Dear Really, I’m Not Hungry,
On the one hand, your body knows best. That is, taking cues and signals from your body about when to eat (and when to stop eating) is a surefire way to provide your body with what it needs — both in terms of quality and quantity. On the other hand, each body needs a minimum amount of fuel to run efficiently and at its highest potential. Based on your question, it sounds as though you may not be getting the minimum amount of fuel for your body. For most people, hunger is the number one reminder that they need to eat. To boost your hunger and appetite, you might want to consider trying the following tips:
- Exercise daily. At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day has been shown to relieve stress, increase energy, and promote a healthy appetite.
- Add variety to your regular diet. Sometimes even the foods you enjoy can start to seem boring. Experimenting with new herbs and spices in addition to new foods might be a great way to get excited about eating.
Sometimes, however, poor appetite may be indicative of an underlying health issue. Research has shown that a loss of appetite can be associated with old age, as well as illness and even pregnancy. Illnesses as serious as cancer and as simple as the common cold are all known to decrease appetite. But it’s not always physical: Mental health issues such as depression or anxiety can affect your appetite as well. A few questions to consider: Have you always had a low appetite? Is under-eating something new for you? If so, does this change in appetite or eating habits correlate with any other events or issues going on in your life? If this is a fairly new phenomenon or sudden change, you may want to speak to a health care provider to rule out any underlying issues. Columbia students can log on to Open Communicator to make an appointment with either a medical provider or Registered Dietician at Medical Services.
In the meantime, you can check out What to eat? for an overview of…well, what to eat. Generally, nutrition experts believe that the basis for a good diet is exercise, combined with eating lots colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins such as poultry, fish, beans and eggs. It is advised that sugary drinks, red meats (beef, pork, lamb), processed meats (bacon, deli meats), and refined grains (white potatoes, white bread, white rice) as well as alcohol be consumed in moderation. Hope this advice whets your apetite!
Dear Puzzled Foodie,
Seeing the words “natural flavors” on a food label can be confusing. In this case, the first thing to understand is that natural flavors are listed on the label because they have been added to the food. That is, it's not natural to whatever food product you are consuming. Most processed foods, in fact, have flavors (either natural, artificial, or both) added to them during the production process. Flavors are made by “flavorists” in a laboratory, either by blending natural or synthetic chemicals together to enhance taste. Blending chemicals derived from a natural source, such as a plant or animal product, makes natural flavors. Combining synthetic (human-made) chemicals, on the other hand, makes artificial flavors. Therefore, the primary difference between natural and artificial flavorings is in the origin of the chemicals used to produce their tastes.
While the primary chemicals ingested with natural and artificial flavoring may be the same, a big difference between the two types of flavors relates to cost. The search for "natural" sources of chemicals often requires that a manufacturer go to great lengths to obtain a given chemical. Even though this natural chemical may be chemically identical to the version made in a flavorist’s laboratory, it is much more expensive than the synthetic alternative. In the end, natural flavors are neither better in quality nor healthier than their more cost-effective artificial counterparts. In addition, the source of a natural flavor may not match what the label says. Raspberry flavor doesn’t have to come from raspberries, for example.
Despite the natural origins of natural flavors, food companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used to create the flavor. In fact, a flavor could be the result of blending hundreds of unique chemicals. As a consumer, you may want to know what chemicals you are ingesting. If you are interested in getting the facts, you may be able to contact the food company directly. Perhaps they can specify exactly what flavorings are on the ingredient lists. On the other hand, if you are looking to avoid both natural and artificial flavors completely, it is best to avoid processed foods. You can check ingredient lists and packaging for any sign of “natural” or “artificial flavors."
Hope this information leaves your taste buds tingling!
On your marks, get set, go! Staying hydrated while you’re hitting the gym (or the pavement) is extremely important for an active body. While diet soda may boast zero calories and zero sugar, it is not the Holy Grail to achieving a healthy level of hydration. Diet soda does hydrate the body, but not as well as water. Soaking up the following information can help you stick to water and stay hydrated on the field:
- Some diet sodas contain caffeine, which has mild diuretic properties and can increase urination. This decreases the amount of water available to the body — quite detrimental if you’re trying to quench your thirst. Caffeine also increases stomach acid levels, which can cause stomach irritation while you are exercising. Lastly, caffeine is addictive and in large quantities can cause insomnia, jitteriness, headaches, anxiety disorders, and fatigue.
- Diet sodas contain significant amounts of sodium, which draws water out of the body's cells and can contribute to dehydration.
