9 Rules Of Smart Snacking

Top two questions about snacking: When should I snack? and What should I snack on? It often ends up being more like erratic eating, so here are some tips to help you snack smartly:

1. Snack when your hunger is real.

When there is too much time between meals, you might need a bite to hold you over. The stomach takes three to four hours to empty, so if your next meal is five hours away, eat a little. If you under-eat or wait too long, watch out for over-snacking. You don’t want a snack to turn into brunch or dinner.

2. Snack when your blood sugar is low.

How can you tell? If your meals are high in starch or sugar, you might get low blood sugar shortly after eating, a swing that can make you feel falsely hungry. If you have the condition hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), you may feel nauseous without much warning. A small bite will raise your blood sugar level. Choose a food-based snack, like an apple or a carrot. Something sugary will only keep the imbalance going.

3. Snack when you’re running out of fuel.

This is different from low blood sugar. You can feel super tired when your meal did not provide enough calories. Calories are a measure of the energy available for you to use, so under-eating can leave you flat, causing you to run on adrenaline. Many go for coffee to push through. Not recommended!

4. Avoid daylong snacking.

Grazing is not the same as snacking all day. Grazing means splitting your good-food meals into smaller servings. Daylong snacking is having several snacks in addition to regular sized meals. Neither approach is ideal, since our digestive system and blood sugar balance thrive when we fast between meals. It’s best to give your stomach time to empty before eating, so a snack is just to hold you over!

5. Don’t snack when you’re bored, sad, mad, or scared.

Think of emotional snacking as the grown-up version of a pacifier. Eating calms us down, helps distract us, or even numbs us from experiencing our emotions. But it’s not a solution. Use your self-compassion to avoid snacking in those situations. Acknowledge how you feel; it will help you use love-power instead of willpower. We call it “Positive Restraint.”

6. Snack mindfully.

Our habits can get in the way when we want to make healthy changes. They’re difficult to change because it is their nature to be automatic. Bring mindfulness to your habits by starting to notice your triggers. At 4pm., do you go to the office kitchen for a treat? The time has become a trigger and you react by seeking a snack without considering if you need it or not. Start changing the habit by drinking a glass of water or cup of tea instead.

7. Our mantra is: food first!

For a healthy snack, think food first: Cutting up an apple and serving it in a bowl makes it feel more like a treat and encourages you to pause and to eat mindfully. You can use almond butter, which adds protein and good fats, on apple slices to create a more substantial snack. Other real-food options are soup, sweet potato, avocado, carrot, hummus, or for a sweetness snack; try these oatballs. Smoothies can also work as long as they are not all fruit. Try a green (or any vegetable-based) smoothie like this one with berry and beet.

8. Keep it real, even when you’re on the go.

Eating whole fruit and nuts is better than bars made from fruit and nuts, though not as convenient. Many snack bars are glorified candy bars. Read the first three to five ingredients on the label; they represent the bulk of what you’re eating. If the list starts with sugar, skip it. My favorite trail mix is dry-roasted root vegetables (carrots and sweet potato) with nuts. I love pistachios because they are so high in antioxidants.

9. Plan ahead. Don’t expect to find nutritious food and snacks on the road.

Bring healthy bites with you. Little containers and pouches will help secure them in your bag. If you were taking care of a baby, you’d bring good food, so “baby yourself” and make sure you will have a proper snack or mini-meal when you need it.

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Best and Worst Nuts for Your Health

Nuts are nature’s way of showing us that good things come in small packages. These bite-size nutritional powerhouses are packed with heart-healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Here’s a look at the pros and cons of different nuts, as well as the best and worst products on supermarket shelves today. Of course, you can get too much of these good things: Nuts are high in fat and calories, so while a handful can hold you over until dinner, a few more handfuls can ruin your appetite altogether. And although nuts are a healthy choice by themselves, they’ll quickly become detrimental to any diet when paired with sugary or salty toppings or mixes.

