A calorie is the standard unit for measuring energy released from energy-yielding nutrients, such as fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Fat is an essential nutrient that helps the body transport and absorb fat-soluble vitamins (e.g., A, D, E, and K), among other functions. Whereas proteins and carbohydrates have only four calories of energy per gram, fat has nine. Food labels are now Federally standardized to help make it easier for the consumer to know what's in a particular food. You can calculate the percentage of calories from fat by looking at the column marked "Percent Daily Value" for total fat and simply add up these percentages. It's recommended that fat make up no more than 30 percent of your daily diet (meaning less than or equal to 30 percent of total calories a day from fat).
Although it is important to watch both calories and fat grams, your focus needs to be on the total number of calories consumed, which often seems to be forgotten. With the introduction of low-fat and fat-free versions of many common foods, you'd expect people to lose weight. Instead, many are either staying at the same weight or even gaining weight. Sometimes you can eat more of these foods than their full-fat versions for the same number of calories. However sometimes low-fat foods contain more sugar than their full-fat cousins, and hence as many calories per serving. Ultimately, if you eat more calories than your body expends, regardless of whether these calories come from fat, protein, or carbohydrates, you will gain weight. Unused energy is converted and stored as excess body fat.
The amount of calories a person needs is based on body weight, age, gender and physical activity level. Generally, 1200 to 1400 calories per day is considered low, and anything above 2400 is considered too much. To find out how many calories you should be getting a day, check out the MyPlate website. This USDA-sponsored site will ask you to input your age, gender, weight, height and physical activity level in order to determine what caloric intake will be right for you. You can also check out Ideal Caloric Intake? in the
Dear Joyful Juicer,
Juicers can be a great low calorie, high nutrient, tasty treat. However, they don’t generally carry all the benefits of eating the original fruit or veggie from whence it came.
If you've made juice, you know that it takes a lot of fruit to make a container of juice. Usually, juicers extract the juice and some pulp from fruits and/or vegetables. You’ll get all of the vitamins, minerals, beneficial plant chemicals (phytochemicals), and carbohydrates in juice that's extracted from a whole fruit. However, you won’t get much of the fiber, and depending on the fruit, you may not get any of it.
Fiber aids in the digestive process. It acts sort of like a scrub brush for your intestines and speeds up the movement of waste through your system. It also can fill you up, and may help protect against certain cancers. Fiber in fruit is found in the membranes between sections, the white part around the outside (as in oranges and grapefruits), the seeds, the skin, and the peels. For example, orange juice contains no fiber (even if it has pulp) because the fiber is found in the membrane, which is lost during the process of juicing.
It is also important to remember that juice is not a low calorie drink. An eight ounce glass of orange juice contains 110 calories — the equivalent of two oranges (each contains about 60 calories). But you won't feel as filled up from juice since it doesn't contain any fiber. For many people, drinking a caloric beverage, such as juice, isn't as satisfying as eating the same amount of calories in food. For those who need to increase caloric intake — such as athletes, children, or teens — juice is a great choice.
Fresh juice is certainly tasty and an excellent source of many nutrients. Less stable vitamins, such as vitamin C, are not compromised in fresh juice as they may be in some processed varieties. Also, watch for added sugar in many processed juices that can increase caloric content.
In general, juice is just fine. But if fiber’s what you’re after, go for the whole fruit or veggie over the liquefied form. Happy juicing!
Dear Breakfast Boycotter,
Your brain (and central nervous system) run on glucose — that's the fuel you need to think, walk, talk, and carry on any and all activities. Let's say that the last time you eat something at night is at 10 or 11 PM (not optimal, just an example). The following day, you don't eat breakfast but wait until about noon or so to eat — you've gone thirteen or fourteen hours with nothing in your system. Your poor brain is surely deprived — and your body has to work extra hard to break down any stored carbohydrate or turn fat or protein into a usable form for your brain to function. That's a lot to ask for when you're sitting in a classroom, trying to concentrate on reading, or doing any other work. Eating breakfast has been proven (many times) to improve concentration, problem solving ability, mental performance, memory, and mood. You will certainly be at a disadvantage if your classmates have eaten breakfast and you've gone without. On average, they will think faster and clearer, and will have better recall than you. School or work can be tough enough without this extra added pressure.
