Love Yourself

If you read many health food books, magazines, or online blogs, you’ve probably heard the term “probiotics” thrown around, particularly touting how good they are for you. Many products in the grocery store now boast probiotics on their packaging. But what are probiotics exactly, and how do they improve our health?

Probiotics are essentially good bacteria that live in your stomach. These little critters make up your “gut microbiome,” or the collection of bacteria and cells in your gut that help you digest food and enjoy the nutrients your food provides. There are more than 5,000 species of bacteria that make up the probiotics in your stomach, or your microbiome. Interestingly enough, each individual’s microbiome is a bit different, so the amount of probiotics you need to ingest will differ from your closest friend.

Research has found that consuming probiotics can help promote a healthy gut. As with any nutritional regimen, it’s all about figuring out what makes you feel your best – whether that is you at your most active, energetic, or happiest. The amount and type of probiotics you take in is dependent on what makes you feel good, so it’s critical to incorporate a variety of probiotic sources into your diet. But what options are out there?

Firstly, you can try probiotic supplements or vitamins. These supplements specifically are not yet regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so doctors recommend doing your research and sticking with brands that have been around a while (and that have been tested thoroughly). It’s also smart to choose a brand that incorporates different strains of probiotics rather than just one.

If you aren’t into the supplement game, there are plenty of food-based sources of probiotics. Fermented foods are one key source of the good bacteria; this includes sauerkraut, kimchi, and tempeh. If you already douse Greek yogurt with berries and granola in the morning, you’re on your way to probiotic heaven. Greek yogurt is filled with probiotics to keep your gut healthy. Change it up with different toppings to keep the meal fresh and incorporate it easily into your daily life.

If funky drinks are more your style, add kombucha or apple cider vinegar to your cart during your next grocery store trip. These drinks are filled with probiotics and hydrate you at the same time. However, they do have lower amounts of probiotics than the other sources we’ve mentioned, so if you go this route, be sure to supplement it with vitamins, yogurt, or fermented foods.

With many sources to choose from, it’s easy to incorporate probiotics into your diet. Your stomach – and your happier, healthier self – will thank you!

Do you make sure to eat probiotics each day? What are your favorite sources? Let us know in the comments below!

The cooler autumn weather sure makes for some wonderful running. Between the crisp air, sunny days, and foliage-wrapped streets, breathing in the autumn air can improve your performance and your running happiness.

If you typically enjoy a good run, and especially outdoors, perhaps it’s time to hit up the trail for a change of pace. If you have forests near you, chances are there are a set of walking or hiking trails on which you can try a trail run. Surrounded by the beauty of the woods, crackling leaves, the shade of bright, red-and-yellow trees, and variety of terrain are enough to make a runner’s heart swoon.

If you’ve never gone trail running before, you should know that it’s a different animal than your normal old sidewalk jaunt. While accessible to most runners, there are a few tips to keep in mind before heading out on your first trail experience to make the most of it.

  1. No trail is the same – so do your research. Some will be groomed, smooth, and easy to run on, while others can be filled with sticks, rocks, crags, and other challenging obstacles. Know what you’re getting into before your run so you can stay safe and enjoy it the entire way through. The best way to research trails is 1) to go online or 2) to ask your local running store, club, or state park service for ideas.
  2. Slow your pace and find your own rhythm. Trail running can be more difficult than road runs, so leave your ego at the door. Start out slow to avoid injury and get the lay of the land. Speed up only once you’re feeling comfortable with your current route.
  3. Take safety precautions. Always let a friend or family member know when you head out for a trail run; it’s important that someone knows you’re off in the woods! Bring your phone, an ID, and a map. Even better – run with friends or your dog!
  4. Always look 3-4 feet in front of you to avoid snags in the trail – and subsequently injury. Create a line of travel by looking down and directly in front of you on your trail run; this will keep you focused, in the moment, and safe. If you’re hoping to enjoy the scenery, slow down to a walking pace to do so or stop for some water and a breath of fresh air. Better yet, plan your trail to stop midway at a lake or other beautiful view to take advantage of the woods that surround you.
  5. Run by time, not by mileage. You may be used to running to a certain distance, but with trail running, start out by allotting a certain amount of time for your run. While you may be able to run five miles with ease on the road, that same five miles could take you double the time when accounting for obstacles and hills on the trail. Set a time – say, 30 minutes – and turn around once you hit the halfway point. Once your body gets used to trail running, you can up the ante and try to hit mileage.
  6. Invest in a pair of trail running shoes. The shoes you wear for your normal runs aren’t made to conquer varied terrain; they’re probably made for the flat road. Trail running shoes are lower to the ground and have a higher heel, so they protect you from rolling your ankle. They also have a rugged tread on the bottom that keeps your balance and helps you grip mud and rocks.
  7. Build leg strength. Exercises like lunges, deadlifts, and squats up your leg muscles and help you get up trail hills with ease. If needed, remember that it’s always okay to walk up the hills – even the experts do it!