Best nuts for your diet

Almonds, cashews, pistachios

All nuts are about equal in terms of calories per ounce, and in moderation, are all healthy additions to any diet. “Their mix of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber will help you feel full and suppress your appetite,” says Judy Caplan, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The lowest-calorie nuts at 160 per ounce are almonds (23 nuts; 6 grams protein, 14 grams fat); cashews (16 to 18 nuts; 5 grams protein, 13 grams fat); and pistachios (49 nuts; 6 grams protein, 13 grams fat). Avoid nuts packaged or roasted in oil; instead, eat them raw or dry roasted, says Caplan. (Roasted nuts may have been heated in hydrogenated or omega-6 unhealthy fats, she adds, or to high temperatures that can destroy their nutrients.)

Worst nuts for you diet

Macadamia nuts, pecans

Ounce for ounce, macadamia nuts (10 to 12 nuts; 2 grams protein, 21 grams fat) and pecans (18 to 20 halves; 3 grams protein, 20 grams fat) have the most calories—200 each—along with the lowest amounts of protein and the highest amounts of fats.

However, they’re still good nuts: The difference between these and the lowest calorie nuts is only 40 calories an ounce. As long as you’re practicing proper portion control and not downing handfuls at a time, says Caplan, any kind of raw, plain nut will give you a good dose of healthy fats and nutrients.

Best nuts for your heart

Walnuts

While all nuts contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats, walnuts (14 halves contain 185 calories, 18 grams fat, 4 grams protein) have high amounts of alpha linoleic acid (ALA). Research has suggested that ALA may help heart arrhythmias, and a 2006 Spanish study suggested that walnuts were as effective as olive oil at reducing inflammation and oxidation in the arteries after eating a fatty meal. The authors of this study, funded in part by the California Walnut Commission, recommended eating around eight walnuts a day to achieve similar benefits.

Best nuts for your brain

Peanuts

Technically legumes but generally referred to as nuts, peanuts are high in folate—a mineral essential for brain development that may protect against cognitive decline. (It also makes peanuts a great choice for vegetarians, who can come up short on folate, and pregnant women, who need folate to protect their unborn babies from birth defects, says Caplan.) Like most other nuts, peanuts are also full of brain-boosting healthy fats and vitamin E, as well. One ounce of peanuts (about 28 unshelled nuts) contains about 170 calories, 7 grams protein, and 14 grams fat.

Best nuts for men

Brazil Nuts, Pecans

Creamy Brazil nuts are packed with selenium, a mineral that may protect against prostate cancer and other diseases. Just one nut contains more than a day’s worth, so eat these sparingly: Recent research has hinted that too much selenium may be linked to type 2 diabetes risk. One ounce of Brazil nuts (6 nuts) contains about 190 calories, 19 grams fat, and 4 grams protein.

Pecans are also good for men’s health: They’re loaded with beta-sitosterol, a plant steroid that may help relieve symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate. One ounce of pecans (18 to 20 halves) contains about 200 calories, 21

Best nuts for disease prevention

Almonds

Relatively low in calories, almonds have more calcium than any other nut, making them a great food for overall health. Plus, they are rich in fiber and vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps fight dangerous inflammation and possibly health conditions such as lung cancer and age-related cognitive decline.

Because they’re so versatile, almonds are often a favorite among nut eaters: You can buy them raw, toasted, slivered, or coated with a variety of fun flavors, from Wasabi & Soy Sauce to Lime ‘n Chili.

Best snack packaging for nuts

Choose 100- to 200-calorie packs

Because nuts are so high in calories (and so tasty, to boot!), it’s important to practice portion control when eating them as a snack. We love Blue Diamond Almonds 100-calorie snack packs, available in six flavors, including Cinnamon Brown Sugar and Dark Chocolate. Want more variety? Pick up Planters Nutrition Wholesome Nut Mix on-the-go packs, each containing a 200-calorie mix of cashews, almonds, and macadamia nuts.

Worst snack packaging for nuts

Avoid anything in a tub

We’re all for buying in bulk to save money and packaging, but it’s important not to snack straight from the box (or in this case, the giant tub) when a craving hits. Beer Nuts’ “original” formula—peanuts coated with a sweet and salty glaze—aren’t a bad choice themselves (170 calories, 14 grams fat, and 2 grams sugar per ounce), but if you’re munching on them at a party or during a “long day of game watching,” as the company’s website suggests, you’ll likely be eating more than the recommended serving size. Not to mention, the Party Mix variety also includes M&Ms and sugary yogurt-covered raisins, for an extra calorie boost. A better bet is Beer Nuts’ Original Teaser Peanut Sized bags, each containing just half an ounce of nuts.

