Nutrition & Physical Activity

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Eating soap — obsession

Dear Soap-Eater,

Kudos for thinking about how your behavior might affect your long-term health and writing in to ask about it. What you describe is called pica, an eating disorder where people frequently eat non-nutritive (non-food) substances. Depending on what a person eats, pica can be very dangerous. Ingesting dangerous substances or large amounts of some substances can lead to medical problems, including poisoning. There is also a risk of infection resulting from some substances, such as soil, and stomach problems including constipation, and other issues.

Fortunately, in your case soap is not a very dangerous substance, though in large amounts over time it could disrupt your health. Soap is generally non-toxic and should not lead to poisoning. However, it can cause diarrhea, vomiting or skin irritation.

The causes of pica are not known but some suggest that the following may contribute to the desire to eat non-food items:

  • Nutritional deficiencies. Some speculate that pica is your body's way of telling you that you are missing some important nutrient. Iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamins C & D deficiencies have been found in people with pica.
  • Culture and family influences. There is some suggestion that certain cultures and social groups accept eating non-food substances. Also, if your parents encouraged this as a child, you may still have the urge to eat these substances.
  • Stress. The desire to eat non-food substances may be a coping strategy for stress.
  • Underlying biochemical disorder. In some cases, pica may result from chemical imbalances in your brain.

You mentioned that eating soap makes you feel good when you're stressed. This could be a sign that your stress level is too high and your body is reacting by craving soap. You could consider finding alternative ways to deal with your stress. See Stress, anxiety and learning to cope and Number one cause of stress for some tips on other ways to combat stress.

Pica is rare in adolescents and adults, and can be the sign of other medical issues including nutrition deficiencies so you should consider contacting a health care professional to help figure out what might be causing this behavior. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can call 212-854-2284 to make an appointment or log on to Open Communicator. Students on the Medical Center campus can contact Student Health at 212-304-3400. You may also want to consider talking with a counselor about healthier strategies for coping. Columbia students can make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (Medical Center).

You took an important first step in asking about your behavior, but it's also important that you take the next step and talk to a health care professional who can help you figure out if there is some underlying cause. Taking care of your health is not silly — it's smart.

All the best,

Alice

February 26, 2014

553088
Believe it or not I have been eating soap for approximately 20yrs and here is some advise. If you can stop start doing so gradually and try not to go back. For me it has caused some skin irritations...
Believe it or not I have been eating soap for approximately 20yrs and here is some advise. If you can stop start doing so gradually and try not to go back. For me it has caused some skin irritations and recently some digestive problems. Although my mouth still waters at the thought, it is not worth it.

February 19, 2014

552436
I too crave soap. I like the taste of Irish Spring, Coast, Silk, Ivory, Jergens and others. I have discovered that it ruins your teeth and gums causing sensitivity and caries. It also creates long-...
I too crave soap. I like the taste of Irish Spring, Coast, Silk, Ivory, Jergens and others. I have discovered that it ruins your teeth and gums causing sensitivity and caries. It also creates long-term digestive issues such that my body is no longer absorbing nutrients as it should because ingesting soap changes the environment necessary for proper digestion. My guess is that the hydrochloric acid gets neutralized so it takes longer for the food to be broken down and pass through the system. Recently, I stopped eating soap because my teeth became so painful that I couldn't chew and was forced to really do something about it. Now, I try to buy brands of soap that I don't like and because iron supplements are too harsh for my stomach, I'm trying to boost my intake by using nettle and oat straw teas as well as spirulina and chlorella. My tooth sensitivity went away within a week of ending my soap eating habit and with intensive action to remineralize using the herbs mentioned along with black walnut tincture. I have stopped before for long periods, but went right back after a while. I can't afford to allow that this time, so I'm investigating tooth soaps to see if they have similar textures and nice tastes. Since these can be ingested, I'll try them if I fall off the bandwagon again and hope for the best. Best wishes everyone and I hope this really helps someone. Kindred Spirit

April 19, 2013

527515
Okay. I don't know what to say. I also thought I was alone. I'm also a soap-eater, and nobody knows this. At first, I thought I was just curious with it's taste, especially when it smells really good...
Okay. I don't know what to say. I also thought I was alone. I'm also a soap-eater, and nobody knows this. At first, I thought I was just curious with it's taste, especially when it smells really good...so it tried licking it, then it became a habit. Everytime I take my bath, I can't keep myself from tasting my bar soap, I became obsess with its taste and smell. I started craving for more. It seems like I can't stop myself from dong it. I'm really worried about this and I want to thank whoever is behind this website because I feel kinda relief knowing I'm not alone.

