Try These Techniques To Help Relieve Arthritis Pain

If arthritis leaves you stiff, sore and unable to comfortably pursue your favorite activities, you're not alone. More than 100 different types of diseases categorized as arthritis affect an estimated 54 million Americans according to the Arthritis Foundation. If you've been diagnosed with arthritis, a trusted health care provider can help you develop strategies to cope with the resulting pain and immobility. Scientists have found evidence to support the efficacy of these X remedies for arthritis symptoms.

Pain Medication

Your doctor will likely recommend medication for your arthritis pain. Some of the most common therapies include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, as well as options that also address inflammation such as naproxen and ibuprofen

  • Prescription pain medications

  • Topical ointments containing capsaicin or menthol, which may block some pain signals from entering the joint

  • Disease-modifying antirheumatoid drugs and biologic response modifiers, which reduce the immune system attacks on the joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis

  • Oral or injected corticosteroids to alleviate joint inflammation

Weight Loss

Excess weight can put pressure on the joints, worsening the discomfort of arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, every extra pound places about 6 pounds of added stress on the hip joints and 3 pounds on the knees.

The 2019 evidence guidelines for arthritis treatment published by the American College of Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation recommend weight loss for overweight and obese individuals who have arthritis. Even losing just 5 to 10% of your total body weight can result in better mobility, reduced pain, and decreased wear and tear on the joints.

Incorporating regular exercise in your life might feel daunting if you have arthritis, but working with your doctor to boost your physical activity can have a positive effect on your overall health. Gentle exercises like walking, swimming, biking and yoga will support your weight loss efforts, improve joint mobility and strengthen muscles to provide joint support. Avoid repetitive and jarring motions; running, tennis and high-impact aerobics place undue stress on painful joints. If you're not sure where to start, talk to your health care provider. He or she may recommend referral to a physical therapist.

Temperature Treatments

Applying ice or moist heat to your painful joints can often provide relief. Try a cold pack to alleviate joint inflammation, applied to the affected area for 15 minutes at a time. Take a 30-minute break between each application.

A heating pad can help relax muscle tension that results from arthritis discomfort, as well as soothe the body by boosting circulation. A hot shower has a similar therapeutic effect. As with cold, check the temperature and take breaks to protect your skin.

Acupuncture

Eastern medicine has used acupuncture to treat pain and other ailments for thousands of years. Today, many individuals who have arthritis report relief after trying this traditional Chinese remedy. With acupuncture, the practitioner inserts tiny needles at designated points throughout the body to stimulate natural anesthetic, circulation and nerve activity to the joints, connective tissue and muscles. While most studies about acupuncture focus on chronic pain in general, anecdotal research shows that the practice can be positive for people who have arthritis.

Supplements

While not every natural supplement works as intended, studies show these nutrients and vitamins have a beneficial effect on arthritis pain:

  • Indian frankincense

  • Capsaicin

  • Turmeric

  • Fish oil

  • Ginger

  • Omega-6 fatty acids

Talk with your doctor before adding these remedies or any other supplements to your diet.

Most of all, if you have arthritis, listen to your body. Pay attention to the factors that cause pain to flare and avoid those triggers. Take note of the remedies that provide relief and incorporate them into your everyday routine.

Which Cooking Oils To Use and Which To Avoid

If you’re like me, your pantry is overflowing with cooking oils. If you’re like my aunt was, you just slather everything in vegetable oil and call it a day. With apologies to Aunt Ginny, it’s important to choose the right oil for the job. Each reacts differently to heat, seasons your food differently and, perhaps most importantly, affects your health differently. Here’s a quick guide to five of the most popular cooking oils on store shelves today.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Of all the oils in my pantry, EVOO gets the most use. It’s jam-packed with monounsaturated fats that are great for the heart, and it's full of flavor. It’s perfect for sautéing and for drizzling on top of soups, veggies or crusty Italian bread. (Occasionally, of course.)

What it’s not-so-great for is frying and roasting because of its low smoke point. I like to keep a giant bottle of inexpensive EVOO in the pantry for most jobs on the stovetop. Then I also have a smaller bottle of higher-quality EVOO that I save for that aforementioned drizzling.

Canola Oil

Canola oil gets a bad rap. Thanks to its high smoke point, it’s an excellent choice for frying food. It has that 400-degree smoke point because it's processed using chemicals.

