Nutrition & Physical Activity
Fish can be an important part of a healthy diet; it's loaded with high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. It’s also true that nearly all fish have at least trace amounts of methylmercury. The good news is that many of the commonly purchased fish in the United States, including several varieties of tuna, typically have lower levels of mercury and are safe to eat if the amount you consume doesn't exceed the weekly recommended serving size.
To answer your question specifically, Albacore (white) tuna and light tuna are the two most common kinds of canned tuna. Due to its larger size, white tuna contains significantly more mercury — up to three times more — than light tuna. The EPA guidelines state that it's safe to eat up to twelve ounces of light tuna (or any fish low in mercury) a week or six ounces of white tuna a week. Considering that the standard weight of a can of tuna is six ounces, you may be putting yourself at a risk for mercury poisoning if you're eating two to five cans per day.
So why worry about mercury? It's considered a pollutant and is released into the environment, largely from factories and other industrial settings. It eventually travels to streams and oceans where microorganisms present in the water turn it into methylmercury. Fish then absorb this chemical into their bodies from the water. Mercury levels in the fish depend on what they eat, how long they tend to live, and where they are in the underwater food chain. Larger fish typically contain higher levels of mercury not only because they're heavier and have more surface area to absorb mercury, but also because they eat smaller mercury-containing fish, which increases the larger fish's mercury content. Because of this, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends staying away from shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, since on average they have higher levels of mercury.
Most of the warnings about mercury poisoning are targeted to young children and pregnant women because exposure to mercury during development can cause neurological defects, including impairments in cognition, memory, attention, language, and fine motor skills. This is especially of concern because infants born with these impairments have been observed even when the mother showed no symptoms of poisoning. Mercury poisoning in adults can cause numbness in fingers and toes, muscle weakness, and speech, hearing, and walking impairments. And so far, research has not found that mercury exposure in humans is associated with cancer, but human studies are limited. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to visit your health care provider as soon as possible. If you feel fine but are scared of prematurely swimming with the fishes, you might want to switch up your fish or seafood meals to include a variety of low-mercury choices, such as salmon, shrimp, pollock, catfish, cod, or tilapia.
The National Resources Defense Council's Mercury Contamination in Fish - Consumer Guide to Mercury in Fish provides tools that can help make this transition proceed swimmingly. It contains a list that informs consumers of the frequency that a certain fish can be eaten safely, as well as a mercury calculator that generates a safe value for fish intake based on a person's weight and type of fish. Lastly, if cost is of concern, there are many additional options for protein and nutrients on the cheap. You could also try substituting the tasty and affordable tuna with non-fish sources of protein, such as chopped canned chicken, lean deli meats, or beans; these can also be part of a healthy diet without breaking the bank.
It's often said that the more (naturally) colorful your plate is, the healthier that meal is for you. This saying holds true in the corn arena: Blue corn does contain more of the amino acid lysine and the antioxidant anthocyanin than "regular" yellow corn; however, it loses much of these nutrients when it's processed into a chip. Blue corn chips may be slightly more nutritious in this sense, but if you're trying to increase the amounts of lysine or antioxidants in your diet, fresh and whole fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins are much better sources.
Research has also found that blue corn tortillas (fresh, not fried into chips) contain more protein than their yellow or white corn counterparts. In addition, blue corn tortillas have a lower starch content and lower glycemic index (GI) than regular corn tortillas. Both of these factors may be helpful to people on low GI diets, such as diabetics, because food with a lower starch and low GI breaks down more slowly into sugars absorbed by the blood stream and can help people avoid spikes in blood sugar levels.
Keep in mind that chips of any color are often fried and can be high in fat and calories, so it's probably best to not make them a regular snack. Baked chips or crackers may be a healthier alternative, especially if they're made with whole grains. Look for the words "whole grain" or "whole" before the grain's name on the ingredients label to make sure it falls into this category. Fiber is another important consideration in a healthy snack, and not all whole grain products are high in fiber, so be sure to look at fiber content on the nutrition label. For more information on whole grains and fiber, check out some of the Related Q&As below.