January 4, 2013

521132
I eat Irish Spring not proud of this behavior but I can't seem to stop :( It relaxes me as well for some reason.
I eat Irish Spring not proud of this behavior but I can't seem to stop :( It relaxes me as well for some reason.

December 10, 2012

519919
I'm also a soap eater,and I've been eating soap for over 5 years now and I just can't stop the cravings!
I'm also a soap eater,and I've been eating soap for over 5 years now and I just can't stop the cravings!

August 27, 2012

515527
I also am a soap eater and I thought I was alone. It's relieving to find out there are others out there that also have this problem. I am very health conscious and it disturbs me that I enjoy the...
I also am a soap eater and I thought I was alone. It's relieving to find out there are others out there that also have this problem. I am very health conscious and it disturbs me that I enjoy the taste of soap when the purpose is to wash your body or hands and not to eat. I guess you could say it started when I was a kid when my parents would punish me by making me stick a bar of soap in my mouth for an extended period of time. I just started washing my body with a bar of Irish Spring soap this past year and I would occasionally lick the moist bottom of the bar. It tasted funny at first but now it tastes delicious. I can't help but feel bad that I'm eating it because I know the bar is not meant to be eaten. I'm also stressed and find myself eating it more often then usual. I'm just glad it's not harmful to the body with small amounts and that I'm also not alone. Thanks soap eater!

March 6, 2012

508112
ime so glad i looked this up.....i eat dove soap everyday now,i used 2 nibble imperial leather and knights castile as a child then again in my teens now started again at 41 !!!!!!!!,the cravings are...
ime so glad i looked this up.....i eat dove soap everyday now,i used 2 nibble imperial leather and knights castile as a child then again in my teens now started again at 41 !!!!!!!!,the cravings are so bad that i even brush my teeth with it aswell as bath in it and litterally bite chunks and chew it, i litterally crave it so much my mouth waters,all my friends etc think its disgusting but its like a drug addict needing their fix or an alcholic needing their drink! hopefully now ive looked into it i can get the right treatment and leave the dove alone :)

June 19, 2009

21546
To the reader:

Thank you, I thought that I was the only one and I searched high and low. I feel better knowing that there is a name for it. I opened up and told two relatives and I got scared when...

To the reader:

Thank you, I thought that I was the only one and I searched high and low. I feel better knowing that there is a name for it. I opened up and told two relatives and I got scared when they hinted that it may cause sterility. I also only eat bar soap and it relaxes me. I will take a chunk out of it and it's kinda like woosaa.

Thank you for this post and thank you for opening up soap eater.

Soap eater2

Will probiotic-enriched yogurt aid digestion?

Dear Reader,

It's wise to keep a healthy skepticism about the marketing efforts of some of these huge food corporations. Dannon's probiotic-fortified yogurt, Activia, is certainly an example of a highly promoted product. In recent years, the global market for "functional foods," has grown to billions of dollars annually, and since these supplement-food hybrids are appearing on the shelves ever more rapidly, the FDA doesn't have a chance to evaluate all of their claims. While there is evidence that probiotics do help to improve digestion and gastronomic health, it is hard to say that one brand over another is more effective at doing so.