The thing is, that chemical processing doesn’t really impact its healthiness. It’s still low in saturated fat, and it’s a decent, affordable, all-around oil to keep in your pantry thanks to its suitability not only for frying but also baking and roasting. Just don’t sauté your veggies in it or add it to your homemade salad dressing.

Vegetable Oil

Like its pantry partner-in-crime canola oil, vegetable oil is good for frying because of its high smoke point. It can also be a suitable choice for roasting and baking. It has a neutral flavor, so it won’t overpower whatever you throw its way.

That said, vegetable oil isn’t the healthiest oil of the bunch. Like canola oil, it’s chemically refined. Unlike canola oil, which isn’t impacted by that procedure, the processing of vegetable oil robs it of its naturally occurring minerals.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is quickly gaining in popularity and not just in kitchens. It’s a staple of natural beauty products, especially moisturizers.

Back to the kitchen, though: Coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fat. (Think a whopping 12 grams per tablespoon.) That’s why it’s a solid at room temperature, just like its fatty, creamy, delicious twin, butter.

And, just like butter, if you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet, you should reserve coconut oil only for baking. For other dishes, choose a healthier oil. Extra-virgin olive oil, for example, has a similarly low smoke point while remaining heart-healthy.

Avocado Oil

If you think everything avocado is just for Millennials, think again. Avocado oil is an excellent alternative to canola and vegetable oils. Like those oils, it has a high smoke point that makes it great for frying. Unlike those oils, it’s full of monounsaturated fats that will make your heart happy, it’s low on saturated fat, and it isn’t chemically processed.

All of that comes at a price, though. Literally. While avocado oil’s flavor is neutral, its cost is usually higher than the other cooking oils on this list. Personally, I think it’s worth the splurge to keep a bottle in the back of my pantry. Even if you can’t afford to use it regularly, swapping it in for canola or vegetable oil from time to time will cut some unwanted chemicals out of your kitchen in the long run.

In many ways, the oil makes the dish. As you stock your pantry, pay attention to labels and choose the oils you need to make your recipes sing and your body strong.

3 Things You Can Do With All That Zucchini

When I think of summer, I think of sunshine, beach reads and more zucchini than I know what to do with. If you find yourself with a garden full of zucchini — or even a generous neighbor looking to unload his or her zucchini haul — here are three of my favorite ways to use it up.

Sausage-Stuffed Zucchini Canoes

This dish isn’t just simple to throw together, it’s versatile too. You can fill your zucchini canoes with whatever you’d like, but I prefer hot Italian turkey sausage. Too spicy for your taste? Try sweet Italian sausage or some thick, earthy mushrooms.

The ingredient list is short and sweet:

  • 4 small zucchinis

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped

  • 2 links hot Italian turkey sausage

  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

  • ¼ cup green olives, sliced

  • ¼ cup sweet red cherry peppers, chopped (optional)

  • 1 ¼ cup marinara sauce

  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Start by cutting each zucchini in half lengthwise and scrape out the insides, leaving a ¼-inch shell for your canoe. Chop up the reserved zucchini “meat” and set aside. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped zucchini, onion and salt. Remove the casings from the sausage links and add the sausage to the pan, crumbling as you go. Cook for 8 minutes, then mix in the olives and cherry peppers.

Meanwhile, spread the marina in a 9 x 13 baking dish and place the zucchini shells on top of the sauce. Spoon a generous portion of the sausage-zucchini mix into each shell. Sprinkle with mozzarella.

Cover your fleet with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5 minutes more. If you like your cheese to get nice and brown, you might give it a couple of minutes under the broiler to finish things off.

Zoodles

Zoodles, a.k.a. zucchini noodles, are a healthy way to get your spaghetti supper fix without packing on the pasta pounds. For the easiest zoodle prep, invest in an inexpensive vegetable spiralizer, and zoodle until your heart’s content. You can use zoodles in place of traditional pasta in most of your favorite dishes, Italian or otherwise, and they’re great in soups, too.

One of my favorite ways to zoodle couldn’t be simpler. Here’s what you need:

  • 3 medium zucchinis, peeled

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • 3 minced garlic cloves

  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Spiralize the zucchini into noodles. (In a pinch, you can quarter them and use a veggie peeler to slice them into thin strips.)

In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (roughly 1 minute), stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn.

Add your zoodles and grated Parmesan to the pan; stir. Cook the whole shebang until the zoodles are al dente (1-2 minutes).

Remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste, and cover with more parm if you’d like.

Easy Grilled Zucchini

Sometimes the best way to enjoy zucchini is to keep it simple and throw it on the grill. (Or, even better, have your spouse, daughter or favorite grandson handle grilling duties.) I like my grilled zucchini simple — just a touch of garlic, oregano, basil and balsamic — but there’s no limit to the ways you can season your squash.

For perfect grilled zucchini, preheat the grill, keeping the heat medium to low. Lightly oil the grate, too.

Meanwhile, quarter your zucchinis, and brush them with olive oil. Sprinkle them with dried oregano, basil and garlic power, then grill until they start browning (roughly 4 minutes per side). Remove to a serving dish and lightly splash with balsamic vinegar before serving. Delicious!

You know what they say: Waste not, want not. Don’t throw all that zucchini away. Get a little creative in the kitchen, and you’ll be enjoying healthy, diverse zucchini dishes all season long.

My Favorite Pickling Recipes

I don’t know about you guys, but this is one of the most exciting times of the year for me. My garden is producing like crazy, and it’s time to start thinking about how I will preserve my produce. Will I simply bottle it, pickle it, or take advantage of my nifty new freeze drier? I’ll probably use all three methods, but pickling is what I’m most excited to do. Pickled food is my all-time favorite, and it’s so versatile.

Whether you like pickled cucumbers, tomatoes or beets, you need a reliable pickling recipe that helps you obtain maximum flavor every time. Feel free to look over my favorite pickling recipes and give them a try this canning season.

Crowd-Pleasing Refrigerator Pickles

Refrigerator pickles are so easy to make with a few small cucumbers from the store or straight from your garden. They’re pre-sliced, so you can get them directly out of the jar and put them on sandwiches, in salads or just snack on them plain. Here’s how to make them.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups sliced cucumbers

  • 2 cups sliced onions

  • 1 ½ cups cider vinegar

  • 1 ½ cups sugar

  • ½ tsp. mustard seed

  • ½ tsp. celery seed

  • ½ tsp. salt

  • ½ tsp. ground cloves

  • ½ tsp. ground turmeric

Remember to slice your cucumber and onions very thin for this particular recipe.

Directions:

  1. Put sliced onions and cucumbers into a large bowl and set aside.

  2. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan.

  3. Bring ingredients to a boil, stirring constantly.

  4. Cook only until the sugar is fully dissolved.

  5. Pour the mixture over the sliced onions and cucumbers and allow to cool.

  6. Once cool, cover mixture tightly and refrigerate.

For the most mouthwatering flavor, make sure you refrigerate the mixture at least 24 hours before serving.

Quick Pickling for Any Vegetable

There are so many vegetables that taste great pickled, so don’t limit yourself to only pickling cucumbers. The following pickling recipe works for carrots, summers squash, cherry tomatoes, and any other type of vegetable you want to pickle.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. fresh vegetables of your choice

  • 1 to 2 tsps. Whole spices, such as mustard seeds, black peppercorns, or coriander (optional)

  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, sliced

  • 2 sprigs fresh herbs, such as rosemary, dill or thyme (optional)

  • 1 cup water

  • 1 cup white, rice, or apple cider vinegar

  • 2 Tbsp. pickling salt

  • 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar

If you don’t like the thought of adding sugar to your pickled vegetables, feel free to omit it.

Directions:

  1. Prepare your vegetables by washing and cutting them. Carrots should be peeled and beans should be trimmed.

  2. Pack the vegetables into pint jars. Leave approximately ½ inches of space at the top of the jar.

  3. Heat your water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan on high. Bring to a boil while stirring frequently. Once the sugar and salt are dissolved, pour the brine over the top of your vegetables, being careful to maintain the ½ inch of space at the top.

  4. Tap the jars gently on the counter to get any air bubbles out. Add more brine if necessary.

  5. Screw the lids onto the jars until they are tightly sealed.

  6. Cool the jars at room temperature before moving them to the refrigerator.

Just like wine, pickled vegetables improve with age. Try to let them sit for at least 48 hours before enjoying them (if you can wait that long!). This recipe will produce pickled vegetables that will last for up to two months in the refrigerator.

Now that you know my favorite pickling recipes, make sure you try them this season! I can’t wait to sink my teeth into fresh pickled cucumbers and carrots. In fact, I think I’m going to go make some right now. Enjoy!

