Nutrition & Physical Activity
Dear Five a day,
Eating enough fruits and veggies, and the other food groups while you're at it, can help to keep you healthy, strong, and energetic. Wouldn't it be great if chocolate counted as our daily allowance of legumes, and beer as grains? While these decadent pleasures actually do contain plenty of nutrients, and while wine has benefits in common with its younger incarnation, the grape, it's not quite the same thing.
Both grape juice and red wine contain resveratrol, a plant-based compound, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. Both also contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which may reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) otherwise known as "bad" cholesterol, and increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol. Additionally, studies suggest that drinking either grape juice or red wine can reduce the risk of blood clots, protect blood vessels, prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries), and help to maintain healthy blood pressure. There is less evidence that the potential benefits of wine apply to drinking white or rosé wines.
While this is starting to sound like a big thumbs up for red wine, fruit has nutrients, like loads of fiber, live enzymes, and vitamins and minerals that just aren't present in wine. For that matter, many of them aren't present in juice either — you'd have to eat the fruit itself to get all of them. In addition to not containing all the nutritional value of fruit, wine also contains alcohol, which can pose a stress to the liver, pancreas, and nerve cells over time. Heavy drinkers are also at risk for malnutrition, as alcohol may serve as a caloric substitute for more nutritious foods (like fruit).
For people in good health, regular and moderate wine drinking is usually fine and in fact it may offer some health benefits. But potential health benefits should not necessarily be a reason to start drinking if you don't already. Studies show that occasional or binge drinkers have a higher mortality rates than those who drink moderately on a regular basis. There are also some people who would do best to stay away from wine altogether. Those who suffer from alcoholism, liver disease, pancreatitis, uncontrolled hypertension, depression, or heart disease may worsen their conditions by drinking alcohol.
The somber news for the cabernet-lovers is that while wine can be good for you if you are already healthy and drink moderately and regularly, the best way to fulfill your five-a-day fruit requirement is still the good old-fashioned way of, well, eating fruit.
If you'd like more nutrition advice on how to tailor your diet, you can make an appointment with a nutritionist. Columbia students can meet with a nutritionist at Medical Services (Morningside campus) or the Student Health Service (CUMC campus) for a consultation. Also, you may want to check out the Get Balanced! Guide to Healthier Eating which provides more information regarding food choices available to members of the Columbia Unviersity community.
Dear Sporty and Sexy,
As you may have already noticed, working out at the gym may help you with workin' it in the sack. In addition to increasing aerobic capabilities and muscle strength, exercise has also been linked to a high-revving sex drive. All three of these effects are definitely beneficial beneath the sheets.
Besides possibly enhancing your self-image, which is pretty sexy in itself, exercise also leads to the release of certain chemicals known as endorphins. The release of endorphins is thought to lead to a subsequent release of hormones that pump up a person's sex drive. Even low-intensity activities, such as yoga or tantra, may do a little somethin' somethin' by increasing blood flow to the genitals and increasing arousal.
Exercise may also offer a lift to some men who experience erectile dysfunction (ED), which can be caused by poor blood flow to the genital region, including the penis. Working out gets the heart pumping and improves circulation so that all parts of the body get theirs — their share of blood, that is. What's more, a relationship has been shown between a man's bulging waistline and a higher risk of ED due to underlying heart conditions. All of this means that exercise is doubly beneficial because it can help with weight loss to get both the ticker and the pecker back in shape.
Women, no need to feel left out — being physically active may also increase blood flow to the vagina and clitoris, and make a low libido a thing of the past.
With all the other well-known health benefits of exercise, isn't it great to see how all that sweat can turn into something so sexy?
SAMe, also known as SAM-e, stands for S-adenosylmethionine and occurs naturally in the body. It is formed from the amino acid methionine and the nucleotide adenosine triphosphate, more commonly known as ATP. SAMe works by donating the needed methyl groups for many of the essential reactions that occur in the body. SAMe is also available as a supplement, and is thought to be effective in treating a wide range of diseases ranging from depression and other psychiatric illnesses to infertility, liver problems, osteoarthritis, and premenstrual symptoms and disorders. SAMe can be taken either by mouth or through injections in the muscle given by qualified and trained medical professionals. Since limited research exists on the effectiveness of SAMe in treating the many listed health concerns, it is important for individuals to consult with her/his health care provider before making the decision to take SAMe.
Side-effects of taking SAMe may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomachaches, increased thirst, increased salivation, and decreased appetite, among others. As noted above, your health care provider can help you to decide if SAMe is the appropriate method of treatment for your specific condition, and recommend the proper dosage and method of administration. S/he should also be consulted if you experience any of the side effects described above, or any other side effects, while you are taking the supplement.
