Nutrition & Physical Activity

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Overcooked pasta and beans — Still nutritious?

Dear Long Cooker,

Whether you’re an avid chef or a microwave maven, it is important to know that overcooking can deplete the amount of vitamins and minerals in foods. If you are cooking your pasta and beans for as long as you say, you are most likely losing some of their nutritional value. Overcooking destroys bonds between molecules, significantly depleting the nutritional value. For example, overcooking can destroy amino acids and many of the B vitamins, such as Vitamins B-1 and B-5. These vitamins are important for metabolism and energy production.

Generally, shorter cooking time retains more nutrition in a food. Here are a few basic cooking guidelines for your pasta and beans:

Beans, peas, and lentils (members of the legume family) are low in fat and high in fiber, making them a healthy part of your diet. Cooking your beans properly can make them a nutritious and delicious addition to a meal. Dried beans should be soaked overnight in fresh water. They are then cooked for 1-3 hours, depending on the variety of bean. This is standard preparation, and beans cooked in this manner are full of nutrients.

Pasta is a complex carbohydrate, with more fiber and a lower glycemic index than simple sugars. Overcooking pasta can strip it of its fiber content. Most pasta only needs to be boiled between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on the cut of the noodle. Overcooking pasta will only add to the loss of vitamins (especially water-soluble B vitamins) and minerals that occurs when you cook it. Another tip: try not to rinse cooked grains and pasta, as this causes further loss of nutrients.

The style of cooking plays an important role in the overall nutrition of food as well. Whether fresh, steamed, baked, grilled, boiled, or fried, how food is prepared can modify the nutritional content. For instance, boiling leeches more nutrients out of vegetables and beans than baking, as many of the vitamins in vegetables are water-soluble. Steaming and microwaving your food can help maintain the most nutrients.

Bon appétit!

Alice

All torn up over stretching

Dear All Torn Up,

Don't get all strung out! Contrary to popular belief, inadequate stretching is not the cause of all injuries. However, sticking with a stretching routine over an extended period of time can lead to increased flexibility and range of motion. The correct type of stretching depends on what physical activity you are involved in, as well as how much weightlifting you do. Getting muscle-specific will help target the muscles and joints that you exercise most.

There are three main types of stretching techniques: static stretching (holding a stretch for an extended period of time), dynamic or ballistic stretching (moving your muscles towards their maximum range of motion in a bouncing manner), and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (alternating passive stretching and isometric contractions). Static stretching is the most commonly used form of stretching, and the other two are generally done under the supervision of athletic trainers or physical therapists due to the risk of injury.

For those wishing to stretch before exercise, it's best to stretch following a mild warm-up, such as aerobics, walking, light jogging, or any activity that slowly raises heart rate. A warm-up increases body temperature and warms the body's muscles and tendons, making them less likely to tear or pull easily. Stretching after exercise relaxes muscles and may prevent tightness. While it is not proven that stretching before and after exercise reduces soreness, some people feel better after stretching. Some people like to stretch during their cool-down routine.

Remember, it's recommended that you match the type of stretching that you do with the muscles that you use during your exercise routine. Here are some general guidelines for healthy stretching:

  • Stretch the muscle groups that you use most on your exercise routine.
  • Apply at least four to five 60-second stretches to the targeted muscle groups, making sure you're stretching both sides of the body equally.
  • Only stretch until you feel the stretch, not pain.

One thing to keep in mind is that studies are inconclusive as to whether or not stretching helps decrease sports injuries. In fact, research has identified other factors that could be more closely related to sports injuries. These include a history of chronic or recent injury, having a higher body mass index (BMI), and switching pre-participation stretching routines (that is, those who normally stretch before an activity suddenly stopping). Here are a few suggestions to help prevent sports injuries:

  • Maintain strength in the muscles surrounding the joint.
  • Cross train to mix up your workouts and to prevent repetitive motion injuries.
  • Include a warm up in your routine, such as dribbling for soccer, skating for hockey, and a few laps for swimming.
  • Never skip your warm-up or cool down.
  • Don't drastically change your warm-up routine. Sudden changes to your warm-up can also increase your risk for injury.
  • Use proper technique and form to minimize your risk of injury.
  • Keep your cardiovascular health up — a stronger heart allows you to keep up your strength and avoid risky errors that could lead to injury.
  • Use proper protective equipment, such as knee and shoulder pads.