What Are the Best Heart Rate Targets for Older Adults?

Have you ever wondered what that blinking heart icon is on the workout equipment on the gym? That’s a heart rate monitor calculating your total beats per minute. You can also measure bpm with a wearable monitor. What do the numbers mean? What is a healthy heart rate?

What Is the Average Heart Rate for Seniors?

Your heart naturally beats faster or slower as your activity level changes. Also, the ideal range gets lower as you age. Here are the average heart rates for someone age 60:

Resting: 60–100 bpm

The average resting heart rate of adults is between 60 and 100 bpm. This is what your heart rate should be when you wake up in the morning. It’s natural for seniors to have a higher resting rate than youngsters, but staying below 90 bpm is a great goal.

Low-Intensity Exercise: 80–112 bpm

According to the American Heart Association, moderate exercise should push your heart rate to 80–112 bpm. That’s the target you want to shoot for when going for a brisk walk, dancing, playing tennis or gardening.

High-Intensity Exercise: 112–136 bpm

Vigorous cardiovascular activities really get your heart beating and your body sweating. Aim for a heart rate of 112–136 bpm. What are high-intensity exercises? Swimming, aerobics, jogging, mountain biking and hiking. If you love Zumba as much as I do, try to stay in this range during your class.

If your heart rate is too high at first, slow things down a bit. After a few weeks, you’ll be mastering moves like a pro without feeling out of breath!

What Factors Can Affect Your Heart Rate?

To find your true resting heart rate, you’ll want to check it in the morning, before breakfast. Coffee and tea can increase your heart rate significantly. Your heart also tends to beat faster when you’re excited, stressed or nervous.

One of the biggest things that affect bpm are the medications you take. If you’re on a beta blocker, your heart rate will probably be on the low side. Certain thyroid medications can increase the number of beats per minute. If you’re worried because your resting heart rate seems either too low or too high, ask your doctor for a personalized bpm goal.

Why Does Your Heart Rate Matter?

Checking your resting heart rate is important because it lets you take a peek into your heart’s health. If your heart rate is frequently on the high side, you may want to have a doctor run a few blood tests. That way you can catch problems such as high cholesterol ahead of time. By eating antioxidant-rich fruit and leafy green veggies, you can take great care of your heart.

Hitting your target heart rate when you exercise maximizes the benefits you get. You don’t want your heart beating too fast, but you also don’t want your bpm too low. Staying in your target range increases fat burning, treats joints and muscles to inflammation relief and gives you an incredible mood boost.

The fitter your body is, the harder you’ll be able to exercise while staying in the zone. Burn fat, feel energized all day long and keep your heart healthy. There are lots of low-impact, high-intensity exercises that do wonders for your body.

How Much Salt Is Too Much?

According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of sodium that adults of any age should eat is 2,300 milligrams. That’s the same as about 6 grams of table salt. However, the ideal limit — what we should all aim for — is actually a much lower 1,500 mg sodium/4 g salt per day. Some people are more sensitive to salt than others, so some doctors give people personalized diet recommendations.

Salt and Heart Health

Why does keeping salt levels down matter? The answer has to do with your heart. Salt absorbs extra water, so the more sodium in your blood, the higher your blood pressure. High blood pressure puts additional stress on your heart and can damage your arteries.

On the other hand, lowering your salt intake gives you a much lower risk of health issues:

  • Heart attack

  • Stroke

  • Kidney problems

  • Gout

  • Osteoporosis

  • Stomach cancer

This is why doctors recommend that people with a family history of heart disease or kidney problems be especially careful with salt.

High-Salt Outlaws

Some products are consistently high in salt because of how they’re made. Anything with “salted” on the label obviously has a lot of sodium. The same thing goes for foods in brine, such as olives, pickles and capers. Here’s how much salt some popular food items have (prepare to be shocked):

  • Bacon: Just three slices of bacon (35 g) have almost 1.5 g of salt. That’s over 4 g per 100 g serving!

  • Cheese: Each slice of American cheese contains a whopping 1.5 g of salt. Fortunately, there are low-salt options, too, such as cottage cheese, Swiss and low-sodium mozzarella.

  • Pickles: One medium pickle (65 g) has almost 2 g salt. A large pickle can have double that.

  • Pizza: The next time you’re tempted to order a pizza, choose your toppings wisely. Between pepperoni, sausage, cheese, crust and pizza sauce, each slice of pizza can contain 8–10 g of salt. That’s way more than what you’re supposed to get in the whole day.