Find a trail near you this week and head out this weekend! With the beautiful foliage surrounding many areas right now, we know you won’t regret it.

Do you run trails? Leave your best tips in the comments below!

Is your closet overflowing? Many of us have accumulated piles and piles of clothing, shoes, and accessories that we hardly wear or know what to do with. The transition of seasons – especially between the warmer summer months and the chillier fall months – is a great time to give your closet a purge and clean out that stuff you never wear.

Think through each piece you own: when was the last time you wore it? Did you go the entire autumn last year without wearing it? Is it a piece you only use for particular occasions (say, for interviews, but you’re currently very happy with your job)? Do you feel comfortable and love the way you look in each piece? Use these questions to sort through the old clothing and minimize your closet clutter.

Once you make your purge pile, however, what’s the best thing to do with old clothing? For starters, reusing and recycling should always be the default; closet items hardly ever need to be thrown away as they can often be relegated to a better use. But how do you sort through the clutter and dispose of these items the right way?

  1. Clothing: Lightly worn, torn, or stained clothing can all be donated to your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other clothing repository. Even if you don’t think it can be resold and reworn, these retailers take ripped or stained clothing and send them to a textile recycler, who recycles the fabric to a higher use (like padding for car seats). If your clothing is rewearable, these retailers sell the clothing and some provide it to those in need. You can also bring your old clothing into larger retailers like H&M, Eileen Fisher, and Patagonia, which all offer recycling services. If you’re looking to make a little money off your used clothing, look online; there are plenty of services (like ThreadUp, Craig’s List, or Ebay) to sell your clothing online if it’s in good condition.
  2. Hangers: As you’re cleaning out clothing, chances are you’ll end up with a lot of extra hangers. Pure wire metal hangers can be recycled, typically in the single-stream recycling bin (be sure to check your town’s local website before doing so to ensure they are accepted). For other hanger types, we’d recommend asking friends if they’re in need of them; many people are often clamoring for more hangers but don’t want to spend the money!
  3. Shoes: We recommend always buying high quality shoes that last; inexpensive, cheaply made shoes tend to fall apart easily and therefore cannot be donated when you’re done wearing them. First, if your shoes are in need of repair, take them to a cobbler to extend their life. If you do decide you don’t want a pair of shoes any longer, donate them to a local charity.
  4. Umbrellas: How many times have you had an umbrella break in harsh winds? It happens quite often! Our first recommendation, as with shoes, is to buy a high-quality, flip-resistant umbrella that will last. If your umbrella has lived its life, however, separate the cloth upper from the metal portion. The wire can be recycled in most curbside programs (see the recommendations for recycling hangers above) and the cloth can be recycled the same way that clothing can.
  5. Sheets and blankets: While it might gross you out a bit to donate your bedding, donation centers are always looking for these items (of course, we’d recommend washing them first!). Your local homeless shelter can benefit from old blankets. Sheets can either be donated or recycled the same way as clothing can. Many animal shelters also accept old bedding as donations.

What are you looking to get rid of from your closet? Let us know in the comments below and we can recommend the best way to do so!

Fall is such a wonderful time of year. You first start to feel the summer fade when the mornings and evenings cool down a bit and the sun gets a little lower in the sky. You pull out your light jackets, fall boots, and chunky scarves to revel in the cooler weather ahead.