- Sugary sweet sodas may cause your brain to crave other sweets — not ideal if you’re exercising for health and fitness. In a study done on rodents, artificial sweetener caused the animals to steadily increase their calorie consumption.
- Both carbonic acid and phosphoric acid are commonly found in sodas. As a result, drinking too much of the bubbly can corrode the enamel of your teeth.
While the FDA has concluded that aspartame is safe for consumption, it has been linked to a number of side effects such as dizziness, migraines, memory loss, diarrhea, and mood swings. If you are concerned about the safety of aspartame, you can always check the labels of the foods and drinks before you buy them. You may also want to consider discussing any concerns with a health care provider, who may be able to suggest other sweetening alternatives. For example, you can give your water a little pizzazz by adding a wedge of lime or lemon.
The bottom line is that water is the best (and cheapest!) hydrator on the market. Moreover, decreasing on your diet soda consumption may be beneficial to your health as well. Check out the related Q&As below for more information. For tips on cutting down, check out Getting off colas, sodas, pop, fiz...oh, whatever! Drink up and keep moving!
Looking for something that will help you grow as big as a “chia pet?” Chia seeds are edible seeds that come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, which is grown in Mexico and dates back to Mayan and Aztec cultures. "Chia" means strength, and folklore has it that these cultures used the tiny black and white seeds as an energy booster. Chia seeds are packed with nutrients, and therefore thought to be a healthy addition to your diet. In order to get the nutritional benefits, it is generally recommended to eat 20 grams of chia seeds (a little bit under two tablespoons), twice per day. However, the appropriate amount of chia seeds depends on several factors such as user's age, health, and several other conditions.
Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. One ounce (about two tablespoons) contains 139 calories, 4 g of protein, 9 g of fat, 12 g of carbohydrates, 11 g of fiber, plus vitamins and minerals. Chia seeds can be easily added to foods, drinks, and baked goods. They can also be mixed with water and made into a gel.
So what’s all the hype? People eat chia seeds for diabetes, high blood pressure, and to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, there is currently no good evidence to support chia consumption for these uses. People have also tried using chia seeds as a weight loss aid, as the high fiber content is thought to suppress appetite and ultimately help with weight loss. There’s not much support for this claim. One study found that eating chia seeds had no effects on body weight, body fat, or changes in appetite over a 12-week period. However, studies have shown that a particular variety of chia seeds, marketed under Salba, can reduce certain risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, clotting factors, and inflammation.
With all natural supplements come precautions. If you have food allergies (especially to sesame or mustard seeds) or are on high blood pressure medications or blood thinners, ask your healthcare provider before adding chia to your diet. Also, eating chia seeds is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, as little is known about the risks. Finally, chia seeds are high in alpha-linolenic acid, which in high doses may increase the risk of prostate cancer.
May your new seeds of knowledge grow into a happy and healthy plant!
Who knew the selection of salts could be so satiating? Kosher salt, sea salt, and table (regular) salt all have the same basic nutritional value, despite the fact that sea salt is often marketed as the more natural or healthier choice. In other words, the chemical compositions of various types of salts are all 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. Therefore, the health effects of the three types of salt are generally the same. The differences between these three varieties are mostly limited to taste, texture, and granule size.
Kosher salt tends to be larger in grain size. As a result, kosher salt may have less sodium per teaspoon than regular table salt. Kosher salt contains no preservatives, and can be derived from either seawater or underground sources. The name “kosher” comes from the koshering process performed on the salt. Kosher salt is particularly good for preserving foods because its large crystals draw moisture out of meats and other foods more effectively than other salts.
True to its namesake, sea salt is derived from seawater. While sea salt may not be larger in grain size than table salt, it contains more minerals due to its deep-sea origins. This is because sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and receives little or no processing. These minerals may slightly flavor and color the salt. Sea salts may contain less sodium per teaspoon than table salt. Here’s a tip: it might not be worth forking out extra money for sea salt if you’re going to cook or dissolve it in liquid, as this may cause it to lose its unique flavor.
Regular table salt is mined from underground salt deposits, and includes a small portion of calcium silicate, an anti-caking agent added to prevent clumping. It possesses very fine crystals and a sharp taste. Because of its fine grain, a single teaspoon of table salt contains more salt than a tablespoon of kosher or sea salt.
Your body needs only a very tiny amount of salt to stay healthy. Most people ingest too much salt, mostly from eating processed foods. If you are concerned about the effects of salt on high blood pressure, the following tips can help you limit your sodium intake:
- Go light on the saltshaker! Try to refrain from adding a lot of salt to your food.
