Go low for heart health
Cholesterol is an oily, waxy substance that’s a building block for many bodily processes. It serves as the backbone for certain hormones and helps repair cells in our tissues.
But there’s a catch. Our bodies need only a little bit of cholesterol for these housekeeping activities—and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 38 percent of Americans have levels that are too high.
Excess blood levels of a specific type called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is especially likely to wreak havoc. The more LDL cholesterol you have floating around in your bloodstream, the greater your risk for a heart attack or stroke.
The link is so strong that just a 10 percent decrease in total cholesterol levels (including LDL, which makes up most of the total cholesterol in your body) can reduce someone’s risk for heart disease by as much as 30 percent.
That’s why doctors want you to know how to lower LDL cholesterol and keep it at a healthy level.
What is LDL cholesterol?
Where does your blood cholesterol come from? It’s produced by the body’s liver.
Although you can also get cholesterol from animal-based foods, like eggs and meat, dietary cholesterol doesn’t play as big a role in your heart health as once thought. Other food components, like saturated fat, are more likely to cause the liver to produce cholesterol (more on that later).
Because cholesterol is a “waxy” fat and our blood is mostly water, they don’t mix. So our body shuttles it around with cholesterol-carrying molecules called lipoproteins.
The lipoprotein’s density helps determine the type of cholesterol. Considering fat is less dense than protein, the particles with a lot of fat are considered low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol. On the flip side, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) has more protein than fat and is considered “good” cholesterol.
Once our body extracts what it needs from these molecules—like energy from triglycerides, another type of fat—what remains is leftover cholesterol floating around in our blood.
“They’re supposed to be cleared by our liver,” says cardiologist Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University and the president of the American Heart Association.
But some of us are less efficient at clearing those particles from the bloodstream, and at higher levels, the LDL particles carrying cholesterol can start getting into our artery walls.
“That’s when they can cause trouble,” says Dr. Lloyd-Jones.
What happens when LDL cholesterol is too high?
When these LDL cholesterol particles get into our arteries, they trigger an immune system response. The body sends in inflammatory cells to try and clear the leftover cholesterol, but that very process creates more damage, which can attract more LDL cholesterol particles.
“It becomes a little bit of a vicious cycle,” Dr. Lloyd-Jones says.
He explains that over time, this damage can make it more likely someone will form plaque in their artery walls. That narrows the arteries, limiting blood flow and significantly raising the risk of heart disease.
HDL vs. LDL cholesterol
Cholesterol is cholesterol; it’s the type of particle carrying it that makes it “good” or “bad” for our body.
Whereas LDL particles tend to deliver excess cholesterol to our tissues and arteries, HDL particles are designed to help with the body’s cleanup process.
“The HDL [cholesterol] sort of functions like a vacuum cleaner,” explains Holly Ippisch, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “It helps pick up the LDL and take it back to the liver, where the body can get rid of it or use it for other functions.”
What causes high LDL cholesterol?
High LDL cholesterol levels are primarily driven by poor dietary habits, explains Eugene Yang, chair of the American College of Cardiology’s Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Section Leadership Council and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
The Western diet—typically high in things like unhealthy saturated fats—encourages elevated LDL cholesterol levels.
With the increasing availability of fast and processed foods, high cholesterol is a trend that’s on the rise worldwide.
According to The New England Journal of Medicine, the number of deaths attributed to high LDL cholesterol grew by almost one million between 1990 and 2017. This research also shows a drastic shift in cholesterol-related death rates from high-income regions to middle- or low-income countries, particularly in Asia.
But diet isn’t the only culprit. Genetics can influence a person’s risk for having high LDL cholesterol—and the heart problems that can occur as a result.
Dr. Yang explains that about one in 250 people has what’s called familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic mutation that affects their ability to clear LDL cholesterol from their body.
This predisposes people to levels of cholesterol that are higher than the average person. As a result, they’re up to 22 times more likely to have coronary heart disease, according to the CDC.
However, even if you don’t have familial hypercholesterolemia, other genetic factors can mean you are at greater risk for high cholesterol and heart trouble. The good news is that even if you are at higher risk due to genetics, making lifestyle changes like healthy eating and exercise can help.
A normal range for LDL cholesterol
Dr. Lloyd-Jones says that there are average cholesterol values people can shoot for, but in general, the most optimal range for an individual can vary from one person to the next.
Still, he says that if you’re a healthy adult with no family history of high cholesterol and no personal history of heart disease, good starting points are:
- Total cholesterol: less than 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dl)
- LDL cholesterol: less than 130 mg/dl
- HDL cholesterol: 50 mg/dl or higher
- Triglycerides: less than 150 mg/dl—ideally below 100 mg/dl
“But if you have other risk factors, like smoking, high blood pressure, or diabetes, these [average] levels might be too high for you,” he explains. “It’s important to understand the context of your personal situation so that you and your doctor can decide the right numbers for you.”
How to lower LDL cholesterol levels
When we’re born, our genetic makeup sets a range around which our LDL cholesterol levels will orbit throughout our lives, says Dr. Lloyd-Jones.
Yet while we can’t control this genetic range, we can leverage factors like our diet, lifestyle, medications to keep cholesterol levels at the lowest—and healthiest—point in that predetermined spread.
Lower LDL cholesterol with diet and nutrition
According to experts, eating patterns have a big influence on the levels of LDL cholesterol in your body.
Although some people absorb dietary cholesterol into their bodies from food more easily than others—and therefore are more affected by that extra egg yolk in their omelet—doctors say that there are general dietary guidelines that help lower LDL cholesterol.
Eat less saturated fat
“The typical recommendations are to start with decreasing saturated fats,” Dr. Ippisc says. This type of fat is known to raise LDL cholesterol levels and is one of the worst foods for cholesterol.
Limiting saturated fat means making dietary choices like choosing:
- Lower-fat dairy
- Baked or grilled options instead of fried or greasy foods
- Fiber-rich foods, like whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Lean protein like fish and poultry
Avoid trans fats
There’s a good reason the Food and Drug Administration set a target for food manufacturers to remove partially hydrogenated oils from processed foods by 2020. These trans fats raise LDL cholesterol.
This type of fat used to be in many types of margarine, baked goods (think pies and cookies), doughnuts, pizza, and fried foods.
Although removed from many products, it’s a good idea to continue to steer clear of these fats. To do that, read nutrition labels and buy products with zero trans fat on the label and no partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list.
Eat more healthy fats
A study from the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine also shows that when healthy fats like olive and canola oils are included in this cholesterol-friendly diet, outcomes improve even more.
To add healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturate fats to your diet, stock up on foods like:
- Olive, canola, peanut, and sesame oils
- Nuts and nut butters
- Seeds, like flax and pumpkin
Eat more fiber
Soluble fiber—found in fruits and veggies, whole grains like oats, and legumes—is a heart-healthy choice. According to a 2019 analysis published in The Lancet, a higher intake of dietary fiber is associated with lower levels of total cholesterol.
Lower cholesterol with lifestyle changes
Don’t rely on diet alone to bring your LDL cholesterol down to a healthy level. Think of eating as just one aspect of your cholesterol-lowering plan. Then target necessary lifestyle changes.
One of the most important strategies for managing your cholesterol is to maintain a healthy weight.
A study published in Translational Behavioral Medicine found that overweight and obese adults who shed just 5 percent of their body weight reduced risk factors for cholesterol-related heart problems. And greater weight loss led to bigger improvements.
“If you’re actively gaining weight, the liver is often already packed with fat or cholesterol,” Dr. Lloyd-Jones explains.
That means it can’t clear much more cholesterol from the bloodstream, so there will be more LDL particles hanging out and causing trouble.
Quitting smoking can also influence your cholesterol management. While smoking doesn’t have a strong link to LDL cholesterol, it does tend to suppress HDL cholesterol levels.
Smoking also worsens the damage LDL cholesterol can cause our arteries, further increasing someone’s risk of heart disease.
Create an exercise routine
If you’re overweight or obese, exercise may help you lose pounds, which will help improve your cholesterol levels. But keeping a regular fitness routine is a good idea even if you don’t need to lose weight.
Research has shown that exercise can reduce cholesterol levels. And according to a study published in the journal Sports Medicine, regular physical activity can raise HDL cholesterol levels.
Lower LDL cholesterol with medication
“The most important feature that determines our LDL levels is the activity of receptors in the liver that pull LDL particles out of the blood,” says Dr. Lloyd-Jones.
He explains that cholesterol medications enhance the activity of those receptors, so our bodies can get rid of LDL cholesterol much more efficiently. Dr. Ippisch adds that this class of drugs (called statins) also works to slow down how much cholesterol is being made in our liver.
“[Doctors] look at the overall risk of the patient to determine who might benefit from medication in addition to lifestyle changes to lower their LDL cholesterol,” Dr. Lloyd-Jones says.
Higher-risk individuals can include those who already have cardiovascular disease and those with a genetic predisposition to elevated LDL cholesterol levels. But doctors may also use medication to lower LDL levels in people with health conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones explains that while someone may fall in the average range for LDL cholesterol, a “normal” number might be too high, depending on their additional risk factors. Medication brings it down to lower, safer levels, so there’s no additional fuel for artery-clogging plaque.
The healthy cholesterol level for you
It’s important for people to understand that there’s no “normal” LDL cholesterol level. Dr. Lloyd-Jones.
Instead, he says, you should work with your doctor to identify the level that’s most optimal for you and form a plan to get there. That begins with a cholesterol test and a discussion of your risk factors.
And if you learn your number is too high? You have a lot of potential ways to bring it back down again.
There’s a reason doctors take high cholesterol so seriously. Hypercholesterolemia, the official name for high cholesterol, is defined as having a total blood cholesterol of 240 mg/dl or higher. Borderline high cholesterol (levels between 200 mg/dl and 239 mg/dl) is also concerning, and affects nearly 40 percent of American adults. High cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, but usually has no symptoms, making it a silent killer. There are a few conditions associated with high cholesterol, however, including lipomas, fatty tissue deposits under the skin. Here, Kris Olsen, 57, owner of Finish Line Engraving in Columbus, Ohio, shares her experience dealing with high cholesterol after learning lumps in her breast were really lipomas.
I discovered lumps in my breast
Some people describe their health as a journey. I’d say mine is more like a roller coaster—plenty of ups and some downs, along with a couple of stomach-dropping turns.
It started about 15 years ago, when I lost my best friend, my dad, and my brother to cancer in the space of three years. I’d spent so much time being a caregiver to my loved ones that I’d put my own well-being on the back burner.
I knew I’d gained some weight and was probably depressed, but I was shocked when I went in for my regular checkup and discovered how bad the numbers on my blood work really were.
Not only was I obese, but my cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure were high, putting me at risk for cardiovascular disease. I knew that obesity raised my cancer risk too. This thought was at the top of my mind when I mentioned to my doctor that I had also found some lumps in my breast and armpit.
Thankfully, it wasn’t breast cancer
Several mammograms later (as if one isn’t enough fun!), we determined the lumps were knots of fatty tissue called lipomas.
The great news: the cause wasn’t cancer. The not-so-great news: my body was storing excess fat. Lipomas, I later learned, are often correlated with very high cholesterol.
My doc gave me a choice. I could drastically change my lifestyle, or he would put me on prescription meds, and a lot of them. I chose the lifestyle changes option.
I changed my diet and took up running, eventually taking part in a 5K race. Even though I had to walk sometimes, I found running therapeutic and fell in love with the sport. It also helped me mentally. Running became my “me time,” and I often cried, meditated, and sang while I worked out.
Over time, I lost the extra weight, the fatty lumps, and four inches of chest and back fat. But even more important, my cholesterol and blood pressure fell to healthy levels.
For the next decade, I kept up my healthy lifestyle. I thought, possibly naively, that I’d figured this cholesterol thing out.
Then menopause hit like a freight train
In February 2019, at age 55, I had another shocking medical checkup. My cholesterol was 275 mg/dl, a number classified as “extremely high” and dangerous.
I was totally taken aback. I didn’t have any symptoms at all! I remember feeling so scared. My mother had a heart attack when I was 16, and I was terrified of following in her footsteps.
The number was so much higher than I thought it would be, and I felt ashamed I’d let myself get to this point. I was in a fog as I listened to my doctor tell me that I needed to get these numbers under control immediately.
High cholesterol is more common in post-menopausal women, but I knew that I couldn’t use hormones as an excuse. I admitted that over the past few years I’d really let my diet and exercise habits slip. After getting an injury during a race, I’d stopped running, and I’d been comforting myself with food.
Again I was faced with a choice between going on medication or overhauling my life. Again I chose to change my lifestyle.
Managing my high cholesterol with diet and exercise
My sports doctor reassured me that I could lower my cholesterol through diet and exercise, and he recommended that I switch to eating a Mediterranean diet full of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean protein.
I love to cook, so I saw this as a fun opportunity to try out new recipes.
Another important factor was staying hydrated—and with the right liquids. I hadn’t been drinking much water, so I ditched sodas and juice and started downing water throughout my day. I added slices of lemons, oranges, or cucumbers to make it more fun and the water taste better.
One thing that didn’t help me was vinegar. I read on the Internet that drinking apple cider vinegar daily can help lower cholesterol. I never got to find out if it really worked (researchers are still debating this) because I just couldn’t stand the taste!
The exercise piece was a bit trickier. I couldn’t run like I used to, so my husband surprised me with an indoor bike trainer, and I took up cycling. Eventually I was able to take up running again, and I’ve rekindled my love for it.
One year later
My checkup in February 2020 went much better. In one year, I’d been able to get my total cholesterol down to 197 mg/dl—that’s in the healthy range for my age. I was so proud of my hard work, and today I feel so much healthier and happier.
But while my story worked out well, not everyone’s does. Now I make it a point to tell everyone that high cholesterol usually does not have any symptoms so it’s super important to have blood work done on a regular basis.
We can’t control all the ups and downs on our health roller coasters, but cholesterol is one area where we really can have a big effect.
—As told to Charlotte Hilton Andersen
What is a deviated septum?
Breathing is one of the traditionally more thoughtless bodily functions for many people. If you are healthy, breathing usually just sort of happens without much effort.
People with specific lung conditions, like asthma or COPD, can have difficulty breathing in general or due to certain triggers. Others may have trouble breathing just through their nose due to a cold, allergies, or other problems. People with a deviated septum are in the latter group.
A deviated septum, or nasal septum deviation, is the displacement of the wall between the nostrils. It makes it tough for people to breathe through their nose.
