Optimal Nutrition

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Does vegetarianism affect teen growth and development?

Dear Concerned,

Just as there are healthy and unhealthy omnivores, there are healthy and unhealthy vegetarians, too. Teenagers are at a critical point in their lives in terms of height and bone development. Including nutritious foods in eating plans is of major importance in terms of reaching their full potential, both for height and bone density.

While adequate protein is essential for bone development and maximum growth, you can get enough protein by eating a varied and balanced vegetarian diet. Including eggs and dairy is an easy way to get protein in your diet, however plants and grains can be combined to give you the protein you need as well (check out Vegetarian wants to bulk up with protein foods for more info). Dairy and eggs contain complete proteins, meaning they have all the amino acids in the right proportions to be used by your body for growth and tissue repair. Dairy foods contain vitamin B12, which is only found in foods of animal origin. This vitamin is vital to your bone marrow, nervous system, and other life-sustaining functions. In addition to calcium, dairy products also contain phosphorous, the second largest component of bone. Look for dairy products fortified with vitamin D, which is needed to absorb calcium.

Whether you include poultry and fish is up to you. For many teens, it is easier to meet one's protein needs by including a wide variety of foods in their diet. Since you need sufficient protein every day, eating poultry or fish on some days can be a healthy option. On meatless days, including legumes, nuts, and/or soy foods can do the trick. Lots of other nutrients, many found in fruits and veggies, are also important for bone health. Can drinking milk prevent osteoporosis? in Go Ask Alice's Nutrition and Physical Activity archive lists some good food sources of bone building nutrients.

Everyone, teens included, must take in enough calories to meet their body's energy needs; otherwise, the protein will be burned for energy, and will not be available for growth and development of strong bones and lean body mass. If a very low-calorie diet is what you have in mind, it would be a good idea to consult with your primary care provider before cutting back on your food intake. It is during adolescence when you reach your fullest potential in terms of bone development (called peak bone mass). If not reached by young adulthood, you can't make up for sub-optimal bone development later in life. So, taking in too few calories and/or protein during the teen years could have implications for your bone health later in life.

This info isn't meant to promote overeating, or under-eating, but rather to help you learn to take in the right amount of food to meet your body's needs. Look first to foods that contain nutrients, and try not to overdo the empty calorie foods, such as soda. Determining what you really need can be challenging, especially because your body is in a state of change.

Your protein and calorie requirements will depend on your stage of growth and physical activity. The Recommended Energy and Protein Allowances, from the RDA, do not take into account these extra amounts you may need. For teens, it's recommended to use height as a measure for calorie and protein needs, rather than weight. To figure out your height in centimeters (cm.), multiply inches by 2.5. Your minimum needs can then be calculated from this chart:

 

Age (years) Calories per cm. Grams of Protein per cm.
Females    
11 - 14 14.0 0.29
15 - 18 13.5 0.26
19 - 24 13.4 0.28
Males    
11 - 14 16.0 0.28
15 - 18 17.0 0.33
19 - 24 16.4 0.33

 

You will need more calories and protein if you are very active and/or are in a rapid growth spurt.

Making healthy choices as you develop during your teen years can help you be healthy for the rest of your life. Kudos to you and your sister for beginning your healthy eating patterns now,

Alice

Is decaffeinated coffee safe to drink?

Dear Curious,

In order for coffee to qualify as decaffeinated, it must have at least 97 percent of its caffeine removed. What does that chock up to? An eight-ounce cup of decaf coffee would have no more than 5 or fewer milligrams of caffeine (compared to the range of 40 - 180 mg. typically found in one eight-ounce cup of brewed, dripped, or percolated java). Your concern over the safety of decaffeinated coffee probably stems from solvents used in the past.

Today, most processors use safe methods to remove caffeine. A few different techniques are available, and understanding them may help allay your concerns about coffee contaminants. Coffee beans are decaffeinated by softening the beans with water and using a substance to extract the caffeine. Water alone cannot be used because it strips away too much of the flavor. The goal is to extract the caffeine with minimal loss of flavor. Substances used to remove the caffeine may directly or indirectly come in contact with the beans, and so the processes are referred to as direct or indirect decaffeination.