Breakfast skippers also have a harder time fitting important nutrients into their diet. Many foods eaten at breakfast contain significant amounts of vitamins C and D, calcium, iron, and fiber.
Some people believe that skipping breakfast may help them lose weight. Not so! Skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day. Becoming overhungry often leads to a lack of control and distorted satiety signals (meaning it's hard to determine when you're full). This can result in taking in more calories than if one had an appropriate breakfast. As a matter of fact, it's easier to control one's weight by eating smaller meals and snacks more frequently.
What if there's just no time in the morning to eat breakfast? There are plenty of items you can bring along with you to school or work. Carry a resealable bag of easy-to-eat whole grain cereal, or bring a yogurt or small box of skim milk, juice, or fruit. If you just can't stomach food in the morning, try to have a little something — such as some juice — and bring along a mid-morning snack. Other good portable items include: whole grain crackers, a hard boiled egg, cottage cheese, low-fat granola bars, or even a peanut butter sandwich. Single serving hot cereals, such as oatmeal, are handy — all you have to do is add hot water, available at most cafeterias or delis.
Whatever your choice, eat something. If you think you're doing fine with no breakfast, just try changing your tune for a week —you're likely to notice a difference. You will undoubtedly perform better with some fuel in your system, and, hopefully, become a breakfast believer.
Not to confuse you more, but both philosophies could be considered correct. We do have to expend more calories, or energy, than we consume in order to lose weight. But the overall quality of our diet (variety of food, including plenty of fruits, vegies, and whole grains) is also very important.
We need to be satisfied with what we're eating. When fewer calories are taken in, each food really counts. The foods we choose should offer nutrients full of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial substances. Good health is not just about the number on the scale, but more about eating a varied diet. So, include carbohydrates, proteins, some fat, and fiber, along with those vitamins and minerals, rather than eating only one nutrient. Don't forget phytochemicals (plant chemicals found in tomatoes, garlic, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, apricots, citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, soybeans, and other fruits and vegetables), too. For more information about what foods provide which nutrients, read Food pyramid — How much is a serving? and search Alice's Fitness and Nutrition archive.
Here's a list of specific functions of nutrients:
- (in grain products, fruits, and veggies)
- provide energy — this is the fuel used first; the brain and central nervous system run only on glucose, a carbohydrate
- (in dairy, meats, legumes, and eggs)
- required for growth and maintenance: it produces antibodies, enzymes, and hormones as well as repairs muscle tissue and forms hair and nails, among other structures in the body
- (in dairy and meats)
- facilitates absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K; helps maintain structure and health of all cells; and, is required in the synthesis of hormones
- Vitamins and Minerals
- involved with numerous chemical reactions in our bodies
By taking in most calories from one source, the body won't operate efficiently because there will be deficiencies in other areas. Damage from insufficient nutrient intake can occur long before effects are felt. The following list offers some health problems that can result from specific nutrient restricted diets:
Low Carbohydrate Diets
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Kidney problems
- Calcium depletion
Low Protein Diets
- Frequent colds / low immunity
- Hair loss / nail thinning
Very Low-fat Diets
- Vision Problems
- Cold Intolerance
- Bone loss
- Hemorrhage from impaired blood clotting
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
So, what do you need to know when planning what to eat for weight loss and weight management? In general, lower fat diets are recommended because, if properly planned, they are healthier and more fulfilling. With high fat diets, calories add up quickly because fat provides nine calories per gram (protein and carbohydrate each supply four calories per gram). You may crowd out important nutrients and not be totally satisfied on a high fat diet. In addition, high fat diets have been connected to the development of heart disease, some cancers, and gall bladder disease, among other ills.
By replacing foods high in fat with foods low in fat, but higher in protein or carbohydrates, the number of calories are automatically cut down (if you don't eat a greater quantity). Substituting a high fat food with a high fiber food will help keep folks feeling full and content with fewer calories as well. Many carbohydrate-rich foods are also high in fiber. Since humans can't digest fiber, it adds bulk and is filling and satisfying, which are among its healthy benefits.