Because SAMe is sold as a supplement rather than a drug, it is available over the counter without a prescription. However, keep in mind that supplements and herbs are very loosely regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that there are no checks or guarantees that why you buy actually contains what is labeled on the bottle. Unlike prescription or over-the-counter medications, there are also no guarantees as to the purity, strength, efficacy, or safety of the product. So, even though products like SAMe may sound like a good idea, take the time to talk with your health care provider and to make an informed decision about your health!
Rejoining the ranks of the omnivorous need not mean you make major shifts in your current vegetarian diet, assuming that your current diet is reasonably well-balanced and contains plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Most recommendations about transitioning from a vegetarian diet to one that includes meat suggest slowly adding in easy-to-digest, lean meats, while continuing to eat vegetarian staples.
Fish is an excellent first step. Fish, especially salmon, trout, herring, and sardines (in general, cold-water fish with small bones) is a great source of protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids, and fish isn't as hard for the body to break down and digest as more dense, fattier meats. Choosing the right fish has become trickier as concerns about mercury levels (a toxin), overfishing of wild stocks, and aqua-farming practices increase. Check out the Monterrey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program to learn more about sustainable and healthy choices for getting your fish fix.
Lean meats, such as poultry (white meat and skinless are the leanest poultry choices), lean cuts of beef and pork, and ground meats with the least percentage of fat, are also good sources of protein and iron. These should be at least 90 percent lean. Again, when adding poultry and meats back into your diet, you may want to consider issues of sustainability when buying. Some issues to consider include whether the animals were free-range, raised without hormones or antibiotics, or grass-fed.
Like any meat-eater, you may want to use caution when considering processed meats like ham, sausage, hot dogs, and packaged lunch meats, as they're often loaded with preservatives and sodium. However, if you find a trustworthy brand or deli, these are a convenient and easy way to incorporate meat into your diet once your body has had a while to get used to the leaner meats. Turkey, roast beef, and low-fat varieties of luncheon meats tend to have less fat than bologna or salami. With the addition of meat to your diet comes increased cholesterol and saturated fat. Fatty or red meats, egg yolks, and full-fat dairy are high in both cholesterol and saturated fat. Everyone, not just those transitioning from vegetarianism, should be mindful of how much cholesterol and saturated fat they're consuming.
Finally, just because you are adding meat to your diet, remember that your vegetarian favorites like grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are still an important part of your eating plan. These are all important sources of vitamins, minerals, fibers, proteins, and enzymes. You mentioned that you were a lacto-ovo vegetarian, which means you have been eating eggs and dairy. These animal products are great sources of protein and other nutrients and can be included in your diet along with everything else.
The USDA considers fish, meat, legumes, and beans to be in the same food group. The recommended daily amount one should eat from this group depends on age, sex, and level of physical activity; however, typically a serving from the protein group is 3 to 4 ounces. As you can see, meat doesn't need to be eaten in huge portions to meet your protein requirements and, you don't need to eat it every day. Making the change to an omnivorous diet slowly, with continued use of the vegetarian foods you were accustomed to eating, can help avoid shocking your system with a sudden onslaught of new foods.
Columbia students who would like more nutrition guidance can make an appointment with a Registered Dietician by calling Medical Services (Morningside campus) or the Student Health Center (CUMC campus). Enjoy the vast array of new options you have in meal planning and restaurant choices, and don't forget to eat your vegetables, even in the midst of meat-eating bliss!
Part of the difficulty with managing diverticulitis (a condition where small sacs form in the intestine and become inflamed) is that the recommended dietary regimen can be quite complicated. What to eat with diverticulitis? gives an overview of recommended foods and what to avoid. But in a nutshell (er… if those aren't off limits!) you can probably eat a more varied diet than the one you describe in your question.
To figure out how many calories you should be eating each day, go to MyPyramid to get a personalized plan to help you maintain a healthy weight. If you are trying to gain weight, you will need to eat approximately 500 extra calories per day than you are now; the easiest way to do this may be to add one or two substantial snacks throughout your day. You may also consider adding healthy fats such as fats from nuts, avocados, and/or olive oil during meals or snacks.
Nuts and seeds may be a good option for you, though there is some confusion regarding whether they help prevent or trigger diverticulitis attacks. Including them in your diet is a personal choice. If you have had any trouble with them in the past, you should avoid eating them. However, if you body is able to handle these foods, they offer a healthy fat source and protein.
