Healthy Eating

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Eating at night = weight gain: Myth or fact?

Dear Reader,

You and your friends have picked up on a popular debate. One aspect of weight management that is vital to understand is that we gain and lose weight over periods of time — weeks, months, years — not hour by hour. This happens as we take in more calories than we expend. Another important fact of metabolism is that our bodies do not stop working, even when we are sleeping! Hearts are beating, blood is circulating, lungs are functioning, brains are even working. This all takes energy — meaning we are still burning calories.

There is no magic time after which the body stores fat. For instance, if you eat the same exact meal at 6 pm or at 8 pm, is one more caloric than the other? No, each meal has the same number of calories. What really matters is the total amount of food and drink you have over the course of a week, or a month or longer, and how much energy you expend during that timeframe. Excess calories will be stored as fat over time, regardless of whether they are taken in during the day or night.

When it comes to eating late at night and the potential for weight gain, there are several considerations:

  • Portion sizes — waiting to eat could lead to consuming larger portion sizes.
  • Quality of food — after a long day of work or school, a few slices of pizza or a fast burger may seem easier than steamed vegetables and broiled fish.
  • "Mindless snacking" — evenings spent studying, going out, or watching TV may lead to excess calories from fast, sugary, on-the-go options.
  • Health concerns — consistent periods of going without food followed by a large meal can negatively impact the interaction between blood sugar and insulin and make you more vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes.

So, to settle the debate, you are correct that late-night calories won't change your metabolism or magically count more than calories eaten during the day. However, limiting late-night meals and snacks may be an effective weight management strategy for some because it helps them to control their overall calorie intake. Some people find that if they set a time that they can't eat past, it helps minimize or eliminate the possibility of munching on a lot of high calorie foods. Another useful tip may to be to eat four or five smaller meals and snacks spread evenly throughout the day so you don't become overly hungry at any point. Following these tips can keep your energy levels consistent for work and play and can provide some long-term benefits to help you reduce your chances for diabetes or other health issues. 

Bon appétit! 

Alice

June 29, 2007

21199
Dear Alice,

Though your metabolism IS constantly at work, it does slow down later in the day, especially if you are just dieting and not exercising. When you exercise your heart rate and...

Dear Alice,

Though your metabolism IS constantly at work, it does slow down later in the day, especially if you are just dieting and not exercising. When you exercise your heart rate and metabolism both increase. In addition it is better to eat more meals and take in the same amount of calories because in doing so you keep your metabolism working. On the other hand if you eat less or worse starve yourself for several hours your metabolism slows down and potentially puts your body into a "starvation mode" where more insulin is released causing the body to store more fat. This is the most simple answer to this question.

Is margarine really better than butter?

Dear Baffled Over Butter,

You may be baffled over butter, but it sounds like you've got a good grip on chemistry! Some of the margarines sold in stores today are still made from oil that has been infused with hydrogen atoms, firming it up into a semi-hard or solid form at room temperature. This process is known as hydrogenation, and it allows the margarine to contain less saturated fat than butter. Unfortunately, hydrogenation also forms something known as trans fat, which actually does more damage to your body than saturated fat. (Both butter and margarine end up containing the same amount of total fat.)

Margarines made from hydrogenated oil usually appear in a solid stick form, similar to how butter is sold. Other kinds of margarines on the market today are made from non-hydrogenated oil, making them softer in texture and lower in calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and total fat. These soft margarines, which are commonly packaged in tubs and known as "soft-tub margarines," replace the hydrogenation process with small amounts of modified palm kernel and palm oil in order to make it softer and easier to spread.

Unlike margarine, butter isn't made from vegetable oil. Instead, butter is prepared from cream, contains saturated fat, and, because it's made from an animal source, also has cholesterol. Both saturated fat and cholesterol raise unhealthy cholesterol or LDL (low-density lipoprotein). Margarine is manufactured from vegetable oils, such as corn, soybean, or safflower oil, among others. Since margarine is based on plant sources, it doesn't contain cholesterol.

Because margarines don't contain cholesterol and are now made without trans fat, the American Heart Association recommends that, whenever possible, margarine should be used instead of butter. Choose a margarine that contains less than two grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, no trans fat, and has liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient.

