Making healthier choices eating out


By: Debbie Dang, Nutrition Peer Counselor, UC Davis Fitness and Wellness Center

As students trying to survive the brutality of the quarter system at UC Davis, we sometimes find ourselves having little time to cook during the week. This forces us to go out and buy foods that are fast and easily accessible. But how can we eat healthy AND optimize our time simultaneously, living this lifestyle? Here are 10 tips to achieve both!

  1. Check what is in the food you’re considering ordering

The first step to eating healthier is to scan the ingredients. Doing this will help you make a decision that supports your nutrition goals.  Keep choosemyplate in mind and look for entrees with a balance of grains, protein and fruits and veggies. If you can’t find one, order a side of veggies.

  1. Go with a plan

People tend to arrive at a restaurant or food joint without a plan. This increases the chance of buying impulsively. Looking at the menu ahead of time can help you decide on a healthier meal and decrease that risk of buying an extra order of fries! So, take a quick study break and peruse the online menu.

  1. Practice portion control

Restaurants will often serve two to three times more than what is considered a serving on their food label. Instead of eating that whole platter, ask the restaurant to box up half of the meal into a to-go box. Or if you’re eating with a friend, share a meal.

  1. Watch your fat intake

Many processed and restaurant foods contain saturated fat in order to increase storage life and enhance the taste and mouthfeel. Eating too many of these fats can increase your chances of coronary heart disease. Avoid eating more than 10% of your calories from saturated fats.  That would be about 22 gms per day maximum.  Sometimes this information is difficult to find at restaurants.  Beware of large quantities of fatty meats, cheese and butter.

  1. Minimize your sodium intake

Salt is used to reduce microbial growth and enhance the taste of foods, but eating too much can be detrimental to your health! A high salt intake can result in hypertension or high blood pressure. Limit your salt intake to less than 2,300 mg/day. When eating out, ask the restaurant to minimize the salt and use herbs and spices to add flavor instead!

  1. Skip the sweetened beverage

Sweetened beverages like boba milk tea or soda have a high sugar content, which can increase your risk for Type 2 Diabetes over time. Skip these sugar-laden drinks and drink water instead! If water is too bland for you, an alternative is to drink water that is infused with vegetables or fruit.  Most restaurants will provide a lemon wedge. 

  1. Substitute some items on your plate

Making simple changes by substituting foods with healthier choices can make a big difference in the long run. For example, when ordering a taco bowl at Chipotle, you can choose brown rice instead of white rice. Or instead of buying a side of fries, ask for a side of vegetables.

  1. Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets

It’s easy to fall into the temptation of all-you-can eat buffets. Eating at a buffet oftentimes invokes students to “eat their money’s worth.” But the foods at buffets are usually high in fat and salt. Overeating these foods may increase your risk for high cholesterol, hypertension, and heart disease! Take the opportunity to load up on veggies at the salad bar.

  1. Ask for sauces and dip on the side

Restaurants will often mix your salads or fries with the sauce for your convenience. Some of these sauces can make your healthy meal unhealthy! Asking for sauces on the side will help you monitor how much you use. 

  1. Practice mindful eating

It takes time for your body to send cues to your brain to tell you you’re full. Oftentimes distractions like your phone or favorite TV series may cause you to be less attentive to your body cues. This can lead to overeating. However, being mindful of your body cues will help you avoid this. To practice mindful eating, eat slowly and without distractions. Listening to how much your body actually wants will help you practice eating only until you’re full.

Try these tips the next time you go out to eat! Choosing healthier choices will be beneficial in the long run and help you take control of your life.


Is Coconut Oil healthy?

By:  Jackie Ahern, Nutrition Peer Counselor, UC Davis Fitness and Wellness Center


This is what a simple Google search says:

“Yes, Coconut Oil is Still Healthy. It’s Always Been Healthy”

“Coconut Oil Isn’t Healthy. It’s Never Been Healthy”

…and the AHA directly says: “We advise against the use of coconut oil.”

So what’s going on? Should you buy island paradise in a glass jar or not? Let me break it down.


I’d like to clear up some misconceptions around fat. For many people this word brings about bad feelings and has been misunderstood for a long time. The reality is that we need fat, it’s an important part of our diet and serves our body many purposes, from keeping us warm, to storing certain vitamins, and holding the very shape of our cells. The USDA recommends we eat 30% of our daily calories from fat, which is 50 to 80 grams depending on your caloric goals. That’s like 8 tablespoons of peanut butter, or 5 tablespoons of olive oil a day for someone eating a 2000 calorie diet. However, not all fat is created equal, so the USDA recommends that less than 10% of total calories should come from saturated fat. Primary sources of saturated fat are non-lean meats, high fat dairy, palm oil, butter and… coconut oil.