Probiotics, beneficial bacteria that live in the small intestine, are believed to improve digestion. These gut-friendly bacteria actually help you to digest and eliminate your food, while crowding out the unhealthy gut-dwelling bacteria that cause gas, constipation, and bloating. Studies have shown that certain probiotics can help relieve irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, constipation, atopic eczema, and may also help protect against various infections and colon cancer. Researchers have found that stressed-out rats have benefited from a serving of water containing certain probiotics. Not a flattering comparison for us people, who might feel like stressed-out rats from time to time, but the findings of the study may be helpful. Probiotics are found in many types of fermented foods, like yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso.

Regular yogurt is made using these live cultures, and serves up a healthy serving of them with each spoonful. But your question, is Dannon's Activia more effective in providing these results than regular good old-fashioned yogurt, is one that begs a good answer. Dannon (of course) says yes. Their Activia yogurt contains Bifidus regularis, a probiotic strain trademarked by Dannon that is not in other yogurts, and they claim that this particular strain speeds wastes through the digestive system and improves immunity in the intestines more effectively than other strains.

Dannon says that their Bifidus regularis, "survives passage through the digestive tract, arriving in the colon as a living culture," whereas other cultures can be destroyed by stomach acids and the natural process of digestion. The consumer reports lab has confirmed Dannon's claim, reporting that about three million of the original three billion probiotic organisms in a four-ounce serving of Activia made it through the stomach to the colon.

There is one other difference you mentioned between this yogurt and the others: the price. Activia typically costs more per ounce than regular Dannon yogurt. There are also other brands on the market that offer yogurts containing probiotics that are similar to those in Activia. If you're willing to spoon out the extra cash for yogurts with these particular probiotics and have noticed a decrease in stomach grumblings as a result, it seems like it working for you and might be worth it. However, now that you know that all yogurts contain healthy amounts of probiotics, it might be interesting to see if those regular yogurts feel just as good as the one with all the advertising. Eat up!

Alice

Confused about carbs: What's a good carbohydrate choice?

Dear Jenny,

We need a variety of foods for good health and hunger satisfaction. This includes dietary sources of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates tend to get a bad rap, but in and of themselves, they are not bad for us. They are the preferred source of energy for the body, fueling the muscles as well as the brain.

You mentioned muffins, which generally are similar to a piece of cake. They usually contain flour, sugar, eggs, oil, and other ingredients, depending on the flavor. Don't be fooled by bran muffins — most typically don't contain significant amounts of bran, the fibrous part of a whole grain. In terms of other grain foods, it’s best to choose whole grains.

To get a better sense of carbs' role as a nutrient and its effects on the body, here's a brief overview: carbohydrates are either "simple" or "complex."

Simple carbohydrates are made up of one or two sugar molecules. The three single sugar molecules, referred to as monosaccharides, are glucose, fructose, and galactose. These single sugars combine with each other to form disaccharides, which are:

sucrose= glucose + fructose
found in fruits, vegetables, and table sugar
 
lactose= glucose + galactose
found in milk and milk products
 
maltose= glucose + glucose
formed when starches are broken down

Complex carbohydrates, also known as starches and fiber, are polysaccharides and oligosaccharides,which are long chains of sugar molecules. Starches are found in plant-based foods, such as rice, potatoes, beans, and grains. Fiber is found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Not all carbohydrates convert immediately to "sugar," or more accurately, to blood glucose. The digestive tract breaks down the long chains of sugars in complex carbohydrates into single sugars. Fructose and galactose do not immediately raise blood glucose levels, since they are first sent to the liver to be converted into glucose. Also, fiber is not digested by our gastrointestinal system, so it passes through, aiding digestion and contributing to feelings of fullness. Foods containing fiber often raise blood sugar more slowly than those without it.

However, there's more to a food than the amount it will increase blood glucose levels. Fruit contains many vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that are beneficial to good health. They are generally low in calories, and certainly are a good choice for a snack. As a matter of fact, many fruits contain a good amount of fiber, and more fructose than glucose. Examples of fruits that don't raise blood sugar quickly are fresh cherries, apples, pears, and plums. If you're hungry, some days, a couple of whole grain crackers may do the trick; other days, a piece of fruit will do. If you're really hungry, the piece of fruit may not suffice — you may want to add a handful of nuts, or a few whole grain snacks to satisfy you. When different foods are eaten together, the rate at which blood sugar increases is an average of the various items, and is also dependent on the quantity of food eaten. In addition to providing a wide array of nutrients, different foods provide various textures, flavors, and feelings in our mouths (known as mouth feel). These aspects of food provide much satisfaction — think about how we'd feel if we didn't have anything crunchy, chewy, fruity, creamy, etc. in our diet. These are more than enough reasons to see why it's important to include an assortment of foods each day.

