A busy lifestyle and a rigorous semester may not always allow us to have fresh vegetables on hand. But, there are benefits and drawbacks of fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables. For starters, no matter which way you store it, a vegetable is always going to contain carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other plant chemicals, known as "phytochemicals," all of which are good for us no matter what. You’ll be happy to know that none of these nutrients are completely lost from processing.
While most people feel that fresh veggies are optimal, they may lose nutrients before they even get into your stomach. Raw vegetables lose some vitamins just by sitting around. It could take up to two weeks from the time they've been picked until they reach your plate. By this time, 10 to 50 percent of the less stable nutrients may have disappeared. Still, raw, lightly prepared, or minimally processed veggies (and fruits) often have a higher nutrient value than well-cooked ones. To help preserve the nutrient content of veggies (and fruits) during cooking or other preparation:
- Stick with shorter cooking times and lower temperatures (e.g., avoid deep frying)
- Cook with little or no water to help retain water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and the B vitamins. For example, steam or microwave rather than boil. To limit exposure to heat when cooking this way, wait until the water is boiling before adding veggies.
- For more information, read Cooking veggies and vitamin loss?
Frozen and canned vegetables are often processed shortly after they are picked, so that nutrient losses would not occur during shipping, on the grocer's shelf, or in your home. Frozen vegetables actually retain a high proportion of their original nutrients. Sometimes, though, they are blanched (dipped in hot water), which preserves color and texture, but may compromise some vitamins. In order to avoid extra calories, salt, and/or fat, choose frozen vegetables without added sauces or cheese. Sodium is often added to canned products. A portion of this may be rinsed off with water, or you can choose the low sodium or no sodium that are often available (check the label!).
Whether fresh, frozen, or canned fits into your lifestyle, select any type that you'll enjoy eating. The number of servings needed in a day varies depending on your age and other factors, however, adults generally need about 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit each day. Read Food Guidelines — How much is a serving? in the Go Ask Alice! Nutrition & Physical Activity archive for specific veggie and fruit serving size information. You can also check out Choosemyplate.gov for personalized recommendations.
As a side note, you may think that nutritional supplements are a quick and easy way of getting the nutrients you need in case you don't follow a healthy eating plan. However, a well-balanced diet rich in veggies and fruits can offer you much, much more than these supplements ever could, such as phytochemicals, which could protect against cancer, heart disease, other illnesses, and who knows what else? Beneficial substances such as these are found in vegetables no matter what form they are in.
Dear Animal Lover,
Vitamin B12 is important in the formation of nerve cells and red blood cells. Natural food sources of the vitamin are found primarily in meat and other animal products, which mean those who stick with a plant-based diet have to find their source elsewhere. Though there are some foods that your friend may want to add to her/his diet, vitamin supplements may also be something to consider. However, because of the serious symptoms and long-term risks involved with B12 deficiency, consulting with a health care provider and/or a registered dietitian may help as well.
Contrary to popular belief that B12 deficiency takes many years to develop, it actually may only take a matter of two to four years to become symptomatic. A recent meta-analysis found that the prevalence rate of B12 deficiency among non-pregnant young adults who followed a vegetarian diet (lacto- or lacto-ovo) was at about 32 percent and among vegans, ( those who eschew all animal products: meat, eggs, dairy, honey, leather, silk, etc.) prevalence was at 43 percent. Symptoms of B12 deficiency include anemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Long-term effects may be neurological changes such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. Additional signs of B12 deficiency include difficulty in maintaining balance, depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, and soreness of the mouth or tongue. But be advised that these can also be symptoms of many different ailments, so having a blood test from a doctor like your friend did can help with diagnosis.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of B12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms (µg) and there are actually two forms of B12, active (which the body can actually use) and inactive (a.k.a.,pseudovitamin B12). Now, for the good news: Both vegetarians and vegans have various options for obtaining sufficient amounts of vitamin B12. Some varieties of mushrooms, green and purple nori (seaweed), and some fermented foods like sauerkraut and tempeh (fermented soy beans) are recognized as plant-based sources active B12. Fortified foods like some cereals, soy products, or meat substitutes are options for both vegans and vegetarians. Milk, yogurt, and eggs are rich in vitamin B12 and may also be added to a vegetarian diet. And while it is possible to get sufficient amounts of the vitamin from these sources, many vegans and vegetarians don’t seem to eat enough of these products. As such, it might be a good idea to look into vitamin supplements that contain B12. Due to the low absorption rate of the vitamin through supplements, taking a 250 microgram (µg) dose is recommended. Seeking out the guidance of a registered dietitian may prove helpful for your friend to identify where B12–rich sources can be added in her/his diet.