If all this chat about fat has made you curious (or confused), check out Good vs. bad fats and "Good" and "bad" cholesterol in Alice's archives for more information.

Alice

Ooh, baby, I like it raw (or, is a raw diet healthy?)

Dear Considering,

Humans are the only animals to cook their food before eating it. Some say that the superior nutrition afforded by cooking our food is what has allowed our brains and bodies to develop the amazing complexities that they have. Others think that the humans who cooked their first meal 40,000 years ago took a step towards a long fall from grace that eventually led to fast food, heart disease, and related health concerns.

Many people who follow a raw diet — a diet composed primarily of uncooked fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, grains, and beans — do report experiencing increased energy, improved skin appearance, better digestion, weight loss, and reduced incidence of heart disease. However there are probably just as many people who would claim that a raw diet made them feel lethargic, hungry, cold, and/or deficient in crucial vitamins and minerals. There are pros and cons of a raw diet, as with almost any diet you could come up with. The most important thing is to figure out what feels right for your body, lifestyle, climate, and nutritional needs, all of which may change throughout your life.

The main tenet of a raw food diet is to avoid cooking foods above 118 degrees Fahrenheit, the theory being that keeping enzymes intact allows the body to better absorb nutrients. Foods that are usually cooked, like grains and legumes, are broken down in other ways like soaking and sprouting. Soaking and sprouting seeds, grains, nuts, and legumes can render them full of enzymes, fully digestible, and high in proteins, vitamins, fats, and minerals. Fruits and vegetables can also be dehydrated into breads and cookies, blended into warm (under 118 F degrees) soups, and juiced. Because the raw food diet consists mainly of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, legumes, seaweed, fresh juices, and purified water, it contains fewer transfats and saturated fats than the typical Western diet. A raw foods diet is also high in fiber, potassium, magnesium, folate, and health-promoting plant chemicals called phytochemicals.

Another advantage raw foods promoters cite is the diet's alkalizing effect on the blood. The more alkaline human blood, the more oxygen it absorbs. The more oxygen our blood absorbs, the better we feel. If our blood can't absorb enough oxygen we feel tired, gain weight, have poor digestion, develop aches, pains, and may develop conditions like cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and candida. The most alkalizing foods are raw dark green vegetables — especially leafy green vegetables like kale, collards, and chard; fruits like watermelon, avocado, cucumber, and young coconuts; herbs and spices like wheatgrass, parsley, basil, cilantro, cayenne, ginger; and sprouts made from mung bean and alfalfa. The opposite of alkalizing foods are acidic foods, which are mostly sugar, coffee and tea, animal products, white flour and other processed foods like cereal and baked goods, and transfats and saturated fats. Some believe that stress and environmental toxins also produce acidity in the blood. An easy way to determine your blood pH level is to buy a pH test strip at any health food store, pee on it, and read the results to tell how alkaline or acidic you are. While followers may be fervent about the benefits of going raw, there are few to no scientific, population-based studies backing up claims of significant health benefits.

Some critics of a raw food diet suggest that the body makes the enzymes needed to digest and assimilate food nutrients, and that, though you do lose some vitamins and minerals when cooking, there's nothing inherently wrong with cooking foods. In fact, cooking some foods allows our bodies to more easily digest their proteins, and makes certain nutrients more available to our systems for absorption. For example, lycopene, a plant chemical, is found in greater abundance in cooked tomato products than in raw ones. Cooking also helps to destroy certain bacteria and food-borne illnesses.

Other critiques associated with this diet are that it lacks calcium, iron, protein and vitamin B12. To avoid nutrient deficiency, strict raw foodists take supplements of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and drink herb teas like raspberry leaf and nettles to fortify the body with iron and calcium. By eating adequate amounts of sprouted beans, nuts, and seeds, raw food lovers can consume enough protein. Nausea, cravings, and headaches, which are symptoms of the body's detoxification, can occur as a result of starting a raw diet. Detox symptoms are especially likely to occur if a person's previous diet was rich in meat, sugar, and caffeine. With time (and drinking plenty of water) these symptoms usually go away. A strictly raw food diet might not be suitable for pregnant or nursing women, babies and young children, people with anemia, people at risk for osteoporosis, and those who live in very cold climates, although these people can certainly incorporate raw foods into their diets. As with any eating plan, considerable energy, time, thought, and commitment is necessary in order to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle as a raw-foodie.

