preponderance of evidence supports the inclusion of a moderate consumption of most beverages.
6.Treat all beverages with calories in them as you would alcohol. This includes every drink with calories,including milk. They’re fine in moderation, but keep them to a minimum. You can have them because you like them, but you shouldn’t consume them as if you need them.
7.Eat with other people, especially people you care about, as often as possible. This has benefitseven outside those of nutrition. It will make you more likely to cook. It will most likely make you eat more slowly. It will also make you happy.
I’ve avoided treating any food like the devil. Many nutrition experts do, and it may turn out they’re right, but at this point I think the jury is still out. I’ve therefore tried not to tell you to avoid anything completely. My experience tells me that total abstinence rarely works, although anecdotes exist to support that practice. I think you’ll find that many other diets and recommendations work under these rules. These are much more flexible and, I hope, reasonable than what some might prescribe.
All of these rules are subtly trying to get you to be more conscious of what you’re eating. It’s far too easy these days to consume more than you think you are, or more than you really need, especially when eating out. I’ve found that it’s impossible to tell any one person how much they should be eating. People have varying requirements, and it’s important for all of them to listen to their bodies to know when they should eat, and when they should stop.
Tomatoes are considered both fruits and vegetables and form an integral part of cuisines all across the globe, especially in the Mediterranean region. It has great amount of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as significant amounts of vitamin B6, folate, and thiamin. Tomatoes are also a good source of potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, and copper. The most nutritious form of a tomato is tomato juice. Tomato juice is loaded with many health benefits.
8 Amazing Health Benefits Of Drinking Raw Tomato Juice
Lycopene and other carotenoids in tomato juice have been found to lower the risk of a range of different cancers, including lung cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. Studies have shown that men consuming high amounts of lycopene have a 30% reduction in their risk of pancreatic cancer.
Reduce Risk Of Heart Disease
Tomatoes also help prevent and manage heart disease because of their niacin, potassium, folate, and vitamin B6 content. Tomatoes improve homocysteine levels, a chemical in the body that directly damages heart health. Lycopene might also improve cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that diets containing tomatoes can reduce cardiovascular risk by nearly 30%.
Reduces Breast Cancer Risk
Bosom growth can likewise be diminished with tomatoes. Energizing research in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute demonstrates that higher measures of carotenoids including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and aggregate carotenoids may have a decreased danger of bosom growth.
Most people associate milk and other dairy foods with bone health, but tomatoes also promote good bone health. Tomatoes contain vitamin K, one of the most important vitamins associated with bone health. Vitamin K activates osteocalcin, which is responsible for anchoring calcium inside of bones.
Detox Liver & Kidney
Tomato juice is a powerful detoxifier. It enhances the presence of sulfur and chlorine in the kidneys and liver. The kidney and liver are charged with blood purification. Keeping these organs healthy can ensure their functioning in tip top shape. Tomato juice has natural chlorine that enhances the functioning of the kidney and liver. It also has sulfur that puts up a defense against fungal, bacterial as well as viral infections.
Vitamin A, present in tomatoes, aids in improving vision, as well as in preventing night-blindness and macular degeneration. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that can be formed from an excess of beta-carotene in the body. A lot of vision problems occur due to the negative effects of free radicals, and vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant.
Prevent Blood Clotting
The rich supply of phytonutrients found in tomatoes have been shown to aid in the prevention of abnormal platelet cell clumping, beneficial for those with, or at risk of, heart conditions.
Prevents Lung Diseases
Tomato juice is known to protect against emphysema, which is caused by inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke. Researchers found that lab rats that were exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke and consumed tomato juice did not develop emphysema.
When work deadlines begin piling up and your social calendar is booked, the last thing you want to hear is to steer clear of the vending machine. Who has time for healthy eating? But when it comes to combating stress levels, what you eat may actually help relieve your tension. Indeed, some foods may help stabilize blood sugar or, better yet, your emotional response. Here, 12 foods to reach for when you’ve just about had enough.
Green leafy vegetables.
It’s tempting to reach for a cheeseburger when stressed, but go green at lunch instead. “Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm,” says Heather Mangieri, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A 2012 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders of 2,800 middle-aged and elderly people and found those who consumed the most folate had a lower risk of depression symptoms than those who took in the least. And, a 2013 study from the University of Otago found that college students tended to feel calmer, happier and more energetic on days they ate more fruits and veggies. It can be hard to tell which came first — upbeat thoughts or healthy eating — but the researchers found that healthy eating seemed to predict a positive mood the next day.