Happy healthy eating!
Dear Future Veggie,
Yes, absolutely! Columbia Health has lots of resources for you as you prepare to make the switch. When planning out a healthy vegetarian diet, it is certainly helpful to have some guidance. The get balanced! Guide for Healthier Eating provides a ton of great information on making healthy food choices as a vegetarian or vegan. Columbia students can also meet with a registered dietitian through Columbia Health. Before meeting with a professional, it may be helpful to do some background research. Check out the related questions below for a plethora of useful information!
It's a great idea to plan consciously when switching over to a vegetarian diet. Not eating meat can offer many health benefits, as well as addressing environmental and ethical concerns. However, people who make the change without learning about proper nutrition can very easily become deficient in certain nutrients, experience undesired weight gain or loss, and fall into the famous trap of becoming a "pasta" vegetarian who lives on carbs and sweets and not much else.
Have you thought about to what degree of vegetarianism you will pledge? There are many variations on the vegetarian diet, including: lacto-ovo, vegetarians who avoid all meat but eat milk and eggs; pescatarians, who eat fish, and do not eat other types of meat; vegans, who avoid all animal products including milk, eggs, and even honey (produced by bees); raw foodists, who eat only raw fruits, veggies, sprouted nuts and grains; and even fruititarians, who only eat fruits, nuts, and seeds. Wherever you fall on the vegetarian spectrum, here are some general tips on converting to a vegetarian diet:
- Plan to incorporate into your diet a wide variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and of course leave room for some decadent delights (think: vegan triple chocolate cake).
- Ensure that you are eating adequate amounts of non-meat proteins, necessary for long-term sustained energy, and to repair and replace worn-out body cells. High protein veggie foods include beans, nuts (including peanuts and almonds), and milk.
- Vitamins B12 and D, calcium, iron, and zinc are other nutrients important to pay attention to, as they are abundantly found in meat, but not as easy to find in plant foods. Some strategizing with a nutritionist or educating yourself about vegetarian sources for these nutrients will help you make sure you're getting enough of these important nutrients.
- Because vegetarian diets are often high in fiber, remember to drink lots of water to ensure all that roughage is moving through and out of your system efficiently. Six to eight glasses per day is the general recommendation.
When planning a vegetarian diet, it is important to take into consideration a number of variables, such as body size, activity level, health status, and food preferences. But standing behind your ethical beliefs with the food you take in and the industries you support is an admirable and worthwhile undertaking. With the right guidance, education, and support, you could enjoy great health, a happy and clean conscience, and the joy of being an inspiration and teacher for others who wish to join you!
Dear Banana Lover,
Nutritionally, bananas are packed with many good things. To get right to your question, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), one medium banana contains only 0.39 grams of fat. Compare that to a California avocado that has 21 grams of fat (with 3 grams of saturated fat). Like protein and carbohydrates, fat is an important macronutrient that plays a vital role in maintaining health. So while you don’t have to eschew avocados and olives, you can rest assured that eating a banana will provide some low-fat satisfaction in a balanced diet.
Bananas make a healthy and helpful snack choice for endurance athletes (and others) because they have higher carbohydrate content when compared to other fruits (by weight). They also provide a good source of potassium, which is vital for controlling the body's fluid balance, and regulating one's heartbeat and blood pressure, and preventing muscle cramping.
Think of it this way, if a contest called for designing an ideal food, you might just come up with a banana. They are neat (they come in their own wrapper!), they ripen best after harvest, they can be eaten at various stages of ripeness, there is a good supply all year, they tend to be inexpensive, and almost everyone can digest them. Chew on this, in an average year Americans consume about 25 pounds of bananas per person.
Perhaps you can help spread the word that people should just enjoy having their bananas and eating them, too!
Dear Trying to Eat Healthy,
Knowing what and how much to eat can feel overwhelming. In recognition of the fact that more Americans are overweight and obese than ever before, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regularly reviews and updates the food guide recommendations. The newest update by "Choose My Plate" and makes suggestions based on age, gender, and activity level. It no longer recommends amounts of food in terms of serving size, but rather suggests portions according to actual weights and amounts of specific foods. You can learn more about how to apply the new food guide recommendations to your lifestyle at ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Even though there is no single chart that details how much of a particular food constitutes a serving, you can click on each food group's heading (see below) for more information on common portion sizes. Also, here's a basic breakdown of the guidelines:
One serving equals 1 slice of bread; 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal; or 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal. All of these serving sizes are known as "ounce equivalents" in Choose My Plate-speak.