Best nuts for chocolate lovers

Go for cocoa-dusted almonds

Rather than hiding your nuts under a thick layer of sugary chocolate candy—think Jordan almonds or peanut M&Ms—keep it simple with Emerald’s Cocoa Roast Almonds. These nuts are lightly dusted with cocoa powder and sweetened with Sucralose, and have 150 calories, 13 grams fat, and 1 gram of sugar per ounce.

We’d give you a “worst” nuts for chocolate lovers, but the possibilities are practically endless. Just think of it this way, says Caplan: Anything that’s more chocolate than nut really should be considered candy—not as a way to get your daily quota of healthy fats.

Best nuts for your sweet tooth

Try all-natural glazed nuts

Want something sweet and satisfying but without the extra calories and high-fructose corn syrup? Look no further than Sahale Snacks glazed nuts, in flavors like Almonds with Cranberries, Honey, and Sea Salt (160 calories, 11 grams fat, 5 grams protein per ounce) or Cashews with Pomegranate and Vanilla (150 calories, 10 grams fat, 4 grams protein per ounce). They’re sweetened with organic cane juice and tapioca syrup, and each contains only 6 grams of sugar per ounce. Just be careful not to eat the whole bag!

Worst nuts for your sweet tooth

Check labels for sugar content

Just because something has nuts in it doesn’t make it good for you, says Caplan: “Don’t justify eating a Snickers because it’s got peanuts in it.” Anything coated with or tucked inside layers of sugar, toffee, chocolate, or ice cream isn’t going to give you much nutritional benefit, and the calories can quickly add up, she says.

It’s not just candy, though: Beware of seemingly healthful varieties, like Planters Sweet ‘N Crunchy Peanuts. Although they still have just 140 calories and 8 grams fat per ounce, the second and third ingredients after peanuts are sugar and butter. In fact, one ounce contains 13 grams of sugar (in just a 28-gram serving size). Considering peanuts only have about 2 grams of sugar naturally, that’s 11 grams of added sugar in just one handful, out of a recommended 25 for the whole day!

Best nuts for a salt craving

Look for ‘lightly salted’

If you don’t have high blood pressure or haven’t been warned away from salt by your doctor for other reasons, a handful or two of salted nuts a day won’t hurt you, says Caplan, who has a private nutrition practice in Vienna, Va.

Nuts are, of course, available unsalted. But to satisfy a salty craving without going overboard, look for in-between varieties like Planters Lightly Salted peanuts, almonds, and cashews (45-55 mg sodium), or Wonderful Pistachios Lightly Salted (80 mg). Check ingredient labels, too: Some brands, like Back to Nature Salted Almonds (75 mg sodium), contain less salt than others.

Worst nuts for a salt craving

Steer clear of BBQ or boiled nuts

If you’re watching your sodium intake, watch out for hot and spicy or barbecue flavors too. Kar’s Nuts Blazin’ Hot Peanuts, for example, contain 370 mg of sodium per ounce (along with 160 calories and 14 grams fat)—a whopping 15% of your daily recommended value, in just one handful!

Beware boiled peanuts, as well: This Southern treat is made by soaking fresh, raw peanuts, in their shells, in a salty brine. Sodium amounts will vary based on the exact preparation, but Margaret Holmes Peanut Patch boiled peanuts, for example, contain 390 mg per ounce.

Best trail mix

Raw nuts, seeds, and dried fruit

Trail mix is available in countless varieties and from countless brands. “Look for trail mix with raw nuts,” suggests Caplan. “Or if the nuts are roasted, look for the words ‘dry roasted’ rather than ‘oil roasted.’”

