Nutrition & Physical Activity

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Natural ulcer remedies?

Dear Reader,

Ulcers can really eat at you. They typically occur in the lining of the top of the small intestine, the duodenum (aka duodenal ulcers), or the stomach (aka peptic ulcers). Various options exist for treating and/or possibly preventing them.

Common culprits of stomach ulcers include the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria and prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen). For more information on ulcer symptoms and causes, check out Ulcers and Stress and the stomach — how do I avoid getting an ulcer? in the Go Ask Alice! general health archives.

Although prescription medications are used to treat ulcers, some individuals may choose to treat ulcers without medication, typically by eating (or avoiding) certain foods, taking nutritional supplements, and herbs. Of course, herbs and nutritional supplements are not without risk, especially since they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so be sure to discuss any natural treatment options with a healthcare provider first.

The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends herbs such as DGL-licorice, mastic, and cranberry for relieving ulcer symptoms. Additional remedies that may also be helpful include homeopathy, acupuncture, and/or chiropractic treatment. If you prefer food (or nutritional supplements) as a strategy, you may want to consider :

  • Eating foods that are high in antioxidants (i.e.blueberries, tomatoes, and bell pepper), flavonoids (i.e.apples, onions, garlic, and tea), and B-vitamins (i.e. almonds, beans, and dark leafy greens)
  • Reducing red meat consumption
  • Avoiding foods containing refined white flour, sugar, and trans-fats (usually found in commercially baked goods)
  • Avoiding drinks that may irritate the stomach (i.e. coffee, alcohol, and carbonated drinks)
  • Cooking with healthy oils, such as olive oil or vegetable oil
  • Reducing stress by doing relaxing activities, such as meditation and yoga, or any other activity that you enjoy (Check out Meditation, yoga, tai-chi — how do I begin? in the Go Ask Alice! general health archives for some tips)
  • Supplementing your diet with a probiotic and a daily multivitamin containing vitamins A, C, E, the B-vitamins, and trace minerals (i.e., magnesium, calcium, zinc, and selenium)
    List adapted from Peptic Ulcer from the University of Maryland Medical Center.

If you have been diagnosed with ulcers or if you think you may have them, you may want to consider discussing your symptoms with a healthcare provider. By working together, you and your provider can develop a treatment plan that meets your needs. 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, in time, the ulcers are the sore losers!


Foods with folic acid

Dear The Bee,

Great question. There are a number of tasty choices for foods rich in folic acid. First, let's look at why it may be important to pay attention to folic acid intake.

Folic acid, also known as folate or folacin, is an important B vitamin that significantly lowers the risk of serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Folic acid is important in the synthesis of DNA, which controls cell function and heredity as well as tissue growth. In addition, folate acts with vitamin B-12 to produce red blood cells. Preliminary studies also suggest that folacin may be helpful in preventing cervical cancer.

Most people get an adequate amount of folic acid from the foods they eat. Pregnant women, people taking certain medications, and alcoholic individuals may be at higher risk for folate deficiency. Women of childbearing age (approximately fifteen to forty-five years) are recommended to include 400 micrograms of folic acid in their diets, particularly important before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects.

The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folate is 180 to 200 micrograms (mcg). Rich dietary sources of folate are recommended over supplements. They include:

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Lightly cooked beans and peas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Sprouts
  • Oranges and grapefruits
  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Poultry
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and enriched grain products

One cup (8oz) of orange juice provides half the RDA for folate, underscoring how easy a nutrient it is to consume. Keep in mind that processing food destroys 50 percent to 90 percent of the folate, as it is very susceptible to heat. It is really important to eat raw foods and lightly cooked vegetables as they retain their nutrient value the best when cooked minimally in water — through steaming, stir-frying, or microwaving. Because folic acid is so important during pregnancy, some pregnant women take a multivitamin or supplement with folic acid. However, taking too much folic acid could mask a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which could be dangerous, meaning that pregnant women should discuss their diet, whether they need folic acid supplementation, and the best potential sources of folic acid for their situation with a health care provider.

Hope this helps you fill your plate with folate!


Melatonin — alleviates jet lag?