All in all, there are many factors that go into injury prevention. Your coach, physical therapist, or health care provider may be able to give you a few pointers on keeping your body healthy during exercise.

Learning more about injury prevention is the ultimate home run. Batter up!

Alice

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

Medical Services (Morningside)

Student Health Services (CUMC)


Androstenedione — is it safe?

Dear Reader,

While it appears that androstenedione has helped some people (a few prominent athletes included) increase their muscle mass and recover more quickly from injury, there is no scientific research supporting these results. In order to help you decide whether such nutritional supplements are right for you, let’s first take a look at androstenedione.

Androstenedione is a direct precursor hormone to testosterone and other hormones including one type of estrogen. It is converted from cholesterol, as are all other steroid hormones. Specific enzymes and hormones, among other things, must be present and ready to work for these conversions to take place. For instance, luteinizing hormone, produced and released by the pituitary gland, plays a pivotal role in converting androstenedione to testosterone. Simply introducing extra androstenedione to your system does not automatically indicate that all of the necessary players will be there to produce testosterone or improve the productivity of your workout.

About sixty years ago, when androstenedione was first synthesized, it was shown to have both androgenic (male hormone-like) and anabolic steroid-like properties. The anabolic effects were considerably less than those of testosterone. Subsequent research found that testosterone levels rose after inhalation of androstenedione, but remained elevated for only a couple of hours, with peak levels lasting a few short minutes.

Beyond these cursory early studies, rigorous studies have come to two broad conclusions about androstenedione. First, despite increasing testosterone levels for those with low baseline testosterone levels such as women and older men, androstenedione has not been shown to increase the testosterone levels of young men or to improve the effectiveness of their exercise regiments aimed at building muscle.

What side effects can you expect from androstenedione? No one knows for sure. Androstenedione  falls under the category of steroid hormones, which are known  to have androgenic and anabolic properties. Therefore, androstenedione may produce side effects similar to those of testosterone-based anabolic steroids. The most dangerous of these side effects is the increased risk for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, depression, psychoses, and even extreme aggression. There are also gender-specific effects. For men, these include shrinking testes, increased hair loss, enlarged breasts, and possible sterility. Women may experience side effects such as shrinking breasts and uterus, enlarged clitoris, irregular menstruation, increased facial and body hair growth, and a deepening voice. In fact, due to many  potential negative health hazards, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has prohibited the sale of over-the-counter androstenedione and similar steroid-like dietary substances.

Is it safe? Safety can be difficult to determine when you don't really know what you're dealing with. Is it worth the risk? That's for you to decide. Before you begin taking any dietary supplements you may want to speak with your healthcare provider. S/he can answer your questions and give you more detailed information.

Alice

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

Medical Services (Morningside)

Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside)

Medical Services (CUMC)

Mental Health Service (CUMC)


Desires to feel more confident and sexy about self

Dear Reader,

Sporting sexy things for one's paramour is one of the many perks (no pun intended) of relationship life. And it is a great testament to your relationship that your boyfriend compliments you. Some wise person once said, however, that "reassurance never reassures." So it is possible that his compliments may not be fully sinking in. In order to accept kind words from others, some part of you must also believe the statement. Have you noticed how you react when he compliments you? Are you able to hear and believe positive comments about your appearance?

