Are Probiotics a Scam?

By Meigan Freeman, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Probiotics, prebiotics, and now synbiotics? What are these biotics and what can they do for your health; or are they just another health scam that ultimately burdens your wallet? I’ll go through their purposes, food sources, and possible benefits. But first, let’s review our gut bacteria, an important part of probiotics.

            Your colon hosts millions of bacteria, which scientists refer to as the gut microbiome,  which help you digest food, heighten your immune system, and give you essential nutrients. In fact, they contribute more genes towards human survival than humans themselves do! We have evolved with them and without these important symbiotic bacteria, humans would not be able to survive. We are completely dependent on them. (Consider reading my other post on bacteria and the microbiome for a deeper dive!)

            We have established how important our gut microbiome is to our survival, so shouldn’t we do everything we can to keep them alive, including eating all the probiotic supplements we can? Not quite. The human body has long evolved and survived healthfully without supplements, so I wouldn’t be too eager to start taking them now. But I have gotten ahead of myself, we need to define and differentiate between probiotics and prebiotics first. Probiotics are live bacteria which are ingested and intended to promote health. They naturally occur in fermented food products, like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi, and can also be taken as over-the-counter supplements. On the other hand, prebiotics are not living organisms, but rather food particles that feed and support the life of the bacteria which already live in your gut. Oligosaccharides, mainly fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and inulin are carbohydrates that cannot be digested by humans, but support healthy strains of bacteria in our gut. These oligosaccharides can be naturally found in many fruits, vegetables, and beans and are a significant part of many people’s diets around the world. Synbiotics are only contained in supplements and are a mixture of both prebiotics and probiotics. Providing probiotics (living bacteria) with prebiotics (food source) make the probiotics live longer and become more shelf-stable.

            As touched on earlier, probiotics and prebiotics are naturally found in many types of food that you probably already eat. Fermented products like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and sourdough bread contain probiotics while prebiotics are found in nearly all fruits, vegetables, and beans. Because probiotics and prebiotics are available in many different types of food, I personally do not see a need in taking supplements. However, if you have certain digestive disorders or a very limited diet, a dietitian may recommend you to use such supplements. Remember, what is healthy for me is not necessarily healthy for you! Health is a very individualized process.

A healthy microbiome can be marked by healthy digestion. If you have a regular poop cycle, your microbiome is probably very happy! Sometimes our cycle gets out of whack and we get sick with diarrhea or constipation for whatever reason. Thankfully, probiotics have been the most researched for their prevention of diarrhea and constipation, including people who have IBS, IBD, and even traveler’s diarrhea. An increased intake of fermented foods may be helpful during or after bouts of sickness to reestablish a healthy microbiome. Other probiotic claims, such as their effects on obesity, aging, and diabetes need to be further researched before any definite declarations can be made.

Overall, probiotics and prebiotics are not a scam. They are definitely real and can have real benefits. Fermented foods have been consumed for thousands of years across multiple geographies and cultures across the globe. However, not everyone needs to take supplements, in fact, most people probably don’t need to take them! As a rule of thumb, it is usually better to get nutrients, including probiotics, from whole foods, rather than supplements, because whole foods are richer in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other important nutrients.

Problematic Diet Culture Vocabulary

Photo credit: https://rafflespress.com/2016/11/07/riot-at-the-diet/by

By Claire Benoist, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Diet culture is a lot like the monsters that used to live in our closet and under our beds as kids: scary and intimidating. With those monsters, we could usually just hide under the covers and try our best to ignore the noises and shadows until we eventually fell asleep. Unfortunately, diet culture is a really big monster that makes a lot of noise, making it difficult to ignore. So, this is one that we are just going to have to face and conquer. Let’s break down some of the most common diet culture vocabulary words, and tackle this beast one word at a time.

Cheat
Let’s start by break down the word cheat. In school, cheating on an exam or on an assignment, results in serious disciplinary action. In a relationship, cheating breaks trust and can lead to breakups and divorce. Cheating is an ugly thing that leads to heartbreaking consequences. This word does not belong anywhere near food. Using cheat or cheating to describe meals and treats makes us believe, even subconsciously, that we are doing something morally wrong. And in case no one has told you recently, there is nothing wrong with indulging in your favorite foods.