Dear Reader,

While jetting cross-country can be a fun adventure, coping with jet lag is often an unwelcome effect. Jet lag is a temporary disorder that occurs when air travelers rapidly travel across three or more time zones. Traversing time zones appears to interfere with a person's production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycles (see Melatonin from the Go Ask Alice! archives for more information). This may explain why jet travel disrupts our sleeping patterns and why it takes a while for us to adjust to a new time zone. Travelers have the option of taking melatonin to help counteract the effects that flying has on getting a good night's sleep.

Taking melatonin to reduce jet lag is a well-tested and safe use of the hormone. When the goal is to be in bed and asleep during the normal nighttime hours of your destination, timing is everything. If you take melatonin at the wrong time while still at home in New York, you may land safely in London, but your inner clock may  be wandering around the Los Angeles airport wondering how it got on the wrong flight! So, what's the trick?

The secret to shifting your internal clock lies in the direction of your flight and duration of your journey. Travelers who cross three or more time zones generally require more time to adjust. Depending on your travel direction, it is recommended to take melatonin as follows:

  • Westward travel is associated with early evening sleepiness and predawn awakening. When traveling westward, melatonin can be taken in the morning.
  • Traveling to the east is associated with struggling to fall asleep at the destination bedtime and difficulty arising in the morning. In this case, it is best to take melatonin in the evening at your local time.
  • Melatonin can be taken 30 minutes before sleeping. You can also ask your health care provider about the right time to take it.
  • Though side effects are uncommon, it is a good idea to avoid alcohol when using melatonin.

The severity of jet lag is also dependent on whether a person is able to sleep while traveling, their age, and the availability of local circadian time cues at the destination (such as natural sunlight). Other than taking melatonin, your health care provider may recommend that you:

  • Avoid alcohol, large meals, and caffeinated beverages during travel
  • Eat meals at the appropriate time of your destination
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Sleep, if possible, during long flights
  • Consider timed bright light exposure prior to and during travel
  • Take sleep-inducing medications, such as zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta) and zaleplon (Sonata), during travel and to help you sleep during the first couple of days after your arrival

While adjusting to a new time zone may seem like a drag, don't worry, for your body will adjust in due time. Jet lag may last for several days, but it is a temporary condition that is normally manageable. Whether or not you choose to take melatonin depends on the severity of your jet lag and your preference to induce sleep. In the meantime, don't forget to adjust your watch as well. Happy (and restful) travels!


Beginning to exercise and out of breath!

Dear Reader,

Slow down, but don't give up! Biking, rollerblading, and running are excellent forms of exercise for cardiovascular fitness, improving coordination, and strengthening muscles in your body, especially in your legs. Given that you are just starting out a new exercise routine, you may want to speak with your health care provider. S/he may be able to provide you with a healthy way to start getting in shape based on your fitness level and personal health history.

First things first, figuring out an approximate training intensity, or cardiovascular training zone, is a good place to start. Each individual has an optimal level at which they can exercise that allows the best use of oxygen and energy. Starting out at the level that is right for you will help you build your endurance. The following formula will help you determine your training intensity level:

  1. Estimate your maximal heart rate (MHR) by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you are 25 years old, your MHR is 195.
  2. To figure out your lower limit, multiply your MHR 65%. For example, if your MHR is 195, your lower limit is 195 x 0.65, or 127 beats per minute.
  3. To establish your upper limit, multiply your MHR by 85%. For example, if your MHR is 195, your upper limit is 195 x 0.85, or 166 beats per minute.

When you first begin to exercise, this intensity level will be fairly low — working out at a higher level could leave you worn out and gasping for air. If working at the 65% level is too strenuous for you to sustain for 20 minutes, begin by working at the 50% level. After a few weeks, when you feel that your endurance and strength have increased, you can increase your training intensity. The goal is to exercise between 65 - 85% of your maximum heart rate. Be aware that as your heart strengthens, it takes less of an effort for it to pump blood to your lungs and tissue throughout your body. Believe it or not, exercise will become easier! You now will be able to increase either the duration or intensity of your workout.