It is possible that your low self-esteem, or at least your negative evaluation of your appearance, may affect you beyond intimate situations. Do you think this is true? In the western world, the skinny image of feminine beauty is everywhere. Any young child can tell you what an "ideal woman" should look like and very, very few women fit that standard (which is not culturally universal). Many people have internalized negative beliefs about themselves. These messages did not originate with you: They are the voices of young peers, family members, TV, magazine and billboard ads, and other mass-produced images of a standardized and very specific idea of beauty. Once a person has internalized a negative belief about the self, it can be very difficult to unlearn it, especially if you have held the belief for a long time.

So what to do about it? Here are some strategies to address your self-consciousness:

Gaining more insight. Many psychologists believe that suffering can be alleviated through insight. There are many different kinds of insight: You can gain insight about the source of your pain, insight about how and when it operates currently, and insight about how tour low self–esteem may affect other people. Source insight can be helpful because it can help you understand how and when the view was established. Many believe that people experience a type of liberation when they are able to make connections between early experiences and current thinking. You are able to see that your view of self originated outside of you and may very well be distorted. Gaining more insight into how others view you, you may begin to wonder if your own negative view of self is distorted.

Changing thoughts. Even without gaining insight, people can change their belief systems. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one way in which a therapist can help address distorted thinking or false beliefs that you may have about yourself and about your appearance.

Changing emotions. What are the feelings that come up for you when you undress? Do you experience anxiety? Shame? Fear? What emotions come up when you imagine yourself wearing something sexy for your boyfriend? What emotions do you notice yourself feeling when he compliments you? Do you feel happy? Embarrassed? Doubtful? Another benefit of therapy is that it may help you uncover some these emotions and which may allow you to work on changing them. Sometimes, negative self–esteem can be as much about someone's emotional state as one's thought process.

Fake it 'til you make it. Some psychologists believe that changing behavior is what leads feeling better. If you do the things that you'd like to do, even if they cause anxiety, you may eventually become "de-sensitized," meaning that the negative feelings may become less powerful over time and may be replaced by more positive ones, especially if you have good experiences when you take such risks.

A great deal has been written on the subject of body image and self-confidence. If you're looking for some good reads, here's a list:

  • Joan J. Brumberg's, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls
  • Rita Freedman's, Bodylove: Learning to Like Our Looks — and Ourselves and That Special You: FeelingGood about Yourself
  • Marcia Hutchinson's, Transforming Body Image: Learning to Love the Body You Have
  • Ophira Edut and Rebecca Walker’s Body Outlaws: Young Women Write About Body Image and Identity
  • Susie Orbach's, Fat Is a Feminist Issue
  • Kaz Cooke's, Real Gorgeous: The Truth about Body and Beauty
  • Judith Rodin's, Body Traps: Breaking the Binds that Keep You from Feeling Good about Your Body
  • Linda Sanford and Mary Donovan's, Women & Self-Esteem
  • Charles R. Schroeder's, Fat Is Not a Four-Letter Word
  • Eve Ensler's The Good Body
  • Naomi Wolf's, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women

Whatever you decide to read, seeking support may be another good option. If you are a Columbia student, you can make an appointment to speak with a therapist at Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC). Best of luck on your journey to feeling more positively and confident about yourself.

Take care,

Alice

March 19, 2012

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Dear reader, What you see as fat, others might see as delicious curves that offer opportunities for holding, stroking, grabbing, and caressing. I think many women, on average, underestimate how...
Dear reader, What you see as fat, others might see as delicious curves that offer opportunities for holding, stroking, grabbing, and caressing. I think many women, on average, underestimate how many men are attracted to a wide range of body types and sizes of body parts. Nothing's sexier than someone who feels sexy in their own skin. That can take time for some people. Good luck!

What's the difference between ionic and colloidal minerals?

Dear D2,

Trying to make sense of all the vitamin and mineral supplements on the pharmacy shelves may make you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place! Before you swallow any information, it is important to know that both ionic minerals and colloidal minerals have a lot of dubious marketing and advertising surrounding them. Manufacturers of colloidal and ionic supplements may make a variety of claims about their products — many of which are not confirmed by scientific research. Moreover, the body doesn’t need a whole lot of minerals; fewer than 20 have been judged to be essential to your health.

