Nutrition & Physical Activity

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Mercury poisoning: Something fishy about too much tuna?

Dear Reader,

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.

Alice

Blue corn chips — Are they healthier?

Dear Reader,

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.

Alice

Weightloss diets for vegetarians, and everybody

Dear Reader,

Fortunately for people who wish to lose weight, there are universal rules that apply, regardless of your typical diet — whether you're a vegetarian or omnivore. First, to lose weight a person has to use more energy (calories) than s/he takes in. To achieve this deficit you can either make dietary changes (so you're taking in less calories), get more physical activity (so you're using more calories in a day), or you can make changes in both areas. Experts recommend making both dietary changes and getting more physical activity for the best results.

It takes a deficit of about 3500 calories to lose one pound of body weight. This means if you are able to cut 500 calories per day from your regular diet you should be able to lose a pound a week (a healthy weight loss rate). It may be beneficial to consider finding the right balance of increasing your physical activity and decreasing caloric intake. You can check out the ChooseMyPlate.gov SuperTracker as a resource that can help you calculate how many calories you need per day, what nutrients are in the foods you eat, and how many calories you burn doing different exercises.

Some suggestions for dietary changes to reduce calories:

  • Steam, boil or bake foods instead of frying in butter or oil.
  • Sauté foods in vegetable broth, wine, or water instead of oil.
  • Limit of high-fat condiments (like mayonnaise, margarine, sour cream, cream cheese, salad dressing, etc.).
  • Try low-fat dairy products and nut- or peanut butter. Vegetarians sometimes begin to rely heavily on these foods as sources of protein, but low-fat dairy and nut products provide the same amount of protein as their full-fat counterparts.
  • Add beans and legumes to your diet as low-fat sources of protein.
  • Eat actual fruit or vegetables rather than drinking them in juice or smoothie form. The fiber in fresh produce works well to satisfy hunger.
  • Substitute water, tea, and diet beverages for regular soda, juices, and other high-sugar drinks.
  • Limit the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed (empty calories for everyone).
  • Begin lunch or dinner with a broth-based, vegetable filled soup or a large salad with a small amount of low-fat or fat-free dressing. These foods take longer to eat and can help curb your hunger so you don't overeat during the rest of the meal.
  • Be mindful of portion sizes — read nutrition fact labels to find out serving sizes. Some rules of thumb:
    • A medium apple or orange is the size of a tennis ball.
    • A medium potato is the size of a computer mouse.
    • An average bagel is the size of a hockey puck.
    • An ounce of cheese is size of four dice.

Some suggestions for incorporating more physical activity into your day:

  • Take the stairs as often as possible.
  • Park at the far end of the parking lot or get off the bus or subway a stop early.
  • Schedule your cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, biking, frantically cleaning your apartment before visitors come over, etc.) so you know you will be able to fit it in. If you're at Columbia, you can participate with CU Move to help stay motivated with your physical activity efforts and earn incentives.  Check out the site to learn more. 

Hopefully, you'll find some of these suggestions new and helpful. Good luck!

Alice

Why do I choose not to eat?

Dear Reader,

Kudos for taking the first step and reaching out to ask about your feelings and behaviors. The symptoms you describe, including going long periods of time without eating, may be dangerous and could have long-term effects on your health. Feeling down once in a while is common but the depression you mention, and the fear of becoming more depressed if you begin eating more regularly, may be a serious clinical depression (and could be what is affecting your eating habits).

Skipping meals and intentionally not eating for periods of time (sometimes called fasting) can become addictive. Many people who fast experience euphoric feelings of well-being, feelings that are likely harmless when fasting in moderation. However, this "high" may mask feelings of being down or depressed and could explain why you feel better when you avoid eating (and why you continue to go long periods of time without food). Fasting too often can be detrimental to your health because your body is denied nutrients and energy it needs.

Avoiding food could also be a sign of a serious eating disorder: anorexia nervosa. See Eating disorders vs. normal eating for more information about the signs and symptoms of eating disorders. People with anorexia sometimes describe a feeling of control when they don't eat; a feeling that may be very powerful. You mention that you feel like you can't change anything in your life; controlling what you eat and skipping meals may be a way of feeling in control. Talking with a counselor or other mental health care provider about your feelings and eating habits may help you to understand your behaviors and feel more in control of your life. 