Although fruits and vegetables are a healthy addition to your diet, too many may make it difficult for you to maintain a healthy weight if you aren't also getting calories from the other food groups. There are other ways to add fiber to your diet that can help increase your overall calorie intake. Many whole grains, which are high in fiber, are also calorie-dense. For example, consider dipping whole grain bread in olive oil or adding sliced avocado to brown rice dishes for a fiber and calorie boost. You may also consider adding dried fruits to your diet. Since their water content has been removed, you may be able to eat more.
Low-fiber foods are sometimes recommended during mild attacks of diverticulitis. These may include smooth peanut butter, eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese, all of which provide some fat and protein. If your diet can include low-fiber foods, these may aid in maintaining (or even gaining) some weight. You may also consider a meal supplement such as Ensure, which can replace much-need calories in your diet.
Check out previous questions on this topic including the one mentioned above and Diverticular disease and diet. There are many people that struggle to get the right balance in their diet, especially with a condition like diverticulitis. Considering the complicated recommendations for people with diverticulitis, it may be worth your while to visit a nutritionist, who can give you specific recipes to use and foods to add to your shopping list. If you're a Columbia student you may take advantage of Columbia's nutritional services by calling x4-2284.
Take care of yourself!
Ouch — sorry to hear that your sports bra is rubbing you the wrong way! This seems to be a common problem for runners and exercisers, as indicated by the number of products on the market meant to prevent chafing. Chafing is caused by sweating and rubbing on the sweaty skin, and prevention can begin even before your lace up your running shoes. The four key steps in doing so include:
Staying hydrated: drinking enough water before, during, and after your run will ensure that your sweat is flowing freely, rather than drying into gritty salt crystals that will make the chafing worse.
Staying dry: Try a little sprinkle of talcum powder, cornstarch, or potato starch on your easily-chafed body parts in order to soak up the sweat. You could also look for an anti-chafing powder in your local sports store. You may have to experiment a little here — each person's skin is different. Talcum powder, for example, may work for you, but for some, it can make chafing worse. Go easy on the anti-perspirant, too, because that can make things even sticker.
Staying slick: Using a lubricant, such as hand cream or body butter to keep body parts gliding easily past each other. Because you mentioned that Vaseline hasn't been working for you, you could also try some of the new gel-based products formulated especially for walkers, joggers, and runners. Look for a formula that is non-greasy, non-staining, and dries quickly.
Staying stylish: Wearing proper attire can keep chafing at bay. Stick to snug-fitting clothes that will not move and rub against the skin. Look for tops and bottoms made from materials like polypropylene, polyester, Lycra, and Spandex. Not only will these materials allow the clothes to fit well and stay in place, they are also good at absorbing excess moisture while allowing the skin to breathe. In addition these materials are non-abrasive. If it's the sports bra that seems to be giving you the rub, you can concentrate on protecting the skin in this area by making sure you are wearing one with covered hooks and seams, wide elastic bands, and widely cut armholes that will stay in place as you move.
To help get the chafed skin off your chest properly, you can wash the wound with antiseptic to prevent infection. Place a sterile gauze pad or other covering over it that will allow it to breathe until it heals.
Hope this helps! After all, with the numerous physical and mental challenges of long distance running, the most difficult part should not be getting dressed!
Although no one ever said a pomegranate a day keeps the doctor away, this fruit, also known as a Chinese apple, is filled with vitamin C and other nutrients that are good for your body. Much of the current research focuses on antioxidants in the pomegranate called polyphenols, which may play an important role in protecting your heart and arteries. Studies in mice (not men…or women) have shown that pomegranate juice slows down the rate at which arteries harden and may also reduce the amount of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, in the bloodstream. The polyphenols may even help reverse damage that having high blood pressure causes to the walls of the arteries and blood vessels.
The hardest part about eating a pomegranate is the skin (literally!). Pomegranates are surrounded by a thick skin that, unlike apples, should not be eaten. Rather, it's the fleshy pink pulp and seeds inside that contain the good stuff. In order to dig in, one should:
- Remove the flowery part of the pomegranate, usually by cutting it off with a knife.
- Cut through the rind lengthwise, making sure not to cut so deeply that your knife's blade goes to the middle of the fruit.
- Soak the fruit in a bowl of water for five minutes or so.
- Carefully break apart sections of the pomegranate along the cuts in the rind while the fruit is still under water. This should allow for the seeds to fall out and sink to the bottom while the inedible parts (the membrane and rind) float at the top.
- Throw away the membrane and rind, drain the seeds, and enjoy!