I am a big believer that we shouldn’t need cheat days. We should be able to enjoy all foods without rules or the need to break them. Prioritizing a balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, proteins and whole grains means exactly that: we are prioritizing those foods. Meaning we can also eat all the other foods we want, too!

The bottom line, call “cheat meals” what they are: pizza, ice cream, a treat, a food that reminds you of your childhood, comfort food, a traditional family recipe…and whatever you call it, savor it and leave cheating out of it.

Guilt-free
Food can be and do a lot of things. It provides us with necessary nutrients that fuel our everyday activities. It can be a celebration of culture or religion. It can provide comfort and pleasure. It can be nostalgic. But food does not and cannot hold moral value. Nothing you eat can make you a bad person for eating it. This term “guilt-free” insinuates that you should feel guilty when you eat something that isn’t a fruit, vegetable or whole grain. Well, we at Healthy Aggies are here to tell you, that’s not true!  

Natural
Natural is one of those buzz words that sounds so good. #nofilter am I right? A study conducted by Ohio State University showed that people believe that foods featuring the words “natural” or “all-natural” on their labels are of higher quality and nutritional content and are therefore willing to pay more for those foods. But what does natural actually even mean on a food label?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a food as natural when it contains “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source)”. That’s a very broad definition that can describe a lot of foods. For example, sugar is a natural product. It’s extracted from plants and then goes through processing to be purified, lightened, dried and packaged for distribution. Nothing artificial and no coloring added. But as we all know, table sugar isn’t exactly high in nutritional content or quality. So, save your dollars Aggies, natural is just a marketing buzz word brought to you by our old friend diet culture that doesn’t actually tell you much about its contents.

Processed
This is a big one. But let’s break it down. Yes, some processed foods have a ton of added sugars, saturated fats, sodium and a lot of other ingredients that are questionable at best. But that’s not the only example of processed foods. Nuts and seeds have to be processed (shelled, roasted and ground) to become nut or seed butters. Frozen produce is processed (washed and cut) before it is packaged and stocked in your local grocery store freezer. Fruits have to be processed (pressed) to become fruit juice. See? Processed foods aren’t that scary after all!

Clean
I’ll keep this one short: unless your food has literal dirt on it, it’s clean!

Words are powerful. They can have a significant psychological effect on us whether we realize it or not. Diet culture is not a monster we will defeat overnight or in a single article. But the more we know, and the more we break down the myths we are led to believe, the less powerful it will eventually become. Happy eating, Aggies!

Choose MyPlate!

By Claire Benoist, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Have you heard of MyPlate? MyPlate is one of my favorite tools to use as a nutrition peer counselor. I’m not a big fan of math or measuring. To me, figuring out how much protein 0.8g per kg of body weight would be or keeping track of all the vitamins and minerals I need to eat every day sounds like too much work. As a visual person, I prefer to think about filling my plate according to MyPlate guidelines. This way, I know my body will get the nutrients it needs without having to make it complicated. I also like not counting amounts and cups because then I can fill my plate according to my appetite rather than restricting or overeating based on arbitrary numbers.

Ok sounds good but, what is MyPlate?

Glad you asked! Let’s break it down:

Veggies/Fruit
Fill ½ of your plate with your favorite fruits and vegetables. Bell peppers, carrots, oranges spinach, mangoes, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, grapes, broccoli, fresh, frozen, canned, cooked, raw whatever you prefer! Note that you can choose to have a half a plate of fruit or vegetables or a combo! Getting a variety of fruits and vegetables will allow you to get all the minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients and fiber our bodies need and love.  

Protein
Fill ¼ of your plate with protein. This can be an animal source of protein: chicken, eggs, beef, fish, pork, yogurt, etc or plant source: tofu, beans, lentils, tempeh, etc. Protein helps to keep you full after a meal and gives your body the building materials it needs to make muscle, enzymes and all kinds of important proteins your body needs to function and thrive.

Grains/Starch
Fill the last quarter of your plate with grain/starch. This includes bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, barley, tortilla, potatoes, sweet potatoes etc. These are full of carbohydrates which are our bodies’ favorite source of energy. Whether you’re studying, working out or watching Netflix all day, these will prepare you for any activity you have planned.