With diets, one size does not fit all. There is no one diet that will serve everyone the same; there probably isn't even one diet that will serve one person for very long. If you're a Columbia student and want more individualized guidance on optimal nutrition, you can make an appointment with a nutritionist at Medical Services through Open Communicator or by calling x4-2284. Non-Columbia students may want to start with a primary care provider who can help them find a nutritionist. You can examine what a raw diet entails, how to carry it out healthfully, and common pitfalls to avoid, but ultimately you will have to decide for yourself if it feels good to keep it raw one day a week, one week a month, one month a year, or hardly ever. Rawk on!

Alice

Eliminate all body and dietary fat — healthy?

Dear Anonymous,

In a word, no! Fat — both on our bodies and in our diet — gets an undeserved bad rap and is actually essential for our survival. Body fat is found in places you may not even think about when you're considering its role in our health. It's part of:

  • every cell membrane
  • some hormones and prostaglandins (hormone-like substances) which regulate many body functions
  • nerve sheaths (nerve coverings)

Body fat is categorized as either essential or storage fat; both types play a vital role in our functioning. Essential fat is found in bone marrow and lipid rich tissues throughout the body. Storage fat is located around internal organs and under the skin (subcutaneous). These two types of body fat play important roles in keeping our bodies healthy. For example:

  • A layer of fat surrounds each organ (such as your heart, liver, kidneys, etc.), protecting and cushioning it against impact during sports or accidents,
  • Fat helps maintain normal body temperature.
  • Fat provides us with a supply of stored energy, which can sustain us if food is not available.

Dietary fat is the fat found in a variety of foods and is a concentrated source of energy for the body. It is dangerous to eliminate all fat from your diet. Certain fats, essential fatty acids, can only be obtained from foods. These are incorporated into regulators of specific body processes such as blood pressure and even help us maintain healthy skin. Dietary fats are also required to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. These nutrients are vital to our vision, bone formation and maintenance, blood protection and clotting, nerve development, and can act as a defense against oxidation. In addition to their health benefits, fats provide joy in eating. They carry flavors and aromas, and provide foods with pleasurable textures. Fats also fill us and help satisfy our appetite.

When it comes to fat, too much or too little on our bodies and in our diets is not recommended. The related Q&As below can shed some more light on the facts about fat.

Alice

Health benefits of fish oils

Dear Curious,

Somthing's fishy about your lab results. The improvement in your cholesterol levels may be due to the foods you replaced with the fish, rather than the fish in and of itself. The fats found in some varieties of fish, omega-3 fatty acids, reduce triglyceride levels in the blood, but generally do not affect cholesterol levels.

However, you're still doing yourself a favor by feasting on fish. Eating fish offers many major health advantages. The primary benefit found from including fish oils in your diet is the lowered risk for sudden cardiac death. This means that fish eaters decrease their chance of dying suddenly from a heart attack (keep in mind that there are different types of heart attacks).

Two mechanisms explain how eating fish reduces the chance of heart attack. First, it seems that fish oil fatty acids reduce blood clotting by decreasing the stickiness of blood platelets. Second, omega-3 oils may play a role in stabilizing heart rhythms. It could be that the electrical impulses that go awry during some heart attacks are preserved in fish eaters. These protective qualities may work together, resulting in the reduced risk of sudden cardiac death that has been observed among fish consumers. Other possible health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are their potential to help lower blood pressure and protect against some forms of stroke.

