Nutrition & Physical Activity

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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!


Herbal teas tame the munchies, but are they a healthy substitute?

Dear rebuffing the munchies with tea,

You pose an interesting question. Herbal teas are brewed from flowers, leaves, and roots of plants other than Camellia sinensis (where black, green, and oolong teas come from). Herbal teas usually contain no caffeine, and therefore "count" towards your daily water needs. If you started drinking herbal tea as opposed to going dry, you've improved your fluid balance. Is it healthy to drink tea instead of eat? Well, that really depends. If you find that going for a cup of tea helps you curb snack time when you're not hungry anyway, then go right ahead.

However, if you really are hungry and it's time for a meal or a snack, eliminating replacing food with a beverage is not such a good idea. Ignoring your hunger only puts you more out of touch with your body's signals. If you put off eating by drinking tea, you may be famished by mealtime. At that point, it may be difficult to control the amount you eat.

A healthy eating plan includes a wide variety of foods in reasonable amounts: lots of different fruits and veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, legumes, lean meats, fish, and poultry, and heart-healthy fats (e.g., monounsaturated from olive and canola oils). If sipping herbal tea helps you keep your intake of snack or junk food to a minimum, fine. If you like a little sweetness, honey has no health advantages over table sugar. And if you find you are drinking a lot of herbal tea, you may want to vary the type, so as not to overdo any one food or herb.

To get professional advice on healthy nutrition, Columbia students can speak with a nutritionist at Medical Services. Appointments are available online through Open Communicator, or by calling x4-2284.

Lastly, let's de-bunk the myth that drinking water makes you gain weight. Water by itself doesn't cause weight gain in the form of body fat. Unless you are drinking highly sweetened beverages, water contains no calories. Drinking sufficient water aids digestion, and along with dietary fiber, prevents constipation. It can also dilute the concentration of excess sodium in the body, and can help reduce fluid retention. Plus, drinking water helps you steer clear of dehydration, which can cause difficulty concentrating, fatigue, weakness, kidney stones, and even more severe conditions. Drink up!


December 17, 2004


I drink herbal tea every day to curb unwanted snacking habits. However, I also wanted to add that some herbal teas are natural diuretics (green, black, oolong) and make you urinate more...


I drink herbal tea every day to curb unwanted snacking habits. However, I also wanted to add that some herbal teas are natural diuretics (green, black, oolong) and make you urinate more often. While this can have positive detoxification benefits on the human body, it can also strip the body of necessary nutrients in the process.

Make sure you eat colorful meals to replenish yourself. Good luck and happy steeping.

Boosting my booty


Your desire for a bulbous backside may butt up against your genes, not to mention gravity and aging. But don't despair, despite your flat-assed family, some exercises and fashion choices can lift and tighten your tail — which, by the way, is comprised mostly of fat and gluteal muscle.

The running you mention is a great way to enhance many aspects of your fitness. Have you considered adding in some other forms of activity to supplement your weekly miles? A combination of weight training and some new forms of cardio may provide the boost you seek. Have you considered a consultation with a personal trainer to help guide you with your goal? If you are a Columbia student, you can meet with a certified trainer from Dodge Fitness Center. Also, consider checking out CU Move, an initiative that offers the University community opportunities to learn about and engage in physical activities that support healthy living.

In addition to a consultation with a trainer, an array of online videos, tips, and research may provide some perspective. A quick internet search for "glute exercises" provides a range of links. It's best to consult with a reputable source to determine the best type of activity. The American Council on Exercise reports on research in many areas of health and fitness. Visit their website for the latest resources, including findings on how to build those glutes.

Some consistent recommendations across sources include:

  • Lunges
  • Step-ups
  • Hip extensions
  • Squats (various types)
  • Cross country skiing (in the woods or at the gym)
  • Stair climbing
  • Blading or skating

In addition to the fitness side of building a backside, have you considered some fashionable ways to bring out your caboose? Pants, underwear, and bathing suits may change the definition of your derriere by elevating and pulling it, or simply making it appear to be shaped in a way that only you know it's not. If you don't mind the filling and feeling, padded underwear (similar to what padded, push-up bras may do for breasts) may create the illusion of a fully formed butt. A lot of clothing styles may also do the trick, and not all of them are expensive. Grab a friend for some fanny feedback and spend a day trying on different pants, jeans, and shorts. With a little trial and error, you're sure to find a style that's flattering and gives you the boost you desire.

