Nutrition & Physical Activity

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Vegan eating

Dear Reader,

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:

  1. 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).   
  2. 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! 
  3. 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!

Alice

Carbonation milks calcium?

Dear Fizzy Water Drinker,

It’s no wonder you’re curious about the effect of carbonation on your body’s ability to use calcium. There’s a lot of speculation out there! Here are the facts: the carbonation (or “fizz”) in your water is caused by plain old carbon dioxide, and time and again, researchers have found that this fizziness alone does not pose risks to your bone health or the way your body interacts with calcium. In general, research shows that you should be able to sip carbonated water without any negative effects on bone health. Things do get a little more complicated, though, when we consider other types of carbonated beverages.

Where might all of the rumors about carbonation and calcium be coming from? Well, it turns out that drinking cola/soda/pop (whatever you choose to call it) has been associated with low bone mineral density in studies in women, teens, and in some animal studies. For example, for post-menopausal women, one study found an association between hip fractures and cola consumption. Findings like these may raise some red flags for the cola-lovers of the world. Fortunately, though, researchers are working on figuring out what exactly it is in cola that leads to these effects on bone density. These soda scientists think it’s possible that caffeine, sugar, or phosphorus in colas — ingredients that aren’t in carbonated water — may contribute to bone density problems. However, the evidence for these factors is inconclusive. In the meantime, you can check out more information on what is currently known about soda’s effects on health. Stay tuned as researchers continue to learn more on this topic!

And what about the calcium supplements? While you probably don’t need to start taking them just because you’re into carbonated water, it’s never a bad idea to check in with your health care provider to be sure you’re meeting your personal nutrition needs. If you’d like to read up a bit on the topic first, you might try starting with Calcium, milk, and osteoporosis or consult the National Institutes of Health’s information on calcium supplements. In terms of getting calcium in your diet without supplements, dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are packed with calcium. Dark leafy green veggies and calcium-fortified juices are good choices, too.

It’s good you’re thinking about calcium, as it is certainly an important player in your diet and in bone health. Now that you know more, you can feel good about grabbing for a refreshing glass of bubbly water to quench your thirst.

Alice

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

Medical Services (Morningside)

Nutrition Services (Morningside)

Student Health Service (CUMC)


Milk allergy or lactose intolerance?

Dear Kathy,

Your question does not seem dumb. Many people confuse allergies with intolerances, or mistakenly use the terms interchangeably. So, what's the difference?

Intolerance is a physical reaction to a substance that usually does not involve the immune system. For example, lactose intolerance occurs when a person has a deficiency in lactase — the enzyme that breaks down lactose, the carbohydrate found in cow's milk. So, this milk sugar is not digested adequately, producing abdominal discomfort, gas, and diarrhea. Lactase enzyme supplements and reduced lactose dairy products can help people tolerate foods containing lactose.

An allergy is an immune response — when the body senses that a harmful substance has entered it, and releases specific chemicals to combat the perceived threat. For example, when you are having an allergic reaction, your body releases chemicals called histamines. These cause allergic symptoms that may affect your gastrointestinal tract, skin, respiratory system, and/or cardiovascular system. The effects on one's respiratory system could include a runny nose, cough, swelling of the larynx, and asthma. In the case of foods, studies show that food allergies rarely cause nasal symptoms or wheezing without also causing skin or gastrointestinal symptoms.

Since you are experiencing this set of symptoms, it seems possible that you have a milk allergy. It's important to get the diagnosis from an allergist, so that the appropriate treatment can be identified. If you're a Columbia Student, you can make an appointment with a health care provider by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC)

Other substances found in milk also can trigger allergic reactions in some people, including antibiotics given to cows, or the proteins of ragweed, linseed, peanut, or wheat that make their way into milk. People with a milk allergy may need to cut milk out of their diet entirely.