Remember, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. There are certain risks associated with eating too much fish. The main risk has to do with the toxicity of environmental contaminants, primarily mercury, which ends up in fish due to environmental pollution. Because of this, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are often advised to avoid fish. In addition, there are various recommendations for eating fish to avoid consuming dangerous levels of mercury, as its toxicity can damage the brain, kidneys, and lungs. Mercury levels may be especially high in shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

But in moderate amount, fish can be beneficial, especially for people eating a western diet that is often low in omega 3s. Good sources of omega 3 include:

  • Shrimp
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel (watch out for the higher mercury levels in king mackerel)
  • Rainbow and lake trout
  • Sardines
  • Halibut
  • Pollock
  • Oysters
  • Catfish
  • Albacore, blue fin, and yellow fin tuna (including the canned type)
  • Striped sea bass
  • Turbot
  • Swordfish (watch out for higher mercury levels)

Fish oil supplements, on the other hand, contain almost no toxic contaminants and thus are safe. However, they can cause gastric symptoms, so it is best to take them with food. People with low blood pressure or who are taking medication for low blood pressure should also be careful about eating too much fish, since the fish oil could lower blood pressure even more. In very high amounts, fish oils can have some anti-coagulant effects, causing nosebleeds in some people.

Eating these jewels of the sea even once or twice a week may lead to heart healthy benefits. Obviously an all-around healthy diet will provide even more protection from heart disease, and other maladies, too.

Alice

Helping a friend to eat healthier

Dear In a quandary,

Your friend definitely isn't alone, but in order for her to change her behaviors or ingrained patterns, she needs to acknowledge that a problem exists, or see a benefit from making a change. Because food and eating habits are such a personal aspect of our lives, it can be a sensitive area of discussion. To answer your first question, diets that are high in fat, sodium, and calories, and low in fruits, veggies, calcium, and other nutrients, may contribute to the development of diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis, among others. If this factor is a concern to your friend, she may consider changing her patterns. However, if she is healthy now, the thought of developing any of these conditions in the far off future may not be motivation enough for her in the present time to change habits with which she's been comfortable.

One thing is for sure — criticizing and nagging don't work! So, what can you do? First of all, you can suggest spending time together doing some sort of activity. If you can get your friend moving, she may become interested in eating more healthfully. Try to disguise exercise into a fun pursuit. Some ideas include:

  • Going for a walk
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Bike riding
  • Flying a kite
  • Playing Frisbee
  • ice skating
  • Borrowing a dog to bring to the park (or bringing your own) and playing ball

Another tact you can try is to determine something that is important to her, and show her that eating better can help improve the matter. While many people aren't motivated by diseases they can't relate to or that seem intangible, immediate concerns can hold more relevance. For example, skin problems, low energy levels, or stomach discomfort can promote a greater incentive or inclination to change. If she complains about any of these conditions, some appropriate suggestions could include drinking more water than diet soda, substituting a juicy piece of fruit for the chips, or heading over to an enticing salad bar rather than making a quick trip for fast food. Considering and implementing any changes or new patterns are only part of the challenge; maintenance is also key, and can be easier to follow-through when done together with a peer than by one's self. Your can demonstrate your support by bringing over some farm fresh apples, cooking a healthy meal together, going to lunch together at an eatery where healthy choices are available, walking together regularly during lunch breaks, etc.

Remember, gentle suggestions are better received than harsh criticism. Advice that begins with "You should..." may fall on deaf ears. Instead you can try to initiate a discussion, saying something like, "You know, I just read an article that said drinking water is important for keeping skin healthy... and I'm drinking more water as a result." Having a conversation about this subject may get your friend to think, and perhaps try, to take steps leading to healthier patterns of eating and activity. Then again, she may decide not to pursue anything at this time. If this is the case, you can express your concern to your friend, and let her know that if she would ever like to pursue healthier eating habits you are ready to support her. In the mean time, remember why you're friends in the first place and enjoy your time together!

Alice

November 7, 2008

21262

To the reader:

I think you could try to teach your friend about enjoying healthy food. It only works if you are subtle, so work in small steps. Try inviting her over for dinner and cooking...

To the reader:

I think you could try to teach your friend about enjoying healthy food. It only works if you are subtle, so work in small steps. Try inviting her over for dinner and cooking a healthier version of pizza or lasagne or some other food she might recogize. Or take her out for a healthy but filling meal at a good quality restaurant (Italian is often good for this). By doing this the aim is to lead by example: show her that healthy food tastes great, fills you up and can contribute to a fun meal, as well as being good for you. Then she will see that living a healthy lifestyle needn't be torture, in fact it is something that a lot of people (chefs, gourmet food lovers, etc.) deliberately seek! Good Luck!