Hope this helps you make healthier choices.

Alice

Fitting exercise into a busy schedule

Dear A,

It's great to spend some of your free summer time getting more physically fit by starting an exercise program. Indeed, exercise is one component of a healthful routine — especially if you're looking to drop a few pounds. Depending on the types of activities you enjoy, try to get either 30 minutes of moderate exercise (increased heart rate, but still able to carry on a conversation) on at least five days per week, or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise (sweating, breathing heavily) on at least three days per week. There isn't one "quick" exercise that will help you shed pounds, but if you follow the guidelines above, and eat a sensible diet, you'll be on your way to a sustainable, healthy weight for you.

In order to lose weight, most people need a combination of increased activity and reduced caloric intake. Beyond weight control, exercise yields important health benefits, including:

  • reduced blood pressure
  • improved sleep
  • stress management
  • increased level of good cholesterol (HDL)
  • improved blood sugar levels (among numerous other positive effects)

We can't pick and choose where on our bodies we lose fat. Although it's possible to tone and strengthen specific muscles, fat won't be diminished in a specific area by lifting weights or doing certain exercises focusing on that body part. Body fat is decreased when we expend more calories than we take in — but we can't control exactly where fat loss will take place. For instructions on activities that'll help tone and strengthen your thighs, stomach, and hips, check out the Related Q&As listed at the end of this answer.

Since your schedule can be particularly tight, you can incorporate exercise into your daily travels. Biking or in-line skating to your destinations is a possible option, perhaps as a way to keep active during the school year as well. Taking the stairs whenever possible, getting off the bus or subway 1 or 2 stops earlier, parking further away if you drive, or even walking to work or school all contribute to your goal of being healthier by incorporating more movement into your life.

If you're looking for a "total body workout" for the summer, consider swimming — which can also be a cooling activity if your summer is a hot one. Swimming engages many muscles and provides cardiovascular benefits, too. Varying strokes can help work other muscles (such as the breast stroke) or provide greater cardiovascular benefits (such as the butterfly).

There's no secret easy answer, short-cut, or abbreviated workout that will yield magical results. Working each muscle group at least twice a week helps strengthen muscles. Although everyone responds to exercise at different rates, usually one or two sets of 8 to 12 repetitions, working the muscle to fatigue, is usually sufficient for strength building.

To maintain a fit body, it's essential to carve some time into your schedule for exercise and planning healthy meals and snacks -- however, as you can see, it doesn't have to be a lot of time. Scheduling these kinds of activities in your calendar as you would with social activities may help. You can also make plans to exercise with a friend, multi-tasking this way can give you plenty of time to socialize and exercise. Columbia students can score some extra motivation by signing up for  Columbia's CU Move motivational emails. You can also visit the CU Move webpage for other physical activity related information.  Best of luck getting started!

Alice

No time for working out

Dear Aziz,

The job, school, family, dog, and/or bills — the responsibilities of life seem to multiply with each year that we age. As a result, responsibilities to ourselves — health maintenance activities, such as exercise and balanced eating — get pushed off the schedule. From what you've said, it sounds as though unhealthy changes in lifestyle are taking a toll on your self-esteem, body image, and energy level. Your mind and body are calling out for a change in the program! So the question is, how can healthy eating and exercise be incorporated into your day without interfering with your busy schedule?