A colloid is a mixture in which particles are suspended in a liquid or a gas. Colloidal minerals come from humic shale deposits, primarily from Emery County, Utah. After collection, the shale is crushed and placed in water so that the minerals can enter the solution. Colloidal mineral distributors stress the “naturalness” of their product and have made claims about improving conditions associated with certain diseases, a practice judged to be illegal by the FDA. In addition, some advertisements state that colloidal supplements contain 75 minerals, many of which have not been proven to be beneficial to health (such as platinum, gold, and silver).

Ionic mineral distributors state that colloidal minerals have too large of a particle size to be absorbed by the body. Therefore, ionic minerals (named after their supposed positively and negatively charged molecules) were created to have the “correct electrical charge” and therefore lead to higher levels of absorption by the body. Although these supplements may actually lead to greater absorption, it is important to remember that there are various other conditions that must be present in the body in order for this to happen.

In reality, the body only needs minerals in trace amounts. Excessive dosages of minerals can actually be toxic. Therefore, before you experiment with any vitamin or mineral supplements, you may want to speak with your health care provider. A provider can help you sort out fact from fiction, so you can make an informed decision and avoid products that may be harmful or simply ineffective. In certain cases, you may be better off wearing these minerals than ingesting them!

Alice

December 11, 2012

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Dear Alice. I think people who are in tune to their body are able to judge very quickly if something helps, whereas health care providers know next to nothing about nutrition. It is amazing to me...
Dear Alice. I think people who are in tune to their body are able to judge very quickly if something helps, whereas health care providers know next to nothing about nutrition. It is amazing to me that those same health care providers are so quick to say you may harm yourself by using supplements, but in a heart beat will prescribe a drug they Know is toxic, habit forming, and with such a list of side effects it boggles the mind. I felt like a different person in just one week after starting Ionic Minerals. I had strange small muscle tics, anxiety and poor sleep and from reading and knowing my body, I decided to try a liquid and happened onto the Ionics. It's a miracle. I hate that the medical, pharmaceutical industry are so quick to label something dangerous.

Weight loss tricks for big and chunky teens?

Dear Big and Chunky brothers,

The big secret that a lot of people have been slowly learning is that most restrictive diets don't work in the long run. Being on a diet usually makes people hungry, tired, cranky, frustrated, depressed, deprived, annoyed, and anxious. Sounds like a recipe for failure, huh? The key to eating a balanced diet is to be mindful of what you are eating and how much you are eating. Aim to eat a generally healthy diet, but allow yourself to follow your cravings without guilt. Moderation is key.

So, what's a teen to do? First, take a look at your lifestyle. Are you sitting in front of a computer, TV, or video game system most of the time? You need to get up and get your body in motion! Having a friend with the same concerns is helpful, because being active is more fun with someone else. Make a list of things you could do together. Some ideas to get you started include:

  • Playing some sport — outside
  • Enthusiastic walking
  • Riding bikes
  • Walking up stairs
  • Getting off at an earlier bus or subway stop and walking the rest of the way

Second, identify your usual eating routine. For many people, it's almost automatic to snack while working and studying, reading, or watching television. Hunger doesn't even matter. This is a pattern of eating that can be hard to break. Trying to be more mindful of what, when, and how much you eat is a good way to start. Set out to eat only when you're hungry, rather than for entertainment. If you are hungry (and it is okay and even helpful to eat between meals), take a few moments to sit and have a snack. Instead of eating out of a bag, box, or container, put out a set amount on a plate or in a bowl. Healthy snack ideas include vegetables and hummus, an apple and an ounce of cheese, or a rice cake with nut butter. When you are done eating, move to the next activity.