This wall of bone and cartilage divides the inside of the nose in half, with a nostril on each side. In the ideal scenario, both sides are even. However, a deviated septum means one nasal septum leans sideways or is off-center, making one nostril bigger than the other.
“The septum is an important internal structure of the nose,” explains Amit Kochhar, MD, a double board-certified otolaryngologist and head, neck, facial, and reconstructive surgeon of Providence Saint John’s Health Center, in Santa Monica, California. “The septum serves to not only separate the right and left side of the nose, but it also supports the bridge and tip of the nose.”
No one’s septum is perfectly midline, or straight, and about 80 percent of all septums are deviated to some degree.
Here’s what you need to know about the symptoms of a deviated septum, as well as treatments and surgery that can help correct the problem if you have one.
How does a septum deviate?
Some people are born with a deviated septum. It may also occur as the nose grows, since the septum also grows. These are typical reasons for a deviated septum.
In other cases, a deviated septum occurs after injury to the nose from things like contact sports or car accidents, for example.
Deviated septum symptoms
People with a minor or a slight deviated septum may not experience symptoms. More severe deviations could cause the following symptoms or signs of a deviated septum:
- difficulty breathing
- sinus infections
- dryness in one nostril
- snoring, loud breathing during sleep, sleep apnea
- nasal congestion or pressure
- facial pain
- sleep apnea
How to tell if you have a deviated septum
Doctors, usually an otolaryngologist or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, diagnoses a deviated septum after a nostril and nose examination. They may look at the septum’s placement and how it impacts the size of the nostrils.
Questions about sleep, snoring, sinus problems, and difficulty breathing also help doctors indicate whether or not someone has a deviated septum.
Although there isn’t one surefire test to do at home, Dr. Kochhar says you can do a few things to possibly determine if you have a deviated septum.
First, you can look at your nose in the mirror to see if your nose looks straight.
“One finding that is commonly seen in patients when they have a deviated septum is that the outside of their nose may also be crooked,” he says.
Another way to see if your septum is deviated is to photograph your nostrils.
Although it won’t be your next profile picture, it could indicate an issue.
If one nostril is significantly larger than the other, that may be a clue that something is deviated internally, per Dr. Kochhar.
Your breathing habits
Many people with a deviated septum also complain of trouble breathing through their nose. While it is normal for one side to breathe better, this usually alternates between right and left.
However, if only one side breathes better all the time, that may be a clue that something is blocking the non-breathing side like a deviated septum, according to Dr. Kochhar.
People with a deviated septum can be at risk for nasal congestion, which can cause face pain and repeat sinus infections.
Your sleeping habits
“Lastly, if you note that when lying or sleeping on your side that you cannot breathe on one side all the time, that can also be an indication that you should see a physician to look into your nose to assess how straight your septum is,” Dr. Kochhar says.
How to fix a deviated septum
Symptom management is the name of the game when it comes to treatments for a deviated septum. Your doctor might recommend over-the-counter medicine to help relieve symptoms like congestion or headaches.
Dr. Kochhar also says another option for improving nasal breathing includes using external Breath Right strips. These nasal strips help lift the sides of the nostrils to open the nasal passages and increase airflow.
Steroid nasal sprays are also an option, like fluticasone (Flonase), mometasone (Nasonex), and triamcinolone (Nasacort).
People may also choose to undergo in-office procedures to reduce swelling of the septum or turbinates, the thin, bony plates inside the nose.
“These typically involve radiofrequency ablation or other types of thermal (heat) energy,” he says.
Deviated septum surgery
If symptoms don’t improve, septoplasty, a type of reconstructive surgery, is an option.
People who opt for this surgery usually have a deviated septum that obstructs one side of their nasal airway and/or frequent sinus infections.
The surgery consists of cutting the septum and removing excess cartilage or bone to straighten the septum and nasal passage. In some cases, the surgeon adds silicone splints in each nostril for septum support.
Your doctor might also recommend additional surgeries like sinus surgery (to open the sinuses) or a rhinoplasty (nose job), at the same time. That combination is called septorhinoplasty.
Like any surgery, septoplasty has risks and benefits.
The risks and potential complications of the procedure include bleeding, infection, and damage to the septum that can lead to scarring or possibly a perforation (a hole in the nose), says Dr. Kochhar.
However, the risk is very low, especially when done by an experienced surgeon.
“In the majority of cases, patients have minimal pain and experience a noticeable improvement in breathing two to three weeks after surgery when the internal swelling reduces,” Dr. Kochhar says.
And Dr. Kochhar finds that most patients who undergo septoplasty wish they had done it much sooner.
“The improvement in nasal breathing provides a huge impact on quality of life,” he says.
Dr. Kochhar notes that although a deviated septum may contribute to nasal obstruction and difficulty breathing through your nose, it’s not the only potential cause.
“Other causes of nasal obstruction include nasal valve stenosis (narrowing), turbinate hypertrophy and nasal polyps, or chronic sinusitis,” he says.
That’s why, if you suffer from nasal obstruction, an evaluation by a head and neck surgeon with expertise in facial plastic surgery or rhinology is key.
Next, check out the medical reasons you can’t sleep.
You may have heard the term ‘endocrine disruptor’ and wondered how concerned you need to be about these chemicals, which can be found in plastics, packaging, food, household products, and many other places.
The definition of an endocrine disruptor is any chemical or compound, either natural or man-made, that either mimics or interfere with hormones in the body.
As you may know, hormones are pretty important and act as the body’s chemical messengers to control nearly all processes, explains Linda Kahn, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
The endocrine system includes hormone-producing glands like the ovaries, testes, thyroid, pancreas, and the pituitary gland in the brain.
Since that system regulates everything from metabolism to mood, avoiding things that may disrupt the balance makes sense. In fact, endocrine disruptors have been linked to a number of health issues. (More on this later.)
Here’s everything you need to know about endocrine disruptors, also known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
How do endocrine disruptors affect the body?
There are a few ways that chemicals and other substances can disrupt the balance or normal function of the endocrine system and throw your body out of whack.
EDCs essentially work by fooling the body into thinking that they’re hormones, according to Heather Patisaul, an assistant professor of biology at North Carolina State University who specializes in neuroendocrinology and endocrine-disruption research.
Some of them act as hormone mimics, sending false messages, explains Kahn. Others block hormone receptors on cell surfaces, meaning they block messages from getting through.
Endocrine disruptors could affect the actual levels of hormones in the blood by affecting or interfering with how they are made, broken down, or stored. They may even make the body more or less sensitive to certain hormones.
The body makes a lot of hormones, like estrogen, testosterone, insulin, or oxytocin, but most EDCs focus on disrupting estrogen, androgen (testosterone), and thyroid hormone function, Patisaul says.
“There are likely many other means by which endocrine disruption occurs that we have not yet identified,” Kahn says.
Examples of endocrine disruptors
So it’s not shocking that they are in many everyday products, like some plastic bottles and containers, liners of metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). They are also in building materials, clothing and upholstery, and thermal paper.
These could lead to contamination, and endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure, via your diet, the air, your skin, and drinking water.
Again, they are found in many everyday products—although the levels may not necessarily be high enough to cause a problem. Some of these occur naturally while others are manufactured, and some are now regulated or banned in the United States, while others are not.
Here’s a list of the most common types of disruptors:
Used in the manufacturing of detergents, cleaners, and other products. Found throughout indoor and outdoor environments, too.
Found in fish and shellfish. Inorganic forms of arsenic were previously in pesticides, paint, and wood preservatives. The use today is restricted.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Found in some rigid plastics, and food storage or packaging materials. Many manufacturers are phasing out BPA and replacing it with chemical cousins BPS or BPF (bisphenol S and F).
(Here’s why you shouldn’t refill your plastic water bottle.)
Forms naturally in the atmosphere, occurs naturally in arid states in the Southwest U.S., and found in rocket propellant, explosives, fireworks, and road flares.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
Found in textiles, clothing, non-stick food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, and old Teflon cookware.
Found in personal care products, medical tubing, vinyl flooring, adhesives, and detergents.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE)
Found in furniture foam padding, wire insulation, rugs, draperies, upholstery, plastic cabinets for televisions, personal computers, and small appliances. It could get into the air, water, or soil and contaminate food.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)
Found in industrial solvents or lubricants and their byproducts, landfills, incineration, electrical, heat transfer, and hydraulic equipment, plasticizers in paints, plastics, and rubber products.
Found in some antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes, some cosmetics, clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys. The FDA banned the chemical’s use in antibacterial liquid soaps in 2016. They also banned over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products containing triclosan, too. Many manufacturers are eliminating it from their products.
What happens after endocrine disruptor exposure?
Health concerns from exposure to endocrine disruptors are mostly about reproduction and development.
Here’s what to know.
Attention and development issues
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that can result in hyperactivity and/or attention problems.
Research in JAMA Network Open looked at the association between endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure in adolescents and ADHD.
The study, which was published in 2020, included 205 teens, about 19 percent who had an ADHD diagnosis. The researchers measured endocrine disruptor exposure by testing urine samples, and found that for each 2-fold increase in phthalates, there was a 34 percent increase in the risk of ADHD-related behavioral problems. The link was stronger in males than females.
Another 2020 study in Environmental Health Perspectives looked at phthalate exposure before birth and found more autism traits in boys (but not girls) later on.
The researchers found that greater concentrations of phthalate chemicals in a mother’s first-trimester urine samples correlated with increases in Social Responsiveness Scale-2 (SRS-2) scores, a measure of autism traits, at ages 3 and 4.
However, they only saw the link in children whose mothers took less than the recommended daily folic acid dose (400 micrograms) during their first trimester.
Folic acid, a man-made form of the B vitamin folate, can reduce the risk of birth defects if taken before and during pregnancy. The study suggests it might also protect against endocrine disrupters, the authors concluded, although more research is needed.
The CDC recommends all women of childbearing age get 400 micrograms (micrograms) of folic acid daily, along with food with folate from a varied diet.
A subset of EDCs, obesogens, promotes obesity, according to a 2019 report in Frontiers in Endocrinology.
EDCs might also increase the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by directly or indirectly interfering with liver’s ability to process fat. NAFLD is a type of liver damage similar to that seen with alcohol abuse, however, it’s due to fat accumulation in the liver and seen in people who drink little or no alcohol.
Long-term exposure to arsenic, one type of endocrine disruptor, can disrupt metabolism, and increase the risk of diabetes and other metabolic disorders, too, according to the NIEHS.
A 2013 review in Endocrine Connections looked at the research on human infertility and exposure to endocrine disruptors.
The review found that not only may this exposure affect sperm quality in men, but female fertility, too. It all depends on the specific EDC.
For example, the report highlighted a higher risk of infertility in women with higher concentrations of BPA in their system. And exposure to pesticides and plastics in a work environment is also a known risk factor for female infertility, too, per the report. Because of this, BPA has been eliminated from many types of plastic and products for children, and BPA-free cans are now an option.
Although more research on humans is necessary, additional research in animals also found an association between adult exposure to EDCs such as pesticides and triclosan and harmful effects on adult female reproduction, according to a 2017 report in the Journal of Endocrinology.
Other health issues
A study in Environmental Research on phthalates and disease looked at 1,504 Australian men between the ages of 39 and 84. They found phthalates in 99.6 percent of urine samples.
Those men with a higher phthalate concentrations had a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and chronic low-grade inflammation than those with lower levels. (There was no link to asthma or depression.)
What is unknown about endocrine disruptors
Patisaul says there is so much that is still not known about EDCs.
“We don’t know how many there are, or where they are, or how many are in our bodies at one time, although estimates are in the hundreds,” she says.
Patisaul adds more research is still necessary to understand how EDCs may affect the function of hormones other than estrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormone.
“My lab has done some work on oxytocin and vasopressin, for example, while others are looking at insulin, but very little work has been done regarding their potential effects on the hormones involved in bone endocrinology, or appetite for example,” she says.
Kahn adds that more research is also necessary on whether endocrine disruptor exposure is equally dangerous throughout life, or during specific times only.
“For example, studies have shown that exposure in utero, can affect health during throughout life, as all of the systems that regulate bodily processes are ‘wired’ during this time,” Kahn says.
“We might also ask, is exposure to chemicals that interfere with sex hormones particularly dangerous during puberty?”
Who is most at risk?
Patisaul notes that hormones are essential for proper development of nearly every organ system in the body, so exposure during fetal development is especially risky. So pregnant women should be extra careful to try to avoid them if they can.
Kahn agrees, adding that recent studies also suggest that endocrine disruptors may affect gametes (sperm and eggs), so people planning a pregnancy might also want to try to avoid exposure as well.
“Young children should also be protected as much as possible, because we know that the brain continues to develop rapidly in the first few years of life,” Kahn notes.
Puberty is also a vulnerable time, but far less research exists examining this “critical period,” according to Patisaul.
“We have almost no information about how EDCs may affect the aging brain, or women undergoing menopause, or EDC impacts in other significant life stages and transitions,” she says.
How to avoid endocrine disruptors
Since they are pretty much everywhere, it can be hard to avoid EDCs completely.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have control over everything we’re exposed to, but among the things we can control, diet and personal and home care products are major potential sources of exposure to endocrine disruptors,” Kahn says.
Avoiding fragrance is one of the easiest ways to avoid endocrine disruptors, according to Patisaul. “Fragrance mixtures often contain a number of EDCs and allergens,” she says.
Here are some other tips from Kahn and Patisaul on how to avoid endocrine disruptors:
- Avoid fragranced personal care products, detergents, cleaning fluids, and air fresheners (including plug-ins, sprays, and scented candles).
- Limit the use of plastic, particularly plastic food containers that have the numbers 3, 6, or 7 in the triangle-shaped recycling symbol.
- Avoid canned food.
- Avoid furniture and fabrics with added flame retardants.
- Regularly clean your floors with a wet mop, especially if you have children crawling around.
- Open your windows and let in fresh air as much as possible.
- Eat organic as much as possible, and spend the extra money on the organic variety of fruits and veggies that tend to have a lot of pesticides, like strawberries; greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens; nectarines; apples; grapes; cherries; peaches; and pears; as well as veggies like peppers, celery, and tomatoes.
Consider downloading apps such as EWG’s “Healthy Living” or similar to help you navigate shopping for personal care products, Patisaul suggests.
“Shoppers can also use the Mind the Store Retailer Report Card to shop at places that have made considerable efforts to reduce the presence of toxic chemicals in their full line of products,” she says.
Next, check out the best-reviewed cleaning products on amazon.
Why you want to avoid excess moisture
While moisture-wicking underwear is a good idea at any time, they might be especially helpful in the summer, if you live in a hot climate, or when you exercise. What can go wrong if you get too swampy down there?