Diagnosing food allergies is complex. And having symptoms that seem like a milk allergy doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of also having an intolerance to lactose. You have found that cutting milk products out of your diet works well for you, which is a great step. It may make sense to see an allergist to learn more about your own specific situation.

Good luck!

Alice

Men and body image issues

Dear M,

You’re not alone — almost everyone struggles with self or body image at some point, and occasionally worrying about how you look is completely normal. However, if you find yourself constantly thinking about food, your body shape and size, or your appearance, and these thoughts get in the way of work or school, your emotional well-being, or your social life, you may have a more complex body image and/or eating issue.

It may be tricky to distinguish between a healthy diet and exercise routine and habits and behaviors that could be detrimental to your health. For example, restricting calorie intake and engaging in exercise are common elements of a weight loss diet, which is healthy and normal for individuals who have too much body fat. However, if you’re exercising or restricting calories so much so that your emotional and/or physical health suffers, you might be experiencing a more serious issue that requires more attention. If any of this rings true, a good place to start would be to meet with your healthcare provider or a counselor for proper assessment.

A common misconception is that body image issues and disordered eating only affects women. That’s simply not true. Men also experience varying degrees of body image disturbances, eating disorders, and other related issues just as women do. Many men keep these concerns secret, but estimates from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders suggest that as many as 10 percent of those with eating disorders identify as male. Because men are less likely than women to disclose their disordered eating or exercise routines to their friends, loved ones, and doctors, diagnosis and treatment are often delayed. All this to say, reaching out was a brave thing to do!

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is essential in making sure you’re getting all of the nutrients you need, including an appropriate number of calories. A balanced diet includes foods from all of the different food groups, and eating at least three meals a day. A balanced diet should not include too much sugar or fat, although some fat is necessary in any diet. For more information about the food groups and to help figure out how much you should be eating, check out the United States Department of Agriculture’s guidelines as well as the get balanced! Guide for Healthier Eating.

Since you’re already wondering if your eating and exercise habits may be an issue, it's a good idea to talk to someone about food and body image to be sure you're on track for a healthy relationship with food and exercise. If you are a Columbia student, you can make an appointment with a member of the Eating Disorders Team, a multidisciplinary team of health care providers specializing in eating and body image concerns, by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC) for an appointment. If you're not at Columbia, you can start by discussing your concerns with a healthcare provider or a counselor.

You took a big step in inquiring about these issues, and that isn't easy. You deserve to start feeling better about your weight and body image — hopefully some of this information will get you moving in that direction!

Alice

Nutrition facts label

Dear Mom trying to offer healthy choices, but having some technical difficulties,

To think, while some children beg for the latest neon-colored sugar cereal to hit the shelves, your two children are tallying fiber grams. They have fostered their interest in nutrition. Educating about and encouraging healthy behaviors are keys to lowering risks of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, later in life.

As you are aware, the "Nutrition Facts" label is a helpful tool for understanding what each food contributes to daily nutrient intake. These labels provide the amount of carbohydrates, fat, protein, as well as percent daily values for a number of nutrients. Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2000-calorie eating plan, which can be confusing, because that's more calories than most of us need. For an in-depth explanation about this or other food label content issues, check the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or the Kidshealth.org Figuring Out Food Labels page for kid friendly explanations.

Unfortunately, curious consumers will not find "Nutrition Fact" labels on all foods, even if foods have packaging. Some specific exceptions to food labeling requirements include:

  • Ready-to-eat food that is not for immediate consumption but is prepared primarily on site — for example, bakery, deli, and candy store items
  • Food shipped in bulk, as long as it is not for sale in that form to consumers
  • Medical foods, such as those used to address the nutritional needs of people with certain diseases
  • Plain coffee and tea, some spices, and other foods that contain insignificant amounts of nutrients

Though you might not see nutrient labels on fresh foods, the information needs to be nearby. The FDA created a voluntary program to promote retailer labeling of the top 20 most commonly sold fruits, vegetables, and fish, as well as the 45 best-selling cuts of raw meat and poultry. The nutrient information needs to be available as a brochure, leaflet, notebook, or stickers in the appropriate grocery department. Labels for fruits, veggies, and raw fish include the following:

  • Name of the fruit, vegetable, or fish
  • Serving size
  • Calories per serving
  • Amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and sodium per serving
  • Percent of the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C per serving

For nutrient information for 5,900 foods from alfalfa sprouts to zucchini at the click of a button, look to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Nutrient Database. A simple keyword search and portion size specification will yield the complete nutrient profile of your food.