Talking with a mental health care provider may be a good way to begin to think about other factors in your life that may be contributing to your desire to skip meals, especially when you are around your friends. If you aren't sure how to begin a conversation with a counselor, you could simply tell her or him what you have written here, or you could ask one of your concerned friends to go along and help explain what s/he has noticed about your eating habits. Gaining an understanding of why you are feeling this way is an important step to overcoming these feelings and being able to eat normally without fear of becoming depressed.

It may take some work to find the right counselor and confront your fear of becoming depressed, but you already took an important (and difficult!) first step to seeking help. It also sounds like you have good friends who want to support you. Best of luck as you take the next steps to living a healthier, happier life.

Alice

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

Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside)

Mental Health Service (CUMC)


Recovering from Anorexia: getting my period back?

Dear Cate,

Congratulations on getting a handle on a difficult situation. Anorexia can be life-threatening, so you've essentially saved your own life — something that hopefully makes you proud. As you point out, a side effect of anorexia can be secondary amenorrhea (loss of period for six months of longer). Typically, women in recovery find their periods come back once they get their weight up to what it was before they stopped getting their period. Some women, who aren't underweight, but who stop getting their periods during times of extreme exercise and erratic eating, regain their period once they get back into a routine of healthy eating and exercise habits. So, your concern is warranted. And, yes, it would be a great idea to seek a medical work-up at this point. Before you head to your health care provider, it might help you to get more information.

There are several possible explanations for secondary amenorrhea. Given your history of living with anorexia you may be experiencing functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA). While FHA seems to occur most frequently in women with low amounts of body fat, it can happen in women of various body shapes. The common denominator seems to be erratic eating patterns and/or excessive exercise. These behaviors disturb the thyroid gland and hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal gland in ways that lead to increased production and release of steroid hormones, called glucocorticoids (including cortisol, a major stress hormone). Also, low body weight is associated with lower levels of leptin, a necessary chemical that helps to regulate ovulation. In combination, these chemical changes in the body can affect periods and stop them altogether until the chemical balance is restored through changes in behavior and/or hormone therapy. 

While your amenorrhea might be related to your history of anorexia, there are other health-related factors to secondary amenorrhea that you might want to consider:

  • Hormonal contraceptives (e.g., some birth control pills, implanted or injected methods, intrauterine devices)
  • Pregnancy or breast-feeding
  • Extreme mental stress
  • Certain medications (e.g., some antidepressants, chemotherapy drugs for cancer, oral corticosteroids)
  • Chronic illness
  • Thyroid problems
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Benign pituitary tumor
  • Uterine scarring
  • Premature menopause

You can see there are many possible reasons for secondary amenorrhea. It's also important to know that women with secondary amenorrhea can be at increased risk for some pretty serious health conditions like: osteoporosis, bone fractures, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic problems.

You can contact your primary care provider or women's health specialist. If you don't have a trusted women's health care provider, you might consider finding one soon. If money's a problem, you can check out Planned Parenthood's website to find a local health center. Some Planned Parenthood centers offer sliding-fee services and other programs to cover the cost of care for people who qualify financially.

There's no doubt that secondary amenorrhea is a complex issue with many possible causes and consequences. And, everyone woman's situation is different. If investigating the absence of your period is the next step for you, working with a women's health specialist could help you get the answers you need.

To your continuing good health,

Alice

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

Medical Services (Morningside)

Student Health Services (CUMC)


January 22, 2013

522172
Hello, I have had the same problem in the past from anorexia. For a while I was only able to get my period when I took birth control pills, and even now with out them my periods are generally light...
Hello, I have had the same problem in the past from anorexia. For a while I was only able to get my period when I took birth control pills, and even now with out them my periods are generally light and last 3 or 4 days. It's been maybe a year and a half, close to two now? I don't mean to say this is what has happened to you but I was told that when I was getting my period that way it might be difficult for me to have children some day. I've also heard that a possible result of not having your period is being barren. It might be a good idea to see a gynacologist soon. I believe they or an endocrinologist would be very helpful to you if you're not already seeing them, and the sooner the better. Best wishes beloved sister. I hope that doesn't happen to you.