Nuts pair great with fruit, seeds, and perhaps even a little dark chocolate, Caplan adds; just pay attention to the calorie count and serving size. We love Eden Foods’ “All Mixed Up” blend (160 calories, 12 grams fat, 8 grams protein per ounce) of organic almonds, pumpkin seeds, and dried tart cherries. If you’re more of a granola guy or gal, treat yourself to a quarter cup of Bear Naked’s Banana Nut mix (140 calories, 7 grams fat, 3 grams protein) with almonds and walnuts.

Worst trail mix

Save high-calorie mixes for the trail

High-calorie trail mix is fine when you’ve got a long hike ahead of you, but too often we eat these store-bought blends while sitting at our desks or driving in our cars. Don’t make that mistake with Planter’s Energy Go-Packs, a 1.5-ounce mix of nuts, semisweet chocolate, oil roasted soynuts, and sesame seeds: With 250 calories and 20 grams of fat a pop, they fall slightly above our healthy snacking guidelines.

Also check labels for sky-high sugar contents: Some trail mixes—especially those with raisins, dried cranberries, and/or candy-covered chocolate pieces—can contain up to 18 grams of sugar per serving.

Best nut butter

Keep ingredients simple

When choosing a nut butter, look for spreads with the fewest ingredients possible: Just nuts (and salt, if you want). Arrowhead Mills Organic Peanut Butter, for example, contains 100% dry-roasted peanuts, and has 190 calories, 17 grams fat, and 8 grams protein per 2 tbsp serving. (We also like their creamy cashew and almond butters, which do contain some natural canola oil.) Keep natural peanut butter in the fridge, advises Caplan, to keep it from going rancid and to prevent oily separation.

Worst nut butter

Skip added oils and sugars

Major brands have eliminated trans fats from their nut butters, but most still contain hydrogenated oils (high in saturated fat) to increase spreadability and prevent separation. Some “natural” product lines swap hydrogenated oils for palm oil, also high in saturated fat. Skippy Natural with Honey, for example, contains 200 calories, 16 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated), and 5 grams sugar per 2-tablespoon serving.

Nutella’s creamy chocolate-hazelnut combo is terrific for an occasional treat—but it’s hardly part of a “balanced breakfast,” as its commercials say. Two tablespoons contain just 200 calories, yes, but 21 grams of sugar. In fact, sugar and palm oil are the product’s first ingredients, even before hazelnuts.

Best way to eat nuts

Pair them with a healthy carb

Now you know all about which nuts are good for what—but to get the most health benefits, it’s also important to pay attention to how you eat them. “Nuts are a great thing to eat when you’re having a carbohydrate like fruit or juice, because it helps slow down digestion and the breakdown of sugar,” says Caplan.

A few winning nut-and-carb combos: Sprinkle them on salads, add them to low- or nonfat yogurt, or spread nut butter on slices of apple or pear. On the go? Pick up a 150-calorie pack of Earthbound Farms Dippin’ Doubles Apples & Peanut Butter (11 grams fat, 5 grams protein).

Best nuts overall

A mixed bag!

So which is the healthiest nut overall? A 2004 review in the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide tackled this tough question. Luckily, they concluded, we don’t have to pick just one. Mixed nuts, ideally raw and unsalted, provide the best variety of nutrients and antioxidants.

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Healthy Eating Rules for New Runners

Ready to take the leap into the running world? Whether you want to lose weight or learn the best way to fuel your workouts, there can be a lot of confusion about the best nutrition strategy for beginners.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, we’re here to help. Before you stock up on protein powders and strip your cupboard of carbs, get the facts on fuel so you can set yourself up for nutritional success.

Be Proactive and Don’t Deprive Yourself

No matter your caloric needs or training goals, it’s important to stay ahead of your hunger, and eat enough to make it through your workouts.

“As a new runner, the most important thing you can do is be proactive to your hunger,” says Tara Coleman, a San Diego-based clinical nutritionist. “Your appetite is going to increase with your activity level, but when you react to hunger cues, you tend to wait until you’re starving and end up overeating.”

New runners often make the mistake of cutting out food groups or severely restricting calories. This can be problematic because food provides the energy you need to work out. If you feel fatigued during a run, a lack of fuel could be the culprit.