If that sounds too much work for you, you can break or cut the fruit in half, and then pick away at the seeds with your fingers or fork. Be careful though, because the red juice from the seeds is likely to stain. You can also make your own pomegranate juice by blending the seeds in a blender or food processor, or rolling the whole fruit along a hard surface like a floor or counter, and then breaking open the skin and squeezing out the juice. If that still sounds like too much work, or if you want to keep your hands clean, you can also buy the juice from the store — just be aware of whether you are getting 100 percent juice, or if there are added sweeteners. Although it's not clear how much someone who is healthy should drink daily, some researchers feel that 16 ounces of pomegranate juice (which is 2 cups, 1 pint, or about 500 milligrams) might be beneficial to those who are already showing the early signs of heart damage.
As far as pomegranate pills go, over-the-counter supplements and herbs are not currently regulated by the FDA, nor are their claims. With that in mind, you might be better off sticking to the real stuff. If it's the extra cost of buying pomegranates or juice that's getting you down, you could think of it as a long investment in your health. Additionally, pomegranates are supposed to be eaten (or drunk) as part of a healthy diet. That is, you should feel free to substitute pomegranates for oranges, bananas, apples or whatever fruit you would normally eat, which may help keep your overall grocery costs down. Students at Columbia (Morningside campus) can also schedule an appointment with a nutritionist at Medical Services by dialing 212-854-2284 or online through Open Communicator. Students on the Medical Center campus can contact the Center for Student Wellness for information on achieving a health diet.
While dentists may not necessarily endorse drinking large amounts of either coffee or pop, there is some evidence that coffee is not as bad for your teeth, at least in terms of structural damage. Both coffee and pop may cause teeth staining and discoloration over time, and both may make you jittery if you drink the caffeinated versions.
Although known for its ability to wake you up in the morning, coffee, including the caffeinated and decaffeinated versions, also contains substances that may prevent tooth decay. These components (chlorogenic acid, nicotinic acid, and trigonelline) have been shown to prevent bacteria from attaching to the tooth surface, and this may be the first step to preventing tooth decay. However, just drinking coffee isn't enough to prevent tooth decay. The amount of sugar a person adds to coffee (or consumes in pop) plays an important role. A diet high in sugar may lead to dental cavities; regular visits to a dentist, brushing, and flossing at home will help you avoid dental problems. If you are a Columbia student, check out Dental care in NYC for more information about dental options.
Pop, also known as soda, soda-pop, tonic and soft drinks, doesn't have the same components that protect from bacteria and there is some evidence that exposing teeth to pop over time may contribute to tooth erosion. Tooth erosion happens when the protective enamel wears away, and can be caused by many factors other than drink consumption including:
- Low levels of saliva.
- Acid reflux disease.
- Other gastrointestinal problems.
Pop may cause erosion because it is an acidic drink and, unlike coffee, studies suggest that the acids in pop are not protective. However, you would have to drink large amounts of pop to see these effects.
Coffee, and dark-colored pop such as cola, may both contribute to tooth staining. These drinks, along with tea and red wine, contain dark compounds that can build up over time and cause discoloration (because tooth enamel absorbs these compounds). To prevent this build up you can avoid drinking dark beverages and be sure to brush regularly. Teeth whiting treatments can also have a dramatic effect and may help remove stains.
Coffee and pop act differently on your teeth and it's a good idea to drink them in moderation since over time they may have negative effects. Brushing regularly will also help to protect your teeth from some of the damage and discoloration. Finally, regular visits to your dentist will help keep your mouth in tip top shape.
Dear Concerned Global Citizen,
The popularity of organic foods does make some people wonder, "is conventional (non-organic) food bad for me?!" Well, here's the lowdown, although the answer may not be as clear-cut as you were hoping for.
Organic farming is a chemical-free approach to producing foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, dairy, and just about anything you can imagine. "Chemical-free" means no genetic modification, irradiation, hormones in livestock, fertilizer made from sewage sludge (comprised of human/organic waste, industrial waste matter, storm-water runoff from roads and other paved areas and so on), pesticides, and no synthetic ingredients; all of which are allowed in conventional foods. Organic farmers are supposed to emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of water and soil (by practicing crop-rotation) to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Ideally, this all means fewer chemicals on your food, going into your body, and sent into the environment during the food growing process. In the U.S., organic farmers must be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in order to label any food "organic."