Finally, know that many people have a particular body part they perceive to be different, abnormal, too big, or too small. Indeed, the best workout may be your exploration of how to become more comfortable with your backside.


A sweetener called stevia

Dear Skeptical,

Your skepticism is warranted, considering the label "all natural" does not have one, standard definition or imply “risk-free.” In order to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sweeteners marketed as “Stevia” may contain only one highly refined component of the stevia rebaudiana plant, called Rebaudioside A. Due to potential health risks, no other components of the stevia plant have been approved by the FDA as food additives or sugar substitutes. Non-food products (often labeled as dietary supplements) containing less refined stevia ingredients are available, and some are even deemed “safe for consumption.” However, the FDA recommends waiting for more conclusive research before consuming large quantities of supplements containing stevia-derived ingredients other than Rebaudioside A.

In addition to Rebaudioside A, most FDA-approved stevia sweetener products also contain fructooligosaccharide, a sugar extracted from non-stevia fruit sources. Some studies show that fructooligosaccharide may actually promote the growth of healthy bacteria, relieve constipation, regulate lipid metabolism, and promote immune system health. Additionally, these sugars may be less detrimental to oral health than table sugar, and may help to treat glucose intolerance. Rebaudioside A and fructooligosaccharide are both approved by the FDA as food additives.

Although some empirical studies show no negative side effects of consuming unrefined stevia plant products and deem them “relatively safe” and “nontoxic,” the FDA has expressed safety concerns related to these products. Such concerns include negative effects on the reproductive, cardiovascular, and renal systems as well as blood sugar regulation issues. Other concerns include the stevia plant’s potential ability to damage genetic material, but independent scientific studies have determined that this type of gene damage is only possible in a laboratory environment, not in the human body. Stevia proponents also cite the plant’s inability to be digested (hence, the reason why it is calorie-free) as evidence that it simply passes through the body without causing any damage.

When it comes to sweeteners and food additives, Rebaudioside A is the only FDA-approved component of the stevia plant. Considering the inconclusiveness of existing research, unrefined stevia supplements and other non-food products should be consumed cautiously. Good work keeping yourself informed before you ingest!


Allergic to eggs: What else can be used when cooking?

Dear Sis,

How nice of you to cater to your relative! You'll be happy to know that there are a number of suggested substitutions for eggs. Some of them might already be in your kitchen pantry! It's good to note, however, that some substitutions have the potential to alter the texture of the final product depending on the recipe. In addition to being knowledgeable on egg-free ingredients, it's best to be also be vigilant for egg products at the grocery as well (more on that in a bit).  

Before you grab your apron, check to see how many eggs are listed in your recipe's ingredient list. It's recommended that the following substitutions only be used if the recipe requires three or fewer eggs (each is equal to one egg):

  • 1 tablespoon pureed fruit (e.g., applesauce or mashed banana)
  • 2 tablespoons of hot water mixed with 2 teaspoons (or one packet) gelatin
  • 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder mixed with 1 tablespoon each of vinegar and another liquid
  • 1 teaspoon yeast dissolved in ¼ cup warm water
  • 1½ tablespoons of water mixed with 1½ tablespoons of oil and 1 teaspoon of baking powder

List adapted from and the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology.

With a little trial and error, you might find that these substitutions make for better dishes compared to their egg-laden counterparts. If not, you might find other tasty recipes that just don’t list eggs as an ingredient at all.

In addition to substitutions, you may also want to be on the lookout at the grocery for pre-packaged food products that contain egg. The good news is that this information should be pretty easy to spot. According to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, manufacturers are required to declare whether egg (in addition to several other common food allergens) is present in the food item and clearly state it on the product’s ingredient labels.

Hopefully, whether or not your brother-in-law finds the egg-less creations you concoct to his liking, at least he knows you're thinking about his special dietary need.


Am I over-training?

Dear Thrown for a loop,

Congratulations on the skill you have developed. Throwing the javelin can be hard work, and it sounds like you're already experiencing some training-related pain. First of all, getting a professional opinion on your shoulder is a good idea. As a college student, you may need to start with your student health service. If possible, it would be advantageous to see a sports medicine expert, or an orthopedist who specializes in shoulders.