- Pay attention to the ingredients in processed foods, which can be chock full of salt. Scan the ingredients for keywords such as soda, sodium, or the symbol “Na”.
- Spice up your food — in a different way! Instead of adding salt, try using herbs (fresh or dried) or spices.
So there you have it. Kosher salt, sea salt, and table salt all contain the same basic nutritional values. As for any other information you hear regarding the topic at hand — take it with a grain of salt!
Ahh, good ‘ole vitamin D — one of the most versatile and important vitamins. When combined with calcium, vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, helps maintain bone health, and is crucial for bone growth and remodeling. Adequate levels of vitamin D can prevent rickets in children and help protect adults from osteoporosis. Vitamin D is also important for regulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. Many genes that regulate cell growth, differentiation, and cell life cycle are also regulated in part by vitamin D.
The 25-hydroxy vitamin D test is currently the most accurate way to measure a person’s vitamin D level. Normal levels of vitamin D range between 30 and 74 ng/mL, and levels below 12 ng/mL are considered high risk for vitamin D deficiency. Speaking with your health care provider may help you better understand your test results. Extremely low levels of vitamin D can cause bones to become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with an elevated risk of cancers of the colon, breast, and prostate; high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease; osteoarthritis; and immune-system abnormalities.
Those who cannot get adequate sun exposure may consider the use of a vitamin D supplement. People with serious deficiencies may be prescribed weekly doses of up to 50,000 units (I.U.) until their levels are corrected. It appears that at nutritional doses, D2 and D3 supplements are equally effective. At high doses though, D3 may be more effective than D2. Speaking with your health care provider again can help you decide which supplement is best for you. The current recommended intake of vitamin D, as established by the Institute of Medicine, is as follows:
- 200 I.U. (5 micrograms, or 0.005 mg) per day from birth to age 50 years old
- 400 I.U. per day for adults ages 50 to 70 years old
- 600 I.U. for adults older than 70 years old
- 1000-2000 I.U. for certain populations, such as sun-deprived individuals, pregnant and lactating women
Aside from vitamin D supplements, most people obtain the recommended amount through exposure to UVB rays in sunlight. Researchers have found that exposure to the sun without sunscreen (except on your face, of course!) between 5 and 30 minutes per day, at least twice per week, can lead to sufficient vitamin D production. Remember though, too much UV exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer. If you’ve already got your vitamin D time covered, cover up your body with adequate clothing and sunscreen.
Unfortunately, very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. Most vitamin D in the American diet comes from fortified foods such as cereal or milk. For example, cow’s milk in the U.S. is fortified with 100 I.U. per cup. Fatty fish and fish liver oils are also good natural sources. Small amounts of vitamin D may also be found in beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and some types of mushrooms.
It is important to be aware that certain medications can impair the body’s ability to absorb and metabolize vitamin D. For example, corticosteroids (such as prednisone) can reduce calcium absorption and impair vitamin D metabolism. Both phenobarbital and phenytoin (sold as Dilantin), used in preventing and controlling epileptic seizures, increase the metabolism of vitamin D to inactive compounds and reduce calcium absorption. Additionally, the cholesterol drug cholestyramine (sold under Questran, LoCholest, and Prevalite) can reduce the absorption of vitamin D and other fat-soluble vitamins. Make sure your doctor knows if you are taking any other medications. If you are a Columbia student, you can make an appointment with a registered dietitian by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).
Here’s to happy bodies and healthy vitamin D levels!
Dear the Pounds Thief,
Kudos to both of you for trying to maintain healthy eating patterns during the major life transition of moving in together! Your question seems to indicate that you two have different nutritional needs, but not wildly different diets. The good news is that your nutritional needs may not be as different as you think; what will vary more are you daily caloric requirements. The other good news is that partners who have very different diets move in together all the time: vegans with carnivorous dairy lovers, gluten-free and gluten-loving people, diabetics with non-diabetics, pescatarians with vegetarians. You get the idea. So you’re in good company as you try to figure this all out.
Two primary factors determine one’s caloric needs: body size and activity level. Sedentary people (regardless of gender) need about 13 calories per pound of body weight per day. Moderately active people need about 16 calories for every pound per day, and very active people should boost that amount to about 18. People tend to over-estimate how much protein they need. As a general rule, people of any activity level and gender and size need only 15 percent of their daily calories to be from proteins. Excess protein can decrease calcium absorption and cause calcium to be lost in the urine. Excess protein is also stored as fat, so it can contribute to weight gain from fat, not only muscle. Excess protein can also cause kidney stones. Typically 6-8 ounces of meat will cover it, less if you are eating other protein rich foods like beans and some cheeses.