Liquid oils (not pictured)

Liquid oils like olive oil, canola oil, and avocado oil provide our bodies with unsaturated fats which help us feel full and provide many important functions throughout the body from lowering “bad” cholesterol to reducing inflammation. Though not technically liquid, fish, avocados and nuts are great sources of healthy fats too! If you did not cook the foods on your plate with any liquid oils, a little drizzle over your vegetables could be a good topper.

Claire, you forgot about the cup of milk!
Good eye, I did leave out the milk. The cup of milk is added because dairy is a great source of calcium and vitamin D (which helps our bodies absorb calcium), and calcium is important for bone health. However, we can get these nutrients from other sources. If yogurt or cheese is your source of protein, boom, there’s your calcium. Beans, lentils, seeds, some nuts and leafy greens, and tofu also contain calcium. Not to mention foods and drinks that might be fortified with calcium (like some cereals, fruit juices and non-dairy milks).  So, if you are consuming a variety of foods, you should be able to meet your calcium needs without the milk. If you like milk, go for it! I just personally prefer drinking water with my meals and getting my calcium from other sources.

A couple notes:

  • These won’t always be neatly separated into sections of your plate. Sometimes you’ll make a salad or a wrap and it will all be mixed together. That’s ok!
  • You can use MyPlate for snacks, too! The portions might be smaller but the proportions are the same.
  • Remember this is just a guideline. A tool that can help you think through composing a balanced meal. I love this tool but if it feels restrictive or confusing to you, make an appointment with a nutrition peer counselor and we can help you figure it out or find another model that will work better for you.

Now for some examples!

Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry served with Rice.

(photo from eatingwell.com)

Greek chicken salad

(Photo from foodnetwork.com)

Bell peppers, hummus and crackers (or pita)

(photo from eatingwell.com)

Toast topped with ricotta cheese and fruit

(photo from eatingwell.com)

What is your favorite balanced plate? Share in the comments!

Oh My Milk!

By Meigan Freeman, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Do all those new milks have you overwhelmed? Well I am here to help, because we all have 99 problems, but milk shouldn’t be one! I’ll break down the nutrition content of each milk, environmental impacts, and cost so you can make an informed decision of which milk is most fitting for you.

Dairy: The longest standing milk out there, dairy is the classic that comes from cows. You can find four types at most grocery stores, skim (fat free), 1% fat, 2% fat, and whole milk (3.25% fat). Out of all the milks I compared, dairy has the highest in saturated fat which we should strive to avoid. It also has less calcium than its plant milk alternatives, which may seem surprising at first, but the other milks are fortified with calcium and therefore have more. Fortification is the process of adding nutrients into foods and helps people get adequate amounts of nutrients that Americans, on average, do not consume enough of. Healthy Aggie Tip: When available, try to buy fortified and enriched food for a nutrient boost!

            Dairy milk is about $2.69/gallon and is therefore a sound financial choice.  Environmentally, dairy has the highest impact. In a 2018 study, dairy milk produced higher GHG emissions and required much more land than soy milk. Cow agriculture is pretty tough on the environment, they take up a lot of land, produce a lot of methane, and drink a lot of water.

Pros:

  • Classic and consistent flavor
  • Low cost
  • Good for baking and recipes
  • High in protein

Cons:

  • Highest environmental impact
  • High in saturated fat
  • Slightly lower in calcium than plant milks

Oat: Oat milk has recently become very popular for its creamy and thick mouthfeel. This plant milk may be the most similar to dairy in terms of taste, but its nutrients are much different. Oatly’s brand oat milk is fortified in vitamins and minerals, with comparable or higher amounts than dairy and other plant milks. It has a moderate amount of protein that is less than soy and dairy, but higher than coconut and almond. 

At $5.29/ gallon, oat milk is an expensive choice. However, oat milk is one of the least intrusive milks on the environment’s land, water, and gas emissions.

Pros:

  • Creamy & rich flavor
  • Fortified with lots of vitamins and minerals
  • Small environmental impact

Cons:

  • Usually high in added sugar
  • Pricier than dairy milk
  • Less protein than dairy milk
  • Sometimes separates in drinks like coffee or tea

Soy: Soy milk is the OG, traditional plant milk. It has just as much protein as dairy, and is also a complete protein. A ‘complete’ protein (meat, eggs, dairy, quinoa, soy) contains all essential amino acids, whereas an ‘incomplete’ protein (beans, grains) contains only some amino acids. Fact Check: Soy milk has a bad reputation for causing increased estrogen levels, but this is just a rumor! It is true that soy milk can slightly increase estrone, a minor, weaker hormone, however, you would have to drink A LOT of soy milk to notice any harmful effects.