In one process, coffee beans are soaked in water to soften them and dissolve the caffeine. The water containing the caffeine (and the flavor from the beans) is treated with a solvent, heated to remove the solvent and caffeine, and then returned to the beans. The flavors in the water are reabsorbed by the beans, which are then dried. This process is referred to as "indirect decaffeination," because the beans never touch the solvent themselves. The most widely used solvent today is ethyl acetate, a substance found in many fruits. When your coffee label states that the beans are "naturally decaffeinated," it is referring to this process, specifically using ethyl acetate. Although it doesn't sound like a natural process, it can be labeled as such because the solvent occurs in nature. Other solvents have been used, some of which have been shown to be harmful. One, methylene chloride, has been alleged to cause cancer in humans and therefore is not often used. Back in the 1970s, another solvent, trichloroethylene, was found to be carcinogenic and is no longer used.

Another indirect method soaks the beans in water to soften them and remove the caffeine, and then runs the liquid through activated charcoal or carbon filters to decaffeinate it. The flavor containing fluid is then returned to the beans to be dried. This charcoal or carbon process is often called "Swiss water process" (developed by a Swiss company). If your coffee is labeled naturally decaffeinated or Swiss water processed, you can be assured that no harmful chemicals are used. If you are uncertain, you can ask or call your coffee processor to learn about the method used.

A direct decaffeination process involves the use of carbon dioxide as a solvent. The coffee beans are soaked in compressed CO2, which removes 97 percent of the caffeine. The solvent containing the extracted caffeine evaporates when the beans return to room temperature.

So go ahead and enjoy that Cup of Joe — caffeine free!

Alice

Soybeans — Can they help me lose weight?

Dear Macduff,

It's possible that snacking on soybeans could derail your weight loss efforts — it all depends on how much you're munching, and what else you're eating during the day. No one food will completely derail your diet; it's the balance of calories eaten and calories burned over an extended period of time that makes a difference in weight loss or weight gain.

While soybeans contribute valuable nutrients — plant chemicals known to lower cholesterol, and vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, potassium, and folate — they are a somewhat concentrated source of calories from protein, carbohydrate, and fat. If you're consuming soy nuts (roasted soybeans), the serving size listed on most containers is one ounce. In reality, this is a little over two tablespoons (slightly bigger than a ping pong ball). If you're eating edamame (boiled green soybeans), the typical serving size is three ounces (1/2 cup) of just the beans themselves (without the pods). When snacking on one serving of soy nuts or edamame, you're taking in about 130 calories — and if you're having this much three times a day, that's about 400 calories in soybeans alone. Serving size is important, too, because if you're indulging in more like a generous handful or two of soy nuts, you could be doubling your caloric intake, just for a snack.

Try measuring the portion you usually eat to figure out exactly how much you're enjoying. Frequently, we're surprised with what we see when we actually weigh or measure our food; often it's a lot more than the serving size listed on the package! While it may not be a good idea to weigh and measure your food at every meal, sometimes, it's helpful just to get a sense of how much we're really eating.

When it comes to weight loss the healthier recommendation is to keep tabs on calories taken in, from all sources, and the calories expended (including exercise). Finding the right balance can help lead to a healthier weight and result in great energy. Some people find that having a chat with a Registered Dietician can help clarify a healthier eating plan (for weight loss or just in general). Either way, you can enjoy your soybeans, but remember to enjoy plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains too!

Alice

What is royal jelly?

Dear Polly,

Royal jelly sounds like a condiment fit for a queen — and that’s not too far from the truth! This noble substance is actually the food reserved for queen bees and their larvae legacy. Royal jelly is secreted from the glands of devoted worker bees and fed to bee larvae. After a few days, the larvae that have potential to develop into queens continue to be fed this sweet nectar. Since queen bees are much bigger, live longer, and are more fertile than all the other bees, this substance is believed by some to impart mystical qualities. In reality, royal jelly is comprised of mostly B vitamins, 60 to 70 percent water, 12 to 15 percent protein, 10 to 16 percent sugars, and 3 to 6 percent fats, with salts, free amino acids, and other vitamins making up the rest. While consumption may have its benefits, this regal jam can also have some not-so-stately side effects.