Now that you know your training intensity, in terms of heart rate, you now have a gauge that helps you monitor how hard you are exercising. About twenty minutes into your workout, stop and take your pulse for 15 seconds (after 15 seconds your heart rate begins to drop), and multiply the number of beats by four. If you are in your target zone, keep going at the pace you were at. If you are above or below, then you know to either decrease or increase the intensity level of your exercising. After a while it will either become second nature to you, or you will begin to know your body and be able to estimate the right intensity level for you. These assessments will help you exercise longer before feeling tired, and you will get a much better workout.

It also helps to stretch and slowly warm up before exercising and not to overdo it in terms of the duration and frequency of workouts. Start out with 20 to 30 minute sessions, working slowly up to a longer workout (if you wish to do so). Don't try to get a really intense workout every day of the week — this could lead to burnout. Try to exercise about three to five times a week, and vary the intensity or type of activity. If you smoke, cutting down or stopping will help significantly to increase lung capacity. Also, speaking with a health care provider before you change your exercise routine is always a good idea. S/he may be able to provide you with a healthy way to start getting in shape based on your fitness level. If you are a student at Columbia, you can make an appointment at Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).

Now that you’ve read up on exercise, get ready for takeoff! Set reasonable goals for yourself, (for example, exercise three times a week for 30 minutes). If you are not as "in-shape" as you want to be this summer, make it your goal to reach that level next summer, and stay active all year long. Remember to take it slowly — a good base for fitness can be maintained for the rest of your life.


Sources of iron

Dear Popeye,

You can definitely find iron in foods other than spinach, that's for sure! Animal sources of iron include liver, kidneys, red meat, poultry, fish (especially oysters and clams), and eggs. Good plant sources of iron include peas, beans, nuts, dried fruits, leafy green vegetables (especially spinach), enriched pastas and breads, and fortified cereals. Our ability to absorb iron from foods varies from about three percent to 40 percent, depending on its form in the food, the body's need for it, and a variety of other factors. Iron from animal proteins (heme iron) is better absorbed by the body than iron from plant foods (non-heme iron).

Iron is an essential mineral our body needs to function well. Iron is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood, and myoglobin, which carries oxygen in muscle. It is part of several enzymes and proteins in the body, is needed for immune function, and contributes to drug detoxification pathways in the liver.

Certain foods and nutrients can impact how much iron you get from your food: zinc, high-dose calcium supplements, and tannins in tea can all reduce iron absorption. Compounds known as phylates and oxalates, found in grains and vegetables, respectively, can all bind iron and therefore reduce its absorption as well. To optimize the amount of iron you get from plant foods, eat them with a food high in vitamin C at the same meal. Foods high in vitamin C include broccoli, tomatoes, greens, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, cantaloupe and citrus fruits. You can also eat meat or other food with heme iron along with plant foods to enhance the absorption of all nonheme iron present.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iron is 8 mg for adult men (ages 19-50+) and 18 mg for adult women (ages 19-50). The higher dosage for women in this age range is primarily because of menstrual blood loss. After the age of 50, a woman's RDA is 8 mg. If you don't take in enough iron, you can become iron-deficient. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies internationally, and is most common when iron needs are greatest in your life cycle — during infancy, preschool years, and puberty, and during child-bearing years for women. Pregnancy and disease also increase iron needs. For more information, see Iron deficiency in the General Health archive. If you are at Columbia, contact Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC) to make an appointment with a health care provider and/or a nutritionist, who can discuss your dietary needs and iron intake.


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.


February 4, 2014

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

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.

Food Guidelines — How much is a serving?

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

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

Oils 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).


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.


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!


Dodge Gym schedule

Dear Work-out,

How about giving your mouse a virtual workout and surfing on over to the Dodge Physical Fitness Center web site and click under "Schedules" to find the most specific, up-to-date schedules for the gym. Heck, you could even get started on some cardio by running or walking over to Dodge and checking out the schedule posted there.

In general, during the fall and spring semesters, the building is open

  • Monday through Thursday 6 AM to midnight 
  • Friday 6 AM to 10 PM 
  • Saturday 10 AM to 10 PM 
  • Sunday 10 AM to midnight

During the summer, it's open Monday through Thursday 7 AM to 11 PM, Friday 7 AM to 9 PM, Saturday noon to 5 PM, and Sunday noon to 7 PM. There are some exceptions though, so check out the suggestions above to ensure you aren't left out in the cold or wasting your time.  Have a great workout!


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