Pros:

  • Only plant milk with as much protein as dairy
  • Low in saturated fat
  • Fortified with lots of vitamins and minerals
  • Easy to find unsweetened versions
  • Low environmental impact

Cons:

  • May separate in drinks like coffee and tea
  • More expensive than dairy ($4.29/gallon)

Almond: Have you ever had homemade almond milk? Someone made it for me once and it was delicious! Here’s a recipe. Almond milk has a moderate amount of some vitamins and minerals, but often not as much as soy, oat, or dairy. It also has very low protein, so if you enjoy this milk, make sure you are getting adequate protein from other sources! It costs about $4.29 per gallon. As for the environment, this milk has low impact on gas emissions and land, but uses a large amount of water (still less than dairy though!).

Pros:

  • Homemade milk is simple to make and may be more cost effective
  • Low in saturated fat

Cons:

  • Low amounts of vitamins and minerals
  • Low amount of protein
  • More expensive than dairy ($4.29/gallon)

Personally, soy milk is my top choice for its high protein content and low environmental impact. However, our nutritional needs and goals likely differ from each other, so this doesn’t mean soy milk is right for you! I enjoy oat milk in my lattés, so sometimes my milk choice just depends on my mood and the use. I hope this article helps you find what milk is best for you; remember that everyone is different and no milk is ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ It all depends on you and your individual, special self! For a more in-depth analysis of plant milks (including coconut not mentioned herein) check out the milk spreadsheet I made which outlines the nutrition content of each milk.

Debunking the Master Cleanse

By Brandy Carrillo, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

With the warmer weather and blue skies, it’s common for many to enter a period of re-invention this time of year, through our own rituals of “spring cleaning” or starting new regimes to improve our health. With the ever-increasing rise of diet culture, advertisements for the latest fad diets are scattered all over the web calling for extreme restrictions and regulations and promises of fast and drastic results. Many are sucked into these empty promises and want to kickstart their newfound healthy routines with a period of detox or a cleanse, but are those actually as effective as the influencers claim?

On the surface, cleansing and detoxing seem beneficial and something that we should be doing daily. Detoxification is essentially just the act of removing harmful toxins from your body via excretion, urination or sweat. So if this all sounds so positive and helpful, why is it actually not such a good thing?

The main issue with most self-proclaimed detox regimes is that they claim to help eliminate this so-called build-up of toxins in your body to help rest its natural metabolic processes. Detoxes and cleanses often require participants to engage in some kind of calorie restriction, specific food elimination, supplement or herb use, laxatives, juices, or other drink concoctions all with the goal of improving one’s health in mind. In reality, your body is already doing this on a day-to-day basis via your liver, lungs, kidneys, and large intestine. Any supplemental means of “cleansing” or “detoxification” is unnecessary and in some cases, harmful to the body. Many of these cleanses make promises of weight loss, metabolism repair, body fat burning, reduced inflammation, and are marketed as an “all-around cure.” We know that while some detox diets may help users achieve some of the promised benefits, the results are likely unsustainable and are coupled with harmful effects and increased risks.

 How exactly does the famous Master Cleanse play into this?

The Master Cleanse also referred to as the Lemonade Diet, the Cayenne Pepper Diet, the Maple Syrup Diet, and even the Beyonce Diet, is a complete liquid fast with a primary goal of rapid weight loss. The detox regime was first introduced all the way back in the 1940s by Stanley Burroughs as a means of body reset, healing, and all-around “internal cleansing” prompting followers to drink at least 6 or more cups of only the drink consisting of lemon juice, maple syrup, water, and cayenne pepper for anywhere between 10 days to 2 weeks. The diet calls for users to only drink this concoction for the first 10 days along with a supplemental laxative tea for optimum “colon cleansing” and then to slowly reintroduce solid foods for the next few days. While testimonies have shown that the master cleanse does provide rapid weight loss, these results aren’t permanent or healthy. The Master Cleanse is simply another means of fasting, with the maple syrup the only real source of calories during the cleanse. This lack of essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.) and caloric substance can lead to a number of harmful effects on the body including increased fatigue, body weakness and achiness, digestive issues, loss of muscle mass, and many more.