Walks outdoors and jogs through the park become all the more pleasurable with the chillier air and the gorgeous trees surrounding your every step. With the sun rising a bit later, it’s easier to catch a glimpse of the sunrise upon waking up in the morning, or a beautiful sunset as the sun goes to sleep earlier in the evening.

On top of all the natural beauty, fresh food emerges: crisp apples, pumpkin-everything, warm soups, and roasted veggies line our fall cooking repertoire and make us feel healthy, comfy, and cozy.

Not only that, there are a number of activities to do in the fall that will have you smiling all season long. From apple picking to tree-peeping to simply walking around outdoors more often, fall is a beautiful time to enjoy the scenery around you. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of fall activities that you simply must add to your seasonal bucket list before the weather gets too chilly and the busy holiday season sets in.

Make the most of your autumn and enjoy our top twenty activities to take advantage of all the season has to offer:

  1. Visit the farmers market before it closes for the season, and cook with your bounty
  2. Decorate your home with fall flair (pumpkins, apples, hay)
  3. Add squash or pumpkin to one of your classic recipes
  4. Take a ghost tour
  5. Capture family photos
  6. Go apple picking at a local orchard
  7. Plan a weekend getaway in the mountains
  8. Enjoy a brew at the local Oktoberfest celebration
  9. Achieve your longest run of the year, or sign up for a fall race
  10. Go to a local, or professional, football game
  11. Douse apples in caramel
  12. Can your summer produce
  13. Make your hiking bucket list – and cross a few off!
    Take a drive to the best fall foliage in your area
  14. Fill your home with the aroma of freshly baked pie
  15. Travel to a fall festival
  16. Go to a harvest fair
  17. Master your go-to soup recipe for the colder weather ahead
  18. Go cider tasting (whether you prefer alcoholic or non-alcoholic cider!)
  19. Enjoy an outdoor concert
  20. Check out a slew of books at your local library (perfect for cozying up on the couch!)

How do you enjoy making the best of fall? What are your favorite fall activities? Let us know in the comments below!

Did you know that the average American eats 100 grams of sugar a day? It takes some comparison to make sense of that number: the American Heart Association recommends that women eat 25 grams a day and men consume around 37 grams. The takeaway? We’re eating too much sugar!

Why is that? It isn’t just because it’s so delicious (although that plays a big part). Studies show that concentrated sugars can be addictive and stimulate similar parts of the brain that drugs do. Your cookie cravings don’t just stem from your love of them; your brain is literally hardwired to crave that sugar!

On top of that, it’s hard to avoid – sugar is used in around 75 percent of packaged foods in America. And while it may seem harmless, it’s not: a diet filled with too much sugar contributes to cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and more.

Convinced you should try to limit your intake of concentrated sugars? Let’s get started.

Eat Natural Foods
First things first: concentrated sugars pop up most in packaged foods. The sugar found in natural foods like fruits and veggies are paired with good-for-you nutrients and fiber that balance the sugars and lessen their addictive nature. Packaged foods, however, are manufactured with artificial sugar to improve the taste and shelf life. In starting to cut out sugar, the absolute best way to do so will be to transition much of your diet to natural foods like fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, legumes, and whole grains.

Shop Smart
One tactic we love? Stay on the perimeter of the grocery store. Stores tend to keep all the packaged foods in the middle aisles, while the natural foods stay on the outside. Do your shopping around the perimeter first, then head to the middle as needed.

Check the Label
Of course, some packaged foods contain more sugar than others. Always check the label on something before you buy it to ensure that you know what you’re putting in your body. Cereal is a huge culprit; many cereals that are marketed as healthy have too many added sugars to be truly good for you. Look for cereals that have less than 5 grams of sugar, for example, to maximize the health benefits of the food.

Read the Ingredient List
Sugar sneaks into places you might not expect. Ketchup, soups, whole wheat bread, fruit juices, and nutrition bars can all be full of added sugar despite their healthy marketing and lack of sugary taste. Always look at the ingredient list before purchasing an item, and keep on the lookout for the various ways in which companies list sugar (corn syrup, malt sugar, molasses, corn sweetener, and high fructose corn syrup are all ways to list concentrated, artificial sugar).

