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Not all fats are bad for you. While you should limit saturated and trans fats, the unsaturated fats — including the polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fats and the monounsaturated fats, or omega-9 fats — are healthy in moderation. Including at least small amounts of these fats as part of a reduced-calorie diet may help make your meals more satisfying and make losing weight easier.
Omega-3 fats are essential fats your body needs for brain development that may also help limit your risk for heart disease. Good sources include flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, herring, tuna, mackerel, sardines and other fatty fish. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends getting at least 500 milligrams per day of EPA and DHA, the main omega-3 fats found in seafood.
Getting plenty of omega-3 fats in your diet may help increase your feelings of fullness, making it easier to lose weight and keep it off, according to a study published in Appetite in November 2008. A review article published in Nutrients in 2010 noted that omega-3 fats may help with weight loss by reducing appetite and increasing fat burning, especially when combined with a reduced-calorie diet and exercise.
Not all studies point to weight-loss benefits, however. For example, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in December 2010 found no differences in weight loss between people following a diet and exercise plan who took omega-3 supplements and those given a placebo.
Omega-6 fats are essential as well, but most people get more of these than they need in their diets. A high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, such as that found in the typical American diet, may increase inflammation and your risk of cancer, heart disease and arthritis. If you’re trying to lose weight, it may be best to limit your omega-6 consumption, which can cause you to retain water. Aim for a 3-1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, recommends Unity Health System. These fats should make up between 5 and 10 percent of your total calories for the day. Some of the main sources of omega-6 fats include soybean oil, safflower oil and corn oil.
These monounsaturated fats aren’t essential, as your body can make them, but they’re one of the healthiest types of fat. They potentially increase your high-density lipoprotein, or good cholesterol, while decreasing your low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol. A diet with moderate amounts of fat from monounsaturated fats can help you lose a similar amount of weight as a low-fat diet while decreasing your risk for heart disease because of these beneficial changes to your cholesterol levels, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in February 2004.
Most of your fat should come from monounsaturated fats, with these fats making up between 12 and 20 percent of your total calories, recommends the University of Illinois Extension. Good sources include nuts, olive oil, canola oil, avocado and olives.
Although some fat is needed for a healthy diet, you don’t want to overdo it. Limit your total fat consumption to no more than 20 to 35 percent of calories. That’s 44 to 77 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet. You’ll also need to limit your caloric intake to lose weight, cutting between 500 and 1,000 calories out of your diet each day to lose weight at a healthy rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week. Cut back on sweets and highly processed foods to do this, rather than decreasing your intake of healthy and relatively low-calorie fruits and vegetables.
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Especially during times of a huge calorie deficit, fats could be your biggest ally in weight loss rather than your enemy. Find out why below.
How many times do you plan to start a diet, or listen to a friend talk about starting a diet, and the first thing you think of is less fat, no fat, low fat? Or, you’ll be grocery shopping, and you purposely pick the no fat/low fat products out from the aisle?
Now, aside from these products usually being high in sugar (to make up for the loss in taste from having less fat), you may be missing out on an essential nutrient for your body. Especially during times of a huge calorie deficit, fats could be your biggest ally in weight loss rather than your enemy. Find out why below.
Fats – The Chemistry
Bear with me for a little talk about the chemistry of fats. First and most simply, all lipids/fats are composed of the same chemical structure: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Good fats and bad fats are all structured alike. The basic structure of a fatty acid is essentially a chain of carbon atoms with a methyl group on one end and an acid carboxyl group on the other end.
When you have a saturated fatty acid, it means that the carbon chain is filled with all the hydrogen bonds it can hold – all of the carbon atoms have a hydrogen attached to them. This makes them heavier and denser. Think of this as the outer fatty part of a steak.
Conversely, an unsaturated fatty acid is a fatty acid that is not completely filled with all the hydrogen atoms it can hold, and thus, it’s less heavy and less dense, like olives, olive oil, peanuts, peanut oil, soybean oil, and cottonseed oil.
There are two sub-categories of unsaturated fatty acids: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Poly is what I’ll be discussing in this article. The poly part means that in the fatty acid chain, there are two or more unfilled spots attaching to carbons. There are two kinds of polyunsaturated fatty acids, Omega-6 (aka linoleic acid) and Omega-3 (alpha-linoleic).