It is courageous of you to write in about your situation, an important first step in getting to a healthy weight (and body image, for that matter). For most women, a healthy weight is one that allows regular menstruation and is sustainable when following a healthy, balanced eating plan. If the only way to attain a certain weight is by severely restricting your eating, that weight is not the healthiest, most natural weight for your body.
As far as a healthy weight for you is concerned, pinpointing a number, or even a range, without having a thorough medical assessment would be difficult, because different people can be healthy even if they have vastly different body weights. Unfortunately, media images and celebrities often aren't great role models when it comes to having a healthy weight. Some celebrities may be thinner than you, as you note, however they may achieve their weight through unhealthy means, such as over exercising, using drugs or diet supplements, or severely restricting their diets. In reality, they may owe their good looks more to teams of stylists and make-up artists than to good health.
It sounds as though you still have concerns about your health, even though the purging has stopped. You're right to realize that not getting your period is a huge red flag indicating something is not right with your body. Amenorrhea (loss of your period) can happen if your weight is very low, especially if your body fat is too low, or if your diet is too low in fat. Other factors, such as excessive exercise, may also play a role in amenorrhea. Your reluctance to see a health care provider is natural and understandable, many people who have disordered eating feel the same way, however amenorrhea is a condition that needs medical attention. If you are a student at Columbia, you can meet with a member of the Eating Disorders Team (Morningside) or with any provider at Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).
As for your diet, based on the plan you describe, your body is probably lacking many nutrients, including calcium, vitamins D, K, B-6, and B-12. In addition, you may be getting too little zinc, magnesium, iron, essential fatty acids, and protein. Some vitamin and mineral deficiencies take time to develop, but you are starting to see the effects of inadequate nutrition by not getting your period. Many people make the mistake of severely limit their dietary fat; however, our bodies must have some fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, assimilate calcium into our bones, and manufacture sex hormones such as estrogen. Women need estrogen to keep their bones strong and get their period. The amenorrhea is a clue that your body isn't making sufficient estrogen, which, if continued, can put you at risk for developing osteoporosis — even as a young person.
When you're thinking about improving your diet, remember that your body needs healthy forms of carbohydrates, fats, and protein to function well and stay healthy. Balancing these "macronutrients" may sound like a daunting process, but if you break it down to small, manageable goals, even small bites, you could have a better chance for success. You can check out ChooseMyPlate.gov to find more information about balanced eating. Here are some tips to get started:
- Try adding one new food at a time to your daily regimen.
- You might start with a good source of protein: tofu, fish, poultry, meat, or eggs.
- Next, you can add milk (soy or dairy) or yogurt to your cereal. It will help to satisfy your hunger, and provide much needed calcium in your eating plan.
- Add in some vegetables, one at a time.
- Finally, try switching to some whole grains; for example, whole wheat bread or brown rice (instead of the white varieties of each).
- If you feel more comfortable snacking or having several small meals during the day instead of having full meals, that's fine, as long as you have well-balanced food choices.
Although you don't want to tell anyone about your situation, it might just help you feel better about your situation. Perhaps there is a parent, religious leader, guidance counselor, teacher, doctor, nurse, friend, or relative with whom you could speak to help put your body image in perspective. Maybe starting the conversation seems like the most difficult part. If you are nervous about how to start, you can simply write down your symptoms and show someone, like you have here. You may find that talking to someone is less difficult than you expect, and also worthwhile.
Vegetables can be a wonderful source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that people need to stay healthy. The problem is that preparation can put a damper on the benefits that vegetables provide. In fact, according to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), improper preparation can cut the nutrient content of certain fruits and vegetables in half.
When cooking vegetables in water, some of the nutrient content, especially water-soluble vitamins including vitamins B and C, may leach into the surrounding water. But, as you suggest, using that water (or broth) in a soup or a gravy can, in fact, be a way of saving those nutrients and putting them to good use.
Still, high temperatures and long cooking times can degrade vitamins that are more sensitive to heat. While this is hard to avoid with soups, it is much less of a concern than leached and wasted vitamins.