Try Substitutions
When you’re out of the grocery store and in the kitchen, try substituting spices instead of sugar to flavor your foods. For instance, ginger, cinnamon, or nutmeg can sweeten and flavor a dish in a more complex and nutritious way than sugar can. Slowly transition sugar out of your coffee and tea, and cut back on the amount you add to baked goods (their flavor won’t suffer too much – we promise!). But don’t go cold turkey: evidence shows that cutting sugar out of your diet completely can increase cravings, making it even harder to quit in the long run.

Overall, cutting even a bit of sugar from your diet can improve your health. Try one or two of these tactics this week and let us know how it goes!

We could talk all day about the benefits of exercise. A longer life. Lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Stronger, toned muscles. Less body fat. Mental stability and clarity. You name it, exercise can help accomplish it!

While working out might not be your favorite pastime (and if it is, you rock it!), the lucky thing is, there are so many ways to get your heart rate up that it’s easy to find the right one that works for you. The opportunities are endless: jogging, walking, tennis, cycling, pilates, yoga, swimming, weightlifting, zumba… the list goes on and on.

While your workouts are critical to wellbeing, what you do after your workout may be just as important. Many people exercise and then go on with their days, not knowing the vital steps needed to make the most of their workout session. Not only that, there are certain things you should be doing to avoid injury and build added muscle. These include:

  1. Stretch the muscles you worked. When you work your muscles, they automatically tighten and shorten. It is vital, therefore, to stretch the muscles you used during your workout to get them back to their normal length. This helps muscles grow and keeps them from getting sore. Stretching also helps you cool down and relax. Aim to stretch each muscle you worked for at least a minute after each workout.
  2. Eat lots of protein. Proteins are the building blocks of muscles and need to be replenished after a tough exercise session. As you’re using your muscles during the workout, they tend to rip and tear, and the rebuilding process that happens afterwards is part of what helps you grow stronger. Replenishing proteins helps with that muscle growth and recovery. Eat more protein for higher impact workouts – like running or heavy lifting – and less for lower intensity workouts, like walking or pilates.
  3. But even more carbs. The fitness community often touts the benefits of protein in muscle growth, but carbs are equally if not more important. In fact, studies show that for every gram of protein you eat post-workout, you should be consuming three to four grams of carbs. Carbohydrates get a bad reputation, but are absolutely essential to muscle repair and growth post-workout. The carbs you ingest help proteins enter the muscles; this complementary nature is what makes food so essential in taking advantage of exercise.
  4. And always consume water. Oftentimes, many people do not replenish their fluids and electrolytes well enough after an intense workout. Aim for at least 18 ounces after an hour-long sweat session to replace all the fluids you’ve lost. If you did a particularly intense workout – say, a half marathon – replenish electrolytes, too, with a sports drink. In this case, it’s most important to replenish your sodium and potassium, so eating cheese and a banana can also do the trick.
  5. Remove your sweaty clothes and shower. You know how much you sweat during a workout session? That sweat sticks around and makes its way into the fibers of our clothing – making for nasty odors and bacteria growth. Always change out of sweaty clothes as soon as you can, and clean the sweat off your body with a shower. Gyms are a haven for germs and bacteria (those weights and mats aren’t cleaned as often as we’d like!), which thrive in hot and sweaty environments. In addition, make sure to wash your workout clothes in hot water (separate from your other clothes) to clean them fully.

 How do you recover post-workout? Let us know in the comments!

healthy-cheap-food

You head to the grocery store or out to eat with the best of intentions. You know eating well – namely plants and protein – makes you feel good, increases your longevity, and keeps your energy up. Perhaps you stock your cart with lots of fish and veggies, or grab a salad out to eat rather than a burger. These decisions feel good!

Sometimes, though, when money’s feeling a little tighter than normal, it can be difficult to prioritize your health. The fresh fish at a restaurant, for instance, is bound to be double the price of your favorite burger. A bag full of delicious, organic produce and protein from the farmers market can add up to a pretty penny, while the baked goods are a lot cheaper — and look scrumptious.

We’re here to tell you that, luckily, healthy eating can be inexpensive and cost-effective – you just need to know where to look! All that money saved can go towards the things you really want: vacations, a new home, or that pair of shoes you’ve been saving for. So what foods should you add to your cart this week for a cheap receipt and a healthier life?