Eating three regular meals a day can make a difference. If you're a breakfast or lunch skipper, it may set the stage for you to get too hungry and overeat at some point later in the day. You can build healthy meals by:

  • Including at least one fruit (e.g., apple, orange, pear) or non-starchy vegetable (e.g., leafy greens, broccoli, carrots) at every meal.
  • Incorporating one food that is a good source of protein: low- or non-fat dairy (e.g., milk, yogurt, cheese); soy (e.g., tofu, soy milk); lean meat, chicken, fish; legumes (e.g., beans, lentils, and split peas) or nuts.
  • Making half of all of your grains whole ones (that's a minimum of one meal or snack), and including items such as whole grain breads or cereals, brown rice, or whole grain pasta.
  • Cutting down on fat. Although some fat in your eating plan is healthy, it's a concentrated source of calories that can add up quickly. Making French fries out of a potato adds over 20 grams of fat and almost 200 calories, while a plain baked potato has less than one gram of fat and 220 calories. Choose fried foods infrequently and opt for baked, broiled, grilled, roasted, or steamed items instead.

The quantity of food you are eating is also a component in managing your weight. This doesn't mean that you have to go hungry. Rather, tune in to the portion sizes you are eating. Do you feel overly stuffed after eating? Are you truly hungry when you start eating? Perhaps you could be satisfied with smaller sized meals and snacks. Soft drinks are another source of excess calories for many teens. One can of soda or pop has 150 calories, all from sugar. Drinking a liter a day could add over 3,000 calories to a person's weekly intake, or nearly one extra pound of weight. If this sounds like you, try cutting down, or switching to flavored seltzer or water. Look to whole foods, rather than processed ones, to supply your meals and snacks as often as possible.

Hopefully this answer has given you some "food for thought." Although there aren't any shortcuts to good health, increasing your awareness of your eating patterns is a good start.

Alice

Is it safe for me to eat soy foods if I have hypothyroidism?

Dear confused in Minnesota,

Soy, the question about whether this food is appropriate for you (as you manage your hypothyroidism) has bean weighing on your mind. You’re not the only one who’s mulling it over — the question of soy’s effect on the thyroid gland has puzzled scientists for some time. To that end, there is evidence that soy protein may make it more difficult for your gut to absorb thyroid hormone, however, it does not seem to be the case that soy interferes with the action of thyroid hormone that’s circulating in your body. Although some of the research (conducted over the better part of a century) is slightly contradictory, the bottom line is that it may not be necessary to avoid soy completely if you are being treated for hypothyroidism. Talking with your health care provider can help you determine whether soy products would be an appropriate compliment to your diet.

Before discussing how soy may impact the thyroid, it’s helpful to talk hormones! The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of your neck and produces thyroid hormone, combining molecules of the amino acid tyrosine with either atoms of iodine to make T3 (triiodothyronine, a highly active form of the hormone) or T4 (thyroxine, a lesser active form) respectively. People who do not make enough T3 or T4 must take it as a supplement to avoid being clinically hypothyroid. When a health care provider begins a patient on thyroid replacement hormone, s/he will regularly measure levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which will help indicate whether thyroid levels are being regulated on the medication.

Here’s where soy comes into play: soy contains active compounds called isoflavones (genistein and daidzein, to be exact) which compete for the enzyme that makes thyroid hormone. Research indicates that the interference of isoflavones with thyroid hormone production is a problem only when there is underlying iodine deficiency. So, if you are getting enough iodine through your diet, it’s unlikely that eating soy will contribute to hypothyroidism. In studies, the one group that saw a need for an increase in thyroid replacement hormone with high soy intake were infants who were born with thyroid disease and who were being fed soy formula. Additionally, because soy may impact the successful absorption of the prescription you take to manage your condition, some sources recommend that you wait four hours to eat soy after taking thyroid medication.

All this to say, if your iodine levels are in order and you consider the timing of when you take your medication when deciding to enjoy a bit of soy, it seems as if you’ll likely be able to add it to your diet without much impact. However, if you are concerned about your thyroid levels or combining soy with your medication, your health care provider will be able to advise you further based on your specific case.

Happy soy sampling!

Alice

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

Medical Services (Morningside)

Medical Services (CUMC)


Are low carb diets safe?