  • Burgers: There’s a reason doctors encourage you to eat homemade meals with fresh ingredients and eat out less. Many burgers from fast food restaurants have over 7 g salt, and some have a jaw-dropping 18 grams!

One thing that surprises many people is that bread often has a LOT of salt. I’m not just talking about biscuits, croissants and French bread. “Healthy” bagels, multigrain bread and whole-wheat bread can pack a lot of sodium in each slice. Freshly baked bread sold in supermarkets is almost universally high in salt.

Success With Sodium

Hitting the goal of 1,500 mg sodium a day is doable, but it requires good planning at the grocery store. Check labels carefully and don’t fall for the “serving size” tricks some manufacturers like to use. To make the amount of salt seem less, some brands list a serving of pickles as one-third of a pickle. Who eats one-third of a pickle?

Cooking at home makes it easier to control salt intake. All fresh fruit and veggies are naturally low in sodium, so include them abundantly. Using fresh garlic, herbs and spices is a great way to make tasty meals with less salt.

The Best Desserts To Use Up Summer Fruit While It’s Still in Season

Summer Fruit for Dessert

Have you ever looked at a beautiful display of fruit at the farmers' market and kept on walking because you didn't know what to do with it? Maybe you don't like snacking on fruit, or perhaps you're in the "apples and bananas" club. You know, where you only eat apples and bananas because they're familiar and they're available t the supermarket all year long. Whatever the reason for your seasonal fruit resistance, these simple, fruit-based dessert recipes are sure to turn you into a true fan of all the glorious fruit that summer has to offer.

Simple Peach Crisp

First, spray an 8x8 pan with nonstick cooking spray or grease it with butter. Lay about four cups of peach slices in the pan. You'll have more than a single layer. In a mixing bowl, combine half a cup each of brown sugar, flour, and cold butter cut into pieces. Add a teaspoon or so of cinnamon and a pinch of salt, and blend with two forks, a pastry blender, or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in a cup of rolled oats, and pour over the peaches in the pan. Bake in a medium-hot oven (around 350 degrees) for 30 minutes.

Easy Berry Compote

"Compote" sounds so fancy and complicated, doesn't it? What it actually is, though, is a syrupy, sweet fruit stew. Also, it's delicious. The best part is, a compote is extremely simple to make with whatever fruit you have on hand (even if it's in a can). To make a compote from fresh berries, melt a half a stick of butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. Add a couple of squeezes of fresh lemon juice and a quarter cup of brown sugar, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Next, add three-quarters of a pound of berries (about three cups), and simmer and stir for a few minutes. Once the berries start to soften, take the pot off the heat. Serve the compote warm over yogurt, ice cream, pound cake, waffles, or whatever else sounds good to you.

Miniature Cherry Pies

For this recipe, you need a muffin tin and some store-bought pie crust. If you want to simplify the process even more, you can use canned cherry pie filling. To make the filling from scratch, though, mix a quarter cup of cornstarch with a half cup of cold water. Next, combine two pounds of pitted cherries (around five cups), a half cup of sugar, a splash of lemon juice and the cornstarch mixture in a medium saucepan. Stir and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes. While the pie filling cooks, unroll your pie crust and use a biscuit cutter (or the rim of a drinking glass) to cut several rounds of crust. Press them into the cups of your greased muffin tin. When the pie filling is done, spoon it into the tiny pie crusts and then create lattice tops with the remaining scraps of crust. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for around 25 minutes.

These desserts are so delicious and so pretty that they're good enough for company. On the other hand, they're so simple and so fresh that they're also perfect for weeknights with the family. Once you've tried them, you'll never be intimidated by a summer fruit stand again!

6 Foods That Are Toxic to Pets (Cats, Too)

Toxic Foods for Pets

I have a couple of cats at home, but I love dogs, too. Sometimes I like to show my love by sharing a treat, such as hard-boiled eggs, turkey or bananas. However, there are many human foods that you should never give a cat or dog. Avoid these six dangerous foods when cuddling with your cat or dog:

1. Caffeine

The reason chocolate is bad for pets is that it contains caffeine. Pets are extremely sensitive to caffeine. It can overload their hearts, kidneys and nervous system, causing high fever, coma or organ failure. Never give dogs, cats, ferrets or other pets any foods with caffeine:

  • Chocolate

  • Coffee

  • Green tea

  • Caffeinated beverages

  • Energy drinks

If you catch your pet lapping up a little bit of coffee, don’t panic. The small amount of caffeine will probably just make them sick, not seriously ill. On the other hand, chocolate and dark chocolate have a huge amount of caffeine, so you’ll want to call a veterinarian immediately.