“I’m not a proponent of cutting out food groups,” says Jennifer Gill, a Road Runner’s Club of America-certified distance running coach. “Unless you have health concerns, cutting out carbs is ridiculous. You need carbs for energy. Whether you’re a runner or you’re sedentary, you need carbs to live.”

Just because carbs deliver necessary energy doesn’t mean you should load up on sugary, high-carb foods. It’s important to pick healthy, nutrient-dense carbohydrates.

“You want to choose foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, not white breads, pastas, doughnuts and that sort of thing,” says Gill. “There are good carbs out there. Pay attention to the types of foods you’re eating and when you’re eating them.”

It’s also important to distribute your carbs throughout the day rather than eating large carb servings for your pre- and post-run meals.

“Make sure there’s some sort of carbohydrate present each time you eat,” says Coleman. “This is going to make sure you have enough vitamins and minerals. An example would be an apple and almond butter as a snack.”

Learn How Many Calories You Really Need

While there are some general guidelines that can help you determine your caloric needs, if you’re new to nutrition and meal plans, you may want to consult a professional.

“When it comes to running and calorie requirements, your daily calories need to be high enough to provide energy for your regular daily tasks (from breathing and thinking to actual physical activity) in addition to any workout you may do,” says Gill. “Running burns approximately 100 calories per mile, so you’ll need to provide enough calories in preparation for your run and enough calories to recover.

The timing of your calories is just as important as the quantity. This can be confusing for new runners, so if you take in about 2,000 calories (for women) on days you run and about 1,800 calories on your rest days, you should be fine. Again, your personal goals can change this number, so it’s best to speak with a professional to ensure you’re getting the right amount calories.”

There are also several online resources that can help you determine your needs and an ideal meal plan that fits your goals.

More: Calculate Your Calorie Needs

Eat to Fuel Your Workouts

Regardless of your weight-loss or training goals, you need to consume enough of the right types of food to power your workouts. This may sound simple, but there’s still some confusion about when and what to eat before a run.

“Your pre-workout meal is really important,” Coleman says. “This is going to be unique to each person. Some people can eat a steak and run a marathon; other people can’t even think about eating prior to running.”

Your pre-run meal should be based on how much time you have before your workout, what foods work best for you and your individual goals.

“Your activity level determines how many calories you need before and after your workout,” says Gill. “The longer your run, the more pre- and post-run fuel you’ll need. What changes the amount of food you need before a workout is how much time you have. If you’re getting ready to run and only have 30 minutes to prepare, have something that’s easy to digest because it’s going to give you fast fuel to get you through your run. If it’s been a while since your last meal, say you run first thing in the morning or at night about 3 to 4 hours after lunch, you’ll want to have some easily digestible carbs to give you energy to get through your run.”

If you’re eating within 45 minutes to an hour before your workout, choose foods that are easily digestible like fruits, which provide simple sugars, metabolize quickly, and give you an energy boost.

Stay away from foods that are high in protein, fat and fiber, as these are not as easy to digest, and will sit in your stomach.

Here are some great pre-run snacks:

*Fruit (fresh or dried)
*A sandwich
*Smoothie (with water or coconut water as a base instead of milk or other dairy options)
*Whole-grain toast or whole-grain tortilla with almond butter and fruit

Eat for Recovery

Just as pre-workout nutrition is essential to help you get through a run, the foods you eat after a workout can help you get stronger, recover faster, and be more inclined to get back out there for your next workout.

“Your post-workout meal is the ideal time for starchy carbohydrates like bread, pasta, rice, or beans,” says Coleman. “This will help refuel your glycogen stores and help you recover for the following day.”

Keep in mind that your pre- and post-run fueling needs will vary depending on the duration of your workout, your activity level and your weight-loss goals. While a marathoner may require a post-run meal to replenish glycogen stores, a beginner who runs 30 minutes or less will require less food. This is why it’s important to assess what works best for you and another reason you may want to consult a professional.

Here are some post-run snacks that Gill and Coleman recommend:

* Apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter
* Toast with peanut butter and a piece of fruit (apple or banana)
* A protein shake with mixed fruit
* A smoothie
* Oatmeal and nuts
* Chocolate milk

The Bottom Line

When you increase your activity level, your appetite will most likely increase as well. While it’s important to eat enough to support your efforts, it’s all too easy to overestimate the amount of calories you’re burning and overeat as a result.