For women, staying dry is one of the most important things you can do to stave off vaginitis, inflammation of your vagina, according to gynecologist Angela Jones, MD, who extends this definition to the vulva as well.
“My golden rule is that warm plus moist is a recipe for vaginitis; you know, lady parts (vulva and vagina) that get itchy, irritated etc.,” Dr. Jones says.
“As a woman, no one wants to go around scratching or itching her lady parts,” she adds.
Here’s everything else you need to know about moisture-wicking underwear.
The advantage of moisture-wicking underwear
If you aren’t investing in moisture-wicking underwear, or workout gear, Dr. Jones strongly advises you to do so. Her other rule of thumb is to change out of workout clothes immediately after the workout to decrease your risk of vaginitis.
“Vaginitis can be characterized by itching, burning, erythema or redness; this can be caused simply by extended contact with damp or moist workout gear or panties,” she says.
The advantage of moisture-wicking undergarments is that they give you a little wiggle room when you’re out and about during the hot, sweaty days of summer. You can’t always get home and change immediately after an outdoor workout or sports session.
Moisture-wicking underwear actually works to help keep you dry when simply changing into a fresh pair of undies isn’t an option.
“Trust me, you don’t want this to get out of hand. An itching or burning vulva or vagina is nothing you want to have to deal with over a long weekend,” Dr. Jones adds.
Opting for moisture-wicking underwear also reduces the chance of chafing.
(This is how to freshen up post-workout if you can’t shower.)
When to wear moisture-wicking underwear
You’ll want to pack a pair or two of moisture-wicking underwear on your next trip to ensure you’re keeping that area healthy and as dry as possible.
(Here’s how bad it is to re-wear sweaty gym clothes.)
The best types of moisture-wicking fabrics
What are the best types of fabric for moisture-wicking? You want a lightweight fabric, like modal, and a cotton liner, if possible.
Synthetic fabrics are hydrophobic, meaning that they resist water penetration. This is why you’ll see that a lot of synthetic fabrics—polyester or nylon in particular—are great for moisture-wicking. They’re used regularly for workout clothing as well as for moisture-wicking undies.
With that, here are some of our expert-recommended panties that help wick away moisture so you can keep cool and comfortable during hot weather, exercise, or just everyday wear.
Moisture-wicking underwear options
Warner’s Breathe Freely Brief
These Warner underwear are cute, comfy and made with a lightweight fabric designed for optimal air flow and wicking away moisture. Cool to the touch, these undies keep you dry and comfortable even on the hottest summer days.
Even better, they boast a sleek finish, so they aren’t visible under clothing. They come in a range of sizes from small to 2XL.
On Gossamer Mesh Bikini
Available in lots of shades for your every whim, these On Gossamer panties are that elusive comfortable cut that is invisible under clothes and is also cute enough to wear on a date. They are ultra light and sheer with a low cut that won’t make a cameo even under low-rise jeans and skirts.
Proof Leakproof Thong
Whether you’re dealing with periods, bladder leaks, or simply want major moisture-wicking—these are the choice for you.
The Thong features an invisible leakproof core in the gusset. Its soft and slim multi-layer core does the job without being bulky.
Fruit of the Loom Women’s Coolblend Bikini 4 Pack
Sometimes you just want to buy some cool and comfy underwear in bulk. These Fruit of the Loom CoolBlend bikinis are designed to keep you from overheating as temperatures rise and feature a soft waist and leg band.
It’s tag-free and boasts a 100 percent cotton liner for extra softness. Pair it with one of these cooling summer sports bras.
Lululemon UnderEase Midrise Boyshort
Specially designed to be worn for yoga (or just when you’re on the move, like jogging, for example), this underwear is key. Lululemon knows how to create garments that help you be more active and more comfortable.
Available in a few shades and prints, these soft boyshorts don’t dig in uncomfortably during an especially sweaty workout, so they’re sure to be the ones you’ll reach for on active days.
Silky soft, sweat-wicking, quick-drying and boasting four-way stretch, this underwear was created to sit an inch below the brand’s mid-rise bottoms, from shorts to pants to leggings.
Icebreaker Women’s Wool Bikini Underwear
We’re just as surprised as you are that merino wool is moisture-wicking, and yet, it is.
Whether you wear this pair from Icebreaker for summer or winter sports to wick away moisture and sweat, this stretch-blend pair offers a flattering, slim fit and forward set seams for a comfortable feel.
The merino wool construction works well to keep you warm if you’re a skier or snowboarder (a sweat-inducing cold-weather sport), as well.
Jockey Underwear Skimmies Cooling Slip Short
Ideal for under dresses or skirts in the summertime, these slip shorts are created to keep you as cool as possible—it’s in the name.
Machine washable, these mid-length shorts from Jockey have a cotton gusset to help protect you against chafing. They’re a nylon, spandex, and cotton blend for the ultimate in a form-fitting, seamless look underneath even the most body-con fashion moment.
Next, check out how to get the sweat smell out of clothes.
Dish towel dirt
Unlike all the things that you’re washing too often, most people are probably not throwing their dish towels in the washing machine quite often enough.
It’s easy to forget them, and after they’ve air-dried, they look ready for another use. But too often, we keep using them long after they’ve gotten dirty, like kitchen sponges. And all we’re really doing is spreading bacteria and germs on everything they touch.
“Believe it or not, dish towels can be one of the dirtiest items in your home. From cleaning up spills to wiping off counter tops, they often get used more than they’re cleaned,” said Bailey Carson, head of cleaning at Handy.
What’s on your kitchen towel
A study by the American Society of Microbiology found that half of kitchen towels tested contained some sort of bacterial growth, such as E. coli or staph. Because dish towels are so absorbent, they are the perfect home for bacteria, mildew, and even mold.
Your damp, warm towel is also the ideal breeding ground for that bacteria. That smell you associate with your dish towels and washcloths? Yup. That’s mold and mildew.
If your towels or cloths smell, it’s time for a wash in very hot water. If they come out of the dryer still smelling less than pleasant? It’s time for a new set.
How often should you wash your dish towels?
But exactly how often do you need to wash your dish towels to avoid spreading germs? That answer is: It depends on what exactly you’re using your dish towels for. Are they just for drying your hands after washing them, with maybe a quick use to mop up some spilled water or a food stain on the front of your cupboards?
In that case, Julie Finch-Scally, founder of The Duster Dollies, says that it’s all right to reuse that type of towel for three to four days.
If you’re using your dish towels to wipe up anything other than your wet hands, they’re getting more use than a towel you use after you shower, and you’ll have to wash them more often than the average amount of time you should wait between washing your bath towels.
If you’re using your dish towels to wipe down cutting boards, wash down stovetops, clean up after spills, or even for drying your dishes, you may have to replace them a bit more often.
In this case, Liz O’Hanlon, director of Metro Cleaning (UK) Ltd, says, “Ideally you should wash your dishcloths once a day. Unless you use the towel to wipe up spillages which include raw meat or fish; then the towel should be washed immediately after use.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to run a load of a few towels every single day. Laura Smith, owner of All Star Cleaning Services, recommends collecting dirty towels in a small wastebasket under your sink and washing them when you’ve got a full load.
That way, once you’ve figured out how often you need to wash your bedsheets, you can throw them all in together.
Next, check out the little things everyone forgets to clean.
Setting intentions for beginners
Some trendy mental health practices have murky or hard-to-define benefits, but others can be pretty useful.
Here’s what experts want you to know about how to set intentions, what they are, and how they could benefit your mental and emotional wellbeing.
What do you mean by “intentions”
There are a few ways to interpret what intentions mean.
Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City, says they identify a purpose behind everything you do.
“It can be the kind of life you want to live, how you want to act in a particular situation, or what you want to get out of an experience ultimately,” she says.
Matthew Ferry, a spiritual teacher, happiness coach, and author of Quiet Mind Epic Life, says intentions are creative pursuits that help guide and direct your perspective about life, decisions, and ultimately your actions.
It’s similar but slightly different than a goal, Ferry explains.
While goals focus on a specific end point—suggesting that your current status is unacceptable or unsatisfactory—intentions are more about your mindset and mindfulness in the present as you make your way towards something that’s important to you.
They are about being in tune with an emotional state of being along the journey, rather than a specific outcome.
For example, a goal is often specific, like run a marathon. An intention could be about feeling strong and empowered, letting go of fear, or appreciating your body for what it can do.
“Goals often unconsciously imply attachment to the outcome and dissatisfaction with the current set of circumstances,” Ferry says.
Meanwhile, intentions are created knowing that although all is well, there’s still a creative pull to shift or optimize life. It’s about taking action after inspiration.
For Paul Hokemeyer, a clinical and consulting psychotherapist in New York, and author of Fragile Power: Why Having Everything Is Never Enough, it’s all about being proactive with your life.
“From a neurological perspective, it means that you live your life guided by your highest, most evolved part of your brain, which is your prefrontal cortex,” he says.”People who live lives of intention are influenced by their primitive emotions, but not enslaved by them.”
Intentions vs. affirmations
Hokemeyer says that the main difference is intentions focus on the future, “I will” statements. Meanwhile, an affirmation focuses on the present or “I am” statements.
Ferry adds that affirmations attempt to command the mind or personality to shift into a new pattern. Whereas an intention is a request for the mind or personality to shift.
“Commands create opposition and resistance,” Ferry says. “When you make a request, and give your mind the choice, you reduce resistance and open up your creativity.”
Intentions invite the mind and body into a new direction in a collaborative way.
So the intention version of the affirmation “I am a powerful and capable person” might be, “Please set the intention to be powerful and capable.”
This acknowledges you are not there yet, but want to move in that direction. You are simply pointing to the outcome you want to create, Ferry says.
“This creates openness, authenticity and creativity,” he says. “You can be at peace with where you are now, set your intention, [and be] open to what it will take.”
How to set intentions
Get quiet and reflect
Life is full of distractions, and distractions keep people stuck, according to Hokemeyer.
“When we spend a focused amount of time in quiet, our fundamental truths emerge,” he says.
Think about situations where you felt positive emotions such as happiness, pride, or passion. Then, bring your thoughts to times when you experienced negative emotions, such as disappointment or discomfort.
When considering possible intentions, remind yourself of the desire for the experience, rather than just a specific result, of the intention.
So commit to having an experience that will modify yourself or your life, Ferry says.
Pick one focus
After reflecting on the good and bad experiences and emotions, it’s time to solidify what you want to get out of your actions or your life in general, Hafeez says.
“Focus on the positive emotions you feel when doing something that you love and brings you happiness and joy,” she says. “Think about how you can achieve these feelings.”
Hokemeyer recommends choosing one focus, rather than a collection of things.
If you’re still not sure what that is, Ferry suggests considering the following questions:
- What is your most important intention right now?
- What’s important about achieving that intention?
- What’s important about the answer to question one?
- Ultimately, what will the answers to the questions above do for you?
These might help you set intentions related to spirituality, business, family, relationships, personal finance, and more.
Articulate it clearly
Describe the experience you believe the intention will create for you, Ferry says. It may be joy, peace of mind, safety, confidence, security, fun, or play.
“That word or phrase is your most cherished experience,” he says. “Now modify your intention to have that experience first and foremost.”
And try limiting your intention to one simple sentence with that word.
Write it down
Try to start each day by writing out your intention in a journal ten times, Hokemeyer recommends. Consistency and repetition are important.
Your intentions need to be clear and your efforts consistent, broken down into very small and attainable goals, according to Hokemeyer.
Ferry says that over the last 26 years, he recognized a pattern with his clients. Those who write down and review their intentions regularly increase their probability of completing them by about 70 percent, he estimates.
“If you knew 70 percent of your intentions would become reality, wouldn’t you be more inspired to do that?”
Keep your eyes and ears open
After picking and setting a clear intention and writing it down, the next step is to implement it into your life.
“Live each day actively looking for signs that you are manifesting your intention,” Hokemeyer says. “The key is to actively look and to keep your expectations low.”
Try to start each and every day with your intention.
Give it time
Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
“You are in this for the long haul,” Hokemeyer says. “You want your intention to manifest slowly and incrementally; this means it will last.”
Be gentle with yourself during this process. Especially since there’s a probability that not every intention will work, Ferry explains.
“Life is experimenting through you to find the best way to live,” he says. “Every intention is an experiment. It’s not a truth. You don’t know the future.”
Examples of intentions
If your goal is to be more positive on a daily basis, your intention would be, “I intend to wake up with a positive attitude,” for example.
Here are some other examples of intentions that might spark your own.
- I intend to wake up with a positive attitude
- I intend to embrace activities outside my comfort zone
- I intend to be loving and kind to my coworkers
- I intend to make exercise a priority
- I intend to prioritize my peace of mind
- I intend to forgive others, and myself
- I intend to do something fun today
- I intend to keep a promise to myself today
- I intend to meditate today
- I intend to accept help
How to keep intentions
The best way to keep intentions and stick to them is to understand that all your behaviors, habits, and rituals began inside of a structure, Ferry explains.
“Something outside of you created the disciplines,” he says. “As you get older, all those support systems like parents, school, or church become optional.” Now you can implement new structures to keep your intentions in place.
Things that will help you keep your intentions and move forward are joining groups that keep you accountable and tracking your progress. That might mean joining a running group or using something like the Streaks app to track how often you meditate, for example.
“Consistently remind yourself of your intentions and participate in things that make you happy and help you achieve your goals and reach success,” Hafeez says.
Still, Hafeez highlights we are all human. It’s OK if you occasionally stray away from your intentions.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” she says. “Simply identify that you drifted away from your intentions.”
After, try your best to redirect your focus back to your intentions. Hafeez recommends stating your intentions aloud daily to remind yourself of your purpose.
Reasons to set intentions
Setting intentions is beneficial in more ways than one.
Learn how to respond, not react
Hokemeyer says setting intentions helps people respond to life’s events rather than react to them. He says this is particularly important for people who suffer from a host of anxiety disorders ranging from panic disorders to generalized anxiety.
“For these individuals, uncertainty has a pernicious effect on their sense of safety in the world,” Hokemeyer says.
“Living an intentional life provides them with order and direction, two critically important qualities that serve to radically reduce levels of anxiety.”
Intentions allow people to be more compassionate with themselves and others, according to Hokemeyer.
“They enable us to channel our emotional, physical and spiritual resources towards a goal that is focused on our personal conceptualization of ‘better,'” he says.
In this process, people cultivate compassion for themselves, other people, and the world.
(Here are the benefits of being nicer to yourself.)
Setting intentions could move people out of feeling stuck.