Hints for holiday stomach stuffers

Dear Stuffed,

Put your fork down for a minute and raise your glass: here's to feasting more sensibly, moderately, and contentedly:

  • Eat your regular daily meals. Going to a party or holiday meal overly hungry is a recipe for too much holiday cheer. If you're starving when you arrive at the event, you'll go wild over the hors d'oeurves, bread, and/or other pre-meal munchies. By the time you eat dinner, you're already stuffed and feeling uncomfortable.
  • Pace yourself during the cocktail hour or pre-meal period. Try to spend time talking with other guests. Focus more on the people, less on the fare.
  • Think about your options as you are deciding about taking them. For example, if you choose stuffing and mashed potatoes, do you really need a piece of bread and butter, or will some veggies do just fine?
  • Foods that are high in fat make us feel full. If your holiday table is filled with fried foods or dishes with rich sauces, enjoy a limited amount of these. Also balance your plate with plain vegetables and roasted meats if they are available.
  • During the meal, eat slowly, chew thouroughly, chat with your neighbors, and sip water regularly to let your brain catch up with your stomach and register your fullness.
  • Check in with yourself to see how you're feeling. Are you starting to get satiated? It takes a little time for the brain to realize the stomach has had enough. Try to become more in tune with your fullness cues and listen to them.
  • If the meal is served family style (passed around the table in serving dishes), it's fine to decline some items. For chow you do select, take portions that are the amount you usually eat. Many people pile up their plates, and then feel obliged to eat everything.
  • If it's appropriate to do so, get up between courses. An extra pair of hands clearing the table is often appreciated.
  • If the holiday meal is served buffet-style, check out all the offerings before getting in line. You can avoid overloading your plate by taking only the items you really want to eat. Buffets are invitations for over-sampling the savories and sweets. Try to avoid going back for seconds.
  • Instead of taking seconds, perhaps the host/hostess will offer yours (or your leftovers) in a doggie bag to enjoy the next day. (If you're at your own home, you know you can have some the next day.)
  • Decide ahead of time to save some of your feast for homeless people, or others who don't come by food so easily. This will reduce your intake and help the hungry for whom overeating isn't even a possibility.
  • Watch out for the effects of alcohol. It increases one's appetite, setting the stage for overeating.
  • Take a stroll after the meal to get some exercise and help the food settle in your stomach.
  • Check out Alice!'s nutrition resources page for more information, including a guide to hosting a healthy meeting or event (party perhaps?). 

Enjoying the holiday season doesn't have to mean overindulging in holiday cheer. Being mindful of your eating (and drinking) doesn't have to be limiting; it can actually enhance your experience. 

Happy Holidays,
Alice

Still can't control cravings for sweets

Dear Reader,

The frustration you feel in controlling your sweet tooth is understandable. There are many facets to this issue, so no one answer applies to everyone. Based on your situation described here, you can consider the following possibilities and see how they play a role for you. First, you mentioned that you are trying to lose weight. Quite often, when a person tries to shed some pounds, s/he cuts back on the size and composition of his or her meals. A recent fad has been to limit carbohydrates in one's diet. This leaves most people unfulfilled, still "wanting" something else. Others cut way back on fat, compromising flavor and fullness. Some eat what they think they should eat, without enjoying their food. Do any of these situations sound familiar to you? If your meal is satisfying, you may be able to handle the craving and let it pass, or not experience the craving at all. Try to incorporate sensory appeal — different tastes, textures, colors, and food temperatures — into your meals. You'll be surprised as to what a difference these factors can make.

Second, you wrote that you recently quit smoking. Congratulations! That's the healthiest change you can make. Everything tastes better when you become a non-smoker. With smoking cessation, however, some people experience variations in appetite and increased cravings for sweets to compensate for the lack of nicotine. These are generally temporary. Realize that you have already overcome a difficult obstacle. Asking yourself to quit smoking, lose weight, exercise more, and stop eating sweets is a lot to expect of one person at one time. Reconsider what you can successfully accomplish, setting short- and long-term goals that are realistic for you and workable within your typical schedule and patterns.