Saturated vs Unsaturated Fat

The USDA has made is clear that we should be eating less of saturated fat and more of unsaturated fat instead. Why? Because it has been shown that diets higher in saturated fat lead to higher levels of “bad” cholesterol that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.1 While coconut oil is natural, plant based and often marketed as organic, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely healthy to consume.

Science Speaks.

The AHA released an Advisory on Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease this year with a specific section dedicated to the investigation of coconut oil on cardiovascular health. This review of numerous studies brought to light two important points:

  1. The consumption of coconut oil, which is primarily composed of saturated fat, raises LDL significantly more than that of unsaturated fats such as olive or safflower oil.1
  2. One study showed that there was no “difference in raising LDL cholesterol between coconut oil and other oils high in saturated fat such as butter, beef fat, or palm oil.” In other words, coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol as much as other saturated fats.1

But I Heard…

One of the main arguments supporting the “perks” of coconut oil is that compared to other saturated fat sources, it has a higher concentration of medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Because of their structure, they are digested differently by the body than regular fat.2 One source even claims that “MCTs cannot make you fat!” The reality is that if a person consumes more calories than they burn, they will gain weight; however when consumed as a direct caloric substitution, studies have shown that the consumption of MCTs over other fats can lead to weight loss due to an increase in energy expenditure.3 That said, if someone is really looking to lose weight, a change in diet and exercise will be more effective than simply switching out butter or olive oil for coconut oil.

The Verdict.

You don’t have to cut coconut oil completely out of your diet, just treat it as you would any other saturated fat, like butter or animal fat. It’s certainly a great vegan alternative for other saturated fats. Because coconut oil is around 60% MCTs, it could potentially exhibit the beneficial effects of MCTs; however per the USDA guidelines no more than 10% of total calories should come from saturated fats like coconut oil due to the cardiovascular health consequences. Mix up your intake with other delicious and nutritious unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado, walnuts, salmon and nut butters. Moderation and balance is key! (Click here for an awesome list and explanation of different kinds of fats!)

Have a bunch of coconut oil that you don’t know what to do with? I love to use it everywhere from my hair to my skin! Check out these uses for coconut oil other than cooking.

Additional Questions? Concerns?

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List of fats:

Uses for coconut oil:





“Because the only way out is through, Brian…”  Those were the words uttered by my friend, Kristi, as she and my friend Brittany sat with me in the Emergency Room that fateful night I was admitted.  Their eyes stared back at me concerned but tired amidst the 2 a.m. hustle and bustle of the hospital.  I felt uncomfortable and exposed in the dark green hospital scrubs they made me change into; I wasn’t even allowed to keep my underwear on underneath.  A security guard stood nearby within sight to make sure I “stayed safe.”  My head spun from exhaustion, fear, and sadness.  “What is going to happen to me?” I wondered.

“Ok, Brian, we’re going to go now.”  It’s Kristi again.  “I don’t think the hospital really allows for us to sit here with you this late.”  Brittany gives her a look of apprehension, to which Kristi returns a firm nod.  Brittany relents and then turns to me.

“Try and get some sleep, ok?” She said getting up.  “And remember, be honest with the therapist when they come to assess you in the morning.  Tell them what’s REALLY going on and how you REALLY feel.  It’s time for you to get some help.  You deserve better than this.” She urges, gesturing to the self-inflicted cuts on my arms.

And before I knew it, they were gone.  And there I was alone, in my thin hospital patient scrubs being watched constantly by a hospital security guard.

That night was the climax of a rollercoaster of a journey that I am on with mental health.  To give a little more background information, I always struggled with extreme depression and anxiety all my life.  To the world, I was a ray of sunshine, striving to make everyone’s day.  But behind closed doors, I retreated to a very dark place, which led to very destructive behaviors including self-cutting and suicidal thoughts.  Clearly, it hit a point where I could not hide it anymore as my friends caught on and took action by checking me into the Emergency Room as a danger to myself.  Talk about true friendship.

Fast forward, I was assessed by a therapist the following morning, where she determined that I needed to be placed on a 72-hour 5150 hold at the psychiatric hospital.  It was while I was on this hold that I was further assessed by a psychiatrist and diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (aka Depression) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It was while I was on this hold that I was prescribed medication to help me with this condition.  It was while I was on this hold that I realized that all of this WASN’T my fault, and that I CAN be happier.  Kristi was right.  The only way out of this jungle in my head was to face it and go through it, one day at a time.