At the end of the day, your body already has the set machinery needed for natural detoxification processes and there is no need to engage in any supplemental cleanses or detox diets. Focusing on eating a balanced plate and including a regular exercise routine in your life is much more sustainable and can provide the lasting effects these so-called detox diets claim they can provide.

Is Organic food better?

By Wenjun Liu, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

When it comes to organic foods, there are two commonly asked questions.  The first is are they healthier and the second, are they safer than conventionally grown products. 

Many of us used to believe organic foods had higher vitamin and mineral content. A recent systemic review on human studies found that there was no significant difference in vitamin and mineral content between organic and conventional plant or animal products, but a difference was noted in polyphenolic phytonutrient content. The study reported 19-69% higher levels of phytonutrients in organic foods as compared to conventional foods. Research has not yet identified why organic foods contain higher amounts of these disease-fighting factors.

When trying to decide between organic or conventional, there are a few things to consider. Organic foods tend to be harder to find and when you find them they are more expensive – up to 40% more than their conventional partner. 

Another reason people might choose to consume organic produce is for a reduced likelihood of pesticide residue.  Pesticide use is heavily regulated in the United States and you are not likely to find much residue, even on a conventional product. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes the “Dirty Dozen” annually.  This list identifies particular plant products that you may want to consider buying organically, if you are concerned about chemicals.  There is a companion “Clean Fifteen” list that includes products that normally contain very little pesticide residue.

Overall, aim for consumption of more whole, unprocessed plants and/or plant-based foods whether organic or conventional, because they contain abundant fiber, vitamins, and minerals.                      

Is Organic Healthier?

By Wenjun Liu, UC Davis, Healthy Aggies Nutrition Peer Counselor

When it comes to organic foods, there are two commonly asked questions.  The first is are they healthier and the second, are they safer than conventionally grown products. 

Many of us used to believe organic foods had higher vitamin and mineral content. A recent systemic review on human studies found that there was no significant difference in vitamin and mineral content between organic and conventional plant or animal products, but a difference was noted in polyphenolic phytonutrient content. The study reported 19-69% higher levels of phytonutrients in organic foods as compared to conventional foods. Research has not yet identified why organic foods contain higher amounts of these disease-fighting factors.

When trying to decide between organic or conventional, there are a few things to consider. Organic foods tend to be harder to find and when you find them they are more expensive – up to 40% more than their conventional partner. 

Another reason people might choose to consume organic produce is for a reduced likelihood of pesticide residue.  Pesticide use is heavily regulated in the United States and you are not likely to find much residue, even on a conventional product. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes the “Dirty Dozen” annually.  This list identifies particular plant products that you may want to consider buying organically, if you are concerned about chemicals.  There is a companion “Clean Fifteen” list that includes products that normally contain very little pesticide residue.

Overall, aim for consumption of more whole, unprocessed plants and/or plant-based foods whether organic or conventional, because they contain abundant fiber, vitamins, and minerals.                      

The only ‘diet’ you need: Intuitive Eating

By Meigan Freeman, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Intuitive eating was developed by two registered dietitian nutritionists as an alternative to toxic diet culture. It focuses on taking care of your body rather than starving it, as many diets tend to do. From this revolutionary program branched many other projects, including Health at Every Size® (HAES®), a body acceptance movement developed by our very own UC Davis doctoral graduate, Dr. Lindo Bacon. Intuitive eating and HAES® have been the focus of many research studies which result in increased self-esteem, mental wellness, fruit and veggie intake, and decreased eating disorder behaviors in participants. 

Before we dive into these research studies, I want to break down a common body weight myth. Have you heard that being overweight is a risk factor for higher mortality or certain diseases? I sure have, however this correlation is toxic and demonizes overweight or obese individuals for a largely genetic and environmental factor which is difficult to control, their body mass index (BMI). Many epidemiological studies that assessed the relationship between BMI and mortality did not control for confounding factors like fitness, nutrition quality, weight cycling, or socioeconomic status. When the confounders are controlled for, the association between weight and mortality tend to decline. Body weight may be an indicator of unmeasured lifestyle factors, some of which can be modified with healthy lifestyle behaviors regardless of BMI (Campos, P., et al). In other words, BMI is not the most readily controllable factor towards health, rather health is about other factors, like increased fruit and veggie intake, fitness, and mental well-being. For a further breakdown of common nutrition myths, I highly encourage you to read Dr. Bacon’s short and informative HAES® manifesto.