2. Grapes and Raisins

Grapes and raisins may seem perfect for dog treats, but don’t let the small size fool you. Something in grapes causes rapid kidney failure in dogs. Just one or two raisins can be enough to trigger a severe reaction.

Scientists still don’t know what chemical compound is responsible, but it’s very dangerous for all canines. The jury is out on felines, but most vets recommend not giving grapes and raisins to cats just to play it safe.

3. Alcohol

No pet should ever drink any kind of alcohol. Just like with caffeine, animals react much more strongly to alcohol than humans do. This includes beer and wine, too. The small organs in most pets aren’t equipped to deal with intoxication, so their heart rate may slow dangerously or they may lose consciousness. With enough alcohol, even large dogs will stop breathing.

4. Garlic and Onions

Cats are more sensitive to garlic than dogs, but dogs can still have problems if they eat enough of it. Any part of the onion family (green onions, too) can hurt your pet’s red blood cells, causing anemia and muscle weakness. Garlic powder is especially toxic since it’s a concentrated form.

5. Nuts

Most nuts are high in specific fats that lead to pancreas inflammation in dogs. Macadamia nuts are the worst for canines, causing shaking, fever and vomiting. You don’t have to panic if your dog just eats a few peanuts or almonds. But if you find them raiding a whole jar of nuts, call the vet immediately.

6. Artificial Sweetener

Be careful if you want to give your pet cookies, gum or other packaged sweets. Many of these products contain artificial sweeteners. Even small doses of a sweetener called Xylitol can trigger liver failure in virtually all pets.

How can you tell if your pet has been affected? Dogs and cats experience a strange loss of balance, like they were drunk. They may seem unusually tired or lethargic. Actually, any time a pet acts really strange (except for catnip) I think it’s a good idea to call the vet.

It’s hard to resist giving an affectionate pet treats. Just make sure not to choose any of the items on this list. This can literally save your pet’s life. Go with crunchy carrots and tasty bananas instead.

5 Time-Saving Kitchen Tools for Cooking From Scratch (Like a Pro!)

Who has time to peel and cook fresh ingredients? Actually, modern technology has made it easier than ever to make breakfast, lunch and dinner quickly. Here are my favorite tools for cooking like a pro.Who has time to peel and cook fresh ingredients? Actually, modern technology has made it easier than ever to make breakfast, lunch and dinner quickly. Here are my favorite tools for cooking like a pro.

1. Food Processor

If we’re talking about kitchen tools that save time on food prep, a food processor tops the charts. This little beauty makes short work of every task imaginable. Plus, the list of things you can make is endless. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Fresh basil pesto

  • Homemade broccoli cheddar soup

  • Roasted tomato soup

  • Nut and coconut lemon bars

  • Low-fat pizza dough

  • Garlic mashed potatoes

  • Secret spaghetti sauce (it has green olives)

  • Real almond butter

Slicing, dicing, grinding, blending, mixing, shredding — you name it — food processors do it all in literally seconds. This is especially great if you have any kind of pain in your hands or wrists since you don’t need to worry about wielding a heavy knife.

2. Immersion Blender

Not feeling in the mood to find and assemble your countertop blender for one smoothie and then have to wash the whole contraption? No problem. Get an immersion blender instead. This lightweight, portable and simple hand-held device takes care of blending easily. Even better, it completely replaces whisking, whipping, mixing and mashing by hand.

To make a great smoothie, put the ingredients in a jar and blend away. An immersion blender can handle bananas, kale, mangoes, blueberries, ginger, yogurt, granola and other tasty mixes for a perfect morning start. Cleaning up is a breeze afterwards compared to a conventional (and heavy) upright blender.

3. Pressure Cooker

Cook beans from scratch in under an hour, wild rice in 20 minutes and a pork roast in 45 minutes? Yes, please. A pressure cooker speeds up cooking times amazingly. Also, when you cook ingredients under pressure, they become moist, super tender and incredibly flavorful.

Does the idea of owning a pressure cooker make you nervous? Modern versions are made with tons of safety features (automatic pressure control, temperature sensors, etc.) so there’s nothing to worry about.

