Cholesterol is a necessary component for living cells. However, high levels of blood cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. To complicate matters even more, blood cholesterol can be divided into two types, one of which actually lowers the risk of heart disease! To get the story on cholesterol straight, it's necessary to understand something about how cholesterol works in the body and how it can contribute to heart disease.
Most of the cholesterol in the body is produced by the liver. A significantly smaller amount comes from dietary sources, such as meat, eggs, and dairy products. Cholesterol travels throughout the body via the blood stream, being absorbed by cells along the way to be used for important processes, such as hormone production and cell membrane repair. Because it isn't water soluble, cholesterol is ferried along the bloodstream encased in protein. These cholesterol-filled protein orbs are called lipoproteins. Lipoproteins come in a variety of sizes that behave differently from one another. Broadly, health care providers and scientists talk about low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
The role of both types of cholesterol in heart disease centers around the formation of arterial plaques — fatty, filmy deposits on arterial walls. Over time, plaques become hardened, leading to narrow, rigid arteries that impede blood flow and thereby increase the risk of heart attack. Also, smaller plaques sometimes develop blood clots on their surface, which can then detach and go on to block arteries downstream, potentially leading to heart attack. Although the biochemistry involved isn't simple, the take home message is that LDL contributes to the formation of plaques on the artery walls, while HDL helps prevent their formation. Accordingly, LDL is often called "bad" cholesterol while HDL is called "good" cholesterol. (These terms apply only to blood cholesterol; dietary cholesterol is neither good nor bad in this sense.)
For more information on cholesterol and heart disease, read the Related Q&As listed below.
Beans, seafood, poultry, meat, and eggs. These are just a few sources for protein. Our bodies need protein for numerous functions. Hemoglobin, which carries oxygen, is an essential protein that gives blood its red color when oxygenated. Antibodies, which act as defenders against disease, are composed of proteins. Hormones, some of which are made from amino acids (the building blocks of protein), regulate many systems in our bodies. These include the regulation of metabolism, digestion, and nutrient absorption, and the concentration of blood glucose. Proteins are also used by our cells to regulate the distribution of water and the movement of nutrients in and out of cells, particularly since proteins are one of the components of cell membranes. Furthermore, proteins are involved in blood clotting, acid-base balance, and visual pigmentation.
Considering we need protein to help our bodies carry out and sustain essential physiological functions, a diet very low in protein is obviously not a good idea. The good news is that it is not difficult to obtain sufficient protein from our diet and most Americans have no trouble doing so. Dietary protein can be obtained from animal and vegetable sources. If your diet is insufficient in protein, you could also be deficient in many important vitamins and minerals found in protein-rich foods. Deficiencies could occur in niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, B-12, B-6, iron, zinc, and calcium, among others, depending on what foods are missing from your diet. The effects of prolonged low protein in the diet would eventually manifest themselves as impaired immune function, and irregularities in other bodily functions and systems described above.
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for protein are as follows:
Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein
|Grams of protein needed each day|
|Children ages 1 - 3||13|
|Children ages 4 - 8||19|
|Children ages 9 - 13||34|
|Girls ages 14 - 18||46|
|Boys ages 14 - 18||52|
|Women ages 19 - 70+||46|
|Men ages 19 - 70+||56|
Protein recommendations vary from individual to individual depending on her/his amount of lean body mass.
As you can see, proteins are an integral and necessary part of our functioning. Animal sources, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, contain complete proteins — all the amino acids our bodies require to form the proteins we need. Vegetable sources, such as nuts, seeds, legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and soy products), grains (breads and cereals), and green leafy vegetables, contain incomplete proteins. This means that not all of the amino acids are found in one food. Mother Nature is tricky — the amino acids absent in some foods are present in others. Rice and beans, which together have all the essential amino acids, form a complete protein. This is an example of a way vegetarians can make sure they get complete proteins from their diet; however, according to research, it's not necessary to get complete proteins for every meal. Having some amino acids during breakfast and the others during lunch will have the same effect as consuming them together, during the same meal. Your body has the ability to combine complementary proteins as long as their eaten on the same day.