What's all the buzz about royal jelly? In addition to its use as a general health tonic, people take royal jelly for a number of reasons, including:

  • Slowing the signs of aging
  • Using it as an anti-inflammatory agent
  • Stimulating hair growth
  • Improving sexual performance and sperm production
  • Reducing symptoms of menopause
  • Healing bone fractures
  • Lowering cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Preventing arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cancer
  • Alleviating cardiovascular ailments
  • Remedying liver disease, pancreatitis, insomnia, fatigue, ulcers, and digestive and skin disorders

Whew. What a list! Unfortunately, there is limited evidence to substantiate any of these purported health benefits because few studies have been done on the health benefits of royal jelly on humans. In one of few human trials, royal jelly was found to increase conception rates among couples with known male asthenozoospermia (reduced sperm motility). In another, an increase in erythropoiesis (the production of red blood cells) and improvements of glucose tolerance and mental health was found as a result of royal jelly consumption. More research is needed to uncover and confirm other possible health benefits or concerns.

Now that you now know about the purported and potential benefits, what are the possible concerns? People who are allergic to bees and honey and those who have asthma can face real dangers if they try royal jelly. Reactions ranging from bronchial spasms, skin irritations, and asthma attacks, to more severe anaphylactic shock, and even death, have been reported due to ingestion by those folks. In addition, royal jelly has the potential to stimulate growth of some breast cancer cells if consumed by someone with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. It might also increase the effects of blood thinners (a type of medication) and cholesterol-lowering medications. Other reported side effects include weight gain, facial rash, and gastrointestinal discomfort. To be on the safe side, it’s also recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women, small children, and those with compromised immune systems refrain from using royal jelly. And as with all supplements, if you’re interested in trying this out yourself, it may be best to talk with your health care provider to see if it’s right for you.

Alice

For more information or to make an appointment, check out these recommended resources:

Medical Services (Morningside)

Medical Services (CUMC)


Forgot to refrigerate leftovers — still okay to eat?

Dear Sleepy cook,

Sounds like a very tasty meal — one that would be tragic to discard. Unfortunately, it is likely that while you were sleeping, bacteria were partying on your stove and reproducing at alarming rates. Bacteria thrive at 40 to 140 degrees F and reproduce quickly. Thus, you should probably toss the sauce. Perishable foods should not be away from the fridge for more than two hours; seven hours would really be pushing it. Here are a few basic guidelines to follow in re-heating and refrigerating leftovers:

  • Tempting as it may be, do not taste food to determine if it is spoiled. You may get sick even from a small taste and your taste buds may not always detect good sauce gone bad.
  • Invest in a meat thermometer.
  • When initially cooking beef, chicken, or pork, make sure the meat reaches a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees.
  • Make sure fish reaches a minimum temperature of 145 degrees.
  • Reheat all leftovers to 165 degrees.
  • Bring leftover sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil.
  • When wrapping up freshly cooked leftovers, store in multiple smaller containers so they cool more quickly.
  • Know that eating perishable foods that have been away from the fridge longer than two hours can be risky.

While it's ultimately up to you whether you eat or toss, wise eaters are wary of food that has been out a couple hours or more. Best of luck with future leftovers,

Alice

August 6, 2013

534185
Thank you! That was very helpful. I made a large batch if stew and had it in a large container. It would have taken a long time to cool down. I used 4 different containers after reading this post so...
Thank you! That was very helpful. I made a large batch if stew and had it in a large container. It would have taken a long time to cool down. I used 4 different containers after reading this post so it would cool down faster instead of one so bacteria would less likely grow ! Thank you!

Fruitarian teens: Are they stunting their growth?

Dear Reader,

Feeling fruity? Devoted fruitarians say they feel better eating in this style, that it makes their life easy, and they feel it is beneficial for the environment. Fruitarian diets include all sweet fruits and vegetable fruits — including (but not limited to) tomato, cucumber, peppers, olives, avocadoes, and squash. Some fruitarians add grains, beans, nuts, and seeds to their eating plans. If these foods are included, the proportions are generally about 70 - 80 percent sweet and vegetable fruits, with some beans, smaller amounts of grains and tofu, and a sprinkling of nuts and seeds. Many fruitarians prefer to eat their food raw. Depending on which items are included, some may have to be cooked.