Despite what the media wants you to believe, it is so important to understand that a person’s weight and BMI is NOT a measure of their health. Remember, you cannot tell just by looking at someone’s weight if they are healthy or not. So, if losing weight is not the cure-all for living a healthy life, then what is? Well, intuitive eating will not cure everything, but research does show that applying this weight-neutral concept can provide participants with long-lasting mental and physical benefits. 

            The first study I looked at was conducted by Dr. Vivienne Hazzard, PhD, MPH, RD who studied the associations of intuitive eating by following a group of ~1,500 adolescent participants over 10 years. She found that intuitive eating education was linked to lower instances of depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, and extreme weight control behaviors, such as binge-eating, skipping meals, and diet pill intake (Hazzard et. al., 2020). 

In a second study, Dr. Mary Christoph, PhD, MPH, followed up on the same participants who were previously educated in intuitive eating as adolescents and then surveyed them on retained intuitive eating knowledge and dietary intake as adults. Women in the top quartile of intuitive eating retention consumed 0.6 servings more fruit and 0.4 servings more vegetables, as compared to women in the bottom quartile. Men in the same top quartile consumed 0.3 servings more fruit and 0.6 servings more vegetables, but 0.6 less servings of whole grains, as compared to men in the bottom quartile (Christoph et. al., 2020). Overall, participants who retained their intuitive eating knowledge as adults consumed more fruits and vegetables than participants who did not retain this knowledge. As we all know, regular consumption of fruit and vegetables are important for obtaining fiber and micronutrients.  

            A third study conducted by Kelly Romano, MS, EdS, found harmful associations between calorie counting and self-weighing among college students. These behaviors were linked to higher levels of eating disorder severity and attitudes as assessed by the standardized Eating Disorder Questionnaire. In contrast, intuitive eating was found to be associated with lower eating disorder severity scores (Romano et. al., 2018) These results are especially alarming to me, as I see many so-called nutrition and fitness experts encouraging calorie counting on social media. Next time you come across this advice, consider whether or not it is healthy for your mental and physical well-being. 

            Overall these research studies show that intuitive eating can lower disordered eating attitudes, including binge eating, restriction, and diet pill intake, increase body- and self-esteem, and even increase fruit and veggie intake as compared to weight-loss focused diets. You can start incorporating intuitive eating and HAES® into your life by: 

I sincerely hope intuitive eating and HAES® has resonated with you. As a nutrition student, it breaks my heart to see my family, friends, and peers fall into the weight-loss trap. You do not need to lose weight to be healthy or beautiful. Embrace your diversity and treat yourself with kindness. For more intuitive eating resources, tips, and studies visit intuitiveeating.org and lindobacon.com

Food Safety Tips and Tricks

By Brandy Carrillo, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

As we continue to practice social distancing and follow safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have found ourselves spending a lot more time at home. Because of this, I myself have started to bring out the inner chef within me and have done a lot more cooking at home. While it is great that many of us have become more skilled in the kitchen, it is also important to remember to keep the basics of food safety and handling and in mind when preparing your home-cooked meals. Food safety goes far beyond the simple “wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm soapy water” and encompasses all the steps you may take while reaching that final cooked product. Today I’ll be sharing some basic food safety tips and tricks to help guide you in the kitchen and allow you to prepare delicious and nutritious home-cooked meals safely.