As you can see, it does matter where the nutrients come from. And, balance is key. If your calories are mostly from fat, you may end up taking in too many calories, possibly leading to weight gain. On the other hand, if you're limiting calories to lose weight while on a high fat diet, you probably won't be satisfied because you'll be eating a small amount of food. In the long run, sticking with this eating plan is not healthy because it's nutritionally limited. Alice recommends a varied diet, inclusive of many foods (and nutrients). You may also find it helpful to meet with a registered dietitian to discuss your weight loss goals and your particular eating preferences to help you come up with an eating plan that suits your needs. You'll have a better chance of being happy with your eating, managing your weight more easily, and being healthy to boot!
As a general rule, fasting all day on a regular basis is not a good idea, even if you "make up" the skipped calories at night. Although our bodies are remarkable in their ability to adapt to over and under eating at times, they need energy throughout the day to perform at an optimal level.
Paying attention to hunger signals (they are there for a reason!) and being aware of how much food you need to maintain physical and mental energy is healthy. By fasting all day you deny your body nutrients and energy which may lead to headaches, mood swings, feeling tired and dizzy, and even fainting. Your metabolism may also slow down and you could lose muscle mass. Fasting also may make you more likely to binge in the evenings, and you may be more likely to choose unhealthy foods.
You may want to ask yourself why you are skipping meals during the day. Observing religious holidays or special occasions is one reason many people fast from time to time. For most people, our bodies can adapt and function through the occasional fast, whether it is a sun-up to sun-down fast, or extends for a full day (children and people with certain medical conditions may need to forgo even occasional fasting; consult your health care provider if you are uncertain).
If you fast frequently you may want to consider some of your motivations. Are you trying to lose weight? Do you not feel hungry during the day? Are you too busy to eat? If you are trying to lose weight, eating several small meals throughout the day might be a better option. This will provide you with a more constant and consistent source of energy in a form that makes it easier for your body to metabolize and burn calories. Skipping meals is not a healthy approach to weight loss since fasting slows down metabolism and makes people more likely to overeat later. See Will skipping breakfast and lunch lead to weight loss? and Importance of eating breakfast for more information on skipping meals.
You mention eating "whatever you want" at night. Could this be because you feel guilty about eating certain kinds of foods, or about the amount of food you eat? These concerns are issues to think about before you can adopt a more healthful eating plan and positive attitudes toward eating. They may also be a sign of disordered eating, or other issues such as depression. If you're experiencing guilt or are anxious about food, contact a mental health professional who can help you get to the bottom of these feelings and behaviors. Columbia students should contact Counseling and Psychological Services at x4-2878.
If your question is motivated by the desire to lose or manage your weight, consider making an appointment with a nutritionist who can help you figure out a meal plan that works for you and fits your lifestyle. If you are a Columbia student, you can make an appointment with a nutritionist 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.
Although it's not always easy to change your eating habits, taking care of your health is worth it in the long run.
Dear Confused and College Bound,
You are not alone with your concerns. Going to college is a big step in a person's life involving major changes. You and those around you may be living on your own for the first time, making decisions on a buffet of issues, including what to eat.
Eating healthy at college is possible. Many college dining services are offering more healthy choices and are often quite receptive to students' concerns and dietary preferences. But, this is only part of the challenge. In an environment where time, friends, and finances may combine in new ways, having options available only solves some of the puzzle. It's important to experiment with what works best for you. For example, that traditional idea of 3 square meals a day has been updated with a more contemporary concept of eating 5 smaller meals spread throughout the day. Steer clear of diets or fads, especially those that drastically limit a particular nutrient. Remember, balance, moderation, and variety win out over trendy and extreme. For some practical tips, navigate through the many options on Choosemyplate.gov. Columbia students can also take advantage of the resources from the Get Balanced initiative. Plan ahead when possible so you don't have to rely on vending machines when you're hungry; think of ways to incorporate fruits, vegetables, and whole grains on a daily basis. Eating more of these will fill you up and possibly even enhance your already stellar brain power.
Making time for physical activity is important, too. Most college fitness centers have a variety of movement classes and options. When the weather is right, grab a friend and walk, run, bike, or blade outdoors. If you are
Now, to address the second part of your question: an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, is less about food, eating, and body weight. It has more to do with mental health, emotional, physical, socio-cultural, and family issues. If this is a particular concern of yours, you might want to take a look at Eating disorders vs. normal eating. Additionally, if you are a
Give yourself some time to adjust to a new environment and ask for help when you need it. Everything in moderation, even moderation.Enjoy your time at college,
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. For additional information regarding serving size, read Food Guidelines — How much is a serving?.