One of the most comprehensive print versions of nutrient composition tables is Bowes & Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, by Jean A. T. Pennington, Ph.D. Some 8,500 foods are listed according to food group with analysis results for 30 nutrients, but they are not in "Nutrition Facts" label format.

Hopefully these resources will help make your technical difficulties with nutrition labels a thing of the past!

Alice

How do I know when I'm no longer hungry?

Dear Not Fully Aware,

Your question is one many people deal with. Some people were taught from an early age to finish everything on their plate, no matter how they felt. This was often rationalized by well-intentioned parents referencing the millions of starving children around the world. Unfortunately, this type of encouragement does little to teach children about listening to their bodies or learning to identify or conceptualize the feelings that come when one is satisfied with the amount or type of food they are eating. This conditioning experienced by many growing up, can carry on into adulthood.

Others are out of touch with their body signals for other reasons. How often have you felt ravenously hungry and then couldn't believe how much you'd eaten? How much food does it seem to take to satisfy your hunger? Letting yourself get really, really hungry distorts awareness of body signals. If you're out of touch or ignore subtle hunger cues, it's extremely difficult to detect subtle fullness. As a result, you're only able to feel extremes. It's difficult to describe what comfortable fullness feels like inside your body, but some people express it as being satisfied and content after eating. Others say it's a subtle feeling of fullness, of not being hungry anymore (even if there's still food on their plate).

You can begin by thinking about how you are feeling while you are eating — a kind of checking in with yourself. This takes a conscious effort. Once you've eaten some of your food, consider asking yourself some of these questions: does the food (still) taste good? Is my hunger beginning to subside? After a few more bites, am I beginning to feel satisfied? Try stopping about halfway through to determine if you've had enough. Try rating your fullness from 1 - 10:

  1. Ready to collapse from hunger
  2. Ravenous
  3. Hungry
  4. I could eat something, but not very hungry
  5. Neutral
  6. Not hungry at all
  7. Comfortably satisfied
  8. Full to very full
  9. Stuffed
  10. Disgustingly sick

If you go from a 2 to a 9 easily, perhaps you are going for too long without food, or your last meal was too small (a problem for dieters). Maybe your last meal was lacking important satiety nutrients, such as protein, fat or fiber, which usually help to keep you satisfied over a few hours. Sometimes when we eat very quickly, a large quantity of food is consumed and before we realize it, we're stuffed. If this is your problem, try slowing down, taking your time chewing, swallowing, and resting between bites.

The most important part about eating to a pleasant fullness is to eat consciously — to increase your awareness. This takes practice for many people. Too often, we distract ourselves with other activities — such as studying, watching TV, or surfing the Internet, without realizing that we're full, until the entire bowl of popcorn, liter of soda, or pizza is gone. Give yourself time to enjoy and appreciate your food, and you can notice and identify its effects on your body.

For more information and insight, check out Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch's book, Intuitive Eating. If you are a Columbia student, you may want to make an appointment to speak with a nutritionist. Morningside campus students can contact Medical Services; CUMC students can reach out to the Student Health Service.

Best of luck!

Alice

What exactly does moderate intensity mean?