You’ve probably heard that the tryptophan in turkey is to blame for that food coma on Thanksgiving. The amino acid, found in protein-containing foods, helps produce serotonin, “the chemical that regulates hunger and feelings of happiness and well-being,” Mangieri says. On its own, tryptophan may have a calming effect. In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry Neuroscience, men and women who were argumentative (based on personality tests) took either tryptophan supplements or a placebo for 15 days. Those who took tryptophan were perceived as more agreeable by their study partners at the end of the two weeks compared with when they didn’t take it. (The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.) Other foods high in tryptophan include nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, lentils, oats, beans and eggs.
If you’re already a carb lover, it’s likely that nothing can come between you and a doughnut when stress hits. First rule of thumb: Don’t completely deny the craving. According to MIT research, carbohydrates can help the brain make serotonin, the same substance regulated by antidepressants. But instead of reaching for that sugary bear claw, go for complex carbs. “Stress can cause your blood sugar to rise, Mangieri says, “so a complex carb like oatmeal won’t contribute to your already potential spike in blood glucose.”
As bizarre as it may sound, the bacteria in your gut might be contributing to stress. Research has shown that the brain signals to the gut, which is why stress can inflame gastrointestinal symptoms; communication may flow the other way too, from gut to brain. A 2013 UCLA study among 36 healthy women revealed that consuming probiotics in yogurt reduced brain activity in areas that handle emotion, including stress compared to people who consumed yogurt without probiotics or no yogurt at all. This study was small so more research is needed to confirm the results—but considering yogurt is full of calcium and protein in addition to probiotics, you really can’t go wrong by adding more of it to your diet.
When you’re stressed, it can ratchet up anxiety hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. “The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones,” says Lisa Cimperman, RD, of the University Hospitals Case Medical Center and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, Oregon State University medical students who took omega-3 supplements had a 20% reduction in anxiety compared to the group given placebo pills. One 3-ounce serving of cooked wild salmon can have more than 2,000 milligrams of omega-3s, double the daily intake recommended by the American Heart Association for people with heart disease.
“When you’re stressed, there’s a battle being fought inside you,” Mangieri says. “The antioxidants and phytonutrients found in berries fight in your defense, helping improve your body’s response to stress and fight stress-related free radicals.” Research has also shown that blueberry eaters experience a boost in natural killer cells, “a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in immunity, critical for countering stress,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health’s contributing nutrition editor.
When you have an ongoing loop of negative thoughts playing in your mind, doing something repetitive with your hands may help silence your inner monologue. Think knitting or kneading bread—or even shelling nuts like pistachios or peanuts. The rhythmic moves will help you relax. Plus, the added step of cracking open a shell slows down your eating, making pistachios a diet-friendly snack. What’s more, pistachios have heart-health benefits. “Eating pistachios may reduce acute stress by lowering blood pressure and heart rate,” Mangieri says. “The nuts contain key phytonutrients that may provide antioxidant support for cardiovascular health.”
Calling all chocoholics: a regular healthy indulgence (just a bite, not a whole bar!) of dark chocolate might have the power to regulate your stress levels. “Research has shown that it can reduce your stress hormones, including cortisol,” Sass says. “Also, the antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. And finally, dark chocolate contains unique natural substances that create a sense of euphoria similar to the feeling of being in love!” Go for varieties that contain at least 70% cocoa.
Fortified milk is an excellent source of vitamin D, a nutrient that might boost happiness. A 50-year-long study by London’s UCL Institute of Child Health found an association between reduced levels of vitamin D and an increased risk of panic and depression among 5,966 men and women. People who had sufficient vitamin D levels had a reduced risk of panic disorders compared to subjects with the lowest levels of vitamin D. Other foods high in vitamin D include salmon, egg yolks and fortified cereal.
Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are all great sources of magnesium (as are leafy greens, yogurt, nuts and fish). Loading up on the mineral may help regulate emotions. “Magnesium has been shown to help alleviate depression, fatigue and irritability,” Sass says. “Bonus: When you’re feeling especially irritable during that time of the month, the mineral also helps to fight PMS symptoms, including cramps and water retention.”