The following is a broad overview of the protein content in different food groups:
|1 cup dairy or soy milk||6-8 g|
|3 oz. lean beef, fish, or poultry||21 g|
|1/2 cup beans||7 g|
|1 slice of bread||3 g|
|1/2 cup cooked vegetables||2 g|
Dietary protein adds up rather quickly, and, as mentioned earlier, without too much effort. In the US, it is rare to find protein deficiencies among the general population. Ours is more a problem of excess than deficiency.
If you have special dietary needs and/or would like some nutrition counseling to help you eat enough protein from your diet, talking with a nutritionist can be a big help. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can use Open Communicator or call 212-854-7426 to make an appointment. Students on the CUMC campus can contact Medical Services at 212-305-3400.
March 11, 2013525286
Dinner's in a few hours. Lunch seems like it was ages ago. You still have to work on a paper, drive your little brother to soccer, and do the dishes. The deliciousness of chocolate and the sweet sugar/caffeine fix it offers may seem to be the only thing to get you through, so you reach for a bar… is that so bad? New research says no, and yes, depending largely on which type of chocolate you choose and how much of it you eat. Cacao, the bean from which chocolate is made, is not itself unhealthy. In fact, it offers many potential health benefits like lowering blood pressure, increasing sensitivity to insulin, improving coronary vasodilatation (widening of blood vessels) as well as other cardiovascular benefits, and acting as an anti-oxidizing agent. But not all chocolates are created equal.
The good guys in chocolate are flavonoids, health-promoting compounds found in plant-based foods (fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes) that belong to a larger class of compounds called polyphenols. In plants, flavonoids work to repair damage and protect from environmental toxins. When we consume plant-based foods rich in flavonoids, it appears that they can act the same ways in our bodies, offering antioxidant protection from free radicals, and protection from plaque formation on our arterial walls.
Dark chocolate is the most flavonoid-rich variety of chocolate, and therefore the most likely to offer health benefits. However, as chocolate is processed flavonoids are lost, and most commercial chocolates are highly processed. Flavonoids also tend to have a bitter flavor, so many commercial chocolates intentionally process them out. In addition, many chocolate products are made with milk, which can interfere with the antioxidant functioning of flavinols, negating most of the potential health benefits. Finally, many chocolate products are laden with caramel, nuts, marshmallow, and other high-fat, high-calorie add-ins that decrease the amount of flavinols in every bite and make a small chocolate snack a hefty caloric load. Even the best, most flavonoid-rich dark chocolate is replete with fat, sugar, and calories (one ounce of any kind of chocolate has about 140 to 150 calories and 9 to 10 grams of fat), so if you're upping the amount of chocolate you eat to gain health benefits, keep in mind that you may want to trim calories in other areas.
One final consideration: there is currently no research that definitively suggests the amount of chocolate that should be eaten to achieve health benefits. You could also get the polyphenol-related health benefits by eating other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, cranberries, and onions. That said, for most people, enjoying a small piece of dark chocolate once in a while is probably not going to be harmful, and is more favorable than reaching for the common trick-or-treat variety candy bar.
Over time chocolate has gotten a mixed reputation. It used to be seen as a fattening, pimple-producing crutch for the premenstrual. But chocolate does not cause acne, raise blood cholesterol, cause addiction, nor is it fattening if eaten in moderation. More recently, the pendulum has swung in favor of chocolate, which has come to be regarded as a kind of superfood. While it can offer some wonderful benefits, it may not be the antioxidant source of choice for everyone. Chocolate, as well as red wines and certain cheeses, contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a substance that can dilate blood vessels in the brain. People sensitive to PEA might find that eating chocolate can trigger headaches, even migraines. And for those prone to heartburn, chocolate can cause an episode, as would any other high-fat food.
So is chocolate bad for you? Each person should answer this question for themselves taking into consideration which kind of chocolate is within reach and their own health needs. For most healthy and fit individuals, chocolate is a pleasurable and reasonably healthy way to get some flavonoids into the system. For those prone to migraines or who have to watch their fat intake, they might want to stick with the cranberries and onions.