Dear Confused,

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines exercise intensity by percentage of maximum heart rate, rate of perceived exertion, and METS (metabolic equivalents) in their Position Stand, Recommended Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Development and Maintenance of Cardiorespiratory and Muscular Fitness and Flexibility in Healthy Adults. Moderate activity has been defined as 55 - 69 percent of maximum heart rate (MHR). ACSM defines "hard" exercise at 70 - 89 percent MHR, and "very hard" at 90 percent and above, with 100 percent being maximal exertion.  Check out Minimum and maximum heart rate for aerobic exercise in the Go Ask Alice! archive to learn the calculations and more.

You can also use the "Rate of Perceived Exertion" (RPE), a subjective rating that a person can use to rate his or her exercise intensity. If someone doesn't have any other way to rate workout intensity (i.e., has no watch to use to count heartbeats, or doesn't know how fast s/he is walking or running), RPE is a low-tech method of determining this calculation. For example, a person can consider walking at a leisurely pace a 6, and perhaps a mad dash to catch a bus or a flyaway $100 bill a 19; so, rating activity in-between is a way to rate one's exercise intensity. The ACSM Position Stand uses the original scale from 6 - 19 to identify the perceived level of difficulty of physical activity, as follows:

6 - 8: Very, very light
9 - 10: Very light
11 - 12:  Fairly light
13 - 14: Somewhat hard
15 - 16: Hard
17 - 18: Very hard
19: Very, very hard

Moderate intensity, using this scale of a person's self- perception of his or her own exercise difficulty, is 12 - 13, hard exercise is 14 - 16, and very hard activity is at 17-19.

The last measure — METS — has nothing to do with baseball players from New York; instead, it refers to metabolic equivalents. One MET is equivalent to your resting metabolic rate; 2 METS is any activity that requires two times your metabolic rate, etc. This measure is determined by the amount of oxygen consumed, which indicates the level of intensity a person is working. At 1 MET, an average man would be consuming 250 milliliters (ml) of oxygen per minute; an average woman would be consuming 200 ml of oxygen per minute. For those of you who wish to be even more exact, one MET is equal to 3.5 ml of oxygen per kilogram (kg) of body weight per minute (1 kg = 2.2 pounds). Since we are not going around measuring how much oxygen a person's body is consuming, assigning a MET equivalent can give us an idea as to how intense an activity is. At 1 MET (resting metabolic rate), a 55 kg female would use about 60 calories per hour, and a 65 kg male would use about 70 calories per hour. Two METS would be double that intensity, or consuming twice the amount of oxygen than at 1 MET. In other words, 2 METS means that one is working at twice his or her resting metabolic rate (which is relatively easy or achievable), 3 METS is 3 times someone's resting metabolic rate, and so on.

The ACSM rates moderate intensity using METS as decreasing with age. For men, moderate intensity by age is:

AGE (years) # METS (moderate) #METS (hard) # METS (very hard)
20-39 4.8 - 7.1 7.2 - 10.1 >10.2
40-64 4.0 - 5.9 6.0 - 8.4 >8.5
65-70 3.2 - 4.7 4.8 - 6.7 >6.8
80 and over 2.0 - 2.9 3.0 - 4.25 >4.25

For women, mean values are 1 - 2 METS lower than for men.

Some examples of how METS are associated with activity are as follows:

 

METS    Activity
1 resting quietly, watching TV, reading
1.5 eating, writing, desk work, driving, showering
2 light moving, strolling, light housework
3 level walking (2.5 mph), cycling (5.5 mph), bowling, golfing using a cart, heavy housework
4 walking (3 mph), cycling (8 mph), raking leaves, doubles tennis
5 walking (4 mph), cycling (10 mph), ice or roller skating, digging in the garden
6 walking (5 mph), cycling (11 mph), singles tennis, splitting wood, shoveling snow
7 jogging (5 mph), cycling (12 mph), basketball
8 running (5.5 mph), cycling (13 mph), vigorous basketball
9 competitive handball or racquetball
10 running (6 mph)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) standards for moderate activity are more succinct, defining moderate intensity as an activity allowing for sustained, rhythmic movements that are carried out at:

  • an RPE of 11 - 14, or
  • 3 - 6 METS, or
  • 3.5 - 7.0 calories expended per minute (The number of calories per minute depends on a person's estimated body weight, fitness level, and intensity. Many charts are on the Internet that calculate energy expenditure for various activities, including the Fitness Partner calculator. An abundance of software, as well as exercise books, are also available for people who want to track this measure.)