The human body needs a variety of nutrients. Because fruitarian diets provide fewer calories and protein than vegetarian diets, they are not suitable for teens. For a teen, the implications of missing many nutrients can have long lasting effects. Following this eating plan can cause your body to fall short on calcium, protein, iron, zinc, vitamin D, most B vitamins (especially B-12), and essential fatty acids. Not only could your height be affected, your bones may not reach their peak density, and vital nutrients for nervous system development may be missing in your diet. It's important to understand that one food cannot provide the multitude of nutrients found in a mixed eating plan.

Such a restrictive eating plan for a teen also presents other concerns. Have you thought about why you feel this eating style might be right for you, and what the ramifications also could be? If you're considering fruitarianism as a means to lose weight, or deflect attention from food issues, you are better off addressing these concerns directly. Restrictive eating can lead to hunger, cravings, and food obsessions. Also, keep in mind that a diet of one food (or of one food group) is not an effective way to cleanse the body.

As you move into adulthood, you may become interested in trying out different diets to improve your health and nutrition. For your future reference, it is recommended that adults only adhere to a fruitarian diet for a limited period of time. This is because fruitarian adults (just like their teen counterparts) can experience deficiencies in calcium, protein, iron, zinc, vitamin D, most B vitamins (especially B12), and essential fatty acids.

Lastly, keep in mind that a limited diet may cause certain social disruptions. Meals with family and friends may become more difficult. Some people with less flexible food options report social isolation.

Just planting a few seeds to think about. Now let your knowledge grow!

Alice

What's the main purpose of electrolytes?

Dear Reader,

Electrolytes are vital to one's health and survival. They are positively and negatively charged particles (ions) that are formed when mineral or other salts dissolve and separate (dissociate) in water. Since electrolytes carry a charge, they can conduct electrical current in water, which itself in its pure form is a poor conductor of electricity. This characteristic of electrolytes is important because the current enables electrolytes to regulate how and where fluids are distributed throughout the body, which includes keeping water from floating freely across cell membranes.

Basically, cells need to be bathed in fluids — inside and out. To control fluid passage across cell membranes, cells regulate the movement of electrolytes into and out of them, which causes water to follow the charged particles around wherever they go. These actions help maintain a state of fluid balance. This is also how electrolytes transport nutrients into cells and wastes out of them. The difference in electrical balance inside and outside of cells also allows for transmission of nerve impulses, contraction or relaxation of muscles, blood pressure control, and proper gland functioning. In addition, the presence of electrolytes determines the acidity or pH of some fluids, especially blood.

As you can see, our bodies have developed mechanisms to keep electrolytes within specific ranges. If one loses large amounts of fluids quickly, however, electrolytes may become unbalanced. This imbalance can occur through vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, serious burns, or wounds. In these cases, water and electrolytes need to be replaced. Life-threatening conditions may result if the losses are severe.

A well balanced diet usually supplies an adequate amount of electrolytes. The major ones are sodium, potassium, and chloride; others include calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and bicarbonate, to name a few. Most Americans get plenty of sodium and chloride from what they eat. Including five or more daily servings of fruits and veggies will provide sufficient potassium. Sports drinks containing these substances are usually only recommended for endurance events lasting over an hour.

Alice

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.

Do "fat burners" really work?

Dear Burning to know,

As you probably know, if you walk into any pharmacy or supplement shop, you will see dozens of products promising to make excess body fat melt away. Although manufacturers are not permitted to make these claims on the bottle, they run alluring ads in magazines and on TV. So, how are you to know whether or not the ingredients are safe and effective?

Weight loss supplements may work in three ways: one is by helping the body to break down body fat. The second action of weight loss supplements is to suppress appetite, which is a complex process. The human body's instinct is to survive, and once appetite suppressants are stopped, people become hungry. The third way weight loss supplements may work is by inhibiting the body from absorbing fat during digestion. Fat blockers don't work if a person isn't eating fat in his or her diet. They also won't prevent weight gain if a person is overeating protein or carbohydrates. Often, weight loss supplements contain more than one substance to generate weight loss from more than one angle. The ingredients are available alone, or with other substances. The following is a partial listing of some of the weight loss supplements you may see:

Carnitine
Promoted as a fat burner, carnitine naturally occurs in the body, and people can obtain it through eating meat, fish, poultry, and some dairy foods. Carnitine helps transport fatty acids to the muscle. In theory, it makes sense that more of it would help people get more fatty acids into the muscles, burning additional fat. Unfortunately, it doesn't live up to expectations, because taking its supplemental form doesn't result in increased fat burning.