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

December 19, 2014

594651
I've never eaten soap. However, once in a while (since I had my son 8 years ago), I get cravings for soap. I had a craving today and decided to google it. I'm so glad I'm not the only one. I really...
I've never eaten soap. However, once in a while (since I had my son 8 years ago), I get cravings for soap. I had a craving today and decided to google it. I'm so glad I'm not the only one. I really want to taste a piece one day, but idk if the logical part of me will allow me to try it.

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

What does body fat percentage mean?

Dear Reader,

Your choices for increasing fat are not as limited as you may think. First off, know that body fat is essential to normal body functioning. What is referred to as essential fat is the type of fat needed to do just that — help the body function well. Essential fat is found in the bone marrow and spinal cord; it also surrounds the liver, spleen, heart, kidneys, and other organs. We also have fat in our breasts, genitals, and muscle tissue. External layers of body fat offer insulation and protect us from the cold. In addition to this, most of us have some storage fat.

Body fat percentage indicates how much of your total body composition is fat. How much is healthy or unhealthy is determined by your body and its needs. Too low a body fat percentage results in disrupted metabolism, fatigue, and lowered cognitive function, among other things. Women with "too low" body fat will develop amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods), because the body senses inadequate energy reserves or high physical stress — and won't sustain a pregnancy, for example. Some experts believe that 17 percent body fat is needed for the onset of menses and that 22 percent body fat is needed to maintain normal menstrual cycles. Of course, some people are healthy outside of these parameters. A gynecologist or endocrinologist can better evaluate your specific situation; you can start with your primary care provider.

Body fat is measured in terms of percentage, and you can get your body fat measured at your gym, for example, but what are you going to do with the number? Getting a body fat measurement can be anxiety-provoking. Make sure you go for an assessment with a qualified health professional. Most of the measurement techniques for assessing body fat percentage fall short in terms of accuracy. A good rule of thumb is to expect a standard error of 3 percent; meaning, whatever percentage you are measured at, consider that you could, in reality, have 3 percent less or 3 percent more than that measurement. Body fat percentage is more useful as a measure to track how your body changes over time.

In terms of ways to increase body fat, you can do so by taking in more calories than you expend. One food specifically won't increase your body fat. If your eating plan is low in fats, though, you will have difficulty absorbing vitamins A, D, E, and K and a variety of valuable plant chemicals, known as phytochemicals. Your friend and/or fitness instructor may suggest high fat foods because they are denser in calories than low fat foods. This means they will provide you with more calories for a smaller amount of food. Calories supply energy, and fat has a higher number of calories per gram than other nutrients:

 

Nutrient Calories per gram
Fat 9
Carbohydrate 4
Protein 4

 

This table gives you an idea of why calories from fat may be a smart choice for you. Good choices for a vegetarian are avocados, olive and canola oil, nuts, peanut butter, and olives. If you're willing to relax your vegetarianism a bit, fatty fish are also a good option, but aren't as calorie dense as the first group of foods mentioned. If you're avoiding dairy foods, include other rich sources of calcium, such as collard greens, turnip greens, kale, or calcium-fortified juices, to strengthen bones, among other functions.

Hope this helps you understand your body a little better.

Alice

Can I get sick from eating raw seafood?

Dear Reader,

Raw fish and seafood can certainly be tasty delectables. Many a consumer has wondered about the health risks. They are generally minimal — lower than compared to other means of transmitting food borne illnesses. Though most are indeed incurable, many of them go away on their own, though this also depends somewhat on other health conditions of the consumer.