Examples of such activity as defined by the CDC include mowing the lawn, dancing, swimming, or biking on a level surface.

Hope these explanations motivate you into moderate activity, so you can reap all its benefits.

Alice

Eating healthy at the campus dining hall?

Dear Hungry,

Going off to college opens many opportunities for learning — in this case, how to make healthy food choices on your own. Relatively balanced meals, possibly planned by parents who were watching out for their childrens' health, are replaced by a smorgasbord of dining hall offerings. And while the "First-Year 15" are largely a myth (most college students don't gain 15 pounds, or any weight, during their first year), having unlimited access to a variety of foods the first year of college is a new challenge for many students.

The foods that you mention — pizza, Chinese food, and tacos — are not inherently unhealthy. Each contains foods from important food groups and provides energy that will fuel your brain during long study sessions. Sometimes these foods are prepared in such a way that they are high in fat, which is a nutrient that helps us to feel full, but also provides extra calories. These foods can be part of a filling and balanced meal, but only if they share the plate with side dishes that are low in fat, high in fiber, and nutrient dense.

One easy tip for healthy "all you care to eat" dining: When you place food on your lunch or dinner plate, make sure half the plate is filled with different colored steamed, grilled, broiled, or raw vegetables. One fourth of the plate should contain lean proteins, such as beans, grilled skinless chicken, or baked skinless fish. The remaining fourth of the plate can hold whole grains, such as 100 percent whole wheat bread or brown rice. For example, in order to balance a plate that includes pizza, choose one slice with chicken and veggies on whole wheat crust (if available) and fill the rest of your plate with a salad. Or on taco night, grab one taco with the meaty, cheesy, or beany filling of your choice and fill up the rest of your plate with steamed or grilled veggies and brown rice. For flavor fiends, look around for condiments like hot sauce, mustard, fresh salsa, and other seasonings. More information on dividing up your plate can be found on the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) MyPlate website.

If you find yourself stuffed after a dining hall meal, here's another tip: Fill only one plate and don't go back for seconds. You could even skip using a tray, to avoid filling too many plates and grabbing too many calorie-rich beverages. If you're still hungry after letting your food settle, grab some fruit; high in fiber and deliciously sweet, fruit can be a filling and satisfying second course. Making regular meals of a plate full of fruit, veggies, lean protein, and whole grains can fill and satisfy, and leave plenty of wiggle room for the occasional treat, such as french fries or ice cream.

Depending on the layout of your dining hall, you may need to poke around to find the healthiest options, but it's likely there are plenty of grilled, steamed, baked, or broiled veggies and proteins and whole grain carbs to fill your plate. Healthy dining options to look out for include:

  • A salad bar
  • Whole grain bread and/or bagels near the toaster
  • Entree options without any breading
  • Cooked veggies without any batter or heavy sauces
  • Broth-based soups (rather than cream-based)
  • Low-fat milk or yogurt for cereal or granola
  • Whole pieces of fruit or fresh fruit salad
  • Seltzer water or diet soda from the soda machines
  • A choice in plate, bowl, and cup size

For recommendations tailored to individual dietary needs, food experiences, and taste preferences, you can meet with a registered dietitian. Columbia students can make an appointment by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC). The staff at the dining hall are also a great resource, as they are familiar with the menus. They may be able to answer your questions regarding foods that are  prepared in a healthier manner, and the concerns of other students trying to eat a balanced diet.

Bon appétit!

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

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