Approximately 45-65 percent of your daily calories should be from carbohydrates. The more fiber in those sources, the better. It’s also great if your carbohydrates are coming from dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, because these will also have lots of iron and B vitamins.
Fat consumption should be below 30-35 percent of your total caloric intake (or 20-25 percent if weight loss is a concern). Try to avoid trans fats (found in some types of margarine, fried foods at restaurants, and store-bought snacks). And try to have more mono-unsaturated fats (avocadoes, olive oil, flax, fish) then saturated fats (found in dairy, vegetable oil, and meats).
Couples with different caloric or dietary needs may need to do a bit more planning and be more intentional about their menus than others. There is no rule that says you have to eat exactly the same items at the same time and in the same amounts. Here are some tips to help with meal times:
- If you’re worried about portion control, try to be mindful of how much you put on your plate at a time. People often feel compelled to finish what’s on their plate, even if they are no longer hungry. Try loading your plate with less and then going back for more if you’re still hungry.
- Try to keep fewer unhealthy snacks in the house. If they aren’t there, you’re less likely to consume the “empty calories” from these snacks when you get hungry.
- Speaking of snacks, do you snack throughout the day? If not, consider trying it! People will eat less at meal times if they have been snacking some throughout the day. This also is easier on your metabolism and digestive system. Try keeping lots of healthy snacks around: whole grain breads, yogurt, granola, fruit, carrots, raisins, walnuts, and celery are all good, healthy, lean yet filling snack choices that will put a dent in your appetite by dinner.
- Along these same lines, don’t skip meals! This will make you hungrier by dinner and that’s when people are most likely to eat more than needed.
- Buy foods you both like and alternate nights cooking for each other. On the night your partner cooks for you, eat the foods you most prefer. If it is not quite enough for him, perhaps he can cook up a side dish to give him a little extra. On the night you cook for him, make him a meal he loves. If he doesn’t want veggies, cook up a side of veggies for yourself. This can be a great way to honor each other’s dietary preferences.
- Do you like cooking together? Consider taking a cooking class or checking out some recipes online that might incorporate food ingredients that you both would enjoy. Make it a fun project of discovery.
As you noted, having different activity levels and different dietary needs in the same household can be a source of stress. But, working through and honoring these differences can also strengthen a relationship. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke said: “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them, which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.”
Here’s to love and food,
Dear Da Windex Guy,
The cheapest and safest way to get tickets to the gun show is to hit the gym! Whereas human growth hormone (HGH) products like Sytropin may help your friend beef up, it only does so in the short-term while also beefing up other hormones in the body that may lead to some unintended side effects (as you suspected). As a general rule, take caution when using any substance that isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as using prescription drugs without the okay from a health care provider.
Initial development and prescription of HGH products were for people with growth disorders and for people with diseases such as AIDS who had growth hormone deficiencies. Now HGH has gotten a reputation for being abused in the sports world and also used controversially to increase milk production in cows. Normally, the pituitary gland (located in the base of the brain) regulates the natural release of HGH. Products like Sytropin introduce synthetic HGH into the body promoting cell growth, reproduction, and regeneration. This, in turn, reduces fat in the body, and increases lean body mass (muscle mass and bone density) and exercise capacity. However, though HGH may increase bulk, there is no solid proof that it increases strength or improves athletic ability (at least not in the long-term).
Your hesitation in using Sytropin or other HGH products is warranted because there is no solid evidence to prove their safety. HGH is only legally available by prescription and scientists still aren’t certain whether HGH taken in pill or spray form (like Sytropin) are effective. Other side effects of HGH use may include:
- Swelling in the limbs.
- Pain in the joints and muscles.
- Gynecomastia (swelling of the breast tissue in men).
- Higher risk for heart disease and diabetes due to increases in insulin and cortisol.
- Potential insulin resistance.
List adapted from the Mayo Clinic
Those who reap the most benefits of using HGH are people who have problems naturally producing growth hormone. The average Jane or Joe looking to boost their muscle volume will likely have the same luck (sans potential HGH side effects) if they stick to a healthy diet and workout regime. Though it may seem tempting to buy scalped tickets to the gun show from Sytropin, investing the extra time and effort into physical exercise is the best and safest approach to securing front row seats. Check out the exercise and diet tips in the Related Q&As below for more information.