Third, restriction can lead to overindulgence. Some people find that the more they try to stop eating something, such as sweets, the more they want or the more out of control they become when they finally succumb. Allowing yourself one treat each day is a way to finding some middle ground. This can be difficult to work through at first, but the potential is there if you stick with it. One approach is to buy a single sized serving item daily, whether it's candy, a cookie, or whatever you like. Knowing that you can have a little every day can make the food seem less forbidden and more acceptable. This approach reinforces the concept of "a reasonable amount," and can help in curbing excessive intake.

Last (and perhaps most importantly), some people use sweets or other types of cravings and/or overeating as a coping mechanism for emotions. Do you find, or have you ever found, the cravings come when you are stressed, bored, lonely, sad, or even happy? As children, many of us were soothed with a cookie or other treat, and have learned to tame emotions with food, associating such eats with comfort or nostalgia. What starts as a coping mechanism can turn into a well-ingrained routine, becoming a harder habit to break over time. If this applies to you, you can take some time to observe what is happening. Try to determine what your patterns are. Are there other ways you can deal with your feelings besides resorting to sweets? For some people, distracting themselves with activity can work; for others, facing their issues by journaling, for example, can help. Either way, taking yourself away from the craving for a short while may help it to subside and/or pass. Sometimes this practice won't work, and sometimes it will. However, the more times you try, the more successes from which you can draw. In the long run, working on changing this behavior can enable you to feel more in control, rather than allowing the craving to control you.

So, it isn't so simple — but that doesn't mean it's not possible. Best wishes on turning this pattern into something healthier, too.

Alice

July 20, 2012

513995
Here's something else that could be going on. Some people's bodies take longer to get the "I'm full" signal. And all people's bodies react to a full meal by producing insulin (to lower blood sugar)....
Here's something else that could be going on. Some people's bodies take longer to get the "I'm full" signal. And all people's bodies react to a full meal by producing insulin (to lower blood sugar). If your body also is slightly desensitized to insulin (so it takes longer for it to work), as many Americans are, then your full meal may actually lower your blood sugar at first, which may make you crave sweets after a meal! But your after-meal sweet cravings will probably not happen if you keep your blood sugar more stable. Do this by decreasing carbs at the meal (avoid or reduce bread, grains, potatos, sugar, alcohol, and fruit) and increase your servings of other above-ground vegetables, healthy proteins, and healthy fats (like avocado, nuts, olives or olive oil, fat from grassfed beef or game). Doing this prevents my life-long sweet tooth from taking control of my life.

March 20, 2012

508887
Hi Alice! I, too, struggle with cravings--when I gotta have it, I gotta have it. I found that it's useful to look at low-fat options, such as low-fat ice cream (I love me some Skinny Cow) and...
Hi Alice! I, too, struggle with cravings--when I gotta have it, I gotta have it. I found that it's useful to look at low-fat options, such as low-fat ice cream (I love me some Skinny Cow) and chocolate-flavored non-fat or low-fat yogurt. I've also found that exercising before I indulge makes sweets less attractive. Just a tip! :)

February 23, 2012

507610
It is great to have the opportunity to read a good quality article with useful information on topics that plenty are interested on. The point that the data stated are all first hand on actual...
It is great to have the opportunity to read a good quality article with useful information on topics that plenty are interested on. The point that the data stated are all first hand on actual experiences even help more. Go on doing what you do as we enjoy reading your work. craving sugar

November 19, 2007

21364
Dear Alice and Reader,

I found this issue interesting, because I, too, MUST have a sweet after my evening meal. I don't know why, but there it is. Instead of obsessing over the fact...
Dear Alice and Reader,

I found this issue interesting, because I, too, MUST have a sweet after my evening meal. I don't know why, but there it is. Instead of obsessing over the fact that I have this craving, I find a way to satisfy it without going overboard. Deprivation will only lead to overindulgence, so build your favorite foods into your eating plan. I don't diet; don't believe in 'dieting.' I DO believe in eating a healthy, lower fat diet and never depriving myself. As long as you can trust yourself to not overdo it, a small sweet treat with a cup or two of tea in the evening should do the trick in staving off those cravings.