People who buy organic are sometimes also interested in supporting family and/or local farmers, and may associate buying organic with a smaller-scale, more environmentally friendly type of farming. Some organic farms are indeed family-run, smaller farms that provide their local area with seasonal goods and are committed to preserving their land. Despite the bucolic ideal the word "organic" may inspire, many organic farmers are also large agribusiness operations who ship their food far and wide to consumers of organics around the world.
Depending on your concerns related to food, your health, and the environment, you may want to keep in mind the distinctions between:
- organic vs. conventional food (How was my food grown? What environmental and health impacts may result from the pesticides, hormones, etc.?),
- local foods vs. foods from other regions or countries (How far did the food travel to get to me? Would I rather eat something organic from far away, or conventional food that took less gas while en route to my plate?), and
- small-scale/family farmers vs. larger/industrial farms (What sort of business am I supporting?).
Among the organic/local/small-farmer camps, some people choose to buy all organic food, some people buy a mix of organic and/or local food, and some people buy primarily local foods, regardless of the organic status, and some people base food buying decisions on factors such as price, seasonality of produce, and whether produce looks fresh.
You can find organic produce anywhere from farmer's markets to natural food stores to nationwide grocery chains. Since use of the term "organic" is regulated in the U.S., buying organic pasta, crackers, carrots or beef means you are getting a product that is at least 95 percent organic. If your favorite cookies bear the label "made with organic ingredients" that means that 70 percent or more of the ingredients are organically grown. To learn more about what "organic" means, check out the USDA standards. (By the way, "natural" does not mean "organic." Any product can be labeled with phrases like "all-natural" because the government does not regulate these terms.)
As far as benefits to the environment, the jury is in, and has concluded that organic farming practices can increase biodiversity and improve soil quality, as well as decrease chemical outputs. However regarding health benefits for humans, the jury is still out. Organic foods contain less pesticide residue, synthetic hormones, and antibiotics than their conventional counterparts, however it's not clear if organics are actually healthier in terms of nutrients, or if they always taste better. You may want to think about your main reasons for considering organic foods to help guide your grocery purchasing:
- Am I interested in limiting my exposure to chemicals?
- Do I want to kick-start a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains?
- Is supporting local farms and/or stores important to me?
- Am I concerned with the environmental impacts of farming or food transport?
Your answers to these questions will help you decide what combination of organic, conventional, local, seasonal, and/or exotic foods makes sense in your diet, budget, and lifestyle. If you do switch to eating some or all organic food, Consumer Reports can help you get started by letting you know which items are most important to buy organic.
Navigating your food choices may seem daunting (or maybe thrilling! You do have a lot of options…). When it comes down to it, enjoying your mealtimes, eating a healthy variety of foods, and buying in a manner consistent with your values will serve you well. Best of luck!
Unfortunately, whoever said the good things in life are free was not referring to diet soft drinks and beverages. Although these refreshments are sugar- and calorie-free, they can still do some serious damage to your teeth and possibly your waistline.
The acid in colas, even diet varieties, can help form plaque and soften the teeth's enamel (the hard outer covering). This in turn makes the teeth more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities, which can interfere with eating and cause oral sensitivity, pain, and infections. Drinking sodas from a straw or when eating a full meal will help combat the corrosion caused by the acid, as will brushing your teeth afterwards or chewing sugar-free gum.
Even though these drinks aren't adding any calories to your diet, recent studies on both human and animal subjects have shown that they may actually contribute to weight gain. Some researchers speculate that the sweet taste of soda may trick the body into thinking that it is going to get the calories associated with sugars. When the calories aren't delivered, the body stimulates the appetite, making you hungrier than if you had not had the soda. This may cause you to indulge in extra calories in other foods.
Other scientists have a different theory: the sweetness of the soft drink, coupled with the lack of calories, tricks the body into believing that all sweet foods have little or no calories. This mixed message interferes with your body's ability to interpret internal cues that regulate how much of a certain food or food group should be consumed. This bodily confusion, they believe, may then lead to over-eating.
The weight gain linked to diet sodas may also be attributed to certain behavioral patterns. Some people may mistakenly regard diet sodas as a diet and only switch from drinking regular sodas to diet sodas in order to lose weight. But, because they don't change any other aspect of their eating or exercising habits, they continue to gain weight and eventually become overweight or obese.
Does this mean you should swear off diet sodas forever? Certainly not, but moderation is a good idea. If you're currently drinking several cans or bottles of soda a day, it may be best to gradually replace your sodas with a healthier choice, such as water or milk. Although quitting cold turkey is better for you than large volumes of diet soda, you may find it easier to adjust to and keep your new habit if the switch is gradual. You can also check out Getting off colas, sodas, pop, fizz,... oh, whatever in the