How's this for a treat — you should eat whatever you want to, just as long as it's in moderation. Eating can be for fuel, but can, and many would argue should, be for pleasure as well. Of course, sometimes you have to take the pleasure with some pain; in this case, better make it whole-wheat pain (French for bread). In addition to whole wheat and whole grain products, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low- or non-fat dairy products should also be eaten regularly in order to ensure that you're getting all the nutrients you need from a healthy and balanced diet.
How much of any food group you should eat depends on your age, sex, weight and activity level. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a typical man aged 19-30 should try to eat eat about 8 ounces of grains, with at least 4 ounces coming from whole grains, 3 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of dairy products, 6.5 ounces of protein (lean meats and beans) and are allowed 7 teaspoons of foods from the oil group.
A typical woman aged 19-30 should try to eat 6 ounces of grains, with 3 ounces coming from whole grains, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of dairy products, 5.5 ounces of protein (lean meats and beans) and can consume about 6 teaspoons from the oil group. With a balanced diet like those described above, men and women can eat still eat sweets and treats in moderation and maintain a healthy diet.
These are only guidelines, which can most certainly be tailored to your activity level, medical history, and/or food likes and dislikes. If you are looking for a specific nutritional plan, it's a great idea to discuss any concerns and thoughts with a health care provider. Students at Columbia can make an appointment with a registered dietitian or their health care provider by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).
If this has whetted your appetite to find out more on what and how much of a food constitutes a serving and what group it comes from, you can check out the choosemyplate.gov site. You can also check out Food Guidelines — How much is a serving? in the Go Ask Alice! archives for more information on serving sizes, as well as where to go to learn more about dietary recommendations. Another great resource is the Get Balanced! Guide for Healthier Eating.
Before discussing their role in maintaining good health, let's first clarify what antioxidants are. "Antioxidant" is the collective name for the vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and polyphenols that protect the body from harmful free radicals. The most well known antioxidants include the vitamins A (found in liver, dairy, and fish), C (found in bell peppers and citrus fruits), E (found in oils, fortified cereals, seeds, and nuts), and the mineral selenium (found in Brazil nuts, meats, tuna, and plant foods). The carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene also have high antioxidant activity and are responsible for adding color to many fruits and vegetables. Carrots and pumpkins wouldn't be orange without beta-carotene, for example. Lutein, also important in eyesight, is abundant in leafy green vegetables. Lycopene is present in red fruits and vegetables, most notably in tomatoes. No wonder why many experts stress the importance of eating a "colorful" diet!
So why are they called antioxidants? The name is indicative of the mechanism by which they help prevent disease. In humans, a small but significant percentage of oxygen molecules in the body will become electrically charged due to natural cellular activity and/or exposure to environmental factors such as tobacco smoke and radiation. The oxygen molecule becomes a "free radical" as it undergoes this process of oxidation. Free radicals are highly reactive as they try to steal electrons from other molecules, including DNA and cellular membranes. They will continue to react with other cellular molecules in a chain-reaction mechanism. This chain reaction of free radicals can damage cells, which may play a role in the development of certain conditions like heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants, however, stop the chain-reaction by giving up electrons and neutralizing free radicals so that they cannot induce any more oxidative damage. Unlike other molecules, antioxidants do not become reactive when they lose an electron.
Many studies have shown the link between free radicals and a number of degenerative diseases associated with aging. Thus, it is possible that antioxidants can be beneficial in reducing the incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's disease, immune dysfunction, cataracts, stroke, and macular degeneration.
Read any fitness magazine, watch a few television ads, or simply pass by your local health food store, and notice the benefits of the latest supplement being touted. While new products emerge frequently, it is best to remember that vitamin and mineral supplements are not to be used as substitutes for a healthy, well-balanced diet. In fact, due to many conflicting studies on the effects of antioxidant supplements, the American Heart Association does not currently recommend using antioxidant vitamin supplements. It is also important to note that we can "over-supplement" our bodies, taking much more than the recommended daily value of certain vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A and E are fat soluble, meaning that excess amounts are stored in the liver and fatty tissues, instead of being quickly excreted, creating a risk of toxicity. Your best bet is to eat a diet rich in fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
For information on cancer, heart disease, and antioxidants (as well as on healthy diets, vitamins and minerals, etc.), you can visit the the National Cancer Institute website. Additional resources on supplements are provided by the National Institute of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements.
Remember, a balanced diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables can provide you with immediate health and energy benefits and help fight the effects of aging for years to come. Happy antioxidizing!
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.
While jetting cross-country can be a fun adventure, coping with jet lag is often an unwelcome effect. Jet lag is a temporary disorder that occurs when air travelers rapidly travel across three or more time zones. Traversing time zones appears to interfere with a person's production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycles (see Melatonin from the Go Ask Alice! archives for more information). This may explain why jet travel disrupts our sleeping patterns and why it takes a while for us to adjust to a new time zone. Travelers have the option of taking melatonin to help counteract the effects that flying has on getting a good night's sleep.
Taking melatonin to reduce jet lag is a well-tested and safe use of the hormone. When the goal is to be in bed and asleep during the normal nighttime hours of your destination, timing is everything. If you take melatonin at the wrong time while still at home in New York, you may land safely in London, but your inner clock may be wandering around the Los Angeles airport wondering how it got on the wrong flight! So, what's the trick?
The secret to shifting your internal clock lies in the direction of your flight and duration of your journey. Travelers who cross three or more time zones generally require more time to adjust. Depending on your travel direction, it is recommended to take melatonin as follows:
- Westward travel is associated with early evening sleepiness and predawn awakening. When traveling westward, melatonin can be taken in the morning.
- Traveling to the east is associated with struggling to fall asleep at the destination bedtime and difficulty arising in the morning. In this case, it is best to take melatonin in the evening at your local time.
- Melatonin can be taken 30 minutes before sleeping. You can also ask your health care provider about the right time to take it.
- Though side effects are uncommon, it is a good idea to avoid alcohol when using melatonin.
The severity of jet lag is also dependent on whether a person is able to sleep while traveling, their age, and the availability of local circadian time cues at the destination (such as natural sunlight). Other than taking melatonin, your health care provider may recommend that you:
- Avoid alcohol, large meals, and caffeinated beverages during travel
- Eat meals at the appropriate time of your destination
- Drink plenty of water
- Sleep, if possible, during long flights
- Consider timed bright light exposure prior to and during travel
- Take sleep-inducing medications, such as zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta) and zaleplon (Sonata), during travel and to help you sleep during the first couple of days after your arrival
While adjusting to a new time zone may seem like a drag, don't worry, for your body will adjust in due time. Jet lag may last for several days, but it is a temporary condition that is normally manageable. Whether or not you choose to take melatonin depends on the severity of your jet lag and your preference to induce sleep. In the meantime, don't forget to adjust your watch as well. Happy (and restful) travels!
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.
February 4, 2014550964
March 11, 2013525286
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!