July 25, 2003

20494
Hi Alice, love the site! Some of your readers have asked for advice on how to cut back cravings for sweets. You gave excellent advice. I'd like to add one more tip: many people crave food (...
Hi Alice, love the site! Some of your readers have asked for advice on how to cut back cravings for sweets. You gave excellent advice. I'd like to add one more tip: many people crave food (especially sweets) when they are not hungry, but thirsty. Perhaps "can't control cravings" will be more successful laying off the sweets by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. cheers!

How to eat your veggies, even if you don't like them

Dear Reader,

Eating fruits and vegetables is an essential part of maintaining good health. In 2011, the USDA launched its most recent food guide called Choose My Plate. Most health professionals and health promotion organizations, including the USDA, recommend eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Or, in the case of the Choose My Plate campaign, make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.

Since eating vegetables is not very appealing to you, let's start by discussing ways to incorporate some essential vitamins and minerals into your diet via fruit. Look to a wide variety of fruits to take in more vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which are plant substances that may ward off heart disease and certain forms of cancer. For example, a fruit salad composed of oranges, assorted berries, grapes, kiwi, bananas, apples, and peaches with fresh lime juice squeezed over it can be enjoyed as a delicious part of any meal or on its own as a snack. A piece of fruit, such as an apple or a pear, is also an excellent dessert and can be paired with protein, such as nut butter or cheese, to make a well balanced snack.

Now let's move to the incorporation of vegetables in a positive way. Vegetables can taste bitter, particularly when eaten raw. A good place to begin may be experimenting with roasting a few different vegetables to see what you may like. Roasting vegetables brings out their sweetness via a process called caramelization, which reveals the sugars in vegetables, causing them to taste sweeter. This works particularly well with root vegetables, such as onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, and carrots. To roast vegetables, simply cut them into one-inch squares, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, place on a baking sheet, and put in an oven at 450 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, tossing and turning throughout cooking. You will know they are done when they are golden brown, slightly crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. Broccoli and cauliflower are also delicious when roasted. Feel free to experiment by adding grated parmesan or other cheeses, herbs, and spices to the vegetables after roasting. You can also look to "sweeter" vegetables, such as corn, peas, tomatoes, and carrots and incorporate them into pasta or rice dishes or put them together to make a salad. The Get Balanced! nutrition initiative offers some recipes to get you started, such as the Cilantro Corn Tomato Salad.

It is also possible to disguise vegetables in your food, similar to the way some parents do when their children don't eat their veggies. This is typically done using vegetable purees, which can be made at home simply by microwaving a vegetable and then pureeing it, or can be found in the freezer section (most often found are pureed sweet potatoes or squash) or as jars of baby food in the children's section of your grocery store. Purees can be added to stew, soup, pasta sauce, baked goods, etc.; the options are endless. There are several good cookbooks available that offer recipes that incorporate vegetable purees. You can also sneak in an extra veggie by making fruit smoothies with spinach added in — all you'll taste is the fruit!

In addition to purees, you can also incorporate vegetables into other foods. Examples include:

  • Make omelets with tomatoes, peppers, and/or mushrooms — be sure to sauté the vegetables first before adding the eggs.
  • Add broccoli and/or olives to your pizza.
  • Add chopped spinach and/or grated carrots and onions to turkey burgers or meatloaf.
  • Mix chopped carrot and celery into tuna or chicken salad.
  • Choose soups rich in vegetables, such as Minestrone or Gumbo.
  • Add peas, carrots, and/or zucchini to rice pilaf.

It's difficult to "force" yourself into liking a specific food, especially if you are turned off by the taste. Luckily, you can choose from a variety of vegetable options and cooking methods. Keep an open mind (and mouth), and perhaps you will come to enjoy some of these foods!

For more tips about healthy eating, fruits, and vegetables, check out the Optimal Nutrition section of the Go Ask Alice! archive, learn more about the tools from Columbia's Get Balanced initiative, or visit Choosemyplate.gov.

Alice

Quick and healthy bag lunches

Dear S,

If you are what you eat, being healthy and time efficient sound like great qualities to have! Whether your motivations include saving time, saving money, improving your nutrition, maintaining or losing weight, or fostering your creative, culinary skills, preparing your own lunch is a grand idea! Packing your own lunch helps tailor to your individual needs, nutritionally and conveniently to energize you through your busy days at school and beyond. With pending readings and meetings, preparing the proper, nutritious foods may seem like a challenge, but give these nutritious, yet easy and balanced tips below a try.