“Eighty percent of the patients who come to me are stuck in a key area of their life,” Hokemeyer says. It may be a job, a toxic relationship, or a defeating mindset.
“The setting of intentions gives us a goal out of stuck to live and work for,” he adds.
Receive a dose of inspiration
“Human beings have the ability to modify and optimize their life and their existence,” Ferry says.
Setting your intention to have things be the way you want is empowering, inspiring, and uplifting.
Setting your intention gives you a higher degree of control over your life, according to Ferry.
“You can organize your life to ensure you are comfortable and your preferences are met,” he says.
“Setting your intentions and running the experiments to make them happen leads to a life of wonder, curiosity, and fulfillment.”
Attract what you desire
Setting intentions helps you start living life on your own terms or the way that you want. It’s not a silver bullet, or a guarantee, but setting your intention pushes the probability into the direction of your intended outcomes, according to Ferry.
“It’s easy to live by what you believe you should be doing,” Hafeez says. “Meanwhile, intentions allow you to concentrate on what you want to be doing.”
More happiness will come from doing things that bring you joy, rather than doing something that you believe is expected of you, she says.
Live in the moment
Setting intentions helps you focus on how you feel in the moment, and directs your mind away from thinking about your problems, according to Hafeez.
“Setting daily intentions allows you to bring a purpose to your actions which ultimately is a very effective way to achieve success,” she says.
Next, check out the ways reframing your thoughts can change your life.
Why pineapple is an underrated smoothie ingredient
Love eating a bowl of pineapple chunks? I know I do, and I wanted to share one of the best pineapple recipes with you. (Read on for more details.)
Nothing screams delicious treat quite like this tropical fruit—which also happens to taste amazing when blended into a pineapple smoothie.
Where do pineapples come from? Originally from South America, Christopher Columbus and Sir Walter Raleigh wrote about pineapples, and in the 1500s, the Portuguese introduced the pineapple to Africa, India, and other parts of the world.
Today, the pineapple is grown in India, China, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Thailand, as well as other countries.
Benefits of pineapple
No doubt you’re familiar with the tangy sweetness of pineapple. But do you also know about the health benefits of the fruit?
“A one-cup serving of pineapple offers a healthy dose of vitamin C,” says Elysia Cartlidge, a registered dietitian in Ontario, Canada.
“This not only helps improve your immune function but can also assist the body in the formation of collagen, a key contributor to wound healing.”
One cup of pineapple provides 79 milligrams of vitamin C, which is 88 percent of the daily value (DV).
You get beneficial minerals, too.
“One cup of this fruit provides an excellent source of manganese, a mineral that plays a key role in the health of bones and tissue,” says Cartlidge. You’ll also find bromelain in pineapple.
“This group of enzymes can aid with digestion and has anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties,” adds Cartlidge.
Why this pineapple smoothie is so awesome
If you love pineapple recipes, you’ll truly enjoy sipping this pineapple smoothie. And now that you know of the many reasons to love pineapple, let’s talk about why you should whip up this delicious pineapple smoothie from Cartlidge.
“The combination of the coconut milk, banana, and frozen pineapple results in a rich and creamy taste and texture that’s ultra-cool and refreshing,” she says.
“The fruit provides just the right amount of sweetness so that no additional form of sweetener is required.”
Add an umbrella straw to a smoothie, and pretend you’re sipping a piña colada.
“If you’re looking to escape to an island in your backyard, this smoothie will help you do it as it has tropical vibes in every sip,” says Cartlidge.
“The flavor resembles that of your classic piña colada but without the added sugar.”
(Here’s what to know about pineapple calories.)
Nutrition of this pineapple smoothie recipe
Per each serving of this pineapple smoothie, you’ll get the following. Note that the nutrition info does not reflect optional ingredients.
- Calories: 160
- Fat: 1 gram (1 percent DV)
- Saturated fat: 1 gram (1percent DV)
- Sodium: 86 milligrams (4 percent DV)
- Carbohydrates: 40 grams (15 percent DV)
- Fiber: 4 grams (14 percent DV)
- Sugar: 34 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Calcium: 109 milligrams (8 percent DV)
- Iron: 1 milligram (6 percent DV)
- Potassium: 369 milligrams (8 percent DV)
Why this pineapple smoothie recipe is healthy
You already know why eating pineapple is good for you. Now, let’s talk about the other ingredients in the pineapple smoothie.
The smoothie recipe also contains bananas.
“Bananas are a source of potassium and magnesium,” notes Cartlidge.
“The combination of potassium and magnesium, along with the carbohydrates, makes bananas an optimal pre- or post-workout option for athletes—as they provide energy while also helping to reduce risk of muscle cramps.”
And bananas, like pineapple, boast fiber. “The fiber found in bananas can help keep you regular and prevent constipation,” says Cartlidge.
You’ll also find coconut milk in this smoothie recipe.
“Coconut milk contains vitamin C and vitamin E, which can help to boost the immune system,” says Cartlidge. And coconut milk contains lauric acid.
“This component helps protect against many viruses and infections, as it has anti-viral and anti-fungal properties,” she adds.
Benefits of nutrients in this recipe
In just one serving of this pineapple smoothie, you’ll get four grams of fiber.
“This can leave you feeling fuller for longer, so you’re less likely to overeat at meal times and give in to cravings,” says Cartlidge.
“Dietary fiber can also promote regularity and lower cholesterol levels—and can aid in achieving a healthy weight.”
The smoothie provides benefits for your exercise routine, too.
“If consumed post-workout, the quick-absorbing natural sugars from the fruit can help replenish glycogen stores,” adds Cartlidge.
“If you choose to add in protein powder, this can help rebuild and repair the muscle that has been broken down during your workout.”
Other substitutions to make
This recipe already fits various needs—it’s vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free. But that doesn’t mean you can’t play around with the ingredients.
“If desired, you can substitute the coconut milk with another milk alternative such as soy or almond milk,” says Cartlidge. “However, this may alter the taste and texture of the smoothie.”
How to blend this pineapple smoothie
- 2 cups frozen pineapple chunks
- 1 medium overly ripe banana, sliced
- 1 ¼ cups canned coconut milk
- 1 scoop protein powder (optional)
- Dried and shredded unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)
Add all ingredients to a high-power blender. Gradually turn the blender up to high speed, and blend until smooth and creamy.
You may wish to add the frozen fruit in small batches and/or add additional liquid if the blender is having trouble breaking down the fruit.
For best results, serve immediately, topped with a sprinkle of coconut if desired. It makes four servings.
Ready to cook more with pineapple? Try these recipes:
Can allergies cause headaches?
If you’re having miserable hay fever symptoms and your head also hurts, it’s plausible to assume you could have an allergy headache. After all, a drippy nose, sneezing fits, and itchy eyes are stressful enough to give anyone a headache.
But are allergies really to blame for your headache? Since headaches happen for all sorts of reasons, it can be tough to know whether your pain is necessarily due to a particularly nasty ragweed season or something else.
Whatever the cause, you just want to do whatever it takes to feel better fast so you can get on with your day.
Here’s what you need to know about allergies and headaches and how to get rid of them.
Could you have seasonal allergies?
When trying to figure out if you have an allergy headache, it helps to know if you even have allergies, what causes them, and what kind of reactions they cause.
It certainly wouldn’t be rare to have seasonal allergies since they affect 19.2 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Allergies occur when harmless substance such as pollen or pet dander cause the immune systems to overreact and produce immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, histamine, and other chemicals. These bring about some pretty miserable symptoms in the nose, throat, ears, sinuses, or skin.
It’s easy to assume you have hay fever, especially if you start sneezing during ragweed season. Allergy testing can help you know for sure, and identify the specific allergens that are causing your symptoms.
You can develop an allergy at any age and if allergies run in your family, your chance of having them is higher. The most common hay fever culprits are:
What is an allergy headache?
An allergy headache is harder to define than you might think, and there is no formal definition, according to the National Headache Foundation. In fact, the relationship between allergies and headaches can be a bit murky.
For example, people who have migraines often blame certain foods, but the chemicals that evoke headaches are a bodily function, not an allergic reaction. (Although certain foods can increase migraine risk for some people.) Others who have hay fever might blame ragweed for their headaches, but those symptoms show up in the nose, throat, eyes, and ears and don’t necessarily cause headaches in everyone.
“You will notice headache isn’t a major symptom of environmental allergies,” says Wade Cooper, DO, and director of the Headache and Neuropathic Pain Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
There are many types of headaches, and each type can result in pain in specific areas. For example, a tension headache feels like your entire head is wrapped in pain, whereas the pain from an allergy-induced headache is typically on the top of your head and face.
“Environmental allergies may trigger a migraine headache, which may give people the sense that they have a true allergy headache,” Dr. Cooper says. And some people blame their sinuses.
“The theory is that inflammation in the sinuses causes [a] feeling of pain which is interpreted as headaches, yet there must be inflammation seen in the sinuses,” says Dennis M. Tang, MD, an ENT at Cedars-Sinai Otolaryngology, in Los Angeles.
However, the majority of patients don’t have sinus inflammation.
People who suffer from hay fever allergies are far more likely to have a migraine than people who don’t have allergies, Dr. Cooper says. That’s because they already have extensive nasal inflammation (rather than sinus inflammation) that can irritate the brain’s lining, provoking a migraine.
“In my experience, environmental allergies frequently trigger migraine attacks, which is why the combination of allergies and headaches are common reasons to see the doctor,” says Dr. Cooper.
Allergy headache symptoms and location
As mentioned, an allergy-induced headache might cause pain on the top of your head and on your face.
Since allergy-induced headaches are primarily associated with migraines and sinuses, you’re probably going to have symptoms related to those, too.
Let’s break down the symptoms of migraines and sinusitis to help you determine which one may be related to an allergy headache.
“A migraine attack lasts between four hours and three days,” says Dr. Cooper. The pain is so debilitating that lying down in a dark and quiet place may be all you can tolerate.
Another clue you’re having an allergy migraine is if you experience an aura, a type of warning by way of visual symptoms, such as flashing lights, distorted shapes, and figures. But some may have symptoms they can feel like tingling or pins-and-needles sensation in an arm or leg.
Common symptoms of a migraine include:
- Throbbing headache on one side or both sides of the head
- Runny nose with clear discharge
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Sensitivity to light or sounds
- Scalp tenderness or pressure
Allergy-related sinus headaches
People allergic to pollen, mold, dust mites, or pet dander are at a higher risk of developing a sinus infection. That’s due to the nasal and sinus passages that become inflamed, congested, and swollen in response to the offending allergens.
As painful as a sinus headache is with a sinus infection, it isn’t a major sign used by doctors for diagnostic purposes.
“The major criteria for rhinosinusitis involve nasal obstruction, nasal drainage, loss of smell, and facial pressure,” says Arthur W. Wu, MD, co-director of the Cedars-Sinai Sinus Center in Los Angeles.
“The minor criteria include headache, ear fullness or pain, dental pain, cough, and bad breath,” Dr. Wu says.
When to see the doctor
If headaches from hay fever, allergies, or any unknown cause interfere with your day, you should see a doctor.
“It’s not OK to lose time away from your family, work, or whatever is important to you because of headaches,” says Dr. Cooper.
“Your doctor can help you get those days back, and it starts with you letting them know about your allergies and headaches.”
Meanwhile, start keeping a headache diary to track the characteristics of your headaches. It can provide clues to determine the type of headaches you have and the best course of action to relieving them.
Treatments for allergy headaches
It’s not uncommon for a doctor to diagnose someone with both environmental allergies and migraines, Dr. Cooper says.
“Both allergies and migraine use the same kinds of immune cells, almost like it’s the same problem, just different parts of the body,” says Dr. Cooper.
Because of this similarity, medications that reduce allergy symptoms (antihistamines, oral and nasal decongestants, nasal steroid sprays, allergy shots, or prescription sublingual tablets) may also help prevent or lessen a migraine attack.
But if you still get a throbbing migraine, Dr. Cooper says several medications effectively stop a migraine quickly with few side effects.
Triptans are common fast-acting prescription medicines available in tablets, injections, nasal sprays, and sublingual tablets. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, Aleve, Motrin, and Advil, or drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol), may help soothe less severe migraines.
Some people find a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine in over-the-counter medications like Excedrin and other brands is more effective than NSAIDs alone.
Allergy-related sinusitis treatment involves treating allergy symptoms, too.
“Most physicians will start with intranasal corticosteroid sprays and antihistamines. Other additional therapies can include decongestants and other anti-inflammatory medications,” says Dr. Wu.
To treat headache symptoms, Dr. Wu says NSAIDs or nasal decongestants such as pseudoephedrine are options.
But be sure you get clearance from your doctor before taking decongestants if you have certain medical conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure, as certain decongestants can raise blood pressure.
Tips for avoiding allergy-triggered headaches
You might be able to cut down the number of allergy-related headaches by avoiding the allergens that trigger hay fever.
Understandably, it’s not always convenient or feasible to dodge allergens entirely, but here are some steps you can take to keep the allergens out of your house and away from your nose:
- Keep an eye on the pollen count in your area or where you’ll be traveling.
- Keep the windows in the house and car closed during peak pollen counts.
- Use air conditioning instead of fans in windows, which draw in mold and pollen.
- Run a dehumidifier in damp areas of the home to block mold growth.
- Wear a surgical or N95 mask to keep from breathing in pollen and molds, pet dander, or while doing household chores.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses to keep pollen from getting on your hair and in your eyes.
- Leave your shoes by the door when you come inside.
- Shower and wash your body and hair of pollens.
- Wash clothes that you wore outside before wearing them again.
- Wash bed linens frequently to help keep indoor and outdoor allergens away.
- Vacuum with a HEPA filter and/or mop floors frequently.
- Use damp microfiber cloths to remove household dust.
Next, find out if your allergy medications are working—or not.
Do dust mites bite?
First, the good news: dust mites don’t bite.
Yes, contact with them can cause sniffling, sneezing, wheezing, and watery eyes if you are one of the 20 million people unlucky enough to be allergic to these ubiquitous, microscopic mites. However, they don’t bite.
They also don’t fly or spread disease, adds Zachary DeVries, PhD, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Here’s what you need to know about dust mites, rashes, and more.
What are dust mites, anyway?
Dust mites are members of the arachnid family, just like spiders, chiggers, and ticks. These white spider-like critters have eight legs and are so tiny that they are only visible via microscope. Just how small? About 0.1–0.4 millimeters long, DeVries says.
They tend to live wherever you find dust: your bed, couch, pillows, carpets, stuffed animals—you name it.
There are many species of dust mites, but the two most common ones in the United States are the North American house dust mite, Dermatophagoides farinae, and the European house dust mite, D. pteronyssinus.
