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.

image source

Intuitive Health

By Rebecca Rinck, Heathy Aggies Intern

I’ve found that the Covid-19 pandemic has been similar to the first year of college in stress and eating habits. I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed and out of touch with my body and health. Additionally, it’s a new year! With the new year comes the pressure of making a resolution. For me, a new year’s resolution usually revolves around being healthier through diet and exercise. But for some reason, these resolutions never lasted very long. I’ve realized they probably did not work because they did not give me joy. While promoting your health through diet and exercise is a common goal, I was doing it for the wrong reasons.

Instead, this year I decided to combat the pandemic’s stressful times and resolution pressures with intuitive eating and exercise. Intuitive eating is the practice of listening to your body for hunger cues and eating in response to hunger or appetite in a way that values pleasure. While intuitive exercise is encouraging physical activity that is enjoyable and not discouraging. This is not about losing weight or trying to look a certain way, but instead is the idea that people should adopt healthy habits for the sake of their happiness and health. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty good to me.

Here are a few steps to get yourself started:

Start listening to yourself

We spend a lot of time thinking about others, but we often lack focus on ourselves. Start by checking-in with yourself throughout the week, maybe write down what you did and how you felt that day. Simply listening to your wants and needs is a great way to start practicing intuitive eating and exercise.

Permit yourself

Intuitive eating focuses on permitting yourself to eat. It moves the motive away from weight-loss and towards a healthier mind and body. Intuitive eating also means straying away from restrictive ‘fad’ diets because these diets lead to deprivation, often leading to binging, which then leads to guilt, followed by restriction. This cycle is unhealthy for not just our bodies but also our minds. Instead, remember to respect your body, no matter your weight or shape.

Intuitive exercise means permitting yourself to have a day off. Overworking our bodies does not do us any good. We should instead allow ourselves to relax without needing permission through exercise to eat.

Take pleasure

Taking pleasure and having a good relationship with your food is very important. Start by simply breathing. Allow yourself to take your time, breathe, and really enjoy your food. A slower pace allows us to feel fullness indicators and determine when we reach satiety. Check-in with your fullness and stop eating when you are comfortably full or satisfied; remember you can eat more when you’re hungry again.

Take pleasure in your movement! Move your body in ways that are enjoyable for you. Exercising is a great way to work off some pandemic stress and can boost your mental and physical health. So, try out different activities! