Nutrition & Physical Activity

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Vegetarian — Can't wake up in the morning

Dear Not worried...just curious,

If your diet is leaving you drowsy, it may be related to not eating enough calories — especially since many vegetarian foods tend to be relatively low-calorie. Eating too few calories would leave your body without enough energy to "get up and go" in the morning. To increase your calorie intake, try buying a variety of nuts, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.), and dried fruits to make your own trail mix: each day, put about one cup into a bag and carry it with you to snack on. Besides added calories, you will also be getting a good source of vitamins, minerals, and some protein into your diet.

At meal times, include healthy size portions of grains (whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, buckwheat, etc.), vegetables, fruit, and legumes (dried beans and peas), and use a moderate amount of vegetable oil (canola and olive are good choices) for cooking. If you eat eggs and dairy, they can also serve as a great source of protein, calcium, and added calories.

In terms of exercise, aim for about 30 minutes of aerobic activity five or more times a week to get cardiovascular and energy-boosting benefits. Exercise in excess of about one hour of aerobic activity, five or more times a week, should be reserved for those training for a competitive sport (and who are eating higher-calorie diets!). High levels of exercise increase the risk of sports-related injury and may make it harder to take in a sufficient amount of calories.

Even if you think you sleep the right number of hours, keep in mind that some people, particularly college-aged people, require up to ten hours of sleep a night. Other sleep habits might also give you problems; for example, it's important to try to go to bed and wake up at close to the same time each day. Although this may seem nearly impossible on a student schedule, try to get on an even keel to start off the semester. If you wake up at 11:00 AM most days and get up for an 8:00 AM class two days a week, you most likely will feel like you never quite wake up on the two early days, even if your total amount of sleep is adequate. You may want to adjust your routine so that you go to bed early enough to wake up at the same time each day (weekends included), and see if your tiredness improves.

If you feel overly exhausted or your drowsiness is interfering with school and life activities, you may want to consider seeing your health care provider. Students at Columbia can make an appointment through Open Communicator (Morningside) or by contacting the Student Health Service (CUMC).

Good luck getting up and at 'em!

Alice

Calcium, milk, and osteoporosis

Dear Milked,

There may be some downsides to guzzling milk, like lactose intolerance or a hefty grocery bill, but calcium loss is not one of them! To build strong bones and ward off osteoporosis, milk (and calcium supplements to some extent) does a body good. However, if you dislike so-called "cow's juice," there are other tasty (and inexpensive) foods that are high in calcium. For more pros and cons about drinking milk, see Milk — Bad or good? in the Go Ask Alice! archive for Fitness and Nutrition.

According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, the amount of calcium your body needs varies by age:

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for calcium

Life Stage Group

Calcium (in milligrams)

Children 1 to 3 years

700 mg

Children 4 to 10 years

1,000 mg

Adolescents and adults

1,000 to 1,300 mg

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

1,000 to 1,300 mg

One of cup skim milk packs about 300 mg of calcium, so it's true that you would need to drink three to four cups a day to reach your RDA for calcium. However, some health experts warn it isn't necessary, or even healthy, to load up on dairy. Consider limiting your dairy intake to one or two low-fat servings a day, and getting more calcium from beans, tofu, and dark green veggies like broccoli, spinach, and Chinese cabbage. For a list of calcium levels in healthy foods, take a look at the chart in Calcium — how much is enough? in the Alice! Nutrition and Physical Activity archive.

Here are some tips to maximize calcium absorption and pave the way for healthy bones:

  • Seek out vitamin D. Spend 15 to 30 minutes in the sun each day (sunlight fuels vitamin D production), eat foods containing vitamin D (try fortified breakfast cereals, tuna fish, or salmon), or take a supplement.
  • Get enough vitamin K by munching green leafy veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale.
  • Pair calcium-rich foods with acidic ones. Try adding orange segments to your spinach salad or squirting lemon juice on steamed broccoli to facilitate calcium absorption.
  • Don't go overboard with dietary fiber, magnesium, tannins in tea, or high protein diets, all of which limit calcium availability.
  • Cut back on salt, caffeine, cola, nicotine, and antacids containing aluminum since these ingredients can rob the body of calcium.

Once calcium is absorbed into the body, more than 99 percent of it is used for building bones and teeth. Due to daily strain on the skeletal system, our bones are constantly broken down and reconstructed. After age 35 this rebuilding process naturally slows. In some cases, bone tissue deteriorates dramatically, leading to osteoporosis (literally meaning "little bone"), a disease characterized by bones that become more and more fragile. Even under slight pressure, bones can break and crush, causing broken wrists or hip fractures. Women are at a higher risk than men partly because the decrease in estrogen in their bodies after menopause increases bone loss. Those most at risk are non-black women. Men and black women tend to have a greater amount of initial bone mass, so are less likely to have problems with osteoporosis.

Many factors influence the rate at which bone density decreases, including heredity, hormones, diet, physical activity, smoking, and kidney performance. You can't change your genes, but you can strengthen your bones by getting plenty of calcium as part of balanced diet, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking. If you believe that you're prone to osteoporosis, you may want to see a health care provider to talk about ways to reduce your risk. Students at Columbia can contact Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC) for an appointment. For more general information on osteoporosis, check out the International Osteoporosis Foundation.

If you dislike dairy, you don't need to sport a milk mustache to ward off osteoporosis. By getting lots of calcium and exercise, you can stay strong at 23 or 83!

Alice

Very low protein diet — Good for health?

Dear SMS,

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

Table via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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.

Alice

February 4, 2014

550964
Not hard to get enough protein, even if Vegan, if you know how to eat. I find not good, those who eat all raw veggies and fruits, you need some grains and definitely proteins. But many seeds, root...
Not hard to get enough protein, even if Vegan, if you know how to eat. I find not good, those who eat all raw veggies and fruits, you need some grains and definitely proteins. But many seeds, root crops and nuts, have far more protein then meat or animal products like dairy and eggs. I don't eat any animal products, plus no wheat/gluten grains, and nightshade plants, they cause inflammation in my body, I am intolerant of them; some due I due to auto immune problems, and somewhat I think because of my Native American heritage. As was said already, you don't have to consume a full amino acid spectrum at each meal, just accomplish it during the day. You actually get more complete digestion of things, if you have less combinations of of food groups. Proteins best digested if eaten alone or only with other proteins, veggies ok, if not starchy or too starchy. Most fruits don't digest well with starches, but acid fruits help digest proteins. I find that some fruits like Melons, are best eaten by themselves, nothing else added; eat fresh fruits that way. I sometimes eat things like dates and nuts together, that seems ok.

March 11, 2013

525286
Great article, Alice. I'm currently studying the effects of a body building diet on a "minimal" amount of protein, vs the 1.5-2.0 grams p/ body weight that is so popular these days. I'm curious...
Great article, Alice. I'm currently studying the effects of a body building diet on a "minimal" amount of protein, vs the 1.5-2.0 grams p/ body weight that is so popular these days. I'm curious about the possible positive effects of lessening the protein load, if only for a short time. As you stated, our problem is that of protein excess. Thanks for a great advice.

Do you have any information on cholesterol?

Dear Seeking fat,

Cholesterol is a white, waxy lipid (fat) found naturally in the human body. Most cholesterol is produced by the liver, while a smaller amount is ingested directly from meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and other foods of animal origin (plant foods do not contain cholesterol). Cholesterol is involved in many vital life-processes, such as the production of hormones and the repair of cell membranes. To get where it's needed, cholesterol travels through the bloodstream as lipoproteins — fat packaged up in little protein spheres.

Studies have demonstrated that a blood test measuring cholesterol levels can help establish one's risk for heart disease. This test measures the amount of fat found in the bloodstream, including high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and triglycerides (another type of fat molecule). A total cholesterol score is then obtained by putting these three numbers into a mathematical formula. Research has shown that high levels of HDL decrease one's risk for heart disease (hence the term "good" cholesterol), while high LDL levels (a.k.a. "bad" cholesterol) increase one's risk. The medical community currently uses the following guidelines to put these numbers in perspective.

 

  Desirable Range
Total Cholesterol       < 200 milligrams (mg)/deciliter (dL)
LDL       < 130 mg/dL
HDL       > 60 mg/dL
Triglycerides       < 150 mg/dL

 

Because the total cholesterol score is a composite that includes both "good" and "bad" cholesterol, this number alone is less useful as an indicator of risk than the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL. For example, having a total cholesterol number above 200 mg/dL indicates a statistically greater risk of heart disease, but if this number is arrived at because the HDL number is especially high while the LDL and triglyceride numbers are normal or low, then the risk level may actually be below average. The ideal total cholesterol to HDL ratio is less than 3.5; a ratio of 4.5 is average, while a ratio of 5 or greater is a red flag.

 

Total Cholesterol/HDL Ratio Guidelines
Ideal: < 3.5
Average: 4.5
Potentially Harmful: = 5

 

Blood cholesterol levels vary according to genetics as well as lifestyle choices. For example, eating saturated fats is the largest contributor to high blood cholesterol levels. Other lifestyle factors include smoking, which is associated with lowering HDL levels (increasing risk), and regular exercise, which is associated with boosting them (lowering risk).

For more detailed information on cholesterol, read the Related Q&As listed below or visit the American Heart Association web site.

Alice

Risks of aspartame?

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!

Alice

Chocolate — good or bad?

Dear Reader,

Dinner's in a few hours. Lunch seems like it was ages ago. You still have to work on a paper, drive your little brother to soccer, and do the dishes. The deliciousness of chocolate and the sweet sugar/caffeine fix it offers may seem to be the only thing to get you through, so you reach for a bar… is that so bad? New research says no, and yes, depending largely on which type of chocolate you choose and how much of it you eat. Cacao, the bean from which chocolate is made, is not itself unhealthy. In fact, it offers many potential health benefits like lowering blood pressure, increasing sensitivity to insulin, improving coronary vasodilatation (widening of blood vessels) as well as other cardiovascular benefits, and acting as an anti-oxidizing agent. But not all chocolates are created equal.

The good guys in chocolate are flavonoids, health-promoting compounds found in plant-based foods (fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes) that belong to a larger class of compounds called polyphenols. In plants, flavonoids work to repair damage and protect from environmental toxins. When we consume plant-based foods rich in flavonoids, it appears that they can act the same ways in our bodies, offering antioxidant protection from free radicals, and protection from plaque formation on our arterial walls.

Dark chocolate is the most flavonoid-rich variety of chocolate, and therefore the most likely to offer health benefits. However, as chocolate is processed flavonoids are lost, and most commercial chocolates are highly processed. Flavonoids also tend to have a bitter flavor, so many commercial chocolates intentionally process them out. In addition, many chocolate products are made with milk, which can interfere with the antioxidant functioning of flavinols, negating most of the potential health benefits. Finally, many chocolate products are laden with caramel, nuts, marshmallow, and other high-fat, high-calorie add-ins that decrease the amount of flavinols in every bite and make a small chocolate snack a hefty caloric load. Even the best, most flavonoid-rich dark chocolate is replete with fat, sugar, and calories (one ounce of any kind of chocolate has about 140 to 150 calories and 9 to 10 grams of fat), so if you're upping the amount of chocolate you eat to gain health benefits, keep in mind that you may want to trim calories in other areas.

One final consideration: there is currently no research that definitively suggests the amount of chocolate that should be eaten to achieve health benefits. You could also get the polyphenol-related health benefits by eating other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, cranberries, and onions. That said, for most people, enjoying a small piece of dark chocolate once in a while is probably not going to be harmful, and is more favorable than reaching for the common trick-or-treat variety candy bar.

Over time chocolate has gotten a mixed reputation. It used to be seen as a fattening, pimple-producing crutch for the premenstrual. But chocolate does not cause acne, raise blood cholesterol, cause addiction, nor is it fattening if eaten in moderation. More recently, the pendulum has swung in favor of chocolate, which has come to be regarded as a kind of superfood. While it can offer some wonderful benefits, it may not be the antioxidant source of choice for everyone. Chocolate, as well as red wines and certain cheeses, contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a substance that can dilate blood vessels in the brain. People sensitive to PEA might find that eating chocolate can trigger headaches, even migraines. And for those prone to heartburn, chocolate can cause an episode, as would any other high-fat food.

So is chocolate bad for you? Each person should answer this question for themselves taking into consideration which kind of chocolate is within reach and their own health needs. For most healthy and fit individuals, chocolate is a pleasurable and reasonably healthy way to get some flavonoids into the system. For those prone to migraines or who have to watch their fat intake, they might want to stick with the cranberries and onions.

Alice

Muscle cramps

Dear A Real Pain in the Butt,

Cramping can be so frustrating, and as you said, uncomfortable. Unfortunately, no one fully understands what causes muscle cramps. Factors that contribute to cramping include dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, overexertion, and/or inadequate fitness/conditioning.

Is it possible that the sort of exercise you are doing is a cause? Think about your exercise routine and examine your patterns. Are you doing specific exercises that stretch the muscles in your buttocks? If so, how often and for how long do you participate in these exercises? Could you change your regimens to see if it's the type or amount of exercise that could be causing your muscle distress? You may also try adding stretching routines before and after you exercise.

It's interesting that your nighttime calf cramps disappeared when you introduced a sports drink as a post workout strategy. That could lend a possible explanation: perhaps you are dehydrated and/or have an electrolyte imbalance, particularly of sodium, potassium, and calcium. A low sodium eating plan, coupled with high perspiration losses or with persistent vomiting/diarrhea, can deplete your body of sodium. Potassium deficiency is not likely to be the result of sweat loss; however, the result of both a sodium and potassium deficiency can be muscle cramping. A lack of calcium has also been identified as a contributor to cramping.

Another approach might be to experiment with your eating plan — perhaps increase your salt (pretzels, olives, nuts, salami), potassium (bananas, oatmeal, potatoes), and calcium (milk, yogurt, fortified orange juice) intake to see if you notice any changes. Also try to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, especially in the hours leading up to a workout. An easy way to check hydration is to notice the color of your urine. Clear, light urine reveals a more hydrated body than dark, orange urine.

If these suggestions don't work, your condition gets worse, or it's severe enough to interfere with your daily life, it's probably time to consult your health care provider. Columbia students can make an appointment with a health care provider by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC). Here's to putting your booty pains "behind" you!

Alice

January 6, 2014

547791
Very good information, expanation and advice. Before becoming alarmed with the condition of concern, you recommend a mild approach to see if there is a need to go further.
Very good information, expanation and advice. Before becoming alarmed with the condition of concern, you recommend a mild approach to see if there is a need to go further.

Egg substitutes

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.

Alice

What's the difference between vitamins and minerals?

Dear Reader,

There is a lot of conflicting information about the pros and cons of supplements, so thanks for asking an important question. A healthy and nutritious diet involves six classes of nutrients:

  • carbohydrates
  • fats
  • proteins
  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • water

Carbohydrate, fat, and protein are considered macronutrients [because our bodies require them in large quantities (grams/day)] and they yield energy. Vitamins and minerals are considered micronutrients [because our bodies need them in smaller amounts (milligrams or micrograms/day)] and instead of yielding energy, they help our bodies carry out necessary and important physiological processes. About 40 of these nutrients are essential for life because our bodies cannot synthesize enough to meet physiological needs (so our diet provides us with the bulk of these essential nutrients).

Vitamins are either water-soluble (water is required for absorption and are excreted in urine) or fat-soluble (requires fat for absorption and are stored in fat tissue). There are 9 different water-soluble vitamins: vitamin C and the eight B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, folate, biotin, and pantothenic acid); and, 4 different fat-soluble vitamins: vitamins A, D, E, and K. Each of these vitamins have unique roles and functions in our bodies. For example, vitamin A promotes eyesight and helps us see in the dark, and vitamin K helps blood to clot.

Minerals are categorized as major or macro- (calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, and sulfur), and trace or micro- (iron, iodine, zinc, chromium, selenium, fluoride, molybdenum, copper, and manganese) minerals, the former needed in quantities of 100mg/day or more, and the latter required in much smaller, or "trace," amounts. These 16 essential minerals also play vital roles in the body, such as calcium in osteoporosis prevention and iron in (iron-deficiency) anemia prevention; and, they can be found in the body dissolved in body fluids as ions and/or are part of important compounds, such as calcium and phosphorus in hydroxyapatite found in bones and teeth. Other minerals, such as lead, are contaminant minerals and not nutrients because they can cause harm by disrupting normal bodily functions and processes, i.e. lead poisoning.

Vitamins ("vita" = life and "amine" = containing nitrogen) are organic (containing carbon, which is an element found in all living things) compounds (containing atoms of one or more different elements). Minerals are pure inorganic elements (containing atoms of the same element), meaning they are much simpler in chemical form than vitamins. All vitamins are essential or required by our bodies, whereas only some minerals are essential nutrients. Vitamins are vulnerable to heat, light, and chemical agents, so cooking, food preparation, processing, and storage must be appropriate to preserve vitamins in food. Minerals, on the other hand, are more stable to food preparation, but mineral loss can occur when they are bound to other substances in foods (such as oxalates found in spinach and tea, and phytates found in legumes and grains), making them unavailable for the body to utilize.

There is not a lot of research to state unequivocally if taking extra vitamins or minerals is harmful or helpful for the body. Our bodies do have a natural maximum capacity for different types of vitamins and minerals, so taking a lot of supplements may result in nausea or other side effects as your system works to get rid of the excess. While some vitamins and minerals are water soluble and can be excreted through urine if they are in excess, others are absorbed in fat and can accumulate over time. Some supplements can also interact with prescribed medications, so you may want to include them when asked about any medications during medical exams. You may also want to speak to your health care provider before adding any new supplements to your diet.  

Health care professionals do agree that the best source of both macro and micro nutrients is from a well-balanced diet. Try visiting ChooseMyPlate.gov for information on the health benefits, nutrients, and vitamins available in different foods. Depending on the person, current levels of vitamins and minerals may be higher or lower than necessary and may warrant a supplement or dietary changes. To understand what vitamins and minerals are most appropriate for you, you may want to consult with your health care provider or a registered dietician. If you’re a Columbia student, you can make an appointment by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC) to speak with either a health care provider or dietitian. You might also want to check out the get balanced! Guide for Healthier Eating. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) websites have additional information about dietary supplements in general.

Here’s to finding the balance that’s right for you!

Alice

Weightlifting and still fat

Dear No desire to be lard-boy,

Good for you for taking care of yourself by exercising! It may be frustrating to work so hard and not see the results you want, but you're on the right track. You may need to make changes to your diet and/or workout to look like a lean, mean, workout machine, but it may be best (and helpful) to do so under the supervision of a health care provider and/or a registered dietitian.

When we consume more calories than we expend, we gain weight. When the amount of calories consumed is less than the amount expended, we lose weight. Pretty straightforward, right? Maybe not. Additional factors may influence the amount of calories we burn, including genetics and body mass composition. Generally, however, eating a low fat, well-balanced diet that does not exceed your ideal caloric intake may be helpful for weight loss. A dietitian may be able to help you create a healthy, well-balanced food plan based on your specific dietary needs and personal goals. For more information, you can also check out the Go Ask Alice! nutrition and physical activity archives.

Now let's talk workout. Have you considered asking a physical trainer for suggestions? In any case, you may want to consider incorporating more aerobic activity into your exercise regimen. Aerobic exercise, which gets your body to burn lots of calories, occurs when you move the big muscles of your body through space for 20 minutes or more (e.g., running, walking, biking). Increasing the amount of aerobic exercise you do in proportion to weight lifting may, therefore, help with taking off the extra fat. A tip: evidence suggests that you'll burn more calories during your aerobic workout if you hit the weight room first. Not a bad deal.

Whether you're sculpted of chiseled rock or, er… lard, positive body image is key. Although the media portrays a certain image of how we are supposed to look, we come in all different shapes and sizes, and that's a good thing. Weight loss and sculpting may help you make positive changes to your lifestyle, but just make sure that it's not at the expense of your physical health and emotional well-being. So, while you're lifting weights or running on that treadmill, you may want to mull over whether you enjoy doing these activities, and how they make you feel.

If you are a student at Columbia and would like to speak with a registered dietitian and/or health care provider, you can make an appointment by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC). You can also visit the Dining Services' nutrition resources. For additional information, check out the Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Keep up the good work and good luck!

Alice

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