Fortunately, adopting a healthier eating style — one that emphasizes veggies, fruit, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and whole grains — does not require hours of preparation in the kitchen. A fast fix for your eating plan can be found in the freezer section of your local grocery store. You can pick up a variety of healthy foods and meals that require little to no preparation. Microwave meals of today are much tastier and healthier than the stereotypical T.V. dinners of the past, and they offer the added benefit of portion control. Paying more attention to what is on your plate and ultimately cutting back on portion sizes is one specific doable step that may help you to get back to your runner's physique.

Take a quick look at food labels to single out healthier choices. Choose convenience meals that contain approximately one fourth to one third of your daily caloric needs and 30 percent of calories from fat, with less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat. Look for meals that contain less than 800 mg of sodium and at least 4 grams of fiber. Add frozen or pre-cut/washed veggies to these meals and a piece of fruit for dessert. The high fiber content of fruits and vegetables will leave you feeling fuller after you have eaten, without adding many calories.

Errands, such as trips to the grocery, are multitasking opportunities for exercise. You can jog or even ride your bike to work, the grocery, and/or the cleaners, and avoid wasting time in traffic or finding a parking spot. Physical activity will not only help you to get closer to your ideal body shape, but has the potential to relieve stress, increase work productivity, boost after work energy level, and improve sleep quality. The following tips may be useful:

  • Set the alarm 10 minutes earlier and wake up with stretching.
  • Climb at least some of the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.
  • Take a walk around the office whenever you leave your desk for a bathroom or beverage break.
  • Take a walk to a co-worker's desk instead of calling or sending an e-mail.
  • Multitask by reading or doing research while walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.
  • Use a little extra effort and motion in the chores you do around the house in order to use more calories.
  • Get off the train or bus one stop early or park your car a little further away from home/stores, to get in some walking.
  • Work activity into your social life by meeting friends to go dancing or playing Frisbee in the park.

In addition to the tips listed above, a great source for nutrition and physical activity information is the USDA's MyPlate initiative. This site allows users to tailor much of their information to meet individual nutrition and activity needs. Columbia-affilaited students, faculty, staff, and alumni can participate in the University's physical activity initiative, CU Move. CU Move encourages members of the Columbia community to engage in active lives that include regular physical activity. The program provides participants with motivation, incentives to be active throughout the year, and event calendars with access to plenty of free and low-cost physical activity options on campus and around NYC

After you start making even small changes in your eating plan and include informal exercise in your day, you are likely to begin feeling better. At this point, you may get the urge to do more. In addition, cut back on sedentary activities so that additional time and attention can be given to optimizing your health. With a slow and steady approach you should be able to find the minutes you desire for being more active. Go for it!

Alice

Complete and incomplete proteins in grains and vegetables?

Dear Perplexed by protein,

You're not alone — this can be a confusing subject. First some clarification — a complete protein is a protein that contains all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein, which can only be obtained through eating food). Complete proteins come from animal-based products (meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, fish, etc), soy, and quinoa (a grain). An incomplete protein contains fewer than all nine essential amino acids, however incomplete proteins can be combined in meals to make a complete protein (for example by combining rice and beans or peanut butter and toast). These foods don't need to be eaten at the same time in order to be used by the body to build protein, as once was thought. We just need to eat these complementary proteins within 24 hours. Incomplete proteins come from plant-based foods, such as beans, rice, grains, legumes (other than soy), and vegetables.

Our bodies use amino acids from foods to make proteins. As a matter of fact, the amazing human body manufactures all types of substances — from hormones to muscle tissue, blood cells, enzymes, hair, nails, and many others — given the right proportions of amino acids.

All of the foods you mention contain amino acids, and therefore varying amounts of protein. Just because they don't contain all of the amino acids we need doesn't negate the fact that they contain some protein.

Although protein is a vital nutrient, our bodies don't require quite as much as you may think. The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams/kg per day for adults. This recommendation has been shown to meet the needs of 97.5 percent of the population. For a woman weighing 125 lbs (57 kg), her needs would be met with an intake of 46 grams of protein per day. For a man weighing 154 lbs. (70 kg), his needs would be met with 56 grams of protein a day. A person must be taking in sufficient calories to maintain their weight for these values. Dieters need larger amounts of protein, because some is burned for energy. Athletes require slightly more protein as well.