Omega-3 is most commonly called alpha-linoleic, but EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the names you also see labeled when you buy EFA pills or fish oil capsules. You’ll see why, later.
For those interested, the actual definition of an Omega-3 fatty acid is, essential fatty acid with 18 carbon atoms (this refers to how many carbons are in the chain), and three double bonds (again, because it has more than 1 double bond, it is a poly vs. a mono unsaturated fatty acid).
Why Do I Need Fat? I’m Dieting…
According to Basic Nutrition and Diet Therapy by Staci Nix, Low levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are linked to hair loss, low blood platelets, impaired vision, altered mental states, learning problems, and growth retardation in children.
So essentially, there’s a reason these two fats are known as essential. If we have a deficit, multiple bodily processes, including those required for the brain, central nervous system and cell membrane functions, will be slowed down, or halted.
The central nervous system along with the peripheral nervous system comprise a primary division of controls that command all physical activities of a human. Neurons of the central nervous system affect consciousness and mental activity while spinal extensions of central nervous system neuron pathways affect skeletal muscles and organs in the body.
There’s more to it than just that, though. Clinical trials (some preliminary) have been done suggesting the effectiveness of Omega-3 supplementation on: cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease prevention, reducing risk of stroke, brain/cognitive function, arthritis, immune function and possibly some psychiatric disorders. If anyone would like medical journal references, see contact information at the bottom of this article.
There are several ways to not meet your daily minimum quota for fat intake. If you’re malnourished, for instance, eating food that is not necessarily nutrient dense, then you could be missing out on your essential fatty acids in addition to other important vitamins and minerals.
Along the same lines, there’s orthorexia (an eating disorder summarized by obsession with clean eating, or phobia of eating foods that are impure or unhealthy – fat is often seen as impure) and anorexia (an extremely restrictive eating disorder – chances are, an anorexic is not meeting his/her daily requirement of any macronutrient, let alone essential fatty acids).
So make sure that your contest prep diet isn’t too restrictive to the point where you’ve cut out all semblances of fats.
Wow! Fats Are Important! How Do I Get More?
There are several different sources of Omega-3 fatty acids; for example, soybean, canola and flaxseed (or chia) oil are all known as botanical sources of fat because they come from plants. However, there are also animal sources. The most widely available source of EPA and DHA is cold water, oily fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, and sardines.
If you don’t like fish, you can also try grass fed beef (which has a lower ratio of Omega-6: Omega-3 – this is a good thing), eggs (look for ones that are Omega-3/DHA enhanced), and some types of milk and cheese.
Total calories coming from fat, in a typical diet, should not exceed 20%-35%. This amount will ensure that you get an adequate amount of your Omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids. We don’t need as many Omega-3’s in our diet as we do Omega-6.
The recommendations for linoleic acid are 1.6 and 1.1g/day for men and women, respectively. The preferred ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 is between 2:1 and 3:1. However, as it stands now in the current American diet, the ratio is more like 8:1 to 12:1.
Eat Fat, Get Fat? No Way!
Studies have shown that you can eat fat and lose fat! As long as you’re in a caloric deficit (eating less calories than you burn), then having fatty acids in the blood stream means that you’ll burn them as energy; subsequently leading to burning more body fat.
A study presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Nutrition claimed that in women who were on very low caloric diets (who you’d expect would drop off in their rate of fat loss eventually), Fats (Omega-3’s) accelerated removal from adipose tissue indicates either a preferential step in Beta-oxidation or a defined need during supplemented fasting which exceeds its rate of provision from adipose stores.
This means that Omega-3 is very important during the fat burning process (Beta-Oxidation means that fatty acids are broken down to create a usable form of energy), and it’s required even during states of fasting because it can help burn more fat.
Another way Omega-3 fatty acids help fat loss is by taking fats with your meals you’re actually lowering the glycemic load of the meal; implying that the insulin spike that comes with food consumption won’t be as high because fats help lower it.
Conclusion – Embrace The Oil
The most important message I’m trying to get across is that regardless of whether you’re in bulk, cut, maintenance, or recomp mode, there’s never a reason to avoid fats, especially polyunsaturated Omega-3’s.
They do more good (remember they help with brain function, joint lubrication, skin health, and fat loss) than harm. As long as you balance your calories and keep an eye on them, fats can be your biggest friend in your goals to a healthier and better looking you!
View Omega-3 Fatty Acid Products Sorted By Top Seller Here.