You can’t just reach for slice after slice of avocado toast during crunch time if you don’t want to gain weight, but this superfruit might help shut down stress-eating by filling your belly and making you feel more satisfied. In a 2014 study by Loma Linda University (which, full disclosure, was sponsored by the Hass Avocado Board), researchers had participants add half an avocado to their lunches, which reduced their desire to eat more by 40% for the three hours following the midday meal. That full feeling will make you less inclined to reach for unhealthy snacks when stress kicks in.
One ounce of the buttery nut packs 11% of the daily recommended value of zinc, an essential mineral that may help reduce anxiety. When researchers gave zinc supplements to people who were diagnosed with both anxiety symptoms (irritability, lack of ability to concentrate) and deficient zinc levels over a course of eight weeks, the patients saw a 31% decrease in anxiety, according to Nutrition and Metabolic Insights. This is likely because zinc affects the levels of a nerve chemical that influences mood. If you’re already getting enough zinc, then it may not help your mood to chow down on cashews (or other zinc-rich foods like oysters, beef, chicken and yogurt). But, cashews are also rich in omega-3s and protein, so they’re a smart snack no matter what.
It’s that time of year — a new year and a new beginning. As a nutritionist, I often hear from new clients that they make New Year’s resolutions early January and by Valentine’s Day, they are discouraged and back to their same old patterns. Resolutions such as, “I have to lose weight” or, “I want to eat healthier” tend to be too broad, and therefore do not generally work. What I have found in my private practice is that small action-oriented steps and simple substitutions tend to work a lot better.
Here are some smart-and simple food swaps that you can actually implement and incorporate into your everyday routine to help you lead a healthier life.
1. Choose whole fruit instead of juice.
Juice tends to be high in sugar and low in fiber. Fresh fruit, on the other hand, contains more fiber than the juice and has a higher water content, both which are excellent for weight loss. Eating an orange instead of guzzling down a pint of orange juice can save you over 150 calories. Imagine how many calories you can save if you make this switch daily.
2. Start your day with a low fat Greek yogurt instead of a doughnut.
Greek yogurt is an excellent breakfast as it is high in protein, which can keep you full longer. Top your yogurt with fresh fruit and a handful of walnuts to round out your breakfast. A doughnut, on the other hand, is full of calories without much nutrition.
3. Choose whole grains instead of refined grains.
Grains and starches are not taboo and do not need to be avoided to be healthier and lose some weight in the process. The trick is to eat the right kind of grains. Whole grains are the best choice as they are chock full of nutrients and fiber. Include brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal instead of white bread, white rice, and white pasta.
4. Drink water and seltzer instead of soda.
Soda contains pure sugar, is liquid candy, and a waste of calories. Why not eat your calories instead of drink them? Swapping soda for water or seltzer can save you hundreds of calories. For flavor, add a splash of lemon, orange, or cucumber or throw in a few fruity ice cubes (pour your favorite juice into an ice cube tray and freeze for flavored ice cubes).
5. Eat an English muffin (whole grain, of course) instead of a bagel.
Making this swap can save you over 200 calories. While both a bagel and an English muffin are just one item, a bagel is equivalent to approximately five bread slices whereas an English muffin is more like two bread slices. Save the bagel as an occasional treat.
6. Start your meal with a vegetable salad (dressing on side) instead of a fried appetizer.
Starting your meal with a fresh salad is a great way to include vegetables into your diet. Salad and vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals, full of fiber, and low in calories.
7. Choose a low-fat tomato-based soup instead of a cream-based soup.
I am a soup lover. I enjoy eating soup in the cold winters in NY and also in the summer. Soups make a great snack, a healthy appetizer, and even a great meal. The key is to eat a vegetable based soup and to skip the cream. Great choices include 10 vegetable soup, minestrone soup, and white bean and escarole soup.
8. Eat an apple or a pear as a snack instead of a bag of chips.
When you feel the urge to nibble, go for a healthy piece of fruit instead of a bag of chips.
9. Choose salmon instead of steak.
I advise limiting read meat and choosing fish instead. Grilled salmon, for example, is high in protein, much lower in saturated fat than red meat, and full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
10. Finish your meal with a cup of blueberries instead of a slice of blueberry pie.
Berries are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients and low in calories. If you want to indulge in an occasional slice of pie, make it a sliver, and surround it with a cup of fresh fruit.