Dear Reader #1 and Marianne in Mesquite, Tx,

The Atkins Diet is a popular low-carb diet, which restricts certain types and amounts of carbohydrates (such as grains, starchy veggies and fruit) and emphasizes protein and fat. The idea behind the diet is that eating too many carbohydrates leads to blood sugar imbalances, weight gain, and cardiovascular problems. The Atkins Diet, in particular, has varying phases of strictness, at first limiting carbs drastically and then gradually increasing your range of foods over time. 

So why have you both heard that a low-carb diet might be bad for you? Drastically cutting carbs can result in some not-so-fun side effects such as headache, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and constipation. You may even experience nutritional deficiencies. Eating a green salad each day might not cut your risk entirely. Carbohydrates are your body’s main fuel source, and digestion breaks down carbs into glucose (blood sugar). Severe restriction of carbohydrates (less than 20 grams a day) can result in a condition known as ketosis. Ketosis happens when your body doesn’t have enough glucose for energy, which leads to your body breaking down stored fat, causing ketones to build up in your body. The side effects of ketosis include nausea, headache, mental fatigue, and bad breath. Low-carb diets may be dangerous for people with severe kidney disease, or for pregnant or breastfeeding women. It’s best to consult your health care provider before starting a low-carb diet, especially if you have diabetes or gout, or take diuretics, insulin, or oral diabetes medications.

Some studies suggest weight loss with the Atkins Diet is not due to cutting carbs, but taking in fewer calories because your food choices are limited and protein and fat may keep you feeling full longer. The key to low-carb diets, or really any diet, is to find a way to balance being healthy (getting the nutrients and exercise that you need) while watching your food intake. Shedding the pounds can mean shedding disease risk! Almost any diet that helps you lose excess weight can improve your HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and can reverse risk factors for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, bone loss, and some cancers.

When considering a diet for weight loss, there’s no famine of options. Check out the Alice’s archives on weight gain and loss for more information on different types of diets and the healthy eating category for more ideas on what to eat. Consider your personal preferences, budget, and health and look for a safe and effective weight loss plan. It can be hard to stick to a restrictive diet in the long term, making it difficult to reach a weight goal. Just because a diet is popular or your friends are trying it, doesn’t mean it’s the best approach for you. Besides speaking with your health care provider, you could also consider weight-loss support groups or speaking with a registered dietitian.

Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, diet counseling is covered for people at higher risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get diet counseling at no cost to you. Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan.

You can check out our get balanced! Guide for Healthier Eating. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can make an appointment with Medical Services. Columbia students at the Medical Center can make an appointment with Student Health or the Center for Student Wellness.

Alice

Conflicting nutrient values charts

Dear Reader,

There is so much nutrition information available from a host of different sources and it’s not hard to see why confusion can arise. You may have access to information published in scientific journals, which are studies that have been critiqued by nutrition experts. At the other end of the spectrum, some sources such as websites and corporate advertisements are created with the intention of boosting sales of the latest diet book or food product. In order to increase the chances of finding valid nutrition information, it's important to identify, use, and refer back to sources you trust. Additionally, when comparing information from multiple sources it is very important to make sure you are comparing exactly the same thing (same serving size, same source, etc).

When gathering information online, it is important to determine who sponsors the site, how often it is updated, the sources for information, and if advertising is involved (or influences content). As an example; Go Ask Alice! is sponsored by Columbia University, content is updated daily (all pages have an update date listed), the sources are described (see below), and the site is advertising free (learn about our no ad policy).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is generally the most reliable source of nutrition and food-related information for the general public in the United States. The dietary guidelines can be found at their MyPlate website where you can also find sample menus and recipes, a food tracker, BMI calculator, as well as several other useful health and food-related tools.