Creatine is a substance manufactured in the human body by the liver and kidneys or obtained from meat in the diet. It is present in muscle, nerve, and sperm cells. In muscles, creatine is used to form phosphocreatine, which can be used to supply energy needed for muscle contractions. It has been suggested that by increasing creatine in the diet, one may increase the amount of phosphocreatine in the muscle, which would then provide a greater availability of high energy phosphate for energy production during muscle contraction. It also may cause the muscles to retain water, a proposed mechanism for the "bulking" effect of the supplement.
No one really knows how much creatine is too much. Some people experience muscle cramps, electrolyte imbalances, fever, or gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and diarrhea when they take creatine. Long-term effects are much less well-studied. While there is little conclusive evidence for adverse affects, people who have liver or kidney problems or who take diuretics should avoid taking creatine because of the theoretical complications. People with diabetes or who take either medications or supplements that affect blood sugar should also use caution. If you start to notice any side effects, you should stop taking creatine and see your health care provider.
As for benefits, creatine can enhance performance for short bursts of anaerobic activity, like weightlifting. However, people doing aerobic activities, like running or cycling, probably won't see any improvement.
The amount taken in through commercially marketed supplements is far greater than one would be able to ingest via food. Some regimes call for a loading period — perhaps 20 to 25 grams for five days, followed by daily doses of about 5 grams. Non-meat eaters (vegans) may respond better since their natural creatine stores are probably lower than meat-eaters. Since any long-term effects from these high levels are uncertain, your best bet is to let your health care provider know that you take creatine. That way, if you ever do experience side effects, he/she will be better able to help you decide whether to keep pumping up.
Dear Hopelessly hungry,
It's true that some students put on weight when they first come to college, however this is not a universal event, nor a foregone conclusion. For many first year students, it's their first time away from home, making choices about what to eat, how much, and how often. On top of this, many college students eat in cafeterias, where meal options are abundant and portion control can be a daunting task. Students may also be facing new challenges and situations that lead them to eat for reasons other than hunger — such as coping with stress, loneliness, or even hanging out and having fun late at night with friends.
You can, however, make good food choices. Here are some general tips for finding healthier options:
- Choose baked or grilled foods over fried foods
- Choose water, milk, or fortified soy milk over sodas
- Buy groceries if possible: you can better plan your meals, or at least have healthy snacks on hand when you get hungry during late-night chats or study sessions
- Try to control portion size: ask for a smaller amount, or remember you can come back for seconds if your dining hall is self-serve
- Have fruit for dessert (and grab an extra piece to snack on later)
- Vary your entrée selections: try to have chicken, fish, other meat, vegetarian, and pasta once or twice a week each
- Avoid cream-based soups and sauces
- Moderation is key: pizza, burgers, or ice cream once in a while are fine; just don't make them your key food groups
All in all, you want to aim for a varied diet with enough whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables and minimal fatty and sugary foods. For more tips about working in healthier foods, 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. You can also call your school's health service and make an appointment with, or get a referral for, a nutritionist to create an appropriate food plan for your individual needs. At Columbia, use Open Communicator or call x4-2284 to make an appointment.
There are often different culprits outside of the dining hall. During the first year at college, some students consume much more alcohol than in the past. Although there is no fat in alcohol, calories from alcohol are unusual in that they can't be stored or converted to energy for later use. Meaning that calories from alcohol are used first by the body, while calories from food that would otherwise be burned are stored, potentially contributing to weight gain.
Additionally, many first-year students might not think about exercising or may have trouble finding the time. Eating balanced meals and participating in regular physical activity are both major factors in losing or maintaining weight. If your concern is avoiding weight gain, keep physical activity in mind as a key ingredient. It may help to work out with a friend or schedule your exercise — Columbia students, faculty, and alumni can connect with CU Move to access tools and support for choosing strategies that support being physically active.
Gaining a few pounds may feel like the worst thing that can happen to you; however, it's important to learn how to take care of yourself, stay healthy, listen to your body, and eat because you're hungry — not because you don't want to study, you just got in a fight with your roommate, or you think you might have flunked a test. Check out the related questions and tips below to think about what you can do to maintain a healthy eating routine, and have a great first year.