The best thing you can do to eliminate the guesswork is to consult a professional or use reliable tools to establish a meal plan and calculate your caloric needs.

By starting a running program, you’re taking a positive step towards health and longevity. Make sure your nutrition supports your new active lifestyle. All the resources are there for you if you’re willing to put in the work.

So grab a pre-run snack, stock up on healthy fuel, then gear up and get out there.

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The 5 Most Confusing Health Food Labels

Gluten-free, grass-fed, organic — oh my! There are a number of terms that can confuse even the most educated shoppers. Many of them sound healthy on their own — that is, they have a health halo effect. Here are five of the buzziest, what they really mean, and what they don’t.

Natural
The Food and Drug Administration has not developed a formal definition for the term natural. However, the government agency doesn’t object to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Natural does not mean organic though, and it doesn’t necessarily indicate that a food is healthy. For example, we saw a cereal labeled natural, and it contained a whopping four different types of added sugar. Tip: When you see this term, read the ingredient list. It’s the only way to really know what’s in a food, and if it’s worthy of a spot in your cart.

Organic
The USDA Organic Seal indicates that a food was produced without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), or petroleum or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. The symbol also means that organic meat and dairy products are from animals fed organic, vegetarian feed and are provided access to the outdoors, and not treated with hormones or antibiotics. If the seal says “100% Organic” the product was made with 100 percent organic ingredients. Just the word “Organic” indicates that the food was made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients.

“Made With Organic Ingredients” means the product was made with a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients, with restrictions on the remaining 30 percent, including no GMOs (for more about GMOs and what the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal means, something else you might see on a packaged food, check out my previous post 10 Healthy Eating Apps This Nutritionist Loves). We strongly support organics, but like natural, the term organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthy — in fact, there are all kinds of organic “junk foods” like candies and baked goods. Once again, when buying packaged food, the real litmus test is the ingredient list.

Local
This term generally indicates that a food was produced within a certain geographical region from where it’s purchased or consumed, such as within 400 miles or 100 miles or perhaps within the borders of a state. Like “natural”, there is no formal, national definition for the term local. What local does not mean is organic, which is something 23 percent of shoppers falsely believe, according to a recent U.S. and Canadian survey (17 percent also believe that a food labeled organic is also local, which isn’t accurate either).

Nearly 30 percent also think that “local” products are more nutritious, and that’s not a given, since there are no specific standards pertaining to ingredients or processing. Also, it’s important to know that a locally produced food may not contain a nutrition facts label, because small companies with a low number of full-time employees or low gross annual sales are often exempt from the FDA’s food labeling laws. Hopefully a locally produced goody, like a pie from your farmer’s market, will include a voluntary ingredient list, but if not, be sure to ask what’s in it and how it was made.

Gluten-Free
According to the FDA, the term “gluten-free” means that a food must limit the unavoidable presence of gluten to less than 20 parts per million (ppm). The FDA also allows manufacturers to label a food as gluten-free if it does not contain any ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley or crossbreeds of these grains, or has been derived from these grains, or if it contains ingredients that have been derived from these grains, but have been processed to remove gluten to less than 20 ppm.

This means that foods that are inherently gluten-free, like water, vegetables and fruits, can also be labeled as gluten-free. The term gluten-free does not indicate that a food is whole grain, organic, low carb or healthy. In fact, many gluten-free foods are highly processed and include ingredients like refined white rice, sugar and salt.

Grass-Fed
Most mistakenly believe that grass-fed also means organic. The actual parameters, as defined by the USDA, state that the cattle must be fed only mother’s milk and forage (grass and other greens) during their lifetime. The forage can be grazed during the growing season, or consumed as hay or other stored forage, and the animals must have access to pasture during the growing season.

Grass-fed does not mean that the cattle’s feed is organic, and it doesn’t mean they cannot be given hormones or antibiotics. Compared to products produced conventionally, grass-fed meat and dairy have been shown to contain more “good” fats, less “bad” fats and higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. But if you want to ensure that the product also meets the organic standards, look for that label term and the USDA organic seal as well.

