Nutrition Questions

Laura Conway is a registered dietitian with over ten years of dietetics experience. She has worked for Chartwells the past three years providing nutrition information to various student groups, faculty groups and to individual students addressing nutrition concerns related to sports nutrition, weight loss, healthy eating, food allergies and much more. Laura has built nutrition and wellness programming targeted to students' needs and worked with Chartwells team members to increase availability of healthy options in student dining.


Question: Do carbs make you fat?

Answer: The technical answer is NO, carbs don’t make you fat. Excess calories make you fat. Yet, it isn’t quite so simple either. Any refined carbohydrate-white pasta, white rice, sugar-is absorbed into your bloodstream quickly and just as quickly into your cells. Once the sugar is in your cells, hormones tell your brain that your stomach is hungry again. Now this happens for a reason-your body doesn’t want to starve. But what you cannot see is that the calories from the first meal have not been expended yet. You may feel like you are starving, but in reality your smart little cells have turned those carbs into fat and stored them away for a rainy day. The result-you are hungry again even though you have eaten enough calories already.

Controlling portions is important, and whole grains are critical. But let’s look at it another way. Most Americans eat 250-300grams of carbohydrate a day, almost twice the conservative recommendation. The vast majority of this is from simple carbohydrates-sugar and refined grains—all in response to the 30 year old advice to follow a low fat diet. After all, sugar is fat free. But when you look at health outcomes, obesity, heart disease and diabetes have continued to rise. It’s not a coincidence. The Atkin’s diet is not the answer, but according to new 2010 Dietary Guidelines, we should eat more good fat-from nuts, fish, seeds and canola and olive oils-and less carbs, especially refined carbs and sugar.

Question: Do relaxation drinks work?

Answer: Use caution when you try a relaxation drink. Relaxation drinks may work to help you calm down when you are stressed, but basically they are just going to make you sleepy. This can have bad consequences if you are in the middle of an exam or driving a car.

They also contain ingredients that can mess with your natural chemistry. For example, some contain kava root or valerian, which are herbs that do not require regulation by the FDA. Kava has been shown in some clinical trials to cause liver damage. Others contain melatonin, a naturally produced hormone that our body makes every evening and helps us fall asleep at night. These supplements have been available for years in the form of herbal supplements at health food stores. It's not until now that they are marketed toward a younger generation in a different product. Still others contain amino acids, like tryptophan or theanine. Guess what? Both of these are naturally found in common foods or beverages like turkey, yogurt and green or chamomile tea. So what is your best bet? Avoid the supplements...learn to deal with stress in a healthful way by addressing issues, getting organized, and learning some techniques to calm you down-like doing yoga. Or go for a walk and burn off some energy. If you still feel the need to relax, a nice turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with a cup of hot tea should do the trick. Keep your money in your wallet.

Question: Is cereal a good breakfast choice? What are the best cereals to choose from?

Answer: Breakfast is really important, and sometimes all you may have time for is a bowl of cereal. Plus, it can taste really great.

The best cereals are lower in sugar and offer some whole grains (aka: fiber) to help you fill up. Even pre-sweetened cereals can be a fine choice. Many manufacturers are lowering the sugar levels in their pre-sweetened cereals. Here is what to look for: Sugar less than 10g At least 2g of fiber (more is better!) At least 2g of protein Don't be fooled by whole grain claims-just because the box says "whole grains" it probably isn't 100% whole grain, which means the cereal can contain very little. Look for a whole grain listed as the first ingredient for a better choice.

Question: How can I keep from gaining weight now that I'm in college?

Answer: Don't ever go Vegas on the buffet. It can be hard to maintain control in an environment where you can eat all you want, but if you don't control it, you will pack on some pounds. If you didn't eat dessert every day at home now is not a good time to start-ditto for eating fries, chicken fingers, burgers or pizza every day. If you find yourself eating those things because nothing else looks good-talk to the Chef or Foodservice Director. They are happy and willing to work with you to find something else you might like.

Question: Is there anything I can eat other than orange juice to help me stay well now that cold and flu season is coming?