Eat varied and well-balanced meals at your school's eateries. Besides what you choose to eat, watch how much you eat as well, because calories count and can add up quickly.
- Low- or nonfat yogurt with fresh fruit or cold cereal
- Cold cereal (especially whole grain varieties) with skim milk
- Hot cereal (such as oatmeal)
- Waffles with fruit
- Whole grain toast
- A sandwich — choose lean meats (such as fresh roasted turkey, roast beef, or ham), grilled or fresh veggies, and low- or nonfat cheeses; top with whole wheat, rye, or whole grain breads; spread on some mustard rather than mayo or other dressing (unless low- or nonfat is available)
- A salad — include beans, peas, grains, and sweet potatoes (if offered), as well as a variety of fresh veggies (including different types of lettuce, if available) and fruits; choose low-fat dressings and get them on the side
- Soup — choose broth-based rather than cream-based
- Pasta — stick with tomato-based rather than cream-based sauces, and try to get them on the side
- A meat entree — choose baked, broiled, steamed, stewed, or roasted skinless and de-fatted meats
- Vary your entree selection — meat once a week, fish once or twice a week, pasta once or twice a week, chicken once or twice a week, and vegetarian once a week
- Steamed veggies
- Salad or soup (see above for hints)
November 16, 200120388
This is in response to First-Year Fifteen Can it be avoided?. I just want the reader (and others at Columbia) to know that when I was at CU, I...
This is in response to First-Year Fifteen Can it be avoided?. I just want the reader (and others at Columbia) to know that when I was at CU, I visited the nutritionist and found the experience to be incredibly helpful. I'm not sure if the same nutritionist is still there (this was several years ago), but she was kind, non-judgmental, and full of good advice.
Dear Where's my hair?
You can expect to normally lose between 100-200 strands of hair each day. If your hair is coming out by the handfuls however, you do have cause to worry and should see a physician for a complete medical workup. A large loss of hair can indicate more serious bodily malfunctions. Stress can also be implicated as a cause of hair loss, and if things have been extra stressful for you lately, you might want to see a counselor to help you reduce your stress levels.
If your hair loss is more moderate, you are right that your nutrition and diet have a lot to do with it. Zinc is an important mineral for your hair, and a deficiency would probably show up as excessive hair loss, lack of sheen, and difficulty with control. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc in adult men is 11 mg, and for adult women the RDA is 8 mg. A zinc supplement might help you here, but consult your health provider before starting one. Zinc is found naturally in beans, seeds and nuts, legumes, milk, and wheat bran and germ. Also, in terms of your vegetarianism, you might very well be taking in insufficient levels of vitamin B-12. This is somewhat common among vegetarians, and the results of a deficiency include dandruff, scaling, and hair loss. Most of the naturally occurring B-12 is in animal products, but can also be found in nutritional yeast and sometimes in fermented soy products (i.e. tempeh). For adult women, the RDA for B-12 is 2.4 mcg. For adult men, the RDA is 2.4 mcg. Read Vegetarian — B-12 deficient for more information on vegetarians and B-12 deficiencies.
If updates to your eating plan don't seem to help, perhaps a visit with your health care provider is the next step. S/he can run some tests to check for a number of other possible options. If you are a Columbia student, you may consider a visit with a Registered Dietitian. Never fear, hope is not lost. Happy eating and a speedy solution to your concerns.
Dear Simple Tastes,
Actually, your diet does sound fairly healthy...for one day, once in a while! What it's missing is variety — you need to vary your foods in order to cover all your vitamin and mineral, or micronutrient, requirements (and not get bored with your food!). Also, it turns out you have good, caring friends who are giving you helpful advice!
Back to varying your diet — luckily, variety doesn't always require lots of time or effort. You can get your micronutrients by quickly including vegetables in the foods you're already eating. Start by adding lettuce, tomato, and/or red pepper slices to your whole grain bread and cheese combo. You can buy the veggies pre-washed and sliced at many grocery stores and delis. Snacking on mini-carrots that come pre-washed and peeled or enhancing your meals with frozen vegetables can also help provide necessary nutrients. What about adding a veggie to your soft-boiled eggs at breakfast? Frozen spinach would taste great and is also quick to prepare.