Jaime is a Scivation Athlete with a lot to tell. Learn more as she shares right here.
Omega fatty acids are reported to be what are so called unsaturated healthy fats as they are known to prevent a number of medical problems such as depression, cardiovascular disease, brain dysfunction, asthma and arthritis. Unlike saturated fats (butter), omega 3, 6, and 9 are polyunsaturated. Saturation refers to the number of hydrogens that are attached to the carbon backbone of these molecules. Polyunsaturated fats have a few hydrogens missing with double bonds between the carbons where those hydrogens would go. Monounsaturated fats (olive oil) is missing one hydrogen and contains one double bond between two carbons. Polyunsaturated fats are known to be liquid at room temperature and remain liquid when they are refrigerated or frozen. Monounsaturated oils are liquid at room temperature but solid when put in the refrigerator. Saturated fats have no double bonds between carbons and completely covered with hydrogens and solid at room temperature. The three most important omega 3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Of these 3 omega 3 fatty acids ALA is considered an essential fatty acid (EFA) because we can’t synthesize it in our bodies. We must take it in the diet whether with food or supplements. Research demonstrates that ALA can be converted into EPA and then into DHA. The enzymes responsible for this are known as desaturases which have the ability to elongate the fatty chain turning ALA into EPA and DHA. So, quite often ALA is referred to as a short chain omega 3 and EPA and DHA are called long chain omega 3s.
Omega 3 fatty acid or alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid as it can not be made by your body. It is important for proper brain function and maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Sources of omega 3 fatty acids include flaxseed oil, walnuts, soybeans, green leafy vegetables and oily fishes such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna. These foods should be taken in at least twice a week.
Linoleic acid, an omega 6 fatty acid, is an essential polyunsaturated fat that is an important component of cell membranes. This fatty acid contributes to weight loss and building a lean body mass. Linoleic acid effects the action of two hormones leptin and resistin that are involved with appetite, fat storage and insulin sensitivity. Research on animals demonstrates that linoleic acid reduces food intake by up to 30 percent. Linoleic acid is effective for losing belly fat and is often prescribed by doctors. Linoleic acid also promotes muscle growth by increasing the production of growth hormone. It also increases your metabolic rate (thermogenesis) helping you burn more fat. Linoleic acid also acts as an anti-cancer agent and antioxidant.
Deficiencies in linoleic acid (omega 6) result in poor wound healing, brittle hair and hair falling out. On the other hand, excess linoleic acid is associated with depression, attention deficiency disorder, obesity, sleeplessness, cancers and arthritis. Most of us get too much omega 6s due to the processed foods we eat. The key here is not to lower your intake of omega 6s (next to impossible to do) but rather take in more omega 3s to balance out the omega 6s to promote healthy metabolic pathways. Healthy ratios of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids should be around 2:1 or 1:1. Unfortunately, our diets put us at ratios some where between 20:1 to 50:1.
The omega 9 fatty acids are nonessential fatty acids because our bodies can make them. These are usually made by the body when you have enough omega 3s and 6s around. Common omega 9s include the monounsaturated oleic, stearic and palmitic acids. If you have low levels of omega 3s and 6s, omega 9s have to come from your diet. Omega 9 fatty acids are associated with improved arterial health and immune function. Some dietary sources of omega 9s include olives, avocados and nuts.
Fish oils are extracted from the tissues of oily fishes. Fish oil is known to be rich in omega 3 fatty acids known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are known to reduce inflammation, promote heart health as well as being part of the plasma membrane of every cell. Fish oil and flaxseed oil are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids although they supply these acids in different forms. Fish oil supplies omega 3s in the form of EPA and DHA whereas flaxseed oil supplies omega 3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It is known that alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) can be converted to eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) although it is not known how efficient the conversion is. This conversion requires the enzyme delta-6-desaturase (D6D). It is known that the amount converted is different in men and women and is also affected by the individuals diet.
Flaxseed oil contains high levels of omega 3 fatty acids known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). However, flaxseed oil does not contain the omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are commonly found in oily fishes such as salmon, mackerel and fish oil supplements. It is known that alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) can be converted to eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) although it is not known how efficient the conversion is. This conversion requires the enzyme delta-6-desaturase (D6D). It is known that the amount converted is different in men and women and is also affected by the individuals diet.
