Nutrition & Physical Activity

Share this

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

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,

Alice

Dancer thinks she may have an eating disorder

Dear Confused!,

It sounds as though your school did a good job in raising awareness of eating disorders, but you're fuzzy on whether or not this actually applies to you.

Lots of sports — including dance — focus on attaining a certain "body type." Some people are naturally born to look a certain way, while others are not. Striving for an ideal that is not always attainable (or even realistically possible) can lead some people to develop obsessions and unhealthy behaviors.

Eating disorders are not always "black and white." As a result, health care professionals use a designated set of criteria to medically diagnose an eating disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), these include:

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Refusal to maintain minimal body weight for age and height
  • Intense fear of becoming fat or weight gain despite being underweight
  • Misperception of body size and shape
  • Missed three or more periods in a row

Bulimia Nervosa

  • Regular and repeated binge eating bouts, followed by self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other drugs; starvation; or, excessive physical activity, to prevent weight gain
  • Both bingeing and compensatory behaviors take place about two or more times a week for at least three months
  • Self-evaluation is overly based on body size and shape

Sometimes people exhibit certain conditions of these eating disorders, but not all. What does this mean? They could have disordered eating and/or body image distortions, but not a fully developed eating disorder. Even so, it is preferable for a health care professional to diagnose the situation, because s/he can then refer a patient to the right people. Obtaining the appropriate resources can help a person identify the issues behind the eating and/or body image concerns.

You may want to speak with a parent(s), trusted friend, teacher, or mentor about your thoughts. Perhaps you can also make an appointment with your health care provider and/or with one of the professionals who spoke at your school. S/he could assess your situation and help you develop a healthy relationship with food, your body, and dance.

For further information, eating disorder resources are available on the web, including:

Here's to dancing to the beat of healthy living,

Alice

Is rest the best relief for muscle soreness from intensive training?

Dear Concerned wife,

Unfamiliar or newly strenuous activity, among other factors, can contribute to delayed aches and pains after exercise. Some intensive regimens, such as your husband's, do not accommodate for a sufficient break to help the muscles to recover. You're 100 percent right — rest is most helpful in overcoming muscle soreness.

Firefighting is a physically demanding occupation and it's certain the training is intense and exhausting. It's likely that your husband is performing exercises that incorporate a full range of motion involving two types of muscle contractions. Concentric contractions occur when muscles shorten as they overcome resistance. Think of a bicep curl — raising the weight up produces a concentric contraction. Eccentric contractions happen as muscles act to oppose gravity. In this phase, the muscle is actually lengthening. During a bicep curl, think of lowering the weight — this is the eccentric contraction. It is well documented that the eccentric contractions during exercise contribute to the soreness felt after a workout. The tendons and some connective tissue of stiffer muscles are unable to absorb the stresses of the lengthening part of exercise.

People prone to stiffer muscles may be more susceptible to muscle damage after physical activity than others. They may benefit from warming up first, as this has been shown to reduce symptoms of additional damage, and may possibly protect against further soreness. It's a good idea to start by elevating the pulse rate slowly with some light aerobic activity, such as a brisk walk or easy jog. It's best to stretch once the body has had a chance to warm up a little. Static stretching (i.e. holding a stretch in place for several moments, without bouncing back and forth) can help get muscles ready for any type of training. There is some controversy regarding the usefulness and safety of certain stretches, so it would be a good idea for your husband to get tips from a health care provider or personal trainer on how to stretch. The related Q&A's below provide some tips as well.  

Hydration and nutrition can also play a role in helping the body heal from activity of any intensity. Dehydration is a frequent contributor to soreness and your husband should be hydrating before, during, and after training. Water is the best bet for quenching thirst and a low sugar sports drink can help replace electrolytes for prolonged periods of training. A well-balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, plenty of protein, and complex carbohydrates can help the body perform under intense conditions. Potassium can also help reduce soreness, so your husband may want to consider adding a banana or two to help with recovery. Avoiding excessive alcohol or caffeine use can also prove beneficial.

In the mean time, massage can feel really good to fatigued muscles. So if you're inclined, a relaxing rubdown may be greatly appreciated by your tired, aching husband. To be fair, the two of you could trade massages so you can each relax and recover from the day!

Alice

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

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!

Fiber supplements — Safe to use every day?

Dear Regular,

Some of the fiber supplements (available in powder and pill forms) you are referring to are designed to help alleviate constipation, and are to be used for a limited time only. That's because if a person has chronic constipation, the cause needs to be determined. Other products can be used as supplements, as long as there are no underlying medical issues, such as chronic constipation. Two steps to determine how you use supplements are 1) read the labels carefully to find a fiber product that can be used daily, and 2) speak with your health care provider to determine if you should be taking a daily supplement.

For people who experience constipation or other irregularity with their bowel movements, some causes may be: 

  • Inadequate fiber consumption
  • Lack of exercise
  • Insufficient fluid intake
  • Change in one's daily routine
  • Ignoring the urge to move one's bowels
  • Certain diseases
  • Some medications

Luckily for you and anyone who needs more fiber, fruits and vegetables aren't the only good sources for getting more fiber into your diet. Here are some fiber boosting tips:

  • Have a higher fiber cereal for breakfast — try to select one that contains at least 5 grams per serving.
  • Add beans to salad, or dine on a cup of chili for lunch. Each ½ cup of beans contains 3 to 4 grams of fiber.
  • Choose whole wheat bread, which has 2 grams of fiber per slice.
  • Munch on berries (one serving = ½ cup), pears (1 medium with skin), and oranges (1 medium). If you eat just two servings of these a day, you'll add 7 to 8 grams of fiber.
  • Snack on popcorn (go for air-popped). You get 1 gram of fiber per cup (equal to about 2 to 3 handfuls).
  • Have a baked potato, which has almost 4 grams of fiber.
  • Chomp on a medium carrot, which can add 2 grams of fiber.

Part of the benefit of getting fiber through food is that you will also take in the abundant vitamins, minerals, and plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that are present — you'll get lots of important nutrients, such as vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc; also in these foods are disease fighting plant chemicals, such as anthocyanins, alpha and beta-carotene, isoflavonoids, and phytosterols, among others.

If you do take a fiber supplement, you'll want to be careful because too much fiber can bind important minerals, such as calcium, iron, and magnesium, decreasing their absorption by the body. If you have more questions about your use of supplements, it would be a great idea to ask your health care provider, who knows your medical history and can recommend the best source of fiber for you. If you're a Columbia student, you can make an appointment with Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).

Wishing you continued regularity,

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.

Health benefits of yoga

Dear Reader,

The word yoga means "to bring together or merge" — as in joining the mind and body into a single harmonious unit. The general purpose is to create physical and spiritual strength and awareness. However, more than one hundred different types, or schools, of yoga exist and each form provides its own unique cocktail of health benefits.

 

Most yoga sessions are typically comprised of breathing exercises, meditation, and assuming postures (sometimes called poses) that stretch and flex various muscle groups. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, relaxation techniques, such as those practiced in yoga, can:

  • lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome
  • lower blood pressure and heart and breathing rates
  • reduce insomnia

Students of yoga also generally report:

  • higher levels of energy and muscle endurance
  • decreased levels of stress and anxiety
  • increased feelings of general well-being
  • increased flexibility, balance, and mental focus

To get the most out of yoga, those with physical limitations (i.e., chronic conditions, pregnancy) may want to consult a health care provider and/or yoga instructor for suggestions on the best yoga styles to pursue. In all, to find the right type of yoga for you, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Is physical fitness your goal? If you're looking to tone up or shed a few pounds, Power, Ashtanga, or Bikram ("hot yoga") may be a good fit for you. Though not likely to give you much of an aerobic workout or to greatly increase your muscle strength, these forms will get your blood circulating and your body sweating. Those with hypertension or diabetes should consult a health care provider before delving into these forms of yoga.
  2. Do you have any injuries or chronic conditions? Are you and the gym not on good terms right now? Maybe you're new to yoga and want to ease yourself into it before heading straight for the more pretzel-y poses. If this is the case, gentler forms that focus on body alignment and breathing such as Iyengar, Kripalu, or Viniyoga may be the best option.
  3. Perhaps the physical health component of yoga is secondary for you and you're looking more for the spiritual health benefits. In this case, you may want to look into Kundalini yoga, which focuses on chanting, meditation, and philosophic aspects of yogic practice.

There are many more styles of yoga, and depending on what your personal goals are, the health benefits may vary. For more information about different methods of yoga and how to select the one for you, check out the Yoga Alliance website. The whole idea of yoga is to create balance and harmony between the mind and the body, so shop around to see which forms make you feel the best. Students at Columbia may be able to take yoga classes at Dodge Fitness Center .

Since there are so many different types of yoga, there is no straightforward answer to your question. However, by assessing what you want to get out of your individual yoga practice, you ought to find a style that fits your goals. Namaste!

Alice

Future knee problems from running?

Dear Kneed to know,

Lots of studies have been done on the long-term effects of running on knee health. As a whole, runners seem to have no greater amount of joint destruction or incidence of arthritis than non-runners. In fact, people who are inactive have more mobility problems later in life than their energetic counterparts. Of course, individual variations, such as the way a person trains, one's mileage, rest, recovery, and diet, and the structure of his or her bones and joints, also can have an impact on the health status of knees and other joints.

So, how does this information relate to you? A few concerns come to mind based on the description you give of your training. First of all, it sounds as though you began using the treadmill at a rather high level of exercise. This may cause injury if your joints, muscles, and connective tissue (e.g., ligaments, tendons) are not strong enough to support all of this work. A safe, progressive training program involves increasing duration or intensity by no more than 10 percent per week. (What this means is, if you begin by running 20 minutes the first week, you would increase your time by 2 minutes the second week, and so on.) This gradation computation gives your body a chance to adapt to the growing demands of the activity.

Also, running seven days a week does not allow your muscles the rest and recovery they require for repair and strengthening. Injuries may occur more frequently in people with fatigued muscles. If you feel you must do something every day, try activities that utilize muscles not involved in running, such as upper body weight training. You may wish to use your treadmill a few times a week, and cross-train by swimming or cycling on other days, challenging and strengthening your muscles in different ways. By doing so, you can alleviate the concern of overuse. Varying exercise may also sustain your interest — many people get burned out by doing the same activity day after day after day.

Another consideration is to do some weight training for your leg muscles. It's highly recommended to strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the knee. Knee stretches contains "how-to's" on leg shaping exercises and a description of each muscle or group of muscles that will benefit from such workouts. Many people neglect these exercises because they mistakenly think that their legs are "getting all the exercise they need" from their aerobic activity.

Alice

Syndicate content