If you're planning on preparing vegetables to eat alone, you may want to try steaming them briefly until they are crisp and tender. It's almost always best to keep cooking times low: microwaving, steaming, blanching, and stir-frying take the cake when it comes to speed. Also, you may want to eat your veggies raw; salads and crudité are a great way to enjoy fresh vegetables and their full range of nutrients. Generally, the less cooked the better — overcooked vegetables don't only lose nutritional content, they also lose much of their flavor and color. This doesn't mean you should stop adding vegetables to your soup. The ADA recommends that you consume at least 3 to 5 servings of vegetables every day, so it may be a good idea to vary your preparation on a daily basis. Bon apetite!
Dear Pushed too far,
The old axiom, "no pain, no gain," is just that... old and outdated. Pain and soreness aren't valid measures of the benefits of exercise. Muscle soreness can occur with anyone who exercises, from a beginning exerciser embarking on a new program to a conditioned veteran who is working at a greater intensity, frequency, and/or duration than s/he is used to. It frequently happens to well-trained people as they begin a new activity. Muscle soreness may also be a result of overuse, which may eventually lead to injury. It's important to listen to your body and seek treatment for injuries.
Meeting goals in terms of developing strength or endurance needs to be the focus of any exercise program. Well-defined goals guide results that you are able to attain through gradual behavior change. Examples: I want to be able to do 20 push-ups; I want to be able to run a 10K by the end of the year, etc. Goals are specific and measurable and can be useful in guiding any training program. Soreness can be a consequence of working toward a training goal, but should not be a goal in and of itself.
You write: "I think it's kind of odd that he bases his progress on how sore his clients are." It's important to consider who is looking for the progress here: you the client or the trainer? Your development and achievement should be the trainer's first concern. Some trainers feel the way a client looks or how much s/he can lift is a direct reflection of her or his ability. Does it make sense for you to have a conversation with your trainer about your concerns? You may want to reference Selecting and Effectively Using a Personal Trainer, developed by The American College of Sports Medicine. If you are a Columbia student, you can contact the Dodge Fitness Center to set up an appointment with personal trainer.
Since soreness is not a reliable indicator of a "good" workout, it sounds your trainer may need a little training. Best of luck toning up!
Dear Fat Frat Guy,
You write that you're sitting around the frat house bored. It sounds as though you may have more time to fit in activity than you realize. Exercise doesn't always need to be a long, intensive workout. Short, frequent bouts can be just as effective as longer ones. Why not go out for a walk? Does your frat house have weights in the basement or other area? Taking advantage of exercise equipment is a great idea, but if there isn't any available, jumping rope between sets of push-ups and sit-ups, in your room or a living room or den, can help alleviate boredom.
If these ideas aren't possible, or you still need some suggestions to resist snacking, a few questions to ask yourself may help. First of all, are you actually hungry? When was the last time you ate? Could you put off eating for 15 minutes? If you can wait 15 minutes and then see how you feel, you may decide that you really weren't hungry after all, or you may even forget all about that snack. If you don't and still want to eat — try to quantify your hunger.
Consider the Hunger and Fullness scale. On a scale from 0 - 10, with 0 being BEYOND HUNGRY as though you haven't eaten in an entire day (not recommended) and 10 representing BEYOND FULL as if you ate three Thanksgiving dinners — again not recommended, see where your hunger or fullness falls:
|1||Extremely hungry, irritable, and cranky|
|3||You have a strong urge to eat, but aren't ready to fall over.|
|4||Just a little hungry|
|5||Totally neutral... neither hungry nor full|
|6||You are a notch past neutral — you could eat more but aren't hungry|
|7||You are feeling satisfied. If you stopped eating at this point, you would need to eat again in about 4 - 4½ hrs.|
|8||You are getting pretty full. If you stopped eating at this level, you would probably get hungry again in 5 - 6 hours.|
|9||You are getting really full, and uncomfortable.|
One way to use this scale is to try to rate your feelings of hunger and fullness. You have to work on paying attention to your body's signals. Make an agreement with yourself that you will eat when your hunger is at 3, and stop eating when you reach 7. If you can ask yourself how you are feeling before taking a snack, you may be able to alleviate or at least cut down on boredom eating. Remember, food's for nutrition and nourishment. If another part of yourself needs nourishment, it's important to figure out what that is and create other ways of meeting that need. Excessive snacking often catches up with us in the form of excess pounds, as you have found. If you repeatedly find yourself eating when you aren't hungry, or when you are no longer hungry, you probably don't need those excess calories.