Flaxseed oil also contains omega 6 and omega 9 fatty acids as well but in low concentration. Sunflower seed oil only contains omega 6 and 9 fatty acids. So, flaxseed oil is a good source of omega 3s whereas sunflower seed oil is not. Most of us don’t get enough omega 3s and too much of omega 6. Taking in more omega 3s is recommended by the medical community to balance out the excessive omega 6.
Sunflower Seed Oil
Sunflower seed oil contains mostly triglycerides that are derived from the fatty acid known as linoleic acid which is an omega 6 fatty acid. This oil is a mixture of linoleic acid (omega 6), oleic acid (omega 9), stearic acid (omega 9) and palmitic acid (omega 9). Linoleic acid is the major fat component accounting for somewhere between 48 to 74 percent depending on the sunflower seed type. Oleic acid accounts for 14 to 40 percent depending on the source. Stearic and palmitic acids are in low concentration. Sunflower oil also contains lecithin, lots of vitamin Es and carotenoids. This combination provides for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and low levels of saturated fats.
Sunflower oil is a better source of vitamin E than flaxseed oil. This fat soluble vitamin is also an antioxidant that protects your cells and fats from oxidative stress (removes free radicals) reducing your chances for cancer and heart disease. This vitamin is also involved with regulating cell signaling pathways and gene expression.
Why You Should Take Omega 3, 6, 9
You have two essential fatty acids that your body can’t make which are omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. These need to come from dietary sources. They are important for brain development, overall brain function, immune function, cardiovascular health as well as being a membrane component in all your cells. These fatty acids are important for maintaining health hair, skin and nails. They are also important carriers of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Simply put your body cannot function without these molecules. Given that most of us don’t get enough of these essentials in our diets, supplementation is a good idea. Xbrain’s Omega 3, 6, 9 combines fish oil, flaxseed oil and sunflower seed oil to keep all bases covered. The Fish oil provides high concentrations of EPA and DHA. Flaxseed oil provides high concentrations of ALA and sunflower seed oil provides high concentrations of vitamin E. Insufficient amounts of EFAs invites cardiovascular disease, weakened immunity, brain dysfunction and obesity. Xbrain Omega 3, 6, 9 may help to maintain a healthy body and brain.
✝ This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. These products is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. © Copyright XBrain Ltd.
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Omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids are all important dietary fats.
Interestingly, each one has a number of health benefits for your body.
However, it’s important to get the right balance of omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids in your diet. An imbalance may contribute to a number of chronic diseases.
Here is a guide to omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids, including what they are, why you need them and where you can get them.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, a type of fat your body can’t make.
The term polyunsaturated refers to their chemical structure, as poly means many and unsaturated refers to double bonds. Together they mean that omega-3 fatty acids have many double bonds.
Omega-3 refers to the position of the final double bond in the chemical structure, which is three carbon atoms from the omega or tail end of the molecular chain.
Since the human body can’t produce omega-3s, these fats are referred to as essential fats, meaning that you have to get them from your diet.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating at least two portions of oily fish per week, which is rich in the omega-3s EPA and DHA (1).
There are many types of omega-3 fats, which differ based on their chemical shape and size. Here are the three most common:
Omega-3 fats are a crucial part of human cell membranes. They also have a number of other important functions, including:
Unfortunately, the Western diet does not contain enough omega-3s. A deficiency may contribute to chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease (32).
Like omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The only difference is that the last double bond is six carbons from the omega end of the fatty acid molecule.
Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential, so you need to obtain them from your diet.
These fats are primarily used for energy. The most common omega-6 fat is linoleic acid, which can be converted into longer omega-6 fats such as arachidonic acid (ARA) (33).
Like EPA, ARA is used to produce eicosanoids. However, the eicosanoids produced by ARA are more pro-inflammatory (34, 35).
Pro-inflammatory eicosanoids are important chemicals in the immune system. However, when too many of them are produced, they can increase inflammation and inflammatory disease (36).
Although omega-6 fats are essential, the modern Western diet contains far more omega-6 fatty acids than necessary (37).
The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is 4:1 or less. However, the Western diet has a ratio between 10:1 and 50:1.
Therefore, although omega-6 fats are essential in the right quantities, most people in the developed world should aim to reduce their omega-6 intake (37).
Nevertheless, some omega-6 fatty acids have shown benefits in treating symptoms of chronic disease.
One study showed that taking a high dose of GLA supplements significantly reduced a number of symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (38).