It's believed that people usually eat a variety of foods, thereby getting the amino acids needed to manufacture complete proteins. Granted, if a person only ate bread, s/he would be missing an essential amino acid. The same would be true if a person only ate vegetables. However, if these vegetarians added legumes to their diet, they would be able to obtain all of the essential amino acids needed to remain healthy. The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences (which sets the RDAs) spell out the amount of each essential amino acid needed to form complete proteins. However, it isn't necessary to go that far, as long as you are covering your protein needs with a varied eating plan.

To determine your protein needs according to the RDA, divide your body weight in pounds by 2.2, which gives you your weight in kilograms, and then multiply that number by 0.8. Consult the following charts for protein content in various foods. Adjust for the serving size and the number of servings you actually eat.

Animal Sources of Protein Serving Size Protein (in grams)
Meat/Poultry/Fish 3 oz. 21
Cottage cheese ½ cup 14
Milk 1 cup 8
Yogurt 1 cup 8
Cheese 1 oz. 7
Egg 1 whole 6
Egg white only 1 3

 

Plant sources of Protein Serving Size Protein (in grams)
Tofu, raw, firm 3 oz. 13
Legumes: (Black beans, Kidney beans, Chickpeas, etc.) ½ cup 7 – 8
Peanut butter 2 T. 8
Nuts 1 oz. 5
Bread 1 oz. (1 slice) 3
Cereal 1 oz. 3
Vegetables ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw 3
Pasta or rice ½ cup 3

So, as you can see, it's not difficult to reach your daily protein needs, as long as you include a variety of foods in your daily intake. Incomplete proteins needn't be too much of a concern. Vegetarians who consume complementary proteins are usually able to easily meet their protein requirements. Columbia students who would like more information can meet with a Registered Dietitian who can provide individual counseling and help students understand and meet their unique nutrition needs. If you're interested in learning more about healthy eating habits for yourself, please schedule an appointment. Students on the Morningside campus can contact Medical Services for an appointment and students on the CUMC campus can also schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian.

Alice

Salt substitutes

Dear Ashley,

The simple answer to your burning question is no, salt substitute will not make you retain water like salt does. As you had mentioned, salt substitute is different from salt because it contains potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride. Sodium chloride is a water-soluble molecule, which means that a high salt intake will cause your body to hold onto excess water. The same is not true of potassium chloride, which hasn’t been shown to cause water retention.

However, salt substitute is not a good option for everyone. Too much potassium in the body can build up in your kidneys and can cause damage. For individuals on certain medications, particularly to treat heart, kidney, or liver conditions, using potassium chloride may contribute to potassium retention. For these folks, salt substitutes are not recommended.

So, what are some other options for reducing your salt intake? Try experimenting with your cooking (or maybe start cooking more often — over 75 percent of the salt we eat comes from processed foods and eating out!). Instead of adding salt to your food, try using lemon juice, garlic, or garlic powder. Dress up your meals with fresh herbs like rosemary, tarragon, mint, or sage, and expand your horizons with spices like peppercorn, chili, and paprika.

It's also a good idea to play close attention to food labels. If a product is labeled “sodium free” or “salt free,” this means it contains less than 5mg of sodium per serving. “Reduced sodium” means that the product contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version. But buyer beware: some products still have very high levels of sodium to begin with. For example, a cup of reduced sodium chicken soup might be labeled “low sodium,” but that reduction could be from 500mg to 300mg, which is still a lot of sodium for one serving! “Lite” means that the product contains at least 50 percent less sodium than the regular version, and “no salt added” or “unsalted” means there hasn’t been any extra salt added. But again, beware: sodium doesn’t only come from salt; many other ingredients are also high in sodium. Try to steer clear of products that include ingredients like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

As you explore your new food choices, you can check out the Get Balanced Guide for Healthier Eating for tips on healthier eating. You might also consider talking with a health professional before making major changes to your diet. If you’re a Columbia student, you can make an appointment to speak with a registered dietitian for nutrition counseling or to speak with a health care provider at Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC)

The good news is that salt is an acquired taste – by slowly reducing the amount of salt in your diet, you will gradually rely on it less. Over time, some salted foods might even taste too salty for you!