So, once you realize that you aren't hungry, there are probably a ton of things you can do to pass the time. Getting off your duff and moving your body — somewhere further away from the kitchen — would be a good start!
First off, it's not clear if you are running on an indoor or outdoor track. For the sake of this answer, let's assume you run outdoors when you do your track runs. There may be some slight physical differences between how your body expends energy running on a track versus a treadmill.
- The treadmill belt offers some help by pulling your feet back underneath your body, so you are potentially exerting less energy to move your feet and legs than if you were not on a treadmill. However, running stride may change depending on jogging geography. Studies have shown that many runners shift their stride when running on a treadmill. There is a chance that these changes may contribute to your slumping stamina. Subconscious attempts to correct balance on the revolving surface of the treadmill may also cause a runner to increase the amount of time his or her support leg is in contact with the belt, which, in turn, may decrease his or her forward lean. This may result in a runner spending more energy on moving up and down rather than forward, potentially leading to a quicker sap on energy.
- When you run indoors on a treadmill, you do not have to overcome wind resistance. The lack of wind means you'll spend less energy running four miles on a treadmill than you will when you run four miles outdoors. However, it may depend on how fast you are running. For the average person, running five to nine miles per hour (mph) will result in little difference. Some studies say outdoor running expends up to five percent more calories; if you run faster than nine mph, running outdoors could utilize up to ten percent more calories because you are working harder against wind resistance. Other studies say there's no difference. One study demonstrated the way to balance energy use between indoor and outdoor running is to set the treadmill at an incline (or grade) of one percent.
- Running indoors maintains or offers stable elements. Runners not only avoid wind, but also other potential natural elements, such as cold air, rain, or sand (if you run on a beach), which demand extra energy. The stability offered by a treadmill, however, does not necessarily mimic reality. On a treadmill you consistently run at the same pace. When outside, you may subconsciously slow down as your body tires, allowing you to run farther since you're exerting less energy. If you haven't already done so, use a stopwatch to measure your outdoor running speed to see if this is the case.
- Running on a treadmill versus pavement (the composition of the track surface you run on is unclear) provides a softer surface, making it a little easier for your joints. People with knee pain or soreness might opt for a treadmill versus the road outside for this reason.
- Though running on a treadmill may offer these benefits plus others, the psychological benefits of running au naturel may be contributing to your feelings of fatigue. Psychological cues from running outdoors, such as feeling wind against your face or gaining motivation from running with or around other people may make runners feel like they're making progress. On a treadmill, there is also the option to track the distance, speed, and other characteristics of your workout which may subconsciously cause you to feel tired ("wow, I'm running really fast/far!").
Your boredom theory may certainly be contributing to feeling like you're running on empty. Without the need to worry about navigating different paths, terrains, or natural elements, treadmill runners may have more of an opportunity to think about how tired they are. Some people find that being distracted may help them fight this and run for a longer duration. Sports and exercise psychologists often refer to the "distraction hypothesis" as an explanation for the stress/anxiety reducing effects of exercise. Running, in this case, gives someone a time-out from daily stressors or worries by diverting attention. Some people enjoy running on a treadmill because they can watch television, listen to music, or just zone out and run. Others prefer running outdoors because they are distracted by the scenery, other people, the weather, varying terrain, and/or avoiding traffic.
The next time you run on a treadmill, if possible, position yourself in front of a television or listen to your favorite music to test this "distraction hypothesis." See if you can run for a longer period of time. Other factors that contribute to how a person feels when s/he runs include the food(s) s/he has eaten, how well s/he has slept, and/or whether or not s/he is properly hydrated. Every day is a different day for our bodies, but if someone is a consistent runner and has fairly consistent lifestyle behaviors, it may be that their enjoyment of the outdoors is what fuels their running. Though track and treadmill running both offer many of the same benefits, finding out what works best in your workout routine will lead to a more satisfying experience.