At the end of my hold, I was discharged, and immediately entered an intensive outpatient program where over the span of two weeks, I received counseling and skill-building.  Fast forward again to today, where I am doing better and still trucking along.  I’m still working with my assigned psychiatrist on trying to find the right combination of medication for me.  I have also had several attempts of trying to find the right therapist for myself, and with the most recent person I met with, I think I’m finally onto something.  Also, I’m happy to report that I have not cut myself to this day.  I feel urges to do so every day, especially when I’m stressed, but I use the coping tools I was taught to help thwart it.  Needless to say, I’m still at “through” right now.

So, why all the graphic details, you ask?  Because we need to talk about it.  Mental health issues plague so many of us.  Yet, they remain hidden.  There’s this silent expectation or pressure that to be a functioning human, we have to constantly “hold it together.”  When in reality, that’s just not possible.  Life is beautiful, and it’s also messy.  As humans, we are beautiful, AND we’re also messy.  It’s ok.  I’m telling my story to spread a message that it’s ok to not be ok.

Because I wasn’t ok with not being ok, I held in my demons and they grew to the point that they became bigger than what I and my loved ones could handle.  I was lucky that my friends possessed the compassion and initiative to say something and take action.  But in the end, I had to help myself.  I had to be honest about what was going on with me, and ultimately ask for and ACCEPT help.

So, if you’re struggling, please speak up.  People care about you more than you know.  And if you’re worried about someone, also speak up.  They need to know that you care.  Silence can be deadly in these situations.  And no one should ever have to suffer silently alone.  When it comes to mental health, we have to be there for each other.  We have to help each other see that it will be ok.  There is always a way out.  But the only way out is through.

Let’s Get Physical



It’s not just lyrics to an iconic 80’s song but more importantly an emphasis we should try to achieve. I think we all know by now that being physically active has a multitude of both mental and physical benefits.

Now I’m not saying we all need to go compete in a feat of strength or run a marathon. The amount or intensity of your physical activity depends on you! What I mean by this is that you should look to participate in activities that:

1) you enjoy

2) compare well to your current level of fitness and

3) can be sustained

If you don’t enjoy lifting weights then that’s fine. I wouldn’t hope to have you bench press for a one repetition maximum (1RM) if you hadn’t competed in any sort of resistance training in 3 months because from what I know about you that wouldn’t be a sustainable form of physical activity.

Do not feel obligated to stay physically active via the traditional means (resistance training/stationary cardiovascular exercise) but do feel obligated to stay physically active by any means that speak to you. Find whatever that may be whether it’s walking, hula hooping or throwing rocks. It doesn’t matter! As long as you’re moving for anywhere from 10-15 minutes 3-5 times a day that’s great!

You may ask why it is so important to try and stay “physically active”. Well sadly our culture has developed into one of sedentary behaviors and instant gratification. Work, studies and life have us sitting on an average of 11.5 hrs each day! That’s a lot of sitting! This is beginning to have a serious effect on our general fitness (flexibility, strength, aerobic capacity) but more importantly our overall health. But, we have the tools to take a “stand” and fight back. Unfortunately, the 60 minutes we might be able to squeeze in during our lunch breaks 2-3 times per week won’t cut it anymore. Yes, that is great if it’s all you can manage but your primary focus should be frequency (the number of times you are able to move in a single day). Breaking up these long bouts of sitting will prove to offset the harmful effects of sedentary behavior much more than the 30-60 minute workout you might squeeze in 2-3 times per week.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Incorporate a mindful practice first thing in the morning. Whether it’s journaling, meditation or light static stretching.
  2. Break up long periods of work at the desk with 5-8 minute walks outside.
  3. Take the opportunity to walk to class or meetings.
  4. Incorporate desk stretches when sitting at your desk for longer periods of time. Focus on hip flexors/quads, upper back/shoulders and neck.
  5. Start small and progress from there. Consistency and small incremental changes will pay off much more than periodic impractical workouts.

If you’d like some more examples, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Our guest blogger today is Reed Phinisey.  Reed is Coordinator, Fitness and Wellness, for UC Davis Campus Recreation and Unions, a part of Student Affairs.  His office is in the Fitness and Wellness Center in the Activities and Recreation Center on the UC Davis Campus and he can be reached at


Brain Freeze! Help!

brain freeze

That dreaded pain that comes with the first swallow of something frozen – ice cream or a frozen drink of some type – – YIKES.

What causes this fleeting, severe headache, is it harmful and how can you keep it from happening?

“Brain freeze” (it’s technical name is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia), also called ice-cream headache, results when something very cold touches the back of the palate (roof of your mouth).  It typically occurs on a hot day when you consume something very cold, very quickly.

Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but they believe it is caused by a dramatic and sudden increase in blood flow through the brain’s anterior cerebral artery. This occurs in response to a rapid change of temperature in the back of your throat.  The brain doesn’t like change so to counteract that cold, the body immediately opens wide the artery to warm the blood.  The brain perceives this action as pain; when the artery constricts again, usually after 10 or 15 seconds, the pain ceases.

Is it serious?  Not usually.  If you experience additional symptoms, such as irregular heartbeat, see your doctor just to make sure.

How do you get it to stop?  There are a couple of things to try.  First, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth to warm it up – do this just as soon as you feel the pain start.  Oh, and immediately stop drinking the cold product!!  You can also consume very cold items more slowly and/or drink sips of a warmer drink between sips of the cold beverage.  Trying not to allow the cold to come in contact with the roof of your mouth for long is helpful.

This is a cool video:

Oh, and cats get it too:



D.I.Y. YUMMY Ramen!!

Calling all Ramen lovers!  Check this out!

Instead of this:


Try this:

ramen in a jar

Not being fond of hyper processed foods, I was thrilled to stumble upon this!  I like to make my own food, but don’t like it to take a lot of time.

This concept fit the bill, perfectly, for lunches.  What it boils down to is basic:

  1. Select a seasoning profile.  Could be any of these or your own favorite:
    • Miso and ginger
    • Garlic and vegetables
    • Ginger and sesame
    • Coconut and ginger
    • Any combination of
      • Sea salt/black pepper
      • Tamari
      • Miso
      • Kimchi
      • Sauerkraut
      • Chili flakes
      • Tomato sauce
      • Garlic
      • Onion
      • Soup base
  1. Decide on a protein source:
    • Slivered chicken breast
    • Diced cooked beef
    • Beef or other jerky, diced
    • Hard-boiled egg
    • Beans, cooked
    • Quinoa, cooked
    • Lentils (so yummy!!)
  1. Pick out your veggies (1/2 of the total finished product!)
    • Raw Veggies:
      • Carrots, shredded
      • Onions, thin sliced or diced
      • Celery, thin sliced
      • Pepper, thin sliced or diced
      • Zucchini, matchsticks
      • Garlic clove, thin sliced
      • Scallions or Shallots, thin sliced
      • Mushrooms, thin sliced
      • Cabbage, shredded
      • Spinach or other green, julienned
    • Cooked veggies;
      • Small broccoli or cauliflower florets
      • Cubes of root veggies
  1. Add Noodles or a grain (par-cooked)
    • Any Asian noodle
    • Spaghetti or fettucine
    • Brown rice
    • Bulgur or barley

Place seasoning in bottom of jar then add protein.  Top with veggies.  Cover. Keep cold.  At lunchtime, fill with boiling water and let sit for a minute or two.  Enjoy!!

Try these fabulous recipes from Goop  or Serious eats.  Build enough of these jars to have several times during the week.  Keep refrigerated 5 – 7 days.

Let me know your favorite combination!

ramen jars

Them bones…

bone healthDid you know that even after you stop growing, your bones continue to develop?  You’ll be well into your twenties before your bones switch into maintenance mode.  A healthy lifestyle is critical to bone health throughout life.

”We often think of a child’s growth largely with respect to height, but overall bone development is also important,” said [lead author] Dr. Shana McCormack, a pediatric researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. ”This study shows that roughly 10 percent of bone mass continues to accumulate after a teenager reaches his or her adult height,” she said in a hospital news release.

Make yours strong:

  • Don’t smoke.   One more thing smoking isn’t good for – your bones.  Don’t start, then you won’t have to quit.
  • Drink your milk! Or eat other calcium rich foods regularly.  This includes dark green leafy vegetables, in addition to all dairy products, beans and tofu.
  • Get enough nutrient dense foods, like fruits, veggies, lean meats and whole grains. Having all the trace nutrients allows your body to mineralize bones.  Vitamin D is particularly important.  You may think of sunshine as a good source of vitamin D.  That is correct!  Spending 20 minutes in the sun, without sunscreen, will allow your body to produce Vitamin D and fish, eggs and mushrooms all contain Vitamin D.
  • Keep being active! Don’t allow the full-time job, mortgage and family that will likely occur as you get older to nudge out your beloved sports.  Continue to participate in community ball clubs and other activities like riding your bike, doing Zumba and practicing yoga.  Weight bearing exercise keeps your bones strong.
  • Don’t drink excessively. Alcohol affects all body systems, including your bones, negatively.  When you drink, stick to the recommended guidelines:  no more than 1 drink / day for women; 2 drinks / men maximum.