(Who is sleeping in your bed? Is it a dust mite or a bed bug? Here’s how to know for sure.)
Dust mites life partly off of the dead skin cells people shed in abundance every day, and dead skin cells can be found in dust. (The average adult sheds up to 1.5 grams of skin a day, which can feed 1 million dust mites.)
“Unlike other insects which are parasites, dust mites only kind of need us,” he says. They don’t drink water either. Instead, they absorb it from the environment. The less humidity in your air, the less likely they are to set up camp, he says.
Dust mites by the number
A dust mite’s life cycle comprises five stages: egg, larva, protonymph, tritonymph, and adult.
This transition takes about one month, provided conditions are optimal, and adult dust mites can live up to two months. Female dust mites can lay up to 100 eggs, according to the entomologists at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Brace yourself: there can be as many as 1 million dust mites in a mattress, DeVries says. And there can be as many as 18,000 dust mites in each gram of dust. That’s a whole lot of mites.
How to spot a dust mite reaction
So, if dust mites don’t bite, just how can they cause symptoms or reactions?
“Dust mites cause allergy by inhalation of their microscopic fecal matter and dead body parts, which are allergens,” explains says Neeta Ogden, MD, and allergist and immunologist in Edison, New Jersey, and an American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) spokesperson.
A house dust mite can produce about 2,000 fecal pellets in 10 weeks, notes the Indoor Air Quality Association.
So although dust mites don’t bite, they can cause skin rashes and exacerbate atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema. This itchy skin condition is linked to allergies, including dust mite allergies.
Dust mite prevention
Controlling dust mites in your home can improve these symptoms, Dr. Ogden says.
It’s near impossible to get rid of all of the dust mites in your home, but you can make a big dent if you do the following.
Wash your sheets regularly
Wash your sheets in hot water and a hot dryer cycle once a week.
This will kill off residual dust mite particulate matter, Ogden says. If the item isn’t washable, place it in a Ziploc bag and put it in your freezer for two days to freeze mites to death, DeVries adds.
Cover what you can
Use allergen encasings to cover your mattresses, pillows, and box springs, she suggests. These minimize exposure to dust mites.
Keep up with vacuuming
Vacuum regularly with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, Ogden says. If you are not using a HEPA filter, your vacuum could spit dust mites back into the air around you. (These are the best HEPA filter vacuums if you have allergies.)
Consider investing in a HEPA filter, which can be found in a portable air purifiers that you can take from room to room. This helps clear the air of dust mites and other potential allergens, Ogden says.
Clean when you can
Keep your home clutter-free so dust mites don’t stand a chance, she adds. (Here are products will also help you get rid of dust mites.)
Wipe down surfaces frequently so dust can’t accumulate.
Opt for less fabric
Avoid fabric drapes and headboards, which can harbor mites, Ogden advises. Instead, opt for blinds, she says.
“Same thing with flooring—hard surfaces that can be cleaned better than wall-to-wall carpet; use rugs that can be regularly thrown in the wash,” she adds.
Tone down the temperature
Lower the humidity around your home to below 50 percent, as dust mites need humidity to survive, DeVries says. They also need temperatures of 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 25 degrees Celsius) to thrive, he says.
Dust mite allergy diagnosis and treatment
Skin prick and/or blood testing can help figure out if dust mites are responsible for your misery. Your doctor will also ask questions about your symptoms and when they are most likely to occur to help identify what is driving them.
If dust mites are the culprit, allergy shots or immunotherapy can make a big difference in your symptoms, says Russell Leftwich, MD, an allergist in Nashville, Tennessee, and an American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology spokesperson.
These shots (or oral drops) work by slowly introducing dust mite allergens to your immune system so that they will be familiar enough with them and won’t launch an attack.
Other over-the-counter or prescription treatments target specific symptoms of dust mite allergy. If you’re stuffy, a nasal spray or oral antihistamine can help, while eye drops may soothe eye irritation, Dr. Leftwich says.
Next, check out these other common indoor allergen triggers.
Allergies and dizziness 101
Itchy and watery eyes, coughing, and running noses are often signs of allergies. But dizziness? It’s actually a more common allergy symptom than you think.
Thomas Chacko, MD, an Atlanta-based board-certified allergist, and immunologist, says many things can trigger dizziness, including allergies.
“My goal is if we can treat the allergies and decrease the allergic inflammation, the symptoms of dizziness may improve,” explains Dr. Chacko, who served as president of the Georgia Allergy, Asthma Immunology Society.
The issues can be complex when dealing with dizziness, he says, and finding the cause and cure usually involves some work with your doctor.
Here’s what you need to know about allergies and dizziness, including treatments and when to see your doctor.
A primer on allergies
An allergic reaction occurs when your body reacts to a foreign substance, such as pollen spores or dust mites. These substances are not harmful to most people, but if you have an allergy, your body launches a full-on attack.
“The [problem] is the allergen is not an infection that requires fighting, but an irritant that should be ignored,” explains James R. Haden, MD, president of the Asthma and Allergy Clinic of Fort Worth, Texas.
The immune system unleashes antibodies and histamines that cause inflammation, sneezing, coughing, and the general misery that follows.
About 50 million people in the United States have allergies. That’s about one in every seven people, according to the American College of Asthma, Allergies and Immunology.
The link between allergies, asthma, and dizziness
If your dizzy spells are seasonal, then environmental allergens may be in play. Pollen peaks in the spring and fall, so if your dizziness follows that pattern it’s could be allergy-related.
“When a patient comes to me with dizziness, allergies are considered,” says Jennifer Derebery, MD, a physician at the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles, California. “We specifically want to know if there is a relationship to season, time of year, and association with other symptoms.”
She notes that asthma is tied to allergens, so “coexisting asthma” with dizziness points to allergies as a source.
Even if your dizziness does not follow a seasonal pattern, it may still have an allergic link.
“Sometimes you have allergies to perennial (year-round) allergens that you may not even know, since your symptoms are year-round,” says Dr. Chacko.
Year-round triggers could be pets, dust mites, molds, or other substances constantly around you which could be the source of your dizziness.
Regardless of the allergens, the inflammation created during an allergic reaction impacts all your body systems, says Dr. Derebery, who is a past president of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
Can allergies make you dizzy?
You may think your feet and legs keep you balanced, but it’s actually the ears—specifically the inner ears—that work to keep you upright.
Allergies can cause swelling in the eustachian tubes, which normally drain fluid away from the middle ear. The buildup creates a pressure imbalance in the ears that can lead to dizziness.
The inner ear contains the vestibular system, which sends the brain information about balance and motion. Allergies can cause parts of your inner ear to become inflamed or swollen, disrupting their function.
“Headache and dizziness may be symptoms of an inner ear balance [problem] which may be caused by or associated with allergies,” Dr. Derebery says.
Dizziness vs. vertigo
Although some people use the terms interchangeably, Dr. Derebery explains that vertigo and dizziness are not the same thing.
Dizziness is the “wastebasket” of multiple symptoms such as foggy thinking, imbalance, feeling of drunkenness, stumbling. It’s a general off-balance-type feeling that may have nothing to do with the inner ear, she says.
Vertigo is a chronic condition that gives you the perception of motion, even when you are not moving.
“Vertigo is in the inner ear where you have either a sense of spinning, or a sense the environment is spinning,” she explains.
Intense headaches, nausea, and vomiting are signs of vertigo.
“A classic [vertigo] attack lasts a minimum of 20 minutes to 12 hours because Mother Nature won’t let us go on longer,” says Dr. Derebery.
Vertigo is frequently misdiagnosed, and patients can be treated for some other disorder.
People with vertigo may also have Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder that can lead to chronic and often debilitating symptoms. In most cases, Meniere’s disease affects only one ear.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that 615,000 people in the United States have Meniere’s disease. It most likely occurs in people in their 40s and 50s, and women are more affected.
The cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown. Still, scientists believe it could be caused by changes in the fluid in tubes of the inner ear, autoimmune disease, genetics, head trauma, tumors, or possibly allergies.
Treatment for dizziness
Dizziness, including vertigo, affects 15 to 20 percent of adults yearly based on population studies. It is a common complaint that accounts for over three million emergency department visits annually.
If the dizziness is tied to allergies, immunotherapy (allergy shots or drops) can help desensitize you to their impact, explains Dr. Chacko, who served on a national panel to create parameters for immunotherapy.
Dr. Derebery says dizziness can also be tied to low blood pressure, dehydration, glucose levels, hunger, or a variety of other issues that can be temporary conditions.
Sitting down, drinking water, or eating something may make the dizziness sensation go away.
There are no “cures” for allergy-related dizziness, other than mitigating or reducing the allergic reactions causing it.
“Most of the medications we use to ‘treat’ dizziness symptoms are sedating antihistamines developed to treat allergic symptoms,” says Dr. Derebery.
These medications can turn off or slow the body’s release of histamines, causing the inflammation and triggering the allergic reaction.
Common prescription allergy medications that are used to treat motion sickness include meclizine, dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), and promethazine. Over-the-counter allergy medications include cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra) or loratadine (Claritin).
Over-the-counter steroid nose sprays, like fluticasone (Flonase) or budesonide (Rhinocort), can also be helpful with nasal symptoms.
For vertigo, allergy medications and nose sprays can’t reach the inner ear where the problem lies, according to Dr. Derebery. So they are of little help.
Meclizine and benzodiazepine prescription drugs, like diazepam (Valium), may help manage the symptoms, as can lifestyle changes and possibly surgery.
Vertigo often subsides on its own, and changes in body position can help. Physical therapists can design a plan of maneuvers and exercises to perform when vertigo occurs.
When is dizziness a serious health concern
Temporary or occasional bouts of dizziness are usually a signal to slow down and wait for the “fog” to clear. If it persists, or becomes more frequent, seek medical help, advises Dr. Chacko.
But for those who have vertigo, it can be hazardous for themselves and others.
It’s not the affliction itself, says Dr. Derebery, but the potential impact. She tells her patients to give up scuba diving permanently, and be cautious when driving, climbing ladders, or any activity that could be dangerous should vertigo occur.
“The effect of vertigo is not just the spinning which causes you to lose your balance,” she says. “It’s that your body cannot sense gravity so you can fall suddenly.”
She adds that vertigo is a symptom of an inner ear issue. If it persists longer than 24 hours there may be something else going on in the brain that must be addressed.
Brain scans and other assessments can look for medical issues that could be the source of persistent dizziness or vertigo.
Let’s taco bout it
When a food has a dedicated day-of-the-week hashtag, you know that food is “hot.” You definitely can’t scroll through Instagram or TikTok on a #tacotuesday without seeing oodles of tagged taco posts.
Tacos may be going through a revival today, but traditional tacos date back hundreds of years ago in Mexico. They arrived in the U.S. around the early 20th century.
The first Taco Bell opened in California in 1962. Sustainability-focused Chipotle came along in 1993. The taco—in all of its tastebud-pleasing forms—has been a rising star since.
It’s easy to understand tacos’ popularity. They’re relatively simple to fix, fun to eat (no utensils required), and they (usually) taste great. But are they good for you?
Here’s what makes a taco more or less healthy, how to create a balanced taco, and some healthy taco recipes to try, according to registered dietitians.
What goes into a taco?
A taco basically has three components—tortilla (traditionally either corn or flour), filling (plant-based or animal-based), and topping (garnish)—plus an optional sauce, salsa, or squirt of lime juice. But perhaps it’s best to think of a taco more simply.
“Anything can go in a taco,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Malena Perdomo, founder of Malena Nutricion and a certified diabetes educator.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Christy Wilson, owner of Christy Wilson Nutrition, LLC, and nutrition counselor at University of Arizona’s Campus Health Service, agrees adding, “A taco is really a blank canvas!”
Yes, they’re quite versatile, with an infinite number of savory ways to stuff its handheld tortilla or shell. Popular options include pork (carnitas or al pastor), eggs (migas), tofu (sofritas), fried fish, and jackfruit.
Sweet fruit tacos are a thing, too. Mix and match them. Give them worldly inspiration. And eat them any time. Yes, that includes breakfast or dessert tacos.
How to make good-for-you tacos
So, are tacos healthy? Well, they certainly can be. Tacos are a relatively healthy food to start.
But some folks overload their tortillas with rich fixings, like cheese and sour cream. Others may chow down on one too many tacos in a drunken stupor. But there are plenty of ways to keep them healthful and enjoyable.
Choose the tortillas right for you
There are no precise rules here. Traditionally, tacos feature corn tortillas, not the fried kind. But pick tortillas based on what pairs best with your chosen fillings, eating style, or taste preferences.
While there are nutritional benefits to conventional flour and corn tortillas, corn is generally the healthier pick.
“Usually, corn tortillas have a lower carbohydrate count than flour tortillas,” says Perdomo. If choosing flour tortillas, “go with more fiber and look for whole-wheat or multi-grain flour tortillas,” she adds.
In addition to yellow or white corn, look for blue corn tortillas (or taco shells) for bonus antioxidants from anthocyanin. While soft tortillas are considered healthier, it’s fine to use crispy fried taco shells occasionally, too.
If you’re on the lookout for grain-free or other tortilla alternatives, you’ll find them made with chickpeas, cassava, cactus, cauliflower, coconut, almonds, sweet potato, and more. Egg white tortillas are a thing, too.
Or skip the tortilla altogether and use large leafy greens, like collard greens, in its place if you need to be carb conscious—or you’re just a fan of greens.
Select a nutritious taco filling
Taco filling is typically protein-rich. But it doesn’t need to be beefy. Healthful protein picks include beans, tempeh, tofu, seitan, salmon, shrimp, eggs, and chopped nuts. All of which are delicious when well-seasoned and prepared with healthful oils.
If you’re more of a carnivore, think lean-ish, such as grilled, roasted, or broiled skinless chicken (breast or thigh), fish, shellfish, or pork. Pan-blackened salmon and charred octopus are taste winners.
Plant-based taco fillings can be hearty, scrumptious, and satisfying, too. Hello, beans! If you embrace convenience, consider Lima Linda Sustainable Plant-Based Protein Taco Filling, or Adda Veggie Chipotle Adobo Protein Mix.
Vegetarian taco fillings don’t need to be protein packed. Try carnitas-style shredded jackfruit; grilled or sauteed mushrooms, poblano peppers, or corn; and roasted butternut squash, cauliflower florets, or Brussels sprouts.
For a complete meal, pair carb-rich tacos with protein-friendly sides, like bean salad or vegetarian refried beans.