Dear To sneeze or not to sneeze,
People in the United States spend billions of dollars a year trying to escape the misery of the common cold. Though some swear by remedies ranging from vitamin C to garlic to exercise, scientists have not conclusively found anything that will prevent, cure, or shorten the course of the common cold. The manufacturers of Airborne claim that the unique combination of herbs, amino acids, antioxidants, and electrolytes "offers vitamin and mineral support for hours," and imply that it helps the body fight bacteria and viruses by boosting the immune system. They have withdrawn their original claims that their product cures or prevents colds.
In addition to vitamins, Airborne contains Echinacea, an herbal supplement some people take on its own for colds or the flu. Similar to research on vitamin C, studies draw a mix of conclusions about whether Echinacea works in preventing or treating colds. There are many products on the market, as well as natural remedies, that successfully treat the symptoms of the cold: body aches, sore throat, stuffy nose. However, as of yet, there is no proven cure.
Some people may feel that Airborne works for them, but it's tough to say conclusively. Colds can last anywhere from one to ten days and a person's immune system will eventually fight it off, even without vitamins or supplements. There has been one study on the effectiveness of Airborne. The clinical trial was a double-blind, placebo study, meaning that neither the researchers nor the participants knew who took the real supplement and who took the placebo until after the trial ended. The study found that Airborne out-performed the placebo, however many people question the potential bias of this study because the research was conducted by the manufacturer.
Additionally, some people have expressed concern about the amount of vitamins A and C contained in Airborne. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the average adult should have 5000 units of vitamin A each day, and 60mg of vitamin C. One dose of Airborne contains 5000 units of A and 1000mg of C, and the package recommends taking a dose every three hours. That means taking significantly more than the recommended daily allowance of both. Overdosing on vitamin A may cause nausea, vomiting, headache and dizziness. Too much C can cause diarrhea and excess gas.
Subways and other enclosed spaces with many people can be germy, especially in cold season. Medical professionals say your best defense against the common cold is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. That includes: eating a balanced diet, being physically active, and getting plenty of sleep. On top of that, thorough hand washing with soap and water, especially before you eat, can keep the subway germs at bay. So, before you go out and buy the new very berry flavor of Airborne or a similar supplement, it might be wise to take its claims with a grain of salt (mix with 8 ounces of water and gargle!).
And thanks to you and everyone else for asking the questions.
Feeling lightheaded and/or dizzy, as if you are about to pass out, are not normal reactions to exercise. After an aerobic exercise session, you should feel invigorated, not totally wiped out. Your description sounds as though you are working extraordinarily hard. Do you eat anything before your physical activity? Are you drinking during your run or bike ride? How is your overall fluid intake? Although an exact diagnosis based on your description can't be given here, these few suggestions may help avoid these feelings:
- Eat a snack prior to exercise. If you have less than one hour before your session, fewer than 200 calories is recommended. A piece of fruit and a couple of crackers work well for many people. Your snack can be a bit larger if you have two hours or so until your workout begins: one small plain bagel with jam, a piece of fruit and a yogurt, or handful of nuts and some crackers are a few suggestions.
- Drink 16 oz. of fluid two hours before an event. This promotes hydration and allows enough time to excrete any excess liquid.
Drink fluids during exercise. Weighing yourself before and after exercise can help determine your sweat rate, and how much you'll need to drink.
- If you lose 1 lb. per hour: drink 4 oz. every 15 min
- If you lose 2 lbs. per hour: drink 8 oz. every 15 min
- If you lose 3 lbs. per hour: drink 8 oz. every 10 min.
- If you lose 4 lbs. per hour: drink 10 oz. every 10 min.
- If you are exercising for longer than 60 minutes, add some fuel to your water with a sports drink. These fluid replacement drinks include glucose and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) to help with fluid intake and absorption.