  1. Eggs: For $0.99 to $3.99, a dozen eggs can save your week. Even cage-free or organic versions end up costing about $0.30 per egg, which can contribute to the healthiest of meals. Eggs are versatile, filled with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, and go well with just about anything. Try quinoa-fried rice, a veggie-packed frittata, or a florentine egg sandwich on a wheat English muffin for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!
  2. Beans: These small legumes pack a powerful protein punch and are filled with fiber that keeps you fuller, longer. From black beans to white to pinto, each variety has its own flavor and can easily zest up a meal. Canned beans are only a dollar and can provide a full meal, while dried beans are the best bang for your buck.
  3. Tofu: Flavored with the right spices, sauces, and veggies, tofu can be truly delicious. We recommend draining all the water out of the tofu each time for maximum texture appeal. A whole package of tofu can run at $2.99 or less, and the protein-packed food can be thrown into anything: stir-fries, scrambled eggs, sandwiches, or salads. Our favorite? Blending it up and adding it to soups to increase creaminess and protein power.
  4. Oatmeal: We recommend buying in bulk here to maximize your cost-effectiveness. While the smaller packets aren’t that cheap and can be filled with sugar, bulk oats are filled with stomach-filling fiber that will keep you full all day long. Add fruit, nuts, or a little bit of maple syrup to maximize flavor potential.
  5. Bananas: These 100-calorie snacks typically cost about $0.50 each and are packed with good-for-you nutrients like fiber and potassium. They’re a great choice when you need an afternoon pick-me-up. They’re also versatile and can be added to many baked goods to substitute sugar and wet ingredients!
  6. Seeds: These little pods pack a powerful nutritional punch. Often filled with fiber, vitamins, and protein, they add some crunch to salads and soups and go well as a plain, salty-craving snack. Buy them in bulk to maximize your money’s worth!

What cost-effective, healthy foods do you put in your grocery basket? Let us know in the comments!

If you have a garden, you are well aware that summer produce is absolutely teeming right now. Even if you don’t grow produce at your home, it’s evident in local farmers markets and grocery stores that fruits and veggies are at an all-time high this time of year – and we love every second of it.

During the summer months, juicy fruits like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, and grapes make their gorgeous debut and line our bowls of cereal, Greek yogurt, salads, and smoothies alike. Crisp, sweet vegetables like corn, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and cucumbers make their way into our meals, whether they’re raw, baked, sautéed, or better yet, grilled.

With so much life budding around us in the summer, it’s hard to not feel inspired to take in all that color and vibrancy and incorporate it into your meals. Whenever we peruse the farmers market tables, we feel the need to scoop up as much produce as possible and find a way to cook it – even the fruits and veggies we don’t know how to cook yet!

Not only does it taste delicious, in-season produce is teeming with nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that keep our bodies strong and healthy. The more local and in-season a piece of produce, the more chock full it will be of the good stuff your body needs to thrive.

This summer, we encourage you to use all the fresh produce that surrounds you and make the most of it by incorporating it into each and every meal! Add berries to your breakfast, a fruit-and-veggie salad to pair with your lunch, and a grilled medley of fresh veggies at each dinner. With that in mind, be creative! It’s nearly always a success when you try new recipes with naturally delicious foods.

If you need some ideas, try these recipes out this August, and let us know how it goes.

  1. Snap Pea Skewers with Soy Ginger Sauce by Naturally Ella
  2. Summer Caprese Salad by Two Peas and their Pod
  3. Watermelon Poke Bowl by Love and Lemons
  4. Almond Peach Blueberry Crumble by Vegetarian Ventures
  5. White Zucchini Corn Pizza by Damn Delicious

Chances are your commute isn’t necessarily the best part of your day. Whether it consists of crowded trains or high-traffic roads, commuting to work can be stressful. This stress sets a tone for your day that can be hard to shake, and the last thing you need when heading into a high-pressure day is anxiety on the way there!

The time you spend commuting also takes up valuable hours in your day that you could be using for other things, such as exercising, making healthy meals, or spending quality time with your friends and family. A lack of time can also add to your stress levels, as you don’t get to do the things you truly enjoy.