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12 Tips To Sleep Soundly Every Night

Sleep issues can be devastating to overall health and well-being, as anyone who’s suffered a night of tossing and turning knows. While it’s frustrating to live with insomnia and other sleeping difficulties, there is hope! Here are 12 tips to help you get peaceful, blissful sleep:

1. Turn off the blue light one hour before bedtime.

Blue light is the most disturbing light when trying to go to sleep because it immediately shuts down your production of melatonin, the major sleep hormone that we produce at night. Sources of blue light include computers, iPads, cellphones, video games, and television.

2. Avoid caffeine after noon.

Many of us fail to realize how much caffeine can impair our ability to get to sleep and remain asleep. Most of us take four to six hours to metabolize caffeine. However, many of us may take much longer. Caffeine blocks the ability of a sleep-promoting chemical called adenosine to work. So think twice about that evening trip to a coffee shop or that dark piece of chocolate you crave.

3. Check that thermostat.

Most studies demonstrate that room temperatures of between 62 and 70 degrees seem to work best for sleeping. The reason is that our core body temperature drops at night. In fact, this drop is a signal to the brain to sleep. A warm room can inhibit this process.

4. Avoid cured meats and aged cheeses such as Parmesan close to bedtime.

Aged cheeses and cured meats contain an amino acid called tyramine. This amino acid, when ingested, increases the release of a hormone called norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a wake-promoting hormone that is part of the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system — certainly not something you want occurring when you’re trying to fall asleep.

5. Eat sleep-promoting foods.

Snacks that are high in tryptophan such as dairy products, cheese, nuts, seeds, and grains, when combined with complex carbohydrates such as whole-wheat toast or crackers, can encourage the onset of sleep. The release of insulin associated with the carbohydrates promotes the movement of tryptophan into the brain. Tryptophan is then converted to serotonin and melatonin, which are sleep-promoting neurotransmitters.

6. Park your worries in another room.

Don’t take your worries or your work into the bedroom. At least three hours before bed, write down your concerns and your solutions. Then put them in a desk drawer and leave them there for the night.

7. Make sure your alarm clocks are heard, but not seen.

The alarm clock should be in your bedroom to wake you up in the morning. Anxious glancing followed by calculating and then ruminating about “when will I get to sleep” or “how many hours of sleep do I have left” is a major cause of insomnia. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, put that clock where it can be heard but out of sight.

8. Exercise regularly.

Study after study has shown that those who exercise regularly go to sleep easier and sleep more soundly than their sedentary friends. In fact, a very recent study has dispelled the myth about exercising too close to bedtime. In this study, even those who exercised close to bedtime slept better than those who did not.

9. Avoid excessive alcohol close to bedtime.

Unfortunately, many alcoholics started out drinking to help them fall sleep. Although initially alcohol may induce sleep, as it leaves the body, it causes an increase in body temperature and triggers the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). As a result, it hinders your ability to stay asleep, and as time passes, you require more and more each night to fall asleep — not a good formula for health or sleep.

10. Quiet please.

If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, it could be the noise. The noise might be coming from your snoring spouse or that loud music that your recently returned 28-year-old is playing. In any case, most of us need quiet to sleep. The remedy can be as simple as a good pair of custom earplugs or getting your spouse to see someone about that snoring … or in some cases, considering a bedroom divorce.

11. Check that mattress.

An old mattress can be an unrecognized source of poor sleep. Most mattresses should be changed after seven years. With the new memory foam and air number mattresses, you can customize the degree of firmness to your comfort level.

12. Relax those muscles.

Use the practice of progressive muscle relaxation. It’s a sequential tensing and relaxation of various muscle groups accompanied by rhythmic breathing. It is simple to learn and very effective. It accomplishes two things: One, by relaxing muscles, tension is relieved, which in turn relaxes the mind. Two, the very activity takes your mind off everything else and serves as a form of meditation.

These are just some of the things you can do to help your sleep. The crucial point is to realize how important sleep is to good mental and physical health. So please make sleep a priority.

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