The pain you've described maybe a result of increasing the intensity, frequency, and/or the duration of your training too quickly.  Throwing the javelin takes a lot of strength, engaging the shoulder, back, and arm muscles. If your muscles don't have time to rest, there is no time for muscle repair. If you increased your training quickly, the ligaments and tendons may not have become strong enough to support your new workload.

As for your question on good and bad pain, well, pain really isn't a good thing. There are three kinds of pain associated with physical activity. One is immediate — pain that may be caused by an exertion, and quickly passes. The second is delayed, known as delayed-onset muscle soreness. This is a natural adaptive process. It usually begins 24 to 48 hours after exercise, and decreases after 72 hours. The most recent research points to microscopic tears in muscle and connective tissue causing the pain. This type of soreness usually resolves when a person adapts to the exercise. The third type of pain is continuous, which occurs when insufficient time is allowed between exercise sessions for rest, also known as over-training. The potential for injury is greatest here.

Once you've had your shoulder examined, and you are medically cleared to continue training, it's probably time for a conversation with your coach. You could request a detailed training schedule, which would map out your training days, rest days, goals, and dates by which to reach them. You may want to include a strength and conditioning component to help you increase your strength specific to your sport. Perhaps there is a strength and conditioning coach at your school who can help you with this.

In the mean time, be sure to follow a healthy eating plan. This also means you are taking in sufficient calories to meet your energy demands, drinking fluids to stay hydrated, and eating plenty of carbohydrates to fuel your activity, along with getting sufficient protein for repair of muscle tissue.

Given your accomplishments and hard work thus far, you could hardly be accused of not trying hard enough. If athletes and their trainers don't respect and take care of themselves, their bodies may end up breaking down — letting down themselves, their coaches, and others for good, or at least for a few games — Olympics and otherwise.

Best of luck,


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

Medical Services (Morningside)

Student Health Services (CUMC)

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:

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.

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.


Food preservatives and additives

Dear Jeeeeaaan,

Food additives help maintain the freshness and shelf life of such food products because without them, they would spoil quickly due to exposure to air, moisture, bacteria, or mold. Either natural or synthetic substances may be added to avoid or delay these problems.

Food additives may be used in a variety of ways, including:

  • To maintain consistency or texture — to sustain smoothness or prevent the food from separating, caking, or clumping.
  • To improve or retain nutritional value: Enrichment replaces nutrients lost in processing — this occurs with grains, as some vitamins and minerals are lost in the milling process. Fortification adds a nutrient that wasn't there before and may be lacking in many people's diets. Iodized salt is an example. This has proven useful in preventing goiter, a thyroid disease caused by a deficiency in iodine. Enriched and fortified foods are labeled as such.
  • To delay spoilage
  • To enhance flavor, texture, or color

Preservatives are centuries old. Since ancient times, salt has been used to cure meats and fish, and sugar has been added to fruits to conserve them. Herbs, spices, and vinegar have also served as preservatives. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food additives and preservatives. Granted, mistakes have been made, which have resulted in taking some food additives and preservatives off the market. That is because at the time of approval, prevailing testing methods proved the substances as safe. As science continued to evolve and testing methods improved, changes were made. Technology has also assisted in the approval process as it has become more sophisticated over the years as well. In addition, Food Additive Laws are reviewed and revised according to advancing scientific research.

Food additives in and of themselves don't connote something "bad." For example, ascorbic acid refers to vitamin C and alpha-tocopherol is actually vitamin E. Some uses and examples of food additives are:

Anti-Oxidants: prevent spoilage, flavor changes, and loss of color caused by exposure to air. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are used as antioxidants.
Emulsifiers: used to keep water and oil mixed together. Lecithin is one example used in margarine, baked goods, and ice cream. Mono- and diglycerides are another found in similar foods and peanut butter. Polysorbate 60 and 80 are used in coffee lighteners and artificial whipped cream.
Thickening Agents: absorb water in foods and keep the mixture of oil, water, acids, and solids blended properly. Alginate is derived from seaweed and is used to maintain the texture in ice cream, cheese, and yogurt. Casein, a milk protein, is used in ice cream, sherbet, and coffee creamers.

For a complete guide to information about food additives, including the approval process, click onto the FDA web site.