Note that some nutritious fillings may have added sugars to balance spiciness, such as in sofritas, which is spicy adobo braised shredded tofu, or carnitas, which is slow-cooked pulled pork.
Consider using taco seasonings or sauces
Be sure your healthful taco filling of choice is flavorful. No one wants a bland taco.
“Seasonings like chile powder, ground pepper, garlic powder, and Mexican oregano are excellent ways to keep the flavor high and the calories low,” Wilson says.
“Also, citrus juice-based marinades made with a combo of orange and lime juices, garlic, and cilantro are perfect for cuts of meat like skirt steak or flank.”
For elevated, just-right flavors and cooking ease, you can use pre-made sauces and seasoning mixes. Check ingredient lists to be sure they’re additive-free.
Or try my no-added-salt DIY taco seasoning recipe: 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon each ground cumin and black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon each paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried oregano. Then add salt to your recipe to taste, if needed.
Pick toppings with good-for-you nutrients
No matter whether your taco filling is traditional to experimental, aim to pile on produce toppings. The more variety you choose, the more variety of health-protective nutrients, tastes, textures, and colors you’ll get. It’s that simple.
Pile on these veggie topping picks: tomatoes or tomato salsa, onions or pickled red onions, radishes, roasted cauliflower, shredded lettuce or cabbage, jalapeno peppers, roasted poblano peppers, grilled corn or corn salsa, and fresh cilantro.
As a fruit, avocado or guac counts too, while offering luxuriousness, plus eye-protective lutein and zeaxanthin.
If going for a soft taco, a crunchy topping can kick up delight. Sprinkle on pepitas for a satiating double whammy of fiber and plant protein.
Say “yes” to salsa
Pick any salsa you like. Or go DIY.
“Salsas, especially homemade tomato salsas, are made entirely of vegetables and are a delicious way to get in dietary fiber and important vitamins and minerals including, vitamin C, beta carotene, and potassium,” says Wilson.
You’ll get a punch of the antioxidant-packed lycopene, too, especially if using canned tomatoes.
Fruit salsa or fruit pico de gallo can provide naturally sweet contrast to spicier fillings. Think mango, peach, or pineapple–they’ll provide immune-friendly vitamin C.
While tacos can be overstuffed with meats, cheeses, and ladlefuls of sour cream, they can just as easily offer a perfect opportunity to get more veggies.
“Most tacos recipes are truly amazing as they are,” says Perdomo. But she suggests that you can punch up fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals by “adding more vegetables to your tacos.” Go for a colorful array.
If you’re a meat-eater, think ratio. Keep the meat-to-veggie ratio in favor of vegetables “to keep the calories lower in each taco,” says Wilson. Or go partially meatless.
“On that order of three tacos, choose two with meat or fish and one with beans and all the veggie fixings,” she adds.
“If I add meat to my tacos, it’s usually a small amount, maybe about 1 to 1 1/2 ounces per taco,” shares registered dietitian nutritionist Sara Haas, a consultant culinary nutritionist and author of Taco! Taco! Taco!.
“That’s so I can leave plenty of room for the vegetables and fresh salsas.”
Tacos and a healthy weight
While tacos are not technically a “diet food,” they can absolutely be part of a nutrient-rich eating repertoire for losing or maintaining weight.
“I think the reputation of tacos is that they’re high in fat,” Wilson says. “That is a stereotype that needs to be squashed because the truth is, you can create a balanced, nutritious meal that features tacos anytime!”
Follow these simple strategies for savoring tacos while maintaining a healthy diet.
Focus mainly on quality
Many nutrition experts suggest that avoidance isn’t necessary. Though the nutritional quality of your taco filling matters.
Haas recommends balance and thinks all ingredients can fit. Perhaps a shift in focus is all that’s necessary.
“There are so many fresh and yummy toppings that go on tacos, so focus on those instead of all of the meat,” Haas says.
Wilson suggests choosing a soft versus a fried tortilla shell, and keeping portions of add-ins like sour cream, Mexican crema, and shredded cheese “low-to-moderate size.”
And about popular pan-fried birria tacos … it’s probably best to consider those a special occasion meal, not a daily snack.
Right-size your tortilla
Tacos are inherently a perfectly portioned food. But some tortillas for tacos can be 6 inches in diameter are larger.
To right-size your portion, aim for tortillas that are 5-inches or less. “Big enough (or rather, small enough) to fit in your hand,” says Wilson.
Change your mindset
Think of tacos as nourishing, not negative.
“To me, (tacos) are the perfect vessel for delivering satisfying, nourishing food in a simple way,” says Haas. “I personally love filling mine with a bunch of grilled veggies, black beans, and salsa—it’s an easy meal that doesn’t require a recipe.”
Personalizing tacos for your eating style
Since tacos can be made your own way, they fit into practically any eating style.
“There are literally thousands of ways to customize them—whether it’s to create a certain flavor profile or to manage a disease state,” says Haas.
Try these simple ideas to match your eating style:
- Plant-based: Try roasted chickpeas or cauliflower, jackfruit carnitas, nopalitos, or slow-cooked beans or lentils for a satisfying filling.
- Flexitarian: If you don’t want to go “cold turkey,” do “The Blend” by sautéing half finely chopped mushrooms and half lean ground beef or pork to cut down on overall meat consumption.
- Gluten-free: Corn tortillas are naturally gluten free. Look for one of the many grain-free alternatives, too.
- Carb or calorie-conscious: Go for a leafy green as your “tortilla.” Or skip the tortilla and enjoy your toppings on a leafy salad dressed with salsa verde, lime juice, and olive oil.
- High performance: Wrap each taco with two tortillas.
Tips for making healthy tacos crave-worthy
You’ve grabbed a healthy taco. That’s terrific. But if it isn’t tasty, that’s not so terrific. To boost scrumptiousness, try these tips:
- Don’t serve cold tortillas. “Warm tortillas are number one,” says Perdomo. She advises: “Use a cast-iron pan or ‘comal’ to warm tortillas.” (She also loves to grill tortillas or pan-fry them with a sauce.)
- Spice ’em up. Tacos don’t need to be “hot,” but do aim for “well-seasoned” for optimal flavor. Hint: Chipotle powder adds smokiness and cumin adds earthiness.
- Super-charge flavor by making your own tomato-based salsa. Go beyond tomatoes, too. “It’s fun to try out green salsa made with tomatillos … and fruit-based salsas that are sweeter and made with mango or pineapple—they’re great especially with chicken, shrimp, and fish tacos,” Wilson says. Try a fish taco recipe with a corn salsa or a berry salsa, too.
- “Always add guacamole,” says Haas, “because it’s perfection.”
- Finish with freshness, like cilantro or a squirt of lime, to boost aroma. Lime juice balances tastes, too.
Taco recipes you’ll love
Indulge in these scrumptious, dietitian-recommended taco recipes. (Two are plant based and two feature chicken.)
Plant-based baby bella, poblano, and corn tacos
Courtesy of Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN
Veggie Taco Filling:
1 tablespoon avocado or sunflower oil
1 large (4-ounce/115-gram) poblano pepper, cut into short thin strips
1/3 cup (50 grams) fresh or thawed frozen organic corn, patted dry
1 1/2 cups (115 grams) sliced baby bella mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
Juice of 1/2 lime (1 tablespoon), or to taste
3 small (about 5-inch) soft tortillas of choice, warmed or lightly grilled
2 tablespoons Vegan Chipotle Crema (see recipe here) or vegan sour cream
3 tablespoons Simple Guacamole (see recipe here) or guacamole of choice
3 or 4 tri-color grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves or several small sprigs
Fully heat the oil in a large cast iron or another stick-resistant skillet over medium-high. Add the poblano and corn and sauté until lightly browned and corn begins to crackle and pop, about 4 minutes. Remove 1 tablespoon of the corn to use for garnish.
Add the baby bellas to the veggie mixture in the skillet and sauté until the baby bellas are fully softened and the mixture is browned, about 5 minutes more. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt, and lime juice, to taste.
Stuff tortillas with the veggie taco filling, crema, guacamole, tomatoes, reserved corn garnish, and cilantro, and serve. (Pro-tip: Enjoy with a quick-to-fix bean salad or vegetarian refried beans on the side.)
Cumin chickpea tacos
Courtesy Sara Haas, RDN, LDN
For the salsa:
1 pound tomatillos, husks removed and washed
1 cup coarsely chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves, skins removed
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lime, juiced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
kosher salt, to taste
For the chickpeas:
1 (15 1/2 ounce) can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon lime juice
For the slaw:
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 small head purple cabbage, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
For the tacos:
16 corn tortillas (4- to 6-inch)
For the salsa:
Preheat the broiler.
Line a sheet pan with foil and coat with non-stick cooking spray.
Quarter the tomatillos and add them to a bowl along with the onion, garlic, and olive oil. Toss to coat. Pour mixture out onto prepared baking sheet.
Broil 4 minutes, stir, then broil 2 more minutes. Stir again and broil an additional 2 minutes or until tomatillos and onion are blistered and browned. Remove and cool slightly before transferring to a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Add the jalapeño, lime juice, and cilantro and puree until smooth. Season with salt to taste, if desired.
For the chickpeas:
Set a large, non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add the chickpeas and cook, stirring often, until toasted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cumin, and cook 1 more minute.
Remove from heat and stir in the salt and lime juice.
(Note: Chickpeas can also be roasted – Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with foil. Spray with non-stick cooking spray. Toss the chickpeas with the oil, cumin, and salt and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking time.)
For the cabbage slaw:
Combine the yogurt, lime juice and zest and salt in the bottom of a mixing bowl.
Add the cabbage and jalapeño and toss to combine.
To make the tacos:
Portion chickpeas onto tortillas, then top with salsa and cabbage slaw.
Instant pot easy chicken tacos
Courtesy Malena Perdomo, MS, RDN, CDE
2 pounds skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground annatto
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon canola oil
Combine all spices, lime juice, minced garlic, and cilantro in a bowl.
Rub chicken with the spice mixtures, mix well and marinate for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Turn the pressure cooker on and select sauté on high. Warm oil and sauté chicken on both sides for 5 minutes on each side. Close and lock the lid. Select to pressure cook on high for 18 minutes.
When pressure cooker beeps, let it set to warm to release the pressure naturally.
Prepare your tacos ingredients. Release the pressure and when the valve drops open the lid carefully. Combine chicken with the juice and serve. Enjoy with delicious tortillas and all the fixings.
Slow-cooked shredded chicken tacos
Courtesy Christy Wilson, RD
Makes: 16 to 18 tacos
For slow cooked chicken:
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, diced
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 rib celery, sliced
5 medium mushrooms, chopped
2 1/2 pounds organic chicken thighs
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon whole dried Mexican oregano, smashed between your palms
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup torn cilantro leaves
Topping for tacos:
shredded cheddar cheese
diced avocado or guacamole
freshly squeezed lime juice
Cut all vegetables and add to slow cooker. Season chicken with all dry seasonings listed (from paprika to ground black pepper).
Lay chicken on top of the vegetables and pour tomatoes, chicken broth and cilantro over the meat and vegetables.
Cover and cook on low heat setting for eight hours.
Once chicken is cooked, transfer a few pieces of meat and 1/4 to 1/2 cup broth out of the slow cooker into a large bowl. With two forks, shred the meat. Continue adding chicken and some broth to the bowl until all meat is shredded. Either transfer meat back into the cooker to keep it warm, or keep it in a separate bowl for easy taco assembly.
To assemble tacos:
To warm corn tortillas do one of the following:
- Over a cast iron griddle (a comal or placa), warm corn tortillas individually
- Stack four to six corn tortillas wrapped in foil in a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven for 10-15 minutes
- Stack four to six corn tortillas wrapped inside a damp cloth towel and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds
Down a tortilla and fill with about 1/4 cup shredded slow cooked chicken, two teaspoons of slow cooked vegetables, one teaspoon of cilantro, a tablespoon of diced tomato, one tablespoon of shredded cheese, diced avocado and juice from 1/2 a key lime.
Repeat the process and enjoy!
Still craving more tacos? Check out these tasty recipes:
- Our Absolute Best Taco Recipes
- 29 Recipes to Make for Taco Night
- 45 Absolutely Amazing Taco Recipes
- 20 Taco Bell Copycat Recipes
- 40 Taco-Inspired Recipes That Don’t Call for Tortillas
At-home workouts made easy and affordable
When the Covid-19 pandemic closed gyms around the world, I—like many people—turned to the safety of at-home workouts to deal with pent-up stress and anxiety and move my body more.
Yoga mats, hand weights, spin bikes, and streaming workout classes were all the rage.
Gyms and boutique workout classes are opening back up, but for me working out at home is here to stay, at least part of the time. At-home workouts are generally cheaper than a gym membership, and there’s no commute required.
During quarantine, I definitely got into working out at home,
I’ve been using a weighted hula hoop to work out at home for the past two months, and I spoke with a certified fitness trainer to get a professional opinion on the safety and benefits.
Want to try it yourself? Here’s everything you need to know about exercising with weighted hula hoops.
What is a weighted hula hoop?
A weighted hula hoop is almost like a kids’ toy hula hoop—but with the inclusion of weighted plastic (or steel) and foam to make it bigger and heavier. The added weight takes it from a kids’ toy to a piece of aerobic exercise equipment.
I ordered the Better Sense Hoola Hoop from Amazon, based on reviews, ratings, and price.
This one is two pounds (which doesn’t sound heavy until you’re five minutes into a workout!) and has a dark gray and pink colorway. As of press time, the weighted hula hoop had a 4.3-star rating, and more than 1100 people have purchased it, including me.
I asked Jessica Mazzucco, a New York City-based certified fitness trainer and founder of thegluterecruit.com, for her professional opinion on working out with a weighted hula hoop.
“Hula hooping is a great way to tone up, lose weight, and increase your overall fitness,” she says.
My first experience with a weighted hula hoop
The weighted hula hoop arrived in a cardboard box, and was broken down into individual sections—much easier than shipping a 37-inch hoop.
Before I could start hoopin,’ I clicked the arched pieces into a circle using small plastic buttons. The buttons are covered in foam, so they don’t hit the body or catch on clothing.
Once I had the hoop together in a circle, I was surprised that it felt pretty lightweight. It was definitely a little flimsier and wider than a kids’ hula hoop. But when I started swinging my hips, I definitely felt the burn.
I had to engage my core and tighten my legs to stay balanced and keep the hula hoop going. But it was fun!
Weighted hula hoop benefits
In my experience, the biggest benefit of a weighted hula hoop is that it’s fun and easy to use. I hula-hoop while watching TV and listening to music in my living room.