The hepatitis A virus can be found in some raw shellfish, but it is not common in other seafood. Hepatitis A, unlike types B and C, does not cause long-term or chronic illness. Hepatitis A causes inflammation of the liver and interferes with liver function. Mild cases require no treatment. Once the infected individual heals, s/he will then have immunity for life. Symptoms of hepatitis A can include:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Dark urine
  • Jaundice (yellow skin)
  • Nausea
  • No symptom at all

Hepatitis A's incubation period (the time it takes from eating the food until beginning to exhibit symptoms) ranges from 15 to 50 days. Infected individuals can be sick for up to 6 months, but the liver usually heals on its own within a month or two. You can take a blood test to see if you've already been exposed to hepatitis A, and you can also receive a vaccine, which may be something you want to consider. The vaccine is now given routinely to children as part of their vaccination program. Individuals traveling to certain countries are also given the vaccine. See your own health care provider for either the antibody test or vaccine. Hepatitis A is killed by heat, so it is not a concern for those enjoying cooked shellfish dishes.

Worms (and worm eggs) can be a concern when consuming raw fish. They are preventable and treatable. Your health care provider can prescribe oral medication that is toxic to the worms. Worms are killed when the fish is cooked or completely frozen, but can be passed on in the raw state. This includes not just sashimi or sushi, but also some other popular dishes, such as partially raw seared fish fillets and ceviche — raw fish marinated in lime or other citrus juice. Most worms will pass through the digestive system without causing any problems, but two can cause infections: roundworm larvae and a type of tapeworm species, diphyllobothrium. Infection by either of these two parasites can result in abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, fatigue, and feelings of weakness in the arms and legs. Though the risk is low, it can be further reduced by purchasing fish from reputable stores and also eating at reputable restaurants. Trained sushi chefs have learned how to identify worms or worm eggs in fish, and reputable packing houses use a process called candling (quite simple: holding the fish to light) to check for worms in the fillets.

For all of the above reasons, it's best for folks with certain conditions to consult with her/his health care provider before eating raw fish or shellfish, which includes :

  • Liver disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Diabetes
  • Stomach disorders
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Cancer
  • Abnormal iron metabolism
  • Other autoimmune disorders

There are toxins found even in cooked foods, so when you take this into account, the risks posed by eating raw or undercooked seafood are actually relatively low, but raw fish and seafood still sometimes get a bad rap. Hopefully this information will help you in weighing the risks of feasting on the bounties of the sea.

Bon appétit!

Alice

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

Medical Services (Morningside)

Student Health Services (CUMC)


Alkaline water — is it better for your body?

Dear Reader,

Filtered water seems to be all the rage these days — your friend is not alone in her enthusiasm for filters of all types. Filter manufacturers claim that alkaline water, which has a higher pH than regular tap water, can neutralize acid in the blood, offer more energy, speed metabolism, and slow the aging process. While studies have shown that alkaline water can lead to a decrease of bone loss in pre-menopausal women, not enough research has been done on alkalizing water filters to know how effective they are in improving a range of health concerns.

A normal blood pH, the measure of acidity vs. alkalinity, is carefully maintained by various systems of the body to stay between 7.35 and 7.45. This is slightly on the alkaline side of neutral (7 on a scale of 1 to 14). Bones store calcium for the body, and also help to regulate the acidity or alkalinity of the blood. When the blood becomes too acidic from a diet high in refined sugar, flour, or lots of dairy or meat, calcium is drawn from the bones to bring the blood's pH back into the normal range. If the blood stays alkaline from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables (or from alkaline water, as the filter manufactures claim), the bones don't need to cede their calcium to the blood, the theory being that this calcium retention makes bones stronger and more dense. In addition to drinking alkaline water, researchers have found that eating a low-acid diet, that is, a diet full of fruits and vegetables and lower in animal protein and grains than the typical American diet, may lead to stronger bones.

Whether your friend would like to raise her blood alkalinity by shelling out for a filter is up to her. If you don't have extra money to drop on a filter that may or may not be effective, but would like to keep the pH of your blood in check, you could try to increase your consumption of fruits and green veggies and shave down your intake of refined sugars, flours, dairy, and meat. And fill up your water bottle at her house!

Alice

April 10, 2015

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Learned a lot about alkaline water benefits. Thanks for the great information you have provided.
Learned a lot about alkaline water benefits. Thanks for the great information you have provided.
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