Answer: YES! Lots of foods can help you stay well, and it doesn't have to mean downing a gallon of orange juice (even though a little juice certainly does help). Other foods that help you stay well are lean proteins, whole grains and of course brightly colored fruits and vegetables-especially the dark yellow, green and orange ones that are beginning to come into season-think pumpkin, sweet potatoes, kale and collard greens, and squash. Vitamin A is the common ingredient here, and it supports your immune system.

Another food to include for immune support is yogurt, and the more gut friendly bacteria it contains the better. Yogurt keeps our intestinal systems running smoothly. And drink lots of water to help flush out toxins as well as bacteria and viruses.

Question: What are some nutritional powerhouse foods?

Answer: 1. Tomato Salsa-low in fat, calories and free of sodium and cholesterol this fresh made treat adds instant flavor to everything from eggs to chicken and you get a healthy dose of antioxidants too. 2.Whole Wheat Pita Bread-better than slices for holding lots of veggie fillings and still offer a healthy dose of whole grains. 3. Popcorn-buy an air popper and make your own when you don't want to worry about portion because you can eat a lot for few calories. Add flavor with spices including cinnamon, paprika, ginger or oregano. Or add nuts and raisins for a healthy trail mix. 4. Kale-and other dark leafy greens are a great source of iron and calcium, lacking in many of our diets. The uses are virtually endless from soups to stir-fry's. 5. Oranges-containing a days worth of Vitamin C they are essential to good health and are also low in calories and fat free. 6. Vegetable Soup-eat a bowl prior to lunch and you will consume an average of 20% fewer calories during the meal which can help control weight, not to mention that few of us eat the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day so this is a great way to get more in. 7. Plain Yogurt-loaded with calcium and protein plain yogurt keeps our intestinal systems running smoothly. Plain yogurt can be mixed with fruit and honey for a sweet treat or with spices like dill or black pepper for a tangy vegetable dip. It's also great alone as a substitute for sour cream. 8. Hummus-made with chickpeas and olive oil, hummus is slowly digested and helps regulate your appetite all day. It's loaded with fiber and heart healthy unsaturated fats too.

Question: Will Zinc or extra Vitamin C help get rid of a cold?

Answer: Maybe, and maybe not. It all depends on several things. First, if you don't get enough Vitamin C or Zinc regularly then you may be deficient in one or both of them and extra supplementation can help. Also, if you are under a lot of stress studies do show some improvement in symptoms or the halt of a cold in progress. But if you eat well, get enough sleep and are otherwise generally healthy then extra shots might not help. There isn't any harm in trying however because the extra step might ward off that impending cold.

Here are two things to keep in mind: 1. Look to food first as your routine cold killer-load up on foods rich in Vitamin C and zinc. Zinc is found in shellfish-especially oysters-and in beef, dark meat poultry, and pork. If you are vegan or vegetarian there is a little bit found in baked beans, cashews and yogurt, but only 11% of the daily recommendation so you should look for a supplement. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, peppers, green leafy veggies, cantaloupe, berries, tomatoes-almost all fruits and vegetables. 2. If you choose supplements, don't go over 2000mg a day of Vitamin C. Higher levels can cause stomach or intestinal upset. Taking a zinc lozenge every 2-3 hours for a few days to ward off a cold won't likely cause any symptoms, but if you do it continuously it can cause absorption problems for other nutrients. Again, it's best to look for food sources first. And if you feel a cold coming on it should remind you to get a little more sleep, eat a little better overall, and find ways to manage your stress so you can get well and stay well.

Question: Are there certain foods that will enhance study time?

Answer: Yes! Food plays a critical role in how well we comprehend and retain information. Our brains are 90% water to begin with, so dehydration can impact how clearly we think. Also, our brains use a lot of energy and need a steady fuel supply. Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can really reduce your reaction time, your comprehension and your retention during the day. Our brains also use a lot of fat believe it or not. The same fats that are healthy for your heart are healthy for your brain too-Omega-3's found in walnuts, salmon and other fatty fish and flax seed help keep neurons firing smoothly. Other than food, your brain also needs rest so be sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night!

Question: Are diet soft drinks unsafe to drink? Should I switch to regular soft drinks?