That said, commuting is inevitable. Luckily, there are a few ways to make your commute less stressful – and perhaps even enjoyable.

  1. Turn off technology. If you’re like many people these days, you may spend a lot of time looking at screens. Use your commuting time to give your eyes a break and do those activities that you enjoy. If you take public transit, do a crossword puzzle or meditate. If you drive, use that time to take some deep breaths. Don’t hop on your phone and start working – use the time for something you enjoy.
  2. Learn something new. If you’re on a train, use that time to read a book you’ve been meaning to read. You can also download podcasts on a wide range of topics to listen to on your commute; many of them might even offer you a laugh or two to brighten your day. Music can also teach you new things, whether you relate to the lyrics in a song or learn to pick out the instruments in a jazzy tune.
  3. Stretch beforehand. This tip is especially important if you sit at work all day, as your muscles tighten as the day goes on. In order to make your commute more enjoyable, take a few minutes to limber up before you get in the car or on the train. Your body (and de-stressed mind) will thank you.
  4. Take alternative transport. If you have the option to walk, run, or bike on your commute, take advantage of it! Running or biking home can work wonders in relieving all the stress that built up throughout the day. If you live too far from work to do so, consider cycling, running, or walking to the local train station a few times a week, or to a key location within your carpool. Starting and ending your day on an active note can provide added health and happiness benefits.
  5. Stock smart snacks. When the stress of a high-traffic commute kicks in, it’s easy to reach for the Cheetos, especially if your commute takes longer than you thought and the hunger pangs are loud and proud. Stock your car or bag with healthy snacks to get you through even the worst commute. Nuts and fruit are always great options.

How do you make the most of your commute to stay happy and healthy? Let us know your ideas in the comments below!

If you’re anything like us, you’re doing some serious running around this week. Between work, school, appointments, your kids, and errands, the week tends to fill up fast with things to do and people to see. It feels as though your evenings fly by each night, but your to-do list doesn’t get all that much smaller.

If you’re feeling this way now, take advantage of the coming weekend to finally tackle that to-do list. While the weekends can tend to book up, a little planning can set you on the right path to checking items off your list. But how?

  1. Wake up on the early side. Weekend mornings tend to be much slower than weekday mornings and therefore become a great time to get stuff done. Weekend mornings also offer fewer distractions than the afternoons and evenings do, as fewer people are up and about to make plans and suggest unproductive (albeit enjoyable) activities. Set your alarm on the earlier side to maximize productivity.
  2. But sleep if you need to. While waking up early is a key part of productivity, accomplishing your to-do list while sleep deprived isn’t a recipe for success. If you didn’t get much sleep this week, add “getting some zzz’s” to your weekend to-do list. The more well-rested you are, the more likely you’ll be to get stuff done.
  3. Prioritize: pick the tasks on your to-do list that will have the highest impact, then accomplish those first. If your to-do list is dauntingly long, it will feel like it’s too difficult to make a dent. However, by accomplishing those tasks that will benefit you most in the long run (even if they might take the most time), you’re maximizing your free time and productivity. Plus, it will benefit you during the week ahead to know that you accomplished an important to-do this weekend rather than a bunch of little ones that could’ve been done in spare minutes throughout the week.
  4. On that note, allocate a specific amount of time to accomplishing your to-do list, then stick to it. Set a timer if you need to! Trying to beat the clock frees your mind from distractions and makes it more likely that you’ll stick to accomplishing your list.
  5. Pick one day to be obligation-free. While it’s always wonderful to check things off your to-do list, you also need to use the weekend for fun and relaxation! Enjoying yourself is just as important as accomplishing your goals, particularly as a way to avoid burnout and, most significantly, find joy in your life. One way to do this? Use Sunday for crossing off errands and to-do’s from your list, and delegate Saturday as your fun, relaxing day!

All in all, listen to your brain’s signals and enjoy the weekend for what it is. If you feel fatigued, sleep. If your mind is itching to get stuff done, follow the steps above to maximize productivity. No matter what you make of it, enjoy your weekend feeling accomplished, rested, and joyful; after all, that’s what the time off is for!