Grocery Shopping

  • Make sure to always double-check the expiration date on all items in your shopping cart
  • Be wary of items with visible dents, holes, or tears in their packaging
  • Keep any raw meat seafood, or poultry separate from other items in your cart to help avoid cross-contamination
  • Try to make cold/ refrigerated items the very last thing you toss into your cart
  • Make sure to inspect any produce for signs of spoilage or mold especially in pre-packaged/ pre-portioned bundles

Storage

  • Be sure to refrigerate any perishable items within 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is above 90℉) of purchase
  • Make sure to allow cooked meals to completely cool down before storing them in the fridge and never immediately refrigerate hot foods
  • Hot foods should be stored in large, flat containers so they cool down more efficiently
  • Make sure to accurately label leftovers with the date they were cooked and stored

Food Preparation

  • Thaw frozen meats in the fridge and not at room temperature
  • Separate meat, poultry, and seafood during preparation and never use the same cutting board and utensils to prep meats and fresh produce
  • Make sure to thoroughly wash hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food

Cooking

  • Always follow the cooking directions on the packaging of food
  • Always reheat leftovers to at least 165℉ and bring all sauces and soups back to a boil
  • Make sure to cook raw meat, poultry, and egg products thoroughly and use a food thermometer to check if foods have been cooked to a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria

As busy college students, it is crucial to take necessary precautions during our grocery shopping, food handling, storage, and preparation to help drastically decrease the risk of foodborne illness. While it’s really easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of student life, it’s important to make sure we can do everything we can to keep ourselves safe during these crazy times.

The Link Between Mind and Gut: A Close Look at IBS

By Meigan Freeman, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Did you know that your gut has a brain of its own? Okay, it may not be a whole brain, it can’t paint a masterpiece or write an essay for you, but it does respond to your emotions and eating habits. Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach before a date or interview? Those “butterflies” are your gut-brain responding to your emotions and they have a profound effect on digestion. Your gut, including the intestines, stomach, and esophagus is surrounded by a set of neurons, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), which controls digestion. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gut disorder and provides an excellent example of the interesting relationship between our higher brain and gut nerves.

IBS affects 12% of the population in North America and affects more women than men. The disease is chronic and can be incredibly uncomfortable to live with, causing diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and bloating. IBS is a biopsychosocial disorder meaning biological (certain foods), psychological (emotions and mental illness), and social factors (support system and routine) influence flare-ups. Without one certain cause, IBS is difficult to understand and treat. Thankfully there are some helpful ways to manage this disorder, which I will outline, but first let’s consider how our gut-brain and mind influences IBS.

Our body is made up of two nervous systems, the central nervous system which consists of the brain and spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system, encompassing all other nerves. This series of nerves allows the brain and gut to communicate through neurons and hormones. When the higher brain is stressed, communication can be compromised with increased stress hormones. Studies in patients with IBS showed increased activity in the hypothalamus and amygdala, two important organs which release stress hormones related to our flight or fight response. In particular, the hypothalamus releases the stress hormone, corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF). Rats with heightened CRF levels show increased anxiety-like behavior, diarrhea, and stomach sensitivity, some symptoms of IBS. These studies indicate that when patients are stressed or anxious their brain releases stress hormones which interact with their gut-brain, resulting in digestion problems and pain. Furthermore, stressful and traumatic events like rape and childhood abuse have lead to digestive disorders, manifesting sometimes weeks and even decades after the event.

If you suffer from IBS, know that there are ways to manage this disorder. Although, I will give some tips below, it is important to speak to your doctor or a dietitian about your individual care. Here are the tips as promised, mostly obtained from Harvard Medical School.

  • Eat fiber rich foods. An easy way to do this is by simply incorporating more fruits and veggies into your diet and replacing some refined grains with whole grains.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and caffeine free tea.
  • I know it can be difficult, but try to avoid stressful situations as much as possible. Consider talking to a therapist for mental help and clarity. A startling 50-90% of IBS patients have mental illness, mostly anxiety and depressive disorders. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
  • If stressful situations cannot be avoided, try managing the stress with meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, or journaling. A free yoga resource I personally love is Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. Any other ways that personally help you to relax are also encouraged.
  • Get regular sleep. This helps keep stress levels down.
  • Many IBS patients find success with a low-FODMAP diet, or foods low in specific, hard-to-digest, carbohydrates. I highly recommend working with a dietitian on this diet, but I included an image below for reference of foods to avoid and enjoy.
  • Try keeping a food diary to see which foods give you more digestive distress. Use the avoid section on the image below for the most common foods that cause digestive issues.

I hope this article was helpful to you, especially those with IBS. As you can see, IBS is a complicated disorder due to the intertwined feedback of mind, gut, and body. Much research is still needed for how mental stress can manifest as physical symptoms, nevertheless you can get help with this disorder by working with a doctor and dietitian.

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