4. Dutch Oven

The beauty of Dutch ovens is preparing a meal and letting it cook by itself for hours. These large enameled multi-cookers are amazing for one-pot recipes:

  • Chicken and rice

  • Casserole

  • Chili

  • Lasagna

  • Au gratin potatoes

  • Spanish paella

  • Chicken curry

My favorite way to use them is for beef roasts. There’s nothing as delicious as melt-in-your-mouth meat with a little oven char. All I do is sear the roast, toss in veggies and red wine, and let everything cook low and slow. Then I go to read a book or do some exercises while the heavenly smells fill up the kitchen. Perfect for Sunday dinners with the kids.

5. Cast Iron Skillet

If you can look past the increased weight, a trusty cast iron skillet may soon become your new best friend in the kitchen. It’s so versatile and simple. One minute you’re browning food on the stove top (using practically no oil) and the next your meal is cooking happily in the oven. I don’t care what anyone says, nothing is as good as homemade corn bread or deep-dish pizza baked in a cast iron skillet.

With these must-have kitchen tools, you can cook any meal in a flash. At the same time, you get tons of healthy nutrients and flavor while cutting salt and fat.

Get the Facts on 5 Plant-Based Meat Substitutes

If you've been thinking about going vegetarian for health, environmental or animal rights reasons, you may wonder how you'll live without your carnivorous faves. With so many innovative plant-based meat substitutes on the market now, it's easier than ever to eat less or even no meat while still enjoying your go-to dishes. Consider this your guide to the bevy of faux meat options you'll find at your local grocery or health food store.

Tofu

Depending on how you prepare it, tofu is an incredibly versatile plant-based meat option that can sub in for seafood, chicken, pork or even beef. This soybean product, which has long been used liberally in Asian cuisine, can soak up the savory flavors of your chosen marinades and spices. When you incorporate tofu in your diet, you'll also enjoy the benefit of calcium, protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and iron. In fact, tofu is a complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids the body needs for optimal function.

Even if you've tried tofu before and found it too tasteless or mushy, try purchasing an extra-firm variety and using lots of seasoning. You might be pleasantly surprised about how satisfying soy-based meat can be when you spice it up and throw it on the grill. Tofu also provides an excellent alternative to cheese and eggs if you plan to go completely vegan.

Tempeh

Although tempeh is also made from soy, the use of the whole soybean and the fermenting process create a product with a stronger flavor and an even greater nutritional value. Tempeh, which comes in small cakes or patties, is rich in vitamins, fiber and protein and offers benefits for your digestive health. You may also find tempeh products mixed with grains such as barley and quinoa.

The firm texture of this meat substitute works well in sandwiches, salads and stir-fries, or try a traditional pairing with Thai peanut sauce. Crumble it to use in place of ground beef in your favorite taco and chili recipes.

Seiten

If you avoid soy, try seitan. This pure wheat gluten product is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. You can buy seitan in premade vegan versions of burgers, bacon and sausage, or purchase straight seitan and make your own meat alternatives. Seitan is easy to prepare and can be baked, stir-fried, grilled, sauteed and marinated to your heart's content. However, keep in mind that seitan is not an option for individuals with celiac disease or other forms of gluten sensitivity.

Jackfruit

This new kid on the block is a tropical fruit with a mild taste and meat-like texture that make it an ideal substitute for pulled pork. The sweet taste pairs well with barbecue sauce and other spicy flavors. Just roast the jackfruit in the oven with your seasonings of choice for about 15 minutes for a chewy texture that will make your tacos, sandwiches and stews sing. Best of all, this fruit is rich in fiber, potassium and vitamin C. According to Medical News Today, studies show that jackfruit consumption in animals boosts "good" (HDL) cholesterol levels and decreases the levels of "bad" (LDL) cholesterol.

Mushrooms

Fungi are another outstanding meat substitute if you prefer to eat whole foods rather than processed products. The naturally meaty flavor and texture of mushrooms make these veggies a natural for tacos, stir-fries and sandwiches. You'll also get a healthy dose of fiber and very few calories, which makes mushrooms a filling no-brainer if you're trying to achieve a healthy weight.

When you're experimenting with these meat substitutes, keep an open mind and an open spice cabinet. Refer to recipes that provide step-by-step instructions on how to prepare these unfamiliar ingredients to become an expert in no time.