Another useful link describing many food additives and their uses can be found on the Center for Science in the Public Interest web site.

Hope this provides you with lots of useful information,


Can drinking milk prevent osteoporosis?

Dear Concerned,

Osteoporosis doesn't happen overnight. Many interrelated factors cause this serious loss of bone mass. It begins with osteopenia, a demineralization of bone, and progressively gets worse. But prevention is possible, with proper care. Diet and other health practices influence a person's lifetime bone strength. Getting enough calcium, vitamin D, and weight-bearing exercise are major parts of the prevention picture. According to the new DRI (Daily Reference Intake), people need:

  • 9 - 18 years: 1300 mg/day
  • 19 - 50 years: 1000 mg/day (same guidelines apply for women who are pregnant or lactating)
  • 50 years and older: 1200 mg/day
Vitamin D:
  • 9 - 50 years: 5 micrograms [200 International Units (I.U.)]
  • 50 years and older: 10 micrograms (400 I.U.)
Weight Bearing Exercise: The National Osteoporosis Foundation defines it as "exercise in which bones and muscles work against gravity as the feet and legs bear the body's weight." Examples include walking, jogging, stairclimbing, dancing, and racquet sports, along with weight training. Overexercising, however, can actually decrease bone density. For women, loss of menses may be a signal of too much physical activity.

Other nutrients involved in building strong bones include:

Good Sources
Vitamin C
a vital nutrient in forming collagen, which helps support minerals in the bone structure and plays a crucial role in holding bones together most fruits and vegetables, particularly citrus fruits, papaya, bell peppers, cantaloupe, strawberries, and broccoli.
Vitamin K
activates a protein needed to keep bones strong leafy green vegetables are the best source
may help retain calcium in bone tissue fruits and vegetables, including potatoes, spinach, bananas, orange juice, and various legumes
needed for bone formation green vegetables, whole grains, wheat germ, nuts, and legumes.

Now that you've boned up on osteoporosis, you can see that eating a well-rounded diet is really the best defense. Although calcium from dairy is in the forefront, many nutrients play supporting roles. In addition, regular but not excessive exercise, along with other healthy lifestyle choices, can help you build strong, long-lasting bones.


How soon after eating should workouts begin?

Dear Reader,

There are a few practices that can help minimize stomachaches and increase the benefits of a workout following a meal. Consider the following:

  • Breakfast of champions. It sounds cliché, but it's true: Eating a balanced breakfast is a good idea every day, and especially on workout days. If you're going to do your workout immediately after eating, a smaller breakfast is recommended. If you're getting up at the crack of dawn and can't stomach the idea of eating a meal beforehand, consider a small snack like a granola bar or an apple before you exercise.
  • Size matters. Of your meal, that is. Depending on the size of your meal, digestion can take between one and four hours. If you have consumed a larger meal, it may be better to wait longer to begin your workout. After eating a smaller meal, waiting an hour or a little less should be fine.
  • Go with your gut. Many people like to snack during a workout. This is fine as long as it makes you feel good. People vary in terms of digestion while working out, so do a little experimenting and see if this works for you.
  • Hydrate! It is a myth that drinking water before a workout causes side aches or stomach cramps. Hydration is necessary for a healthy workout and recovery. Not being fully hydrated can raise body temperature and blood pressure, and may cause muscle cramps. Hydrate before, after, and during your workout. 
  • Attention! For people with diabetes or other existing conditions, meal timing may take on additional importance. It's best to consult with a health care provider or nutritionist to discuss options and tips to keep yourself in check.
  • Post-workout? After a workout, it's likely you're body will want and need to replace some of the energy you've just burned. Research is mixed on the exact type of nutrients (carbohydrates, protein), so think healthy and satisfying (apple with peanut butter, low sugar smoothie, yogurt with a small scoop of low-fat granola).

Everyone's metabolism is slightly different. Generally, it can be trouble to ask your digestive system to compete with your muscles for blood supply and energy so eating a "buffet like meal" right before exercise can feel not-so-good. That said, a general rule of thumb is to time your meal eating so you have enough energy while exercising, but don't feel overly full or nauseous. The ultimate answer will really come from you. Let these tips be a guide and have a little fun experimenting until you find the balance that best supports your goals.

Happy exercising!


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

Medical Services (Morningside)

Student Health Services (CUMC)

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