The USDA also has a National Nutrient Database, which is a reliable source for nutrient values for foods. Frequently, this site is accessed by nutrition researchers and developers of nutrient analysis programs. The National Nutrient Database site is user friendly enough that even regular people will be able to do a food search during her/his first visit to the site. Even the National Nutrient Database site, however, can be confusing. For example, it will generate conflicting numbers for nutrients in products such as milk, which comes in a number of varieties. For example, cow's milk provides 8 grams of protein per 8 ounces, evaporated skim milk provides 19 grams, and soy milk, 3 grams. The lesson learned here is to check the details of the food you searched for if the results seem different. For example, a search for milk could yield information on both coconut milk and cow's milk.

The MyPlate SuperTracker and the Nutrient Analysis Tool (NAT) are comprehensive online programs that can be used to analyze not just one food, but an entire day of food intake. They show a comparison of the analysis to your daily nutrient needs. The food lists in these programs come from the USDA National Nutrient Database, and nutrient needs are based on the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

RDAs are amounts of nutrients that, if consumed on a daily basis, would meet the needs of approximately 97 percent of the population, and are amounts that have been established after years of intensive research studies. The RDA of protein for adult males is 56 grams per day, and for women it is 46 grams per day. This general recommendation is based on 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, for individuals in good general health. Protein needs can vary depending on a person's health status and exercise regimen.

For a personalized assessment of your nutrient needs Columbia studnets can make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian. Columbia University students can call x4-2284 or log into Open Communicator to schedule an appointment. Non-students may have access to a nutritionist through her/his primary health care provider or search for a dietitian in your area through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics web site. You might also want to check out the resources listed on the Columbia Health Get Balanced nutrition page.

For additional information regarding finding quality health information online, check out Health information on-line: Whom can you trust? Hopefully these new resources will help to clear up your nutrient value confusion, making it easier for you to make healthier eating choices.

Alice

Does exercising on an empty stomach maximize fat burning?

Dear Reader,

First things first: Great job staying active! Now, on to your very interesting (and slightly complicated) question. As you have already noticed, there are many schools of thought on the issue of maximizing fat loss. Do you exercise on an empty stomach or do you make sure and eat a little something before your morning run? Sifting through all this information can indeed be confusing. Let’s get to the bottom of the issue.

The latest research seems to indicate the following: If you will be exercising longer than 30 minutes, eat a light snack in the morning before you run. It’s a good idea if that snack contains some carbohydrates and some protein (i.e. a banana with peanut butter). This allows your body to use the carbohydrates to help burn fat in your body and the protein will keep you going past that 30 minute mark. However, if your aerobic workouts are less than 30 minutes, exercising on an empty stomach may indeed be the most beneficial for fat-burning.

Carbohydrates are the easiest for your body to burn — they require the least amount of oxygen. Fat, the body’s long–term energy storage mechanism, takes more oxygen. If no carbohydrate is present (i.e. an empty stomach), your body will burn fat for energy. But your body will also start burning protein. Herein lies the catch to performing aerobic exercise on an empty stomach: You may experience some muscle loss, especially if your work out is 30 minutes or longer. Here are a few more things to consider:

  • Not eating before a workout may cause you to fatigue faster, thereby shortening or lowering the intensity of your workout.
  • Exercising on an empty stomach can decrease blood sugar levels, which may make you hungrier and more prone to overeat at your next meal.

Lastly, individual bodies with different metabolisms do this sugar-protein-fat dance slightly differently. For example, certain types of health conditions, such as diabetes and low blood pressure, necessitate eating before exercising, as a cardio workout on an empty stomach could cause other health problems. Medical conditions aside, some people are more prone to muscle loss than others, and some will burn fat more quickly or easily than others. Additionally, the altitude at which you work out makes a difference. People exercising at higher altitudes have less oxygen at their disposal, so running at a slower pace, which will lower your heart rate, will help you burn more fat. Many trainers say that to maximize fat burning, you should do your cardio workout at a level that allows you just enough breath to hold a conversation.

For more information, consider talking to a personal trainer at your local gym.  Best of luck to you on your morning workouts!

Alice

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

CU Move


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