Secret Ingredients for a Healthy Spring

It's time to shed winter like an old snakeskin—and good riddance. It's on to glowing skin, good-for-you treats, and serene moments, thanks to these simple, secret ingredients of a happy, healthy spring.

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Secret Stroke-Preventer

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Fast forward to warmer months and healthier fare with a salad of ripe tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, says Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D., registered dietitian and nutrition instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and author of The New Sonoma Diet. "The oil not only brings out the flavor," she says, "but also helps your body absorb more of the disease-preventing lycopenes in tomatoes." Lycopenes are the secret ingredient that can help you keep your heart in shape for the summer ahead. In fact, a 2010 Japanese study of 264 women found that women with the highest levels of lycopene—an antioxidant that gives tomatoes and other vegetables their color—had the least stiffness in their arteries. Artery stiffness is a warning sign of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which can cause heart attacks or strokes—diseases that are striking just as many women as men these days.


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Secret Energy-Booster

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"Every spring my family and I drive to the beach for an afternoon of R&R," says Terra Wellington, an actress and thirty-something mother of three in Los Angeles. "Just getting some fresh air is rejuvenating. We love it."

Researchers agree with Wellington that getting outside can be a secret energy-boosting ingredient. In fact, in a 2010 study, University of Rochester researchers found that spending 20 minutes a day outside (walking along a river versus walking along an indoor hallway, for example) energized participants.


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Secret Breath-Freshener

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The secret ingredient to really fresh breath? Brush your tongue. "Eighty percent of most bad breath is caused by bacteria on the tongue," says New York City cosmetic dentist Irwin Smigel, D.D.S., president of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics. "Use a tongue cleaner"—aka a tongue brush that resembles a rake with bristles—"for 10 seconds before brushing, and your mouth will feel much cleaner." A regular toothbrush will work too.


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Secret Cancer-Fighter

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You know they're tasty, but just a handful (1 ounce) of almonds reduces LDL, or bad, cholesterol, and so your risk of heart disease, says nutritionist Guttersen: "Almonds are protective against cancer and diabetes as well." Pair them with dark chocolate, she says, and you have a double source of antioxidants. They fit right in with the new U.S. dietary guidelines, too, which stress eating more nuts and seeds.


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Secret Eye-Protector

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Break out the sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats for you and the kids, says Scott Lambert, M.D., professor of ophthalmology at Emory University in Atlanta. The secret to real eye protection, he says: Be sure your sunglasses provide 100 percent UV protection. Damage to eyes from sun exposure is cumulative, so the more time you and your children spend outdoors, the greater the exposure. Sun damage has been linked to cataracts and macular degeneration, both diseases that lessen vision.


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Secret Mood-Booster

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Eat more fatty fish like salmon, trout, or herring and you're getting more mood-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., CDN, a dietitian with Tanya Zuckerbrot Nutrition in New York City. A 2010 study at the University of Montreal found that in depressed people who did not have anxiety disorder, omega-3 supplements were as effective as antidepressants. The patients daily took 1050 mg of EPA and 150 mg of DHA, the two fatty acids in omega-3s.


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Secret Family-Bonder

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Eat at home and not only will your family have more opportunities to bond, but you all will eat healthier, too, says Hannah Chow, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Loyola University Health System in Chicago. Limit dining out to twice a week and take the kids grocery shopping instead, she says: "Let your children in on creating the healthful menu. If they select it, they're more likely to eat it."


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Secret Diet-Booster

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Drink more water! According to a 2007 study at the Universitary Medicine Berlin, drinking two glasses of water—about 17 ounces—boosts metabolism. You're burning more calories when you're not thirsty. "What we often experience as fatigue, irritability, and even hunger is actually thirst," says Tara Miller, M.S., R.D., CDN, a registered dietitian in New York City. Skip the sugared drinks, she says, and freshen up taste with slices of orange, cucumber, and limes or lemons.


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Secret Heart-Helper

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Red meat's not the villain when it comes to heart disease, says internist Timothy Harlan, medical director of the Tulane University School of Medicine and the creator of DrGourmet.com. "The issue is processed meat." A 2010 study at the Harvard School of Public Health that reviewed 20 studies involving more than one million people found that as little as 2 ounces of processed meat—like bacon or a hotdog—a day increased the risk of heart disease by 42 percent and the risk of diabetes by 19 percent.


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Secret Diabetes-Fighter

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The new federal dietary guidelines urge Americans to cut salt, using no more than a teaspoon a day, a half teaspoon if you're over 51, a child, or have a chronic disease like diabetes. "Try cooking with fresh herbs in place of salt," suggests cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, M.D., clinical associate professor of medicine and medical director of NYU Women's Heart Program and author of Dr. Nieca Goldberg's Complete Guide to Women's Health. "High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, and reducing salt intake can help lower blood pressure."


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Secret Bikini Aid

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Want to fit into last year's swimsuit? Sleep more, says psychiatrist Tracey Marks, M.D., author of Master Your Sleep. Insomnia leads to increased cortisol—a stress hormone—and a shift in the way your body processes blood sugar. "This means it's harder to lose weight if you are sleep deprived," says Dr. Marks. A 2010 University of Chicago study found that dieters who slept less than 5 1/2 hours per night lost mostly muscle instead of fat. Those who slept 8 1/2 hours each night lost mostly fat.


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Secret Relaxer

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For extra oomph, massage your ears for a minute, beginning at the lobe and working to the top of the ear, says Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, a national group of clinics: "According to ancient Chinese medicine, stimulating acupressure points on the ears increases blood circulation, providing an immediate energy boost."


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Secret Soother

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Get rid of your mess! "Clutter gets translated in the brain as chaos," says Dr. Marks. "And mental chaos causes stress and anxiety. So get rid of unnecessary papers and knickknacks." According to the National Soap and Detergent Association, shedding clutter translates into 40 percent less housework. Where's the sign-up sheet?