Another interesting study found that taking GLA supplements in addition to a breast cancer drug was more effective at treating breast cancer than the drug alone (39).
Omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated, meaning they only have one double bond.
It is located nine carbons from the omega end of the fatty acid molecule.
Oleic acid is the most common omega-9 fatty acid and the most common monounsaturated fatty acid in the diet.
Omega-9 fatty acids aren’t strictly essential, meaning they can be produced by the body. In fact, omega-9 fats are the most abundant fats in most cells in the body.
However, consuming foods rich in omega-9 fatty acids instead of other types of fat may have a number of beneficial health effects.
One large study found that high-monounsaturated fat diets could reduce plasma triglycerides by 19% and bad very-low-density-lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol by 22% in patients with diabetes (41).
Another study found that feeding mice diets high in monounsaturated fat improved insulin sensitivity and decreased inflammation (42).
The same study found that humans who ate high-monounsaturated fat diets had less inflammation and better insulin sensitivity than those who ate diets high in saturated fat (42).
You can easily obtain omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids from your diet.
However, it is important to get the right balance of each. The Western diet contains far more omega-6 fats than necessary, and not enough omega-3 fats.
Here is a list of foods that are high in omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids.
The best source of omega-3 EPA and DHA is oily fish.
However, you can also obtain these omega-3s from other marine sources, such as algal oils. ALA, on the other hand, is mainly obtained from nuts and seeds.
There are no official standards for daily omega-3 intake, but various organizations offer guidelines.
According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute of Medicine, the adequate intake of omega-3s per day is 1.6 grams for men and 1.1 grams for women, for adults 19 years and over (43).
Here are the amounts and types of omega-3s in one serving of the following foods:
Omega-6 fats are found in large amounts in refined vegetable oils and foods cooked in vegetable oils.
Nuts and seeds also contain significant amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.
According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute of Medicine, the adequate intake of omega-6s per day is 17 grams for men and 12 grams for women, for adults from 19–50 years old (43).
Here are the amounts of omega-6s in 100 grams (3.5 oz) of the following foods:
As you can see, it is very easy to get more than enough omega-6s through your diet.
Omega-9 fats are also common in vegetable and seed oils, as well as nuts and seeds.
There are no adequate intake recommendations for omega-9s, since they are non-essential.
Here are the amounts of omega-9s in 100 grams of the following foods:
Combined omega-3-6-9 supplements usually provide each of these fatty acids in suitable proportions, such as 2:1:1 for omega-3:6:9.
Such oils can help increase your intake of omega-3 fats, which should be consumed more in the Western diet.
In addition, these oils provide a healthy balance of fatty acids so that the balance of omega-6 to omega-3 is less than 4:1.
However, since most people already consume too many omega-6s, and omega-9s are produced by the body, there is no general need to supplement with these fats.
Therefore, it is best to focus your diet on getting a good balance of omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids. This should involve eating at least two portions of oily fish per week and using olive oil for cooking and in salad dressing.
In addition, try to limit omega-6 intake by limiting your consumption of other vegetable oils and fried foods that have been cooked in refined vegetable oils.
If you do not get enough omega-3s in your diet, it is best to take an omega-3 supplement alone rather than a combined omega-3-6-9 supplement.
Much like other oils, polyunsaturated fatty acids are easily oxidized when exposed to heat and light.
Therefore, if you’re buying an omega-3-6-9 supplement, choose one that is cold pressed. This means the oil has been extracted with limited heat, minimizing the oxidization that can damage the fatty acid molecules.
To ensure you are taking a supplement that isn’t oxidized, choose one that contains an antioxidant such as vitamin E.
Additionally, select a supplement with the highest omega-3 content — ideally more than 0.3 grams per serving.
Furthermore, since EPA and DHA have more health benefits than ALA, choose a supplement that uses fish oil or algal oil, rather than flaxseed oil.
Although combined omega-3-6-9 supplements have become very popular, they generally provide no additional benefit over taking omega-3 alone.
Omega-6s are essential in certain quantities, but they are in many foods and people following a Western diet already consume too many of them.
Additionally, omega-9 fats can be produced by the body and are easily obtained in the diet, so you don’t need to take them in supplement form.
Therefore, although combined supplements contain optimal omega 3-6-9 ratios, taking just omega-3s will likely provide you with the most health benefits.
An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.
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