Alice

Allergic to peanuts = allergic to pecans?

Dear Reader,

Being allergic to peanuts doesn't necessarily mean being allergic to tree nuts (and vice- versa). Being allergic to peanuts also doesn't automatically mean being allergic to other members of the legume family, such as lentils and soybeans. Similarly, being allergic to one kind of tree nut doesn't automatically result in being allergic to other tree nuts. However, most health experts recommend that people with peanut and/or tree nut allergies avoid all peanuts and tree nuts, just in case. A little introduction to peanuts and tree nuts might clarify this.

Peanuts are not actually nuts, but legumes, which are beans and peas. Peanuts, peanut products, and peanut by-products are found in many foods and in many variations, such as peanut flour, peanut oil, and peanut butter. The presence of peanuts in foods is tricky to identify; they can even be a hidden, unlabelled ingredient, such as hydrolyzed plant or vegetable protein. Also, cross contamination during manufacture of food products is another source of exposure to peanuts that can elicit allergic reactions, so some non-nut items are labeled as "may contain nuts."

Unlike peanuts, pecans are part of the tree nut family, which also includes almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, macadamia, chestnuts, and brazil nuts. Tree nuts are also present in a variety of foods and even in some bath and beauty products.

Allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, usually life-long, are two of the most common food allergies. Fortunately, many people with these allergies experience mild responses to the proteins found in peanuts and tree nuts, such as sneezing and/or itching. However, what is worrisome about these allergies is that some people experience severe enough reactions from miniscule amounts that can be life-threatening (e.g., difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness). In fact, about 100 people in the United States die each year from their peanut allergy. The most intense responses tend to be from ingesting food containing peanuts, tree nuts, or their derivatives, but inhaling air contaminated with peanut or tree nut dust, having skin or eye contact with something containing these items, and even kissing someone who recently consumed peanuts or tree nuts also can produce allergic responses. In particular, the sensitivity of peanut allergies and the prevalence of peanuts in our food supply and elsewhere have made peanuts a source of heated controversy for schools, camps, airlines, and restaurants concerning whether or not to ban them in these places.

What is in your control to prevent peanut and tree nut allergies is avoiding all peanuts and tree nuts (though accidental exposure could still happen no matter how vigilantly you avoid nuts). Educating oneself about the allergy (i.e., always asking about ingredients and reading food labels carefully) and preparing oneself for accidental exposure (i.e., always keeping epinephrine nearby) are other keys to managing a peanut or tree nut allergy. If you are uncertain about whether or not you can eat pecans safely, your health care provider may be able to refer you to an allergist. S/he can administer a skin prick, blood, and/or medically supervised food challenge test.

For more information about peanut, tree nut, and other food allergies, check out the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network web site.

Alice

Does caffeine affect athletic performance?

Dear Reader,

Your coach and captains may not be correct. Several studies, under various conditions, suggest that consuming caffeine prior to physical activity has no additional effect on sweat rates, total body water loss, or negative effect on athletic performance as compared to non-caffeinated products — and it may provide a boost for you out on the soccer field!

Caffeine has been considered an ergogenic aid — a drug that increases performance as a result of the physiological effects it has on the body. While the exact mechanism isn't known for sure, some researchers believe that caffeine stimulates earlier and greater fat burning during exercise. This would help preserve the body's store of glycogen (the fuel muscles use) so that a person could exercise longer before feeling exhausted. This theory supports findings that caffeine improves performance in endurance events, such as long distance running and/or cycling. A review of literature on the effects of caffeine in short-term and high-intensity exercise concludes that the substance may also aid athletes’ performance in team sport activities that requires repetitive sprinting (like soccer) if ingested before the activity. Others believe that the stimulant effect of caffeine may help with alertness, mental clarity, and overall mood, all of which could help during a workout. For more information, check out Energy drinks and weight loss from the Go Ask Alice! archives.