Chromium Picolinate
Although this mineral helps metabolize carbohydrates and fats, it has not lived up to claims of increasing lean body mass and decreasing fat. As a matter of fact, the majority of the research done on this supplement shows it is not effective as a weight loss supplement. Some research showed damage to DNA with excess chromium picolinate that is exacerbated with Vitamin C. Taking in more than the body requires can actually reduce the binding capacity of iron in the blood, potentially resulting in iron deficiency and decreased ability to carry oxygen in the blood. This could negatively impact one's ability to exercise and expend calories.

Ephedrine
This acts like a hormone the body makes — norepinephrine. The action of this substance is associated with increased fat release from adipose (or fat) tissue, increasing free fatty acids in the bloodstream. Also increased are heart rate, heart contractility, body heat production, and metabolic rate. Ephedrine may also be able to suppress hunger. It has been shown that ephedrine is even more effective when combined with caffeine — but so are the side effects, including tremors, dizziness, insomnia, heart arrhythmias, headaches, and increased blood pressure. Due to these risks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra in 2004.

When a supplement touts "proven in clinical trials," it's time to dig deeper. That "trial" may have been performed on animals, or with amounts of the supplement not available for sale. The FDA does not closely monitor supplements, so there's no guarantee you're getting the ingredients you're paying for, nor any guarantee you're not getting some additional ingredients not listed on the label.

Once again, there is really no safe short cut or quick fix to losing weight, no matter how slick the ads! To lose weight and burn fat, you need to burn more calories than you consume. And fat burners, despite the hype, do not work as advertised.

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 or money, improving your nutrition, maintaining or losing weight, or fostering your culinary skills, preparing your own lunch is a grand idea! Doing so can be a way to cater to your individual needs, nutritionally and conveniently, and to energize you through your busy days at school and beyond. With everything else that’s on your plate, preparing nutritious foods may seem like a challenge. However, with a few easy and balanced tips, you’ll be savoring a tasty lunch in no time.

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. Grab a fruit that comes with its own wrapper (e.g. apples, oranges, bananas) or a small container of grapes or cut melon. Dried and canned fruits may also make for portable options.
  • Grains come as whole and refined grains. Whole grains use the entire kernel of the grain (e.g., whole wheat flour items, brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn). 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 sandwiches, wraps, noodle or rice dishes, and snacks.
  • Vegetables (raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, or canned) are easy to transport and are nutritious! Convenient versions include bite-sized vegetables (think baby carrots or cut celery sticks), salads, wrap fillers, soups, and potato dishes.
  • Meat and beans make great sandwiches or wraps with turkey, lean ham or roast beef, nut butter, fish (e.g., tuna, salmon), or hummus (chick pea spread/dip). They're hearty and complement most grains and vegetables.
  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese (e.g., string cheese, cottage cheese) make for portable lunch items high in calcium. Try incorporating low-fat versions with less or no added sugar. Calcium-fortified non-dairy products may also be an option.
  • 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. 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. Focus on fruit, vary your vegetables, consume calcium-rich foods, and make half of your grains whole ones. A sample menu may be a whole wheat pita stuffed with chicken breast, hummus, and spinach with a side of a low-fat yogurt cup and an apple.
  • Keep it 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.
  • 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.
  • Make it up ahead of time. If you’re a top chef, make bigger batches of your famous dishes so that you can portion out meals for several days or freeze some for later use. Not a cook? No problem! Give wraps and salads a try.
  • Rotate your menu. Doing this will ensure that you won't get bored of eating the same thing each day, and this may help you incorporate a full range of food groups.
  • Remember: Safety first! Wash your hands while preparing and eating. Properly prepare your foods to appropriate temperatures before eating them. 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 you keep your lunch safe and stay green!

For more information about creating a healthy lunch, check out ChooseMyPlate.gov for more tips and a personalized eating plan. You might also get your friends involved in the planning process. Ask them about their favorite quick and healthy lunches and trade ideas. These make for nutritious conversations and fruitful times with others. Bon appétit!

Alice

For more information, check out this recommended resource:

get balanced! Columbia University's Guide for Healthier Eating


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