Answer: A new study was released in early February at the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference that links daily diet soft drink consumption with a very high increased risk of stroke. But before you change all your dinking habits, consider this. The study only asked participants about soft drink consumption at the beginning of a ten year study. They never reassessed soft drink intake. Also, they didn’t evaluate overall diet quality but only assessed calorie intake.

There are many dietary and lifestyle habits that contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and stroke. To single out one dietary factor and isolate it as a cause is dangerous ground to walk. If you are really concerned about disease prevention, your best bet is to consume an overall healthy diet loaded with fruits and vegetables, lean meats and low fat dairy, include more vegetable proteins, and limit consumption of processed foods as a whole-including both sugar free and regular soft drinks. And of course, living a healthy lifestyle is key as well which includes regular exercise and not smoking.

Question: What is a CSA?

Answer: CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. These are locally organized and operated programs where customers receive a weekly box of locally grown produce. Customers pay an annual membership fee in advance to cover farm production costs, and once harvest begins weekly boxes are delivered or picked up. Most CSA programs offer a variety of sizes (family, half-share, etc.) but you don’t get to pick the produce. You get what is ripe and ready to eat. There are a lot of benefits of being part of a CSA. First, you are supporting local agriculture. Second, you get to eat the freshest produce possible-from local sources. Third, you may receive something you wouldn’t typically purchase and so get to have the fun of researching preparation, cooking techniques and recipes. If you’re interested, you better act quickly. Shares sell out well before the season officially begins, so do your research now and enjoy your summer surprises!

Question: Is there anything I can eat that will help increase my energy levels? I seem to be tired all the time.

Answer: Food does play a critical role in how energetic you feel. There are several tactics you can use so the foods you eat will help you feel more energetic.

First, eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. They do not always have to be fresh-canned, frozen, fresh or dried all count because they all contain nutrients and chemicals needed for your body to make energy and protect your cells from damage from pollution, smoking, sun tanning, and more. Second, don't eat large meals. If you wake early have something small to eat like a piece of whole wheat toast with some peanut butter. Have a banana, apple or orange a couple of hours later. Eat light at lunch-like soup and half a sandwich or a salad. Eat a light mid day snack of fruits and veggies or pretzels and peanut butter. At dinner have some fish, vegetables and brown rice and then finish off your day with some more fruit. If you eat smaller meals more frequently you will keep your blood sugar levels steady and you won't have a slump. Third, make sure you are drinking enough. Water, 100% fruit juice, tea, coffee and milk all count. Dehydration is a common cause of fatigue. Fourth, eat more fiber. Beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and fruits and vegetables slow the release of sugar absorbed by your body and help keep your blood sugar levels steady. Last, make sure you are getting some exercise and enough sleep. Oddly enough, too much sleep can make you more tired and exercising through fatigue can help give you more energy. The good news is that just a brisk walk can help improve energy levels dramatically so you don't have to run a marathon.

Question: Will getting more sleep help me eat less?

Answer: Researchers at the University of Chicago think so. They did a study in 2008 of 14 healthy volunteers who participated in a sleep deprivation study with 5 1/2 hours of sleep a night for 14 nights, and then did a control group that logged 8 1/2 hours of sleep a night for 14 nights. Participants were able to eat whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.

What the researchers found is that when the participants were restricted to 5 1/2 hours of sleep a night, they ate more snacks and more of those snacks were high in refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates in particular have been studied by Walter Willett, MD at Harvard Medical School. According to Dr. Willett's research, refined carbohydrates not only lead to obesity, but also have a link to heart disease. (Willett, Walter C. "Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy" Free Press 2005). Another sleep study conducted by Siobhan Banks, PhD at the University of South Australia found that while appetite was suppressed in sleep deprived individuals, they still gained weight over the course of a study. Banks did not find a craving for carbohydrates as previous studies have found. Whether or not you need to eat less, getting more zzz's will help increase your concentration and help you feel better. Try to log about 7-8 hours every night to feel and perform your best. To control your weight, spread your meals and snacks out over the time you will be awake. If you find yourself gaining weight, and staying up longer hours-your weight gain could be due to late night fourth meals.



Nutritional values on this web site were provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and are for comparative purposes only.
Foods offered on campus may not directly reflect the stated values of similar or like items.