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.
February 27, 2012508088
What and when to eat is quite the interesting question. Food combining — not eating carbohydrates and proteins in the same meal — is a controversial, though not recent, practice. Some people swear by it, and others find it frustrating and ineffective.
The digestive tract's made to handle a variety of nutrients (including carbohydrates and proteins) at the same time. There's no clear evidence that food is digested better when carbohydrates and proteins are presented separately. Many foods naturally contain both carbohydrates and proteins. For example, spaghetti, commonly dubbed as a "carb," is about 14 percent protein in its total calories. Separating all carbohydrates and proteins may not be fully possible. Sometimes not drinking water during meals is recommended in the food combining diet. Physiologically, drinking beverages at meals is fine; in fact, the body naturally secretes water into the digestive tract after food is consumed to help break down both carbohydrates and proteins.
Some people believe that a food combining approach is effective for health maintenance and/or weight loss. This is often not because of the effect of eating proteins and carbohydrates separately, but because their food choices improve when they begin the plan. If someone changes from eating a diet of highly refined foods that are high in fat and calories to eating the variety of whole, minimally processed, basic foods that are recommended in a food combining diet, they may feel better and lose weight by virtue of the change in the quality of food. Correlation of weight and health changes doesn't mean causation. This may be a basic situation of not what you eat and when, but one of eating healthier foods and consuming fewer calories.
The food combining diet has no major detriment — if it works for you, use it. Note that you could get into nutritional trouble by restricting your eating to only carbohydrates (grains, breads, pasta, cereal, etc.) or only proteins (beans, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and poultry). It's important to eat both, as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables, to have a healthy, balanced eating plan.
If you're at Columbia and would like to talk more about what eating approach might work best for you, consider making an appointment with a Nutritionist at Primary Care Medical Services. You can make an appointment online via Open Communicator or by calling x4-2284. If you're not a Columbia student, ask your primary care provider for a referral.
Whether you wish to incorporate the food combining diet or not, keep in mind the body's need of a balanced source of nutrition to efficiently fuel your lifestyle. Also, consider complementing a level of physical activity that works for you to effectively maintain general health and for potential weight loss.
Wishing you many happy and healthy meals,
Many of the articles on "nutrition" in the general media suggest the "right" times to eat and the number of meals to eat to prevent weight gain. It is common to hear that eating late at night causes excess fat to be produced. This is not accurate — it is overeating at any time, not simply eating at night, that causes someone to gain weight, particularly if they're not exercising or expending enough energy during the day. These articles also sometimes suggest that manipulating the number of meals per day could increase your metabolism and help you lose weight. Realistically, there is no magic number of times you should eat, nor are there specific types of foods you should eat or a particular time of day to eat to lose weight.
The bottom line is: eat when you're hungry and avoid overeating. The number of meals you have per day and when should depend upon your schedule and the total number of calories you want to take in. If you lead a typical student lifestyle, three meals a day may not work best for you. A classic example: let's say you grab a bagel at about 7 A.M. You may not have lunch until 2 P.M. and dinner until 8 P.M. This is a long time between meals. Chances are that you would be very hungry before both lunch and dinner. Being overly hungry, or "starving!" as some might say, could easily lead you to overeat at both meals. Many of us not only overeat when we are too hungry, but we also end up eating too fast, which is bad for our digestion. For this reason, several small meals may help you control portion size overall.
Carrying healthy snacks with you during the day is a great way to avoid overeating at meals. Take a bag of carrot sticks, pieces of fruit, nuts and raisins, half a sandwich, or a granola bar with you during your next long day on campus. You'll find that when you don't deny yourself food when you're hungry, you'll be much more in control of eating the amounts that are right for you. Remember, a healthy diet includes moderation, variety, and some tasty foods, too. Columbia students who want more help with meal planningcan make an appointment with a nutritionist by calling x4-2284 or through Open Communicator.