As a general rule of thumb,
1 serving size/ounce equivalent of bread = plastic CD case
2 servings/ounce equivalents of cooked brown rice = a tennis ball
Unlike the Grains group described above, cup size matters when it comes to vegetables. That is, vegetables servings are measured in cups rather than ounces. One serving equals 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice or 1 cup of leafy raw vegetables.
1 serving size = 1/2 cup of broccoli = a light bulb
1 serving size = 1/2 cup of potato = a computer mouse
Like the vegetable group, cup size matters here, too. One serving equals 1 cup of fruit or 100 percent fruit juice, or 1/2 cup of dried fruit. Because fruits come in so many different shapes and sizes, it's hard to say how many pieces of fruit count as a serving.
Generally, 1 serving size of whole fruit = 1 tennis ball
1 serving size of cut fruit = 7 cotton balls
One serving equals 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese, and even 1.5 cups of ice cream. Choose low-fat options from this group whenever possible.
1 serving size of cheese = 2 9-volt batteries
Like the Grains group, serving sizes are also measured in ounce equivalents. One serving or ounce equivalent equals 1 ounce of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish; 1/4 cup cooked beans; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon of peanut butter; or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds.
3 servings/ounce equivalents of fish = 1 checkbook
3 servings/ounce equivalents of meat or poultry = 1 deck of cards
2 servings/ounce equivalents of peanut butter = 1 roll of 35 mm film or 1 ping-pong ball
Choosemyplate.gov measures serving sizes in teaspoons.
1 serving/teaspoon of margarine and spreads = 1 dice
2 serving/teaspoons of salad dressing = 1 thumb tip
Because these oils are found in many of the foods we eat, there may not be a need to add this group to your diet. For example, half of a medium avocado or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter provide 3 and 4 teaspoons or servings of oil respectively, while also counting towards your vegetable or nuts allowance.
Remember, also, that most portions in the U.S. are oversized and contain several servings of the recommended categories. Ideally you want most of your food to be whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables, low-fat calcium fortified foods (such as milk and cottage cheese), and lean sources of protein (such as fish, turkey, and chicken).
If you're hungry for more information on dietary recommendations, check out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 and the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food and Nutrition Information web site. At Columbia, you can make an appointment with a registered dietitian to discuss your concerns and get more individualized information by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).
Dear Diet Coke,
Aspartame — how sweet it is! A common artificial sweetener used in various foods and drinks, aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. However, it contains fewer calories than sugar, making it a substitute for individuals who wish to cut back on sugar. To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers aspartame safe to use, though it recommends maximum levels of acceptable daily intake (ADI) for children and adults.
An adult weighing 150 pounds (70 kilograms) can have up to 3,500 milligrams per day of aspartame. In terms of diet soda, this translates into no more than 19 cans of diet soda per day (diet soda typically contains 180 milligrams of aspartame per can). A child who typically weighs 66 pounds (30 kilograms) could drink up to 8 cans of diet soda before going over the ADI for children. That's still quite a lot of soda! There may be other considerations, such as caffeine and the acid in soda that can damage teeth, to weigh before drinking a case a day.
There is no conclusive data demonstrating that aspartame poses a safety risk to humans. However, the FDA has noted some possible, but uncommon, side effects of aspartame consumption. These complaints have included headaches, dizziness, stomach problems, and changes in mood. One particular safety risk of aspartame involves individuals with phenylketonuria (PKU). PKU is a rare genetic disease characterized by the inability to break down the amino acid phenylalanine, which is found in aspartame. People with PKU should avoid all products that contain aspartame. These products are labeled for easier recognition.
You may want to keep in mind that aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are not exactly a green light to consume excessive amounts of foods and drinks that contain it, as the calories still add up. Research suggests artificial sweeteners may stimulate a person's appetite. Because they have no caloric content, they don't seem to activate the same food reward signals in the brain that induce feelings of satiety. As a result, craving a sweet flavor after eating artificially sweetened foods but not feeling full or satisfied by them may lead to overeating.
If you are concerned about the safety of aspartame, you can always check the labels of the foods and drinks before you buy them. You may also want to consider discussing any concerns with a health care provider, who may be able to suggest other sweetening alternatives. If you are a student at Columbia, you can make an appointment to see a health care provider by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).
Here's hoping that this response didn't sugarcoat your concerns!
Dear Yolking it Up,
Egg powder is usually simply dehydrated eggs, a substitute that people may use when they're camping, or in other situations where there is a lack of refrigeration. Egg powder may also be added to some cake mixes, pancake mixes, and the like, so that the home baker doesn't have to add whole eggs to the mix. A large egg contains about 6 grams of high quality protein, making both eggs and egg powder good sources of protein. Eggs are also an important source of vitamins B12 and E, riboflavin, folacin, iron, and phosphorus. These make it one of nature's near perfect foods, except for the cholesterol — its yolk contains a significant portion of the total daily maximum intake of cholesterol.