Dear Nancy Nutrition,
Props to you for your commitment to good health! And for your attempts to spread the wisdom to your boyfriend. You're right; trying to change another's habits will generally only frustrate both of you. So, you're trying to do your own thing, but find your attempts to avoid junk food foiled by temptation. What to do?
A good first step may be to clearly communicate your healthy eating goals to your boyfriend. From your question, it's not immediately clear if you've already done this. If you haven't, tell him why eating a healthy and balanced diet is so important to you. Let him know how it makes you feel, but also share with him how much you'd value his support. Have you told him how his eating habits are affecting you? He may not realize how much of an impact he is having on you.
There are a number of ways in which he could support you. Perhaps he could agree to bring home less tempting snacks, or stash them somewhere out of sight as a simple first step in being an ally to you around your health goals. Around a mouthful of pizza, could he perhaps offer verbal encouragement for your healthier eating? Does he "peer pressure" you into eating the way he does? If so, he could agree not to do this. And could he commit to eating one of your delicious home-cooked meals at least once a week?
Some other things you may be able to do while living with someone who doesn't share your same eating goals:
- Have plenty of healthy snack items on hand to substitute for cookies when you have the cravings.
- Set up at least one shelf in the pantry and one shelf in the fridge that is only for your healthy food choices.
- Make sure there are rooms in the house that do not contain unhealthy snacks.
- When you do decide to indulge, try not to snack directly from the bag or container. If you portion out how much you want to eat, you'll likely consume less.
While you certainly can make healthy choices without your boyfriend being on board, you are more likely to stick to your healthy goals if your boyfriend is making some similar healthy choices, as well. Consider getting his help in small ways at first, and if he's comfortable with it, he can make some larger changes to his lifestyle as well.
- Perhaps both of you can exercise together or go for a walk after meals.
- Try cooking meals together and cleaning up after together; make it a date
- Perhaps when you decide to indulge in take-out food with him, you could choose healthier options than pizza or Chinese take–out. Avoid fast food altogether if you can.
- Bring healthy snacks when you go out.
- If you are out together and you get hungry and you don't have snacks, if he insists on heading to the nearest fast food place, pick a healthier option for yourself and ask him to meet you there with his food.
In a world of tempting and unhealthy food choices, you have managed to establish a healthy diet for yourself. This is quite an achievement! Keep it up. See related Q&A's below for some healthy eating options.
Props to you for wanting to donate blood! Alas, isn't it iron(ic) that one of the foods with higher iron content also may contain an iron absorption inhibitor? It's one thing to worry about getting enough iron through your food sources, but a whole other thing to worry about whether that iron is actually being absorbed. Boosting your hemoglobin by upping your iron intake shouldn't be too tricky, but know that there are a number of possible causes for low hemoglobin — being low on iron is only one cause (more on that later).
Let's discuss the raisin bran question first. Phytic acid is often found in foods that contain whole grains, including some types of raisin bran. In large enough quantities, phytic acid can inhibit your body's iron absorption. This is annoying since these foods may also be high in iron. In addition to iron absorption inhibitors, there are also substances that aid in iron absorption. The primary is vitamin C, which is often also found in raisin bran. Your best bet is to check food labels so you know when you are consuming foods that contain phytic acid (and also whether it contains a substance such as vitamin C, which will help you absorb iron). If food products contain iron and phytic acid, chances are you'll still likely get at least some iron benefit from them (especially if that food contains vitamin C, too); however, it's wise to have additional sources or iron other than raisin bran. Another iron absorption inhibitor is tannic acid, which is often found in red wine, coffee, some teas, chocolate, and some sodas.
So what does all this mean? Diversified food sources of iron will be your best bet in ensuring that you meet your recommended daily allowance, but there's no harm in making raisin bran one of those sources. Check out the Q&A's below for more information on iron, how much you need, and getting enough of it through your diet.
Now, are you sure low iron is the cause of your low hemoglobin? There are several other possible causes. Cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver is one cause. Some common causes of cirrhosis include alcohol abuse, hepatitis B or C, cystic fibrosis, and some parasites caused by chronic liver damage. These conditions, as well as the cirrhosis itself, would likely be accompanied by additional symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, weight loss, and/or easy bruising.
Other causes can include certain cancers of the blood (e.g. leukemia, multiple Myeloma) or of the lymphatic system (e.g. Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma), enlarged spleen (splenomeglamy), or vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels caused by an autoimmune response of various origins). Though anemia and iron deficiency are common causes of low hemoglobin, it may be worth a trip to your health care provider to rule out these other causes.
Happy hemoglobin boosting!