Talking with your health care provider is a good idea if these strategies don't help. Being properly fed and hydrated, as well as getting enough rest and watching your breathing as your exercise, should help make your workouts more productive.
Veganism: easy as 123 and ABC? Let's discuss. Before we start though, it will be helpful to determine what kind of "vegan lifestyle" you want to lead. The Vegan Outreach group and The American Vegan Society define vegan practice as not eating, buying, or using animal products (including honey and silk) or products tested on animals. Vegan groups give some attention to the health benefits of vegan style eating, but their main focus is on maintaining a lifestyle that minimizes the mistreatment of animals. By exploring your feelings about ethical issues related to consuming animal products and food, you will find your niche in the wide range of interpretations of what a vegan lifestyle entails.
Though some people may be able to completely overhaul their lifestyle all at once, it may be easier to make the change to veganism by breaking it down into three steps:
Start with a small objective, such as cutting one thing out of your eating plan, like red meat, for example. Explore the nearest health food store and start sampling alternative non-meat protein sources. A registered dietitian may be able to offer extra guidance. Columbia students considering a vegan lifestyle may want to make an appointment by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).
When you are comfortable with this small change, try cutting more if not all animal products from your diet. Sample vegan egg replacements, soy cheeses, and soy, rice, or almond milks. Also consider phasing out other products you use that contain animal byproducts (i.e., gelatin, leather, or soaps made with animal fat). Now would also be a great time to start researching and experimenting with one new vegan dish each week and checking out recipe sources such as Vegetarian Times or the vegan cookbook section at your local library. One low-carb breakfast recipe you may want to consider is a veggie omelet. Use vegan egg substitute, red or green peppers, soy cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and one slice of whole-wheat toast on the side. Throw in an 8 oz low-fat soy latte and you have yourself a high-protein, relatively low-carb breakfast!
Once you've experimented with some recipes and are more familiar with new ingredients and household items, take the final step of cutting out all animal products from your diet and everyday usage. By doing your research and taking time to reach the ultimate goal of a vegan lifestyle, you will have eased into new approaches to shopping not only for food but other products as well.
Whether you have a strict or liberal definition of a vegan lifestyle, it is a given that you will cut animal products from your eating plan, but it is crucial to keep up on the ABCs of nutrition as well. Most of your replacement protein sources and vegan staples such as grains, fruits, and vegetables will contain carbohydrates, so a low carbohydrate/vegan meal will be hard to achieve — though not impossible. Without paying careful attention to the nutrients you are consuming, you may be at risk for not meeting your nutrient needs. If you're just looking to minimize carbs on the whole, cutting down on junk food (i.e., chips, crackers, sugary cereals, breakfast bars, and cookies) is the ideal way to do this.
As for maintaining appropriate protein levels in your vegan diet, experts at the Institute of Medicine recommend that 15 to 20 percent of daily calories come from protein. This amounts to about 65 grams of protein per day for men and approximately 55 grams for women. Although you will be cutting out commonly recognized protein sources — meat, fish, poultry, and dairy — from your eating plan, have no worries. Plant foods such as soy, legumes, nuts, and seeds also contain a good amount of protein. Check out the Vegetarianism section in the Alice! archives for more information on specific foods that will help you meatlessly "beef up" your pantry and fridge.
By cutting animal products out of your eating plan, you will also cut out the most common sources of a number of high priority nutrients like vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. For tips to help you make sure you're consuming enough of them in your vegan diet, check out the Related Q&As below. Being conscious to include fortified soy products, cereals, and non-dairy milk, plus a variety of dark green veggies, legumes, seed, nuts, and beans in your diet is imperative in ensuring you're getting the nutrients your body needs. Many of these foods will also provide good sources of iron, riboflavin, and zinc which are also harder to come by in a vegan diet.
When making changes to your lifestyle and eating habits such as those dictated by veganism, it is best to have a clear understanding of the challenges that lie ahead. The concern you show for doing so in a healthy way is great. Keep it up and remember, although it may not be as easy as 1-2-3, by staying on top of your nutrition ABCs you can successfully convert to a vegan lifestyle healthfully!