First, a little review of the food groups may serve up some hot and cool lunch options. Main food groups include:

  • Fruits, naturally sweet and juicy, are great as salad ingredients, sides, or snacks. Try carrying a container of prepared oranges, grapefruit, bananas, apples, grapes, or any seasonal fruit as well as dried, canned, or pureed fruit for snacks and smoothies.
  • Grains come as whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains use the entire kernel of the grain (e.g., whole wheat flour items, brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn), and refined grains have been milled to remove their bran and germ (e.g., white flour, white rice, white bread, pasta, noodles). They're great for wraps (e.g., bread sandwiches, pita pockets, tortilla wraps), noodles like pasta, rice dishes, and snacks (e.g., popcorn, cereal, crackers, granola).
  • Vegetables, raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, or dried, are easy to transport and are nutritious! Convenient lunch versions include bite-sized vegetables (think baby carrots or cut celery sticks), salads, wrap fillers, soups, and potato dishes.
  • Meat and beans make great wraps of turkey, lean ham, lean roast beef, peanut or any other nut butter, fish (e.g., tuna, salmon), or hummus (chick pea spread/dip). They're hearty and complement most grains and vegetables.
  • Milk and milk products like yogurt, cheese (e.g., string cheese, cottage cheese), and milk-based desserts (e.g., frozen yogurt, pudding, ice cream) make for portable lunch items high in calcium. Try incorporating low-fat versions with less or no added sugar.
  • Oils and fats are part of a healthy diet, but use oils, fats, and their products (e.g., mayonnaise, butter, margarine, lard, animal fat, shortening) sparingly. Try to avoid trans fat and limit the amount of food items high in oils and fats, such as some baked items (e.g., cookies, cakes), deep fried foods, and some packaged foods.

Suggestions for compiling easy and healthy lunches include:

  • Make it a combo meal! Try incorporating three or more food groups into a meal. Try to focus on fruit, vary your vegetables, consume calcium rich foods like dairy, and having half of your grains come from whole grains. A sample menu may be a whole wheat wrap of chicken breast, hummus, and spinach with sides of a low-fat yogurt cup and an apple.
  • Simply good. Simple, whole, unprocessed ingredients make for easy preparation and high nutrition. Try having a sizeable stock of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, grains, and lean meats as basics for your lunch combinations. For packaged foods, carefully read the ingredients lists and nutrition facts label, especially their uses of oils, fats, and sugars, and their sodium and cholesterol levels.
  • Limit sweets and fats. Try to limit food items high in added sugar and fats, such as soda, cookies, candy, some snack bars, and deep fried items.
  • Minimal cooking. If you like to cook, consider cooking a larger amount that you may eat over several days or consider freezing some for later use. If you don't like to cook, give wraps and salads a try. Or, you may make semi-homemade lunches combining pre-cooked items (especially grains) with raw vegetables and bought meat and beans.
  • Rotate your menu. You won't get bored of eating the same thing each day, and this may help you incorporate a full range of food groups.
  • Safety first! Wash your hands while preparing and eating. Properly prepare your foods to appropriate temperatures before eating them. If you're carrying your lunch all day, remember food safety, particularly for meats and dairy. If you have access, store your lunch in appropriate temperatures to avoid having your food spoil. An insulated, reusable lunch bag with a reusable cold pack may help keep your lunch safe and stay green!

For more information about balancing a healthy lunch, check out My Pyramid for more tips and a personalized eating plan. If you're a student at Columbia, you may also consult with a nutritionist through Primary Care Medical Services for further nutritional guidance. Eating better may help fuel your mind and body, and you may complement your diet with physical fitness. If you're pressed for time, try reading No time for working out.

When you're having lunch, consider asking your peers of their strategies for quick and healthy lunches and discussing why it's important for you and your peers to eat healthy. These make for nutritious conversations and fruitful times with others! Bagged lunches may help fuel your physical and social health!

Alice

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