Mazzucco speaks to more specific weighted hula hoop benefits. “The average person will burn around 165 to 200 calories during a 30-minute session,” she says. “It’s great for aerobic health [and] losing belly fat.”
She does note that to lose weight, most people will also have to change their diet to a calorie deficit.
Do weighted hula hoops work?
Like a lot of exercise equipment, weighted hula hoops work if you actually use them.
“Using a weighted hula hoop strengthens the core muscles and improves core endurance, resulting in a smaller waist and hips,” Mazzucco says.
“Weighted hula hoops also improve posture by working your lower back muscles, which are key in maintaining good posture and spinal alignment.”
Those looking for a low-impact activity, intense workout, and core-specific work would benefit from using a weighted hula hoop, according to Mazzucco.
The pros and cons of weighted hula hoops
- It’s fun! Use it while watching TV or listening to music—indoors and out.
- Under $30 for at-home workout equipment.
- Good workout overall for abs and tightening obliques and glutes.
- Easy to use for all ages.
- Portable—break it down or simply carry it to the park or beach.
- Simple to assemble with one person.
- Difficult to break back down into individual sections.
- Padding might not be enough for very thin users.
Risks of using a weighted hula hoop
Like with any new fitness regimen, consult your doctor before jumping in.
I’ve worked out with the weighted hula hoop for a few months and haven’t had any issues, though some users have reported the hoop causing bruises on their waists. That could be from using too heavy of a hoop.
Mazzucco recommends beginners look for a hula hoop of one to two pounds.
“It’s important not to purchase a weighted hula hoop that is too heavy because you increase your risk of injury and cause stress on your back,” she says.
“The hula hoop should reach around three inches above your belly button, and if you have a smaller body size, you will want a smaller hoop.”
The final verdict on working out with a weighted hula hoop
I love working out with a two-pound weighted hula hoop. And so does my family. My dad, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews have all given it a whirl and had fun. (My eight-year-old nephew was impressively skilled.)
I’ve found hula hooping to be an easy and enjoyable way to boost my heart rate and increase overall fitness without a lot of effort or planning. But, Mazzucco reminds me that it’s important to integrate all sorts of workouts into an exercise routine to target different muscle groups and avoid a workout plateau.
My weighted hula hoop is here to stay.
For more indoor workouts, here are the best home rowing machines for every budget.
What is a situationship?
Situationships are confusing to define and open to interpretation.
The catch-all definition of a situationship is an undefined romantic relationship, according to sex and relationship therapist Joe Kort.
“It isn’t given the same value or credit that a romantic love relationship would be if one is dating and looking for a permanent or long-term partner,” he says.
Situationships may involve sex and romance, but they don’t have the trajectory to move forward to a mature, loving relationship. Think of it essentially as short-term dating without an agenda.
Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City, adds that situationships don’t have any goals, terms, or purpose.
“A primary reason situationships are formed in the first place is because of the uncertainty that comes along with hookup culture,” Hafeez says.
In some cases, people may be nervous about defining the relationship too early. So, they end up waiting around in the situationship gray area.
Paul Hokemeyer, a clinical and consulting psychotherapist in New York and author of Fragile Power: Why Having Everything Is Never Enough, thinks situationships are simply another word for hookups.
He says the primary objective is sexual gratification rather than emotional enrichment. These non-relationship relationships form because of a biological need for a sexual release with just enough human connection with a partner, says Hokemeyer.
We spoke with experts about the ins and outs of situationships—and how they could impact your emotional and mental health.
How to tell if you are in a situationship
Hafeez says a simple way to know if you’re in a situationship is if the relationship is undefined.
“Hookup culture has made defining relationships very confusing and stressful,” she says.
“If you have been seeing a person for a while, but haven’t had the ‘what are we doing’ conversation, then you most likely are in a situationship.”
Kort adds that people don’t talk about it and just let it flow and assume it is a situationship. Or they talk about it from time to time without defining it too much or at all.
Another red flag or sign of a situationship is inconsistency.
If you’ve been either hooking up with or seeing someone for a long time, but you never know the next time you’ll see them again, you probably are in a situationship, according to Hafeez.
There’s no agenda on when or if you will see each other again, and time together is purely situational. There’s no counting on each other, expectations, or meeting of friends or family necessarily.
“There is no talk about the future because there may or may not be one,” Kort says. “And it will organically go in the direction it was meant to be.”
Even though they may text or call, it’s sporadic. And it’s one way people in situationships are breadcrumbing.
Marriage and family therapist Jane Greer, author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship, says this usually works for one person and not the other.
“It works for the person who wants no commitment and no accountability and no real involvement,” she says.
The bottom line is you’re not that important to the person you’re in the situationship with, according to Greer. People in situationships don’t want to be held to anything.
“To have no expectations of another person is a get out of jail free card,” Greer says.
(Here are the signs you’re in a toxic relationship.)
Are labels really that important?
If a situationship is an umbrella term, is it even a label worth using?
Hokemeyer personally likes the name.
“It suits, and I like having a label to put on things,” he says. “Labels enable us to clearly identify what’s going on and give us power to walk toward or away from that which we’ve labeled.”
Kort agrees saying that he thinks it matters what we call things because it provides a framework.
For example, if you think you’re in a “friends with benefits” situation, but the other person thinks it’s a situationship, lots can go wrong.
What the difference? Generally, both people in a friends-with-benefits situation know that the relationship is mostly platonic and not destined to become a long-term relationship, even if they occasionally have sex.
That’s not true with a situationship, where the expectations may not match.
“You need to be on the same page, even if both of you agree to be vague about what is going on, like in a situationship,” Kort says.
Hafeez says that if you’re knowingly in a situationship, it doesn’t really matter whether you actually call it that or not.
“The bottom line is, you are in a relationship with no boundaries, goals, or consistency,” she says.
Greer says it’s less about the label itself and more about awareness of the situation and reality.
“It’s important to know you’re on a roller coaster because if you’re afraid of heights, you won’t get on,” she says.
What’s the difference between early dating and a situationship?
The main distinction between a situationship and early dating is forward motion and expansion, according to Greer.
For example, over time, you might start spending more time together, share intimate details of your life, or meet friends if you are getting to know someone to develop a relationship.
“There’s a growth component that’s involved in dating that moves it forward,” Greer says. In a situationship, it doesn’t go anywhere.
“You take whatever the person is prepared to give you,” she says. Again, people in a situationship lack accountability and may break plans or not follow through.
(Here are the characteristics of a healthy relationship.)
Are there any positives to situationships?
One good thing is they can be a lot of fun, according to Hokemeyer. “They can fill the day or evening with excitement,” he says.
Some people in a situationship enjoy not having to deal with the pressure of the beginning of a relationship, Hafeez notes.
“In some ways, not knowing each other’s end goals can help the couple grow closer together,” she says.
Kort says that a situationship could be perfect for some people aware of unresolved issues, traumas, and past hurts because they don’t have to go too deep and know that they can protect themselves.
There are plenty more risks
One of the primary risks is that one person could develop feelings for the other person. This could harm your emotional and mental health if expectations are unclear.
“If the emotions continue building without ever defining the relationship, the person will start to feel as if the feelings are not reciprocated,” Hafeez says.
Plus, people in extended situationships could develop negative self-esteem, according to Hafeez.
Unless you know you don’t want commitment and certainty in your life, a situationship is only going to create an undercurrent of anxiety, Greer says.
The lack of consistency and accountability is a recipe for anxiety.
If the feelings are unrequited, trying to convince someone to commit to you could ultimately lead to rejection, feelings of unworthiness, or an unhealthy relationship.
“If you are secretly hoping for more or have convinced yourself you can do it, but the whole time you are distressed, it could lead to problems for yourself,” Kort says.
It can also harm your mental health in that you start obsessing about the other person.
Who should walk away from situationships?
On the surface, Hokemeyer has no problem with situationships. However, it could be messy for people really built for long-term relationships and struggle with intimacy issues.
People who might especially want to avoid situaitonships are those looking for long-term meaningful connections with other people, as well as codependent people or people who develop romantic feelings quickly.
“For these people, any short term pleasure will be greatly outweighed by long term psychic pain,” Hokemeyer says.
Kort says that those with high levels of anxiety or a history of unhealed or unresolved trauma are also at risk if in a situationship. The lack of strong connection could be triggering.
Even your attachment style could also play a role, too. Attachment style is how you bond, with some people being secure or confident, while others tending to be more insecure or anxious in relationships.
“If your attachment style is insecure or anxious, then this could get in the way of tolerating a casual relationship like this without rules,” Kort says.
If you have a dependent personality and need feedback and attention, situationships could lead to low self-esteem and negative feelings.
Other people who may want to avoid this type of relationship are those who haven’t healed post-breakup, insecure people, and easily jealous people.
(Make sure you know the signs of a toxic relationship.)
What therapists recommend for people in situationships
Situationships are not always bad, but if your goal is a relationship, a situationship is not for you, Hafeez says.
Hokemeyer’s advice is to be honest about what you really want and what you’re getting in a situationship. And know going in that a great value in the situationship is that you can get out.
“Stay conscious and connected to how you are doing and feeling during this situationship,” Kort says.
“If at any time you feel it is jeopardizing your mental health I recommend you either abort, take a break or check-in with a friend or therapist to give you some feedback.”
(This is the type of breakup that hurts the most, according to science.)
How to get out of a situationship
Get out just like you got in, Hokemeyer advisees, quickly and cleanly. “There is no need to explain your decision or to assuage the other person’s feelings,” he says.
But do avoid ghosting.
“I never believe in ghosting,” Kort says. “I think it is important to be direct with the other person letting them know that it is no long working and that you are moving on.”
Opt for a direct conversation, Greer also suggests.
Consider asking, “Am I a priority? Is spending time with me a priority?” Or asking if they think about spending more time together.
She also recommends even directly asking if you are in a situationship. If you ask questions from a place of curiosity and not negativity, you’ll likely get clarity.
(Here are more science-based facts about breakups.)
Can a situationship turn into a relationship?
In short, yes. And that’s fine if that’s where it goes. Just don’t make it an expectation, Kort notes. And prepare for the possibility of rejection.
“Anything can turn into a relationship if the partners are compatible,” Hokemeyer adds.
Essentially, the same conversation about getting out of a situationsip could theoretically lead to a relationship. Remember to communicate your needs and desires and to set firm boundaries with your partner.
Next, check out how to move on from a relationship.
Could I be allergic to animals?
No doubt you’ve heard about the connection between dander and allergies. Dander is one of those terms that describes the fur of fluffy cats and long-haired dogs, right? Not exactly.
If you’re allergic to pet dander, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting up close and personal with a hairless cat, a curly poodle, or a short-haired dachshund.
Any mixed breed or purebred cat or dog, whether they have long, short, or no hair, could evoke a drawn-out sniffle session with watery and itchy eyes.
Here’s what you need to know about pet dander, how to treat it, and how to manage symptoms, so you can still hang around your furry (or hairless) friends.
What are allergies?
Pet dander is one of those allergens that can cause allergic rhinitis or hay fever. More than 19 million adults in the United States have hay fever, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
If you’re allergic to one of these allergens and get a whiff of one, your body sees it as an unwelcome guest and tries to give it the boot. Your immune system prepares to defend itself by creating antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE).
Your body also releases histamines and other chemicals that cause irritating symptoms in the nose, eyes, ears, and throat.
Each type of IgE has a specific detector for each type of allergen. This explains why some people are allergic to cat and dog dander and not dust, and why some people have allergic reactions to multiple allergens.
Why do some people have allergies?
It’s still a mystery why the body’s immune system sees things like animal hair or pollen as foreign invaders and overreacts. Just as unclear is why some people have allergic reactions while others escape the sniffles.
Allergists do know that a family history of allergies and asthma is a risk factor, though.
Although people often first notice allergies in childhood or adolescence, they can develop at any age, says Tina Sindher, MD, an allergist at Standford Health Care in San Jose, California.
About one-third of people with allergies are also allergic to cats and dogs. No offense to fabulous felines, but cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies.
What is dander?
It certainly seems legit to blame animal hair (especially the fluffy and long-haired cats and dogs) for triggering an allergic reaction. Surprisingly, it’s not those furry coats. The sneezing and itchy eyes that ensue after hanging out with your furry friends are actually from dander.
So, what is cat dander? And what is dog dander, you ask? Dander is made up of tiny flecks of skin shed by animals with hair, fur, or feathers. (Yes, birds shed dander too.)
It’s the protein found in pet dander, saliva, and urine that is the real culprit.
Here’s the caveat, even if you don’t go near the animal, you can still have an allergic reaction, though.
Let’s say you’re visiting your friend who has a cat. As soon as you arrive, it runs to another room to hide. Phew! Now you don’t have to worry. Yet, within minutes, you’re emptying the box of tissues.
What gives? You didn’t even go near the cat. Blame it on those lightweight tiny flecks of dander that linger in the air you’re breathing.
And even if your friend puts the cat in another room hours before you arrive, you’re probably still going to have an allergic reaction because the dander is everywhere—it settles in the carpet, on the furniture, on your friend’s clothing, just to name a few.
What are the symptoms of pet allergies?
You already know the main reaction—sneezing. But there’s more to allergy symptoms than nose-related ones.
When an allergen, in this case, pet dander, makes its way into the nasal passage, inflammation occurs and can produce the following symptoms:
- Sneezing or a runny or stuffy nose
- Watery, red, or itchy eyes
- Puffy eyes
- Itchy nose, throat, or ears
- Throat clearing (from mucus)
- Facial pain (from nasal congestion)
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath and wheezing
- Watery, red, or itchy eyes
- Skin rash or hives (from being scratched by the pet)
How are pet allergies diagnosed?
If you sneeze or get teary-eyed around pets, you may wonder why allergy testing is necessary. The allergy symptoms mentioned above could show up in a host of other conditions, too.
“Some folks might have a virus, a sinus infection, or even acid reflux,” says Daniel Sullivan, MD, an allergist, otolaryngologist, and surgeon specializing in allergies at the Health First Medical Group in Melbourne, Florida.
Or you might mistake a pet allergy for a pollen one since you’re sneezing after exposure to a cat or dog who played outside or rolled in pollen. When in fact, you might just be allergic to pollen—or both.
“That’s where allergy testing is very handy, and thorough physical exam,” adds Dr. Sullivan.
Allergists give a virtually painless allergy skin test. A tiny amount of allergen is dropped on your skin, and the area is gently scratched. If redness and swelling appear at the test site, you’re allergic.
(Here’s what allergists say about at-home allergy tests)
How to help prevent pet dander allergies
The best way to avoid a pet dander allergy is to avoid contact with them or where they live. Though that’s pretty much impossible, and if you’re an animal lover, not interacting with animals is a horrible prospect.