You can certainly experiment with the number and timing of your meals to see what keeps you satisfied and energized. If you enjoy having several smaller meals, there is no reason to eat three "square" meals each day, as long as you are getting a balanced mix of fruits, vegies, whole grains, and lean protein. Likewise, if eating three meals a day is working well for you, there's no need to buy into the fad of several small meals. Wishing you enjoyment in your eating,
January 18, 200821078
Six meals a day vs. three most certainly does help you lose weight, by keeping your insulin level from peaking and staying at a level rate. It also keeps you from being hungry...
Six meals a day vs. three most certainly does help you lose weight, by keeping your insulin level from peaking and staying at a level rate. It also keeps you from being hungry and from overeating at one specific meal. You also need exercise, preferably in the morning, which does boost metabolism and burns fat. Eating a balanced diet of protien and healthy carbs together for your meals also speeds metabolism and helps keep you more full and satisfied. Ask any bodybuilder or fitness expert how many meals they eat a day (this includes protien shakes/meal supplement shakes) and they will all say they eat six meals a day. I've lost 50 lbs. by changing my lifestyle that way and I love it.
Dear Trying to Eat Healthy,
Knowing what and how much to eat can feel overwhelming. In recognition of the fact that more Americans are overweight and obese than ever before, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regularly reviews and updates the food guide recommendations. The newest update by "Choose My Plate" and makes suggestions based on age, gender, and activity level. It no longer recommends amounts of food in terms of serving size, but rather suggests portions according to actual weights and amounts of specific foods. You can learn more about how to apply the new food guide recommendations to your lifestyle at www.ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Even though there is no single chart that details how much of a particular food constitutes a serving, you can click on each food group's heading (see below) for more information on common portion sizes. Also, here's a basic breakdown of the guidelines:
One serving equals 1 slice of bread; 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal; or 1 ounce of cold cereal. All of these serving sizes are known as "ounce equivalents" in Choose My Plate-speak.
As a general rule of thumb,
1 serving size/ounce equivalent of bread = plastic CD case
2 servings/ounce equivalents of cooked brown rice = a tennis ball
Unlike the Grains group described above, cup size matters when it comes to vegetables. That is, vegetables servings are measured in cups rather than ounces. One serving equals 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice or 1 cup of leafy raw vegetables.
1 serving size = 1/2 cup of broccoli = a light bulb
1 serving size = 1/2 cup of potato = a computer mouse
Like the vegetable group, cup size matters here, too. One serving equals 1 cup of fruit or 100 percent fruit juice, or 1/2 cup of dried fruit. Because fruits come in so many different shapes and sizes, it's hard to say how many pieces of fruit count as a serving.
Generally, 1 serving size of whole fruit = 1 tennis ball
1 serving size of cut fruit = 7 cotton balls
One serving equals 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese, and even 1.5 cups of ice cream. Choose low-fat options from this group whenever possible.
1 serving size of cheese = 2 9-volt batteries
Like the Grains group, serving sizes are also measured in ounce equivalents. One serving or ounce equivalent equals 1 ounce of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish; 1/4 cup dried beans, after cooking; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon of peanut butter; or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds.
3 servings/ounce equivalents of fish = 1 checkbook
3 servings/ounce equivalents of meat or poultry = 1 deck of cards
2 servings/ounce equivalents of peanut butter = 1 roll of 35 mm film or 1 ping-pong ball
Choosemyplate.gov measures serving sizes in teaspoons.
1 serving/teaspoon of margarine and spreads = 1 dice
2 serving/teaspoons of salad dressing = 1 thumb tip
Because these oils are found in many of the foods we eat, there may not be a need to add this group to your diet. For example, half of a medium avocado or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter provide 3 and 4 teaspoons or servings of oil respectively, while also counting towards your vegetable or nuts allowance.
Remember, also, that most portions in the U.S. are oversized and contain several servings of the recommended categories. Ideally you want most of your food to be whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables, low-fat calcium fortified foods (such as milk and cottage cheese), and lean sources of protein (such as fish, turkey, and chicken).
If you're hungry for more information on dietary recommendations, check out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 and the American Dietetic Association's Food and Nutrition Information web site. At Columbia, you can make an appointment with a registered dietitian or nutritionist to discuss your concerns and get more individualized information by calling Medical Services at x4-2284 or logging-in through Open Communicator.