Many people experiment with egg whites in order to lower the cholesterol content of their favorite recipes. There are numerous egg substitutes on the market, which come in frozen, refrigerated, and powdered form (this may be what you are referring to in your question). Most of the substitutes have egg whites as their main ingredient. The white of the egg is almost pure protein, containing a near complete balance of complementary amino acids. So, these substitutes are definitely a good source of protein, but not of fat or cholesterol, or B vitamins and minerals.
With the variety of egg substitutes on the market, it's important to read the label carefully. Some have vegetable oil, flavoring, or color added to give the effect of yolk. Other products contain no eggs at all, and are intended to be used in baked products to produce the leavening effect, but would taste terrible as scrambled eggs. The products range in caloric content from 15 to 60 calories per serving, as compared with about 80 calories for a whole egg. Most have little or no cholesterol, but some contain as much as 4 gms of fat per serving.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting average daily cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams. If you have heart disease, the recommendation drops to less than 200 milligrams daily. It may make sense to consult with a nutritionist or your health care provider if you already have elevated levels of cholesterol.
As with many foods, moderation is the key to getting "eggs-actly" what is best for your health.
There is a bit of debate about the pros and cons of olive oil vs corn oil. Some newer research suggests when included in a well-balanced diet, corn oil may have comparable or possibly greater, health benefits when juxtaposed with olive oil. Both corn and olive oil are made up of mostly unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are often described as “healthy fats”. Research suggests that these two types of fatty acids may help lower cholesterol, normalize blood clotting, and also possibly improve insulin and blood sugar levels — and they are healthier choices to cooking with butter or lard. Good vs. bad fats can provide some more detailed information about the different types of fat found in food.
Olive oil has a higher percentage of monounsaturated fats when compared to corn oil. The exact ratios are as follows:
- Corn oil: 59% polyunsaturated 24% monounsaturated 13% saturated, which give a 6.4:1 unsaturated/saturated fat ratio
- Olive oil: 9% polyunsaturated 72% monounsaturated 14% saturated, which gives a 5.8:1 unsaturated/saturated fat ratio
For quite some time monounsaturated fats were credited with lessening the hardening of arterial walls and thus reducing risks of heart and kidney disease. Recent clinical studies seem to lean more heavily towards the positive impact of polyunsaturated fats over monounsaturated fats in protecting against heart disease.
Also of note when cooking with oils, corn oil tends to be more stable at higher heats, whereas olive oil is more stable at lower heats and tends to burn at high heats. So, depending on your recipe, one may be more suitable on the stove than the other.
Olive oil also has the most nutritional value when it is freshest, according to researchers. As soon as olive oil is exposed to air and light it begins to degrade and lose its heart-healthy benefits. While many of us are accustomed to expiration dates on bottles and cans, olive oil can also have both an expiration date and a harvest date — checking for those is advised by industry leaders. Olive oil enthusiasts and experts suggest using oil within about six months of harvest, if possible. When you store olive oil between uses, try to keep it in a cool environment away from light.
When shopping for corn oil, some consumers may be concerned with finding sources that are free of genetically modified organisms (or GMO-free). Corn is one of a handful of crops that are more likely to be genetically engineered than others. To learn more about GMO debate, check out GMO’s — okay for consumption?
While the existing research on olive and corn oil has certainly shaped nutritional recommendations we may have heard for years, it’s also worth noting that even clinical studies have limitations. And just like the evolving understanding of monounsaturated fatty acids vs. polyunsaturated fatty acids, what we know about olive oil and corn oil today may evolve with new research and deeper understandings of how these oils play a role in our bodies and health.
Perhaps equally if not more important than the type of oil itself, is what you are sautéing, dressing, or marinating. Eating a well-balanced diet in addition to choosing dishes and snacks with healthy fats may make the bigger impact on overall health. Some research suggests that diets with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains (and less emphasis on meat, poultry, and dairy) when partnered with healthier fats from sources like nuts, corn oil, and olive oil can promote heart health and lower cholesterol.
If you are looking for more individualized advice on diet and nutrition, you may want to speak with a registered dietician, or a health care provider. If you’re a Columbia student, both the Morningside campus Medical Services and the Student Health Service on the Medical Center campus have registered dieticians on staff for nutritional consultations. You can also access nutritional information through Alice! Health Promotion Nutrition Initiatives.
Here’s to good eating and good health!
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!