Luckily, you have a myriad of options that can help eliminate pet allergies or at least mitigate the severity of allergic reactions. Let’s break it down and explain how it works into the following categories.
Manage pet dander exposure
If you know you have an allergy to cats or dogs, keep them out of your bedroom at all times. It sounds heartless, especially when you love snuggling with your pet, but it could really help you sleep better if there’s no direct exposure to allergens and sneezing all night.
Now, that’s not a guarantee there won’t be any allergens here and there, but it will cut down your exposure. To further cut down allergens, consider running an air purifier.
“HEPA filters work the best, but they will fill with pet hair before getting any type of filtration if you have a pet in the home,” says Dr. Sullivan.
An air purifier in the bedroom where pets aren’t allowed is more effective, he says. Use HEPA filters in air conditioners and forced-air heating, and cover your bedroom vents with cheesecloth to help capture allergens before they hit your nose.
Don’t pet, hug, or kiss a cat or dog. But if you can’t resist, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water. Chances are, if you just pet the cat or dog, you could walk away without any symptoms.
But if you rubbed your face next to theirs, the allergens are probably in your hair, on your face, and clothes, and washing your hands won’t make much difference. It really depends on how sensitive you are to the dog or cat.
(These are the best air purifiers for pets.)
If you have more than one pet or one that sheds more dander, you may have to do this chore a couple of times a week. “People with pet allergies definitely need to clean more frequently,” says Dr. Sullivan.
Use a high-efficiency HEPA filter vacuum. If you don’t have someone who can take over this task, wear a mask to protect against breathing in the allergens that get kicked up when the vacuum is running.
If you can manage to, keep your pets off the furniture and provide dog and cat beds. Carpet-less flooring and washable area rugs are easier don’t trap as many allergens.
Give your dog and cat, yes, you heard that right. You can bathe a cat without getting your eyes scratched out, and it will be worth the effort because it can cut back on airborne allergens.
Tubby time also helps remove pollen. If your dog or cat likes to roll around in the grass, their coat can be covered in the stuff, especially when the pollen count is high. Regular brushing helps too. But do that outside and wear a mask if necessary.
(Should your dog be sleeping in your bed?)
Sorry to give you false hope, but there are no truly hypoallergenic dogs or hypoallergenic cats. No dog or cat is 100 percent guaranteed not to cause an allergic reaction. Ever. Not even a hairless Chinese Crested dog or hairless Sphynx cat.
That said, just because you have a cat or dog allergy doesn’t mean you will be allergic to every cat and dog you encounter.
“There are going to be certain breeds of a dog or a cat that you’re going to do a lot better with, but that may be particular just to you,” says Dr. Sullivan.
If you want a pet, plenty of dog and cat breeds fall into the “low-allergen” category. Still, that’s no guarantee their dander won’t affect you.
Besides an allergy test, the best way to know if the cat or dog you want to bring home won’t send you into a sneezing palooza is to interact with it first. Pet the dog or cat (or any other animal) and rub your fact next to theirs.
“If you start sneezing or have itchy eyes or itchy nose, you’re probably not going to want to get that particular animals,” says Dr. Sullivan.
When to treat pet allergy symptoms
Allergies are a bit different than some conditions in terms of treatment. In most scenarios, you take medicine after you get a headache or cold.
Allergies demand a preemptive strike. It’s almost always better to take allergy medicine ahead of exposure to fend off a full-blown allergy attack, whether it’s pet dander, pollen, or other allergens.
Let’s revisit the scenario of visiting a friend with a pet.
“I always recommend pre-treating at least 30 minutes ahead of the exposure,” says Dr. Sindher. That goes for people with allergies plus asthma too.
“I recommend pre-treating with their asthma medications as well. If the situation is avoidable, then the recommendation is definitely to avoid.”
When the symptoms aren’t treated right away, it’s like a raging allergic storm. “Once there is inflammation in the nose it is really hard to get it back down,” adds Dr. Sindher.
So, even if you pop an allergy pill after the fact, it could take hours and repeat doses to feel better.
Pet allergy medicines at the pharmacy
You might be able to get some relief if your symptoms tend to be mild. For the most part, the antihistamines on the shelf are very similar, Dr. Sullivan says. The main difference is the ones that can make you drowsy.
A saline nasal rinse helps flush away allergens, but some people prefer a pill. There are also nasal sprays that are good for controlling the drip and stuffiness.
Decongestants are another option, but use those with caution if you have heart conditions.
Prescriptions and allergy shots
If you have a pet dander allergy, your doctor might prescribe prescription-strength antihistamines to help keep symptoms at bay or take them on an as-needed basis. Often, pet allergies, especially severe cat dander allergies, need something potent.
Allergy shots (immunotherapy) can lead to lasting remission of pet allergy symptoms for some people and may help guard against developing new allergies.
Allergy shots are an option after an allergy test identifies you are allergic to pets. The shots contain tiny doses of allergens and are increased over time. Ideally, you become progressively less sensitive to pet allergens.
It’s important to know the process will take a few months of weekly allergy shots, then possibly a few years of monthly maintenance shots. And they don’t work for everyone.
In Dr. Sindher’s experience, one-third of her patients have remission, one-third experience fewer symptoms, and one-third of the shots don’t work at all.
What about other pets?
We mentioned cats and dogs, but what about all the other cute critters like rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, and such? You can be allergic to them, but the most potent allergens from these animals are saliva and urine.
And where do that saliva and urine end up? In the bedding of their cages. A lot of allergens can be packed into a small space.
To reduce allergens:
- Don’t hold the animal too close to your face
- Wash your hands with soap and water after handling
- Use bedding that is less likely to produce dust that will disperse into the air when the critter moves about
- Clean the cage a couple of times a week and don gloves and a mask to keep allergens away
Next, check out why it feels good to look into your dog’s eyes.
What causes allergies?
Allergies are an incredibly common health condition that impact more than 50 million Americans each year.
An allergy occurs when your immune system comes into contact with an allergen—a foreign but typically harmless substance, like pollen—that triggers an immune reaction.
An allergen can be something you eat, inhale, put on your skin or body, or touch. It can make you cough, sneeze, break into hives or a rash, or even complicate your breathing.
In extreme cases, an allergic reaction can close airways and drop blood pressure, which can be potentially life threatening.
While there are many different types of allergies, the most common ones are mediated by an antibody called immunoglobulin E, or IgE, explains Gary Soffer, MD, pediatric allergist with Yale Medicine.
“Most commonly allergies are triggered by protein substances such as those found in pollen or foods,” adds Dr. Soffer.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. Allergies can lead to conditions like asthma.
Allergy symptoms tend occur after your immune system becomes sensitized to a particular allergen, says Purvi Parikh, MD, an immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network.
“When the body comes into contact with these substances it triggers a response through IgE that activates allergy cells like mast cells and basophils which then cause the cascade of symptoms throughout the body,” he says.
Unfortunately, allergies are on the rise. Some experts believe it may be due to the over-sanitization of the modern era, which results in people having less exposure to germs, parasites, and other infections than previous generations.
Known as the hygiene hypothesis, this may cause the immune system to go down a pathway where it’s more likely to overreact to otherwise harmless substances.
While there is no easy cure for allergies, there are some ways to prevent the reactions, treatments to help with the symptoms, and strategies to reduce their impact.
What are the most common causes of allergies?
There are various types of allergies, each with specific causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Dr. Parikh explains that any type of food can be an allergen. However, the most common food allergies are to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat, dairy, soy, fish, and shellfish.
People with food allergies must check ingredient lists and avoid the specific ingredients that trigger an allergic reaction.
A doctor may recommend that some people carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen) at all times. The drug epinephrine can help reverse the most dangerous allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis. (More on that later.)
There are a number of insects that can provoke an allergic response. Dr. Parikh explains that some people have a venom allergy (bees, wasps, hornets), which can be life threatening.
“They must carry an EpiPen,” she notes.
Mosquitoes and fire ants also can also cause allergic reactions, but these may be less dangerous. Treating these types of allergic reactions involves a combination of antihistamines, topical creams, and ice for swelling.
You can be allergic to any drug, but ones administered with injection or IV are more likely to trigger an allergic reaction. IV drugs are more likely than others to trigger severe reactions, like anaphylaxis.
In general, symptoms of a drug allergic reaction can include a rash with or without other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and shortness of breath.
Treatment involves strict avoidance of the medication and possible desensitization if the individual absolutely needs the drug.
Respiratory or environmental allergies
Respiratory allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, are typically reactions to airborne allergens like dust mites, pollen, and cat and dog dander.
The symptoms can include itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion, asthma (including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath) as well as skin rashes.
Treatments for these kinds of environmental allergies vary widely based on symptoms, but Dr. Parikh suggests anyone with these type of allergy symptoms see a board-certified allergist.
“Asthma management is different from sinusitis vs. conjunctivitis,” she points out.
Skin allergies can be a rash, hives, eczema, and others that are triggered by a food, chemical (ingredient in a product), or environmental allergen, explains Dr. Parikh.
Treatment is dependent on the type of rash, how severe it is, and the cause.
One way to figure out if you are allergic to a specific skin or hair care product is to do a patch test.
However, it’s not always easy to figure out the source of skin rashes or hives. You can get hives for no reason, known as chronic idiopathic urticaria, or in response to cold temperatures, pressure on the skin (known as skin writing), the sun (known as solar urticaria), or stress.
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is the most severe manifestation of an allergy and most commonly occurs with food allergies or stinging insect allergies Dr. Soffer explains.
Symptoms can include diffuse hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and a severe drop in blood pressure.
“Patients in anaphylaxis can die from their allergy if not treated in an appropriate and timely manner,” he notes. Dr. Parikh adds that it can involve multiple organ systems.
As we mentioned, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), can quickly counteract swelling and other symptoms that occur during an anaphylactic reaction—emergency medical treatment is necessary.
Chronic conditions and health problems linked to allergies
There are multiple health conditions linked to allergies, explains Dr. Parikh.
- Allergic asthma
- Allergy-related headaches/migraines
- Allergic conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the eye’s lining
- Oral allergy syndrome, which is a when people who are allergic to pollen have an itchy or tingling lips and throat when they eat certain fruits and veggies, due to a cross reaction
- Eosinophilic esophagitis, a chronic immune problem where white blood cells congregate and damage tissue in the esophagus, sometimes due to allergies, which can lead to difficulty swallowing.
Allergic rhinitis (environmental allergies), food allergies, and reactions to stinging insect allergies are all initially evaluated with a careful history.
“If that history is suggestive of an allergic reaction then skin testing or blood testing is often performed,” says Dr. Soffer.
Food allergy testing should never be performed without a clear clinical history of a reaction, and only specific foods of concern should be evaluated, he says.
There are a few different types of allergy tests, depending on the allergy in question.
Skin prick test
The skin prick test involves an allergist pricking the skin and placing a small amount of the potential allergen in the area so it can get beneath the skin.
If there is an allergy, a red, itchy bump will likely appear.
In a blood test, you will be tested for IgE antibodies, the antibodies produced by the immune system when exposed to an allergy-causing substance.
The presence of IgE antibodies suggests that the body recognizes a substance as a potential allergen, but it doesn’t mean you necessarily will have symptoms when exposed to it.
Oral challenge test
This type of test is performed less often because it involves an allergist administering small amounts of a food allergen via capsule or with an injection.
You will then be closely monitored for a reaction. If you have one, you can be promptly treated, but if you do not, it can help definitively rule out a specific food allergy.
At-home allergy tests
At-home tests involve taking a sample of blood yourself—either in a lab or sometimes by applying a drop of blood to paper in a kit—and then sending the sample off to be analyzed.
While at-home tests may seem convenient, Dr. Parikh and Dr. Soffer strongly advises against home test kits as they often lead to misdiagnosis of allergy.
Other reasons to consider avoiding them are that they aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the results may not be clear, and they can be expensive.
“You need to be trained in interpretation and can misdiagnose yourself,” Dr. Parikh says. “Also, many of at home tests are not standardized or evidence based.”
Depending on the type of allergy you have (environmental, food etc.), an allergist has several different treatment options that they will tailor to the individual patient, explains Dr. Soffer.
Environmental controls, such as checking the pollen count and minimizing time spent outdoors during allergy season, avoiding pet dander, and keeping your home clean and free of mold, dust, smoke, and pests like mice and cockroaches, can be incredibly helpful in minimizing allergies, says Dr. Parikh.
Other steps you can take can include swapping out air filters (preferably HEPA) as recommended, using air purifiers in your home, changing bed linens often, opting for hypoallergenic dogs and cats (or no pets at all), using special mattress and pillow covers, and buying hypoallergenic products when available.
Immunotherapy/desensitization is a common method of treating allergies, namely allergic rhinitis (hay fever), asthma, and eczema.
Immunotherapy can look like allergy shots, which involve injecting an extract of the allergen into the arm of a patient, or treatment with drops in the mouth.
It can be helpful for people suffering from long-term allergies, as they are the only treatment that can actually desensitize the immune system to prevent allergies from occurring.
They work better for some types of allergies than others and can involve a long-term commitment to the treatment over time.
There are various medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, to help treat allergy symptoms.
“One common misconception is that allergic rhinitis is best treated with oral antihistamines,” says Dr. Soffer. “In truth, the best and primary treatment is steroid nasal sprays,”
Here are just a few of the allergy medications you can try over-the-counter or via prescription, including antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays:
- Zyrtec (cetirizine)
- Claritin (loratadine)
- Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
- Xyzal (levocetirizine)
- Allegra (fexofenadine)
- Rhinocort (budesonide)
- Flonase (fluticasone propionate)
- Nasacort (triamcinolone)
Dr. Soffer maintains that one of the most important ways of preventing allergies from developing is exposing children to allergenic foods as early as possible.
“We know that in children who have a high risk of developing peanut allergy, by introducing peanuts at four to six months [of age], parents can dramatically reduce the risk of peanut allergy,” he says.
Dr. Parikh recommends that you should try to reduce exposure to air pollution as well as avoid over-sanitizing with chemicals.
Products that may help reduce allergies
There are a variety of products on the market that can help prevent or minimize allergies:
- The 7 Best Nasal Sprays for Allergies
- 8 Air Purifiers for Better Air Quality, According to Allergists
- 10 Products That Help You Get Rid of Dust Mites
- 7 Best Hypoallergenic Pillows for People With Allergies
- 6 HEPA Filter Vacuums for People With Allergies
- 7 Best Air Purifiers for Mold, According to Experts