However, caffeine can affect people in different ways. While some people might notice a performance boost, others might suffer from dizziness, headaches, loss of coordination, abdominal cramps, or nausea — definitely not desirable on game day. Caffeine can also interfere with sleep patterns; overuse might mean that you're not well-rested enough when it comes time to play.

Do you notice that you experience some of these issues when you add caffeine to your diet? If so, you might want to opt out and focus your efforts on proper training, rest, and nutrition for optimal performance. If you don’t, you can rest assured that caffeine does not seem to cause excessive dehydration (though make sure to drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated drinks, too) and may actually be of benefit when you’re on the field!

Alice

Breakfast: The first chance to fill your tank

Dear Reader,

Regardless of your activity level, breakfast is an essential part of a healthful lifestyle and is also important for maintaining energy all day long. The motto here is anything for breakfast is better than nothing at all. Think of your body as a car and food as gas. Without gas, your car cannot get from one place to another.

The rate at which your body uses calories for energy is known as metabolism. Think of metabolism as the motor of your car. Metabolism is directly related to energy levels, so the higher your metabolism, the more energy you have throughout the day. When you are sleeping, your body naturally decreases its metabolism. When you wake up, there is an increase in metabolism, which peaks by noon. How much energy you have during this time is contingent on how much food calories your body has to use for energy. Breakfast becomes the first stop to the gas station before your road trip. So basically, eating breakfast actually helps maintain high energy levels throughout the day. In fact, the more hearty a breakfast you have, the more your metabolism motor will roar!

You do have to stick to some guidelines, of course, to promote optimal energy.

Calories

The best range of calories for breakfast is between 350 to 500. Below 350, your body will not fulfill the requirements for morning energy usage; above 500, your body may store unneeded calories as fat.

Balance

Plan and eat a balanced breakfast meal including complex carbohydrate, protein, fat, and a fruit or vegetable.

Quantity to Aim for

  • 1 to 2 servings of complex carbohydrates. One serving equals 1 piece of bread, ½ cup of cooked oatmeal, 1 cup of dry cereal, 1 English muffin, ½ bagel, ¼ cup of granola, 1 small muffin.
  • 1 serving of protein. For example, 1 cup of yogurt, ½ cup of cottage cheese, 1 ounce of cheese, 1 large egg, 2 ounces of smoked salmon, 1 cup of milk or soy milk, 2 tablespoons (T) of peanut butter, or ¼ cup of nuts or seeds.
  • 1 serving of fat. E.g., 1 teaspoon (t) of butter, 1 t of oil, 1 tablespoon (T) of cream cheese. But check your protein and carbohydrates for fat, there's no need to add extra if you have a serving of fat in your granola or omelet.
  • 1 serving of a fruit or vegetable. That is, 1 medium piece of fruit, 1 cup of cut fruit, ¼ cup dried fruit, 6 ounces of fruit juice, 1 cup of raw or ½ cup of cooked vegetables, 1 cup of vegetable juice.

Some examples of energizing breakfast meals include:

Meal Equal to
2 pieces of toast
2 T of peanut butter
1 medium banana
2 servings of complex carbohydrates
1 serving of protein
1 serving of fat
1 serving of fruit

½ bagel
1 T of cream cheese
2 ounces of smoked salmon
½ cup of sliced tomatoes

1 serving of complex carbohydrates
1 serving of fat
1 serving of protein
1 serving of vegetables

1 cup of cooked oatmeal with
1 cup of 2 percent fat milk
¼ cup of raisins
2 servings of complex carbohydrates
1 serving of protein
1 serving of fat
1 serving of fruit
1 small muffin
1 cup of plain low fat yogurt
1 cup of orange juice

1 serving of complex carbohydrates
1 serving of fat
1 serving of protein
1 serving of fruit

As you see, there are many delicious ways to get from point A to point B every morning. Imagine your surprise when you see the results with more energy!

Alice

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