Next, throw in some additional fruits. Varying by color helps to insure a wide variety of nutrients. So, what about apples? You can choose from a variety of types (e.g., Granny Smith, Empire, and Macintosh) and they are fairly inexpensive. Canned foods are great to have around. Pick up some canned pineapple, mandarin oranges, or peaches. Try to purchase canned fruit in their own juice instead of in heavy syrup — this cuts down on the sugar. What about slicing a banana in your canned pineapple? Easy breezy.
Your body also needs minerals to stay healthy. Some of these minerals include calcium, iron, sodium, manganese, copper, iodine, and magnesium. Since dietary guidelines are different from one person to the next, check out ChooseMyPlate.gov for an extensive breakdown based on daily calorie intake and age. Here are a few of the overall messages:
- Great grains: Grain products include bread, pasta, rice, and crackers. Grains can be whole-grain or refined, but whole-grains are best. Aim to make half of the total amount of grains eaten in one day the whole-grain kind.
- Taste the rainbow: Eat a variety of fresh, brightly-colored fruits and vegetables. The vegetables can be dark green as well. These colors indicate that the produce is full of antioxidants and vitamins, giving you the most nutritious bang for every bite.
- Lean and mean: Choose low-fat and lean versions of meats and dairy products. In addition, tofu and other soy products are great sources of protein.
- Finicky about fat: Make sure the majority of fat in your diet comes from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. These fats are the unsaturated fats — they're liquid at room temperature and will not raise your cholesterol or increase your risk of heart disease. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, raise cholesterol, and increase your risk of heart disease. These fats should be limited and include butter, stick margarine, lard, and the white streaks of fat in many fatty meats.
Some other ways to spice up your diet, even when you're in a rush, can also include:
- Shakin' it up: Make a fruit shake with bananas, yogurt, soy or dairy milk, wheat germ, and frozen berries.
- Pita packer: Hummus (a chickpea and sesame puree spread and dip) in a pita or whole-grain bread with sliced vegetables and cheese can provide you with protein, fiber, phosphorus, and zinc.
- Nuts about nuts: Nuts are full of healthy fats (the unsaturated ones listed above), protein, and minerals. They're also easy to eat and require little preparation or clean-up, so grab a handful next time you're on the go.
- Putting the deli in delicious: Adding low-salt and low-fat deli meat, such as sliced turkey, sliced chicken, or tuna, to your sandwiches or meals helps boost the protein content of your diet while giving you a healthy shot of selenium, phosphorus, and chromium. If you're vegetarian, tofu is a good substitute that provides many of the same minerals.
- Just juice: Drinking a glass of juice in the morning (or any other time of day) is a quick and easy way to get some of the vitamins you need. Watch out for juices that are naturally high in sugar though (e.g., orange, apple, and grape juice). These juices should be limited to one or two eight-ounce servings per day. Low-sodium tomato juice or V-8 can give you some of the vitamins you need without all the sugar or sodium, and they can be enjoyed more frequently.
Columbia students on the Morningside campus should check out Get Balanced! for specific information related to eating healthy at Columbia. Students can also make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian at Medical Services. Remember, in order for all your hard working efforts to be fruitful, it can only help if your diet is fruit-filled and balanced, too!
Regardless of the time of day you eat it, ice cream wouldn't make it on any top ten healthy foods list. However, if your body is able to deal with the high doses of sugar and fat first thing in the morning, which many adults cannot, there might not be reason to toss out the ice cream scoop just yet.
The most important thing is to eat something within the first few hours after waking up in order to get your metabolism going and refuel your body after not eating for several hours. The fat in ice cream may help you stay full longer, and it contains a lot of calcium, which your body needs for healthy bones and other important functions.
Sound too good to be true? It might be… if you did it every day. Like many other things in life, too much of a good thing may not always be the best for you. Ice cream is high in calories and saturated fats, which is why it's a supplement to, rather than a basic staple, of a healthy diet.
If you're choosing ice cream first thing in the morning because you love that it's sweet, creamy, and cold, you may want to try some low-fat yogurt instead. It's like ice cream but not as high in fat, calories, or sugar. All the while, it still provides you with ample amounts of calcium. If you don't mind warming up, you could also try oatmeal sweetened with a touch of brown sugar, cinnamon, or honey and stir in some chopped up fruit for more flavor. Making the oatmeal with milk instead of water can help you feel full longer and provide essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium. If it's just your sweet tooth you're looking to satisfy, you could try switching to granola with fruit and yogurt, toast with jam or fruit spreads, or lightly sweetened cereal with milk.
Combining these foods with the occasional bowl of ice cream in the morning will help to ensure that you're eating a healthy and balanced diet overall. Of course, it's also important to eat well throughout the day, which means including plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products in other meals. For more tips on healthy eating, check out the related Q&As below.
Chocoholics of the world rejoice; there's another reason to be cuckoo for cocoa. In addition to satisfying your sweet tooth, chocolate also contains flavonoids — a type of antioxidant with several health benefits.
However, all chocolate is not created equal. To get the most antioxidant bang for your bite, choose plain, dark chocolate. Most chocolate found in products like candy bars and hot cocoa mix has been processed to reduce the amount flavonoids, which give chocolate its bitter, nutty taste. Many chocolates also have added milk and sugar, which increases the amount of fat and calories per serving. Another downside, milk interferes with the body's ability to absorb flavonoids, working against chocolate's health benefits.
In it's purest form, dark chocolate is a heart-healthy alternative to refined confections. Feel free to indulge once in a while, but remember there are other sweet sources of antioxidants like fruit. For more information about the power of antioxidants, check out Antioxidants in the Go Ask Alice! Archives. Here's to having your chocolate, and staying healthy too!
Dear Five a day,
Eating enough fruits and veggies, and the other food groups while you're at it, can help to keep you healthy, strong, and energetic. Wouldn't it be great if chocolate counted as our daily allowance of legumes, and beer as grains? While these decadent pleasures actually do contain plenty of nutrients, and while wine has benefits in common with its younger incarnation, the grape, it's not quite the same thing.
Both grape juice and red wine contain resveratrol, a plant-based compound, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. Both also contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which may reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) otherwise known as "bad" cholesterol, and increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol. Additionally, studies suggest that drinking either grape juice or red wine can reduce the risk of blood clots, protect blood vessels, prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries), and help to maintain healthy blood pressure. There is less evidence that the potential benefits of wine apply to drinking white or rosé wines.
While this is starting to sound like a big thumbs up for red wine, fruit has nutrients, like loads of fiber, live enzymes, and vitamins and minerals that just aren't present in wine. For that matter, many of them aren't present in juice either — you'd have to eat the fruit itself to get all of them. In addition to not containing all the nutritional value of fruit, wine also contains alcohol, which can pose a stress to the liver, pancreas, and nerve cells over time. Heavy drinkers are also at risk for malnutrition, as alcohol may serve as a caloric substitute for more nutritious foods (like fruit).
For people in good health, regular and moderate wine drinking is usually fine and in fact it may offer some health benefits. But potential health benefits should not necessarily be a reason to start drinking if you don't already. Studies show that occasional or binge drinkers have a higher mortality rates than those who drink moderately on a regular basis. There are also some people who would do best to stay away from wine altogether. Those who suffer from alcoholism, liver disease, pancreatitis, uncontrolled hypertension, depression, or heart disease may worsen their conditions by drinking alcohol.
The somber news for the cabernet-lovers is that while wine can be good for you if you are already healthy and drink moderately and regularly, the best way to fulfill your five-a-day fruit requirement is still the good old-fashioned way of, well, eating fruit.
If you'd like more nutrition advice on how to tailor your diet, you can make an appointment with a nutritionist. Columbia students can meet with a nutritionist at Medical Services (Morningside campus) or the Student Health Service (CUMC campus) for a consultation. Also, you may want to check out the Get Balanced! Guide to Healthier Eating which provides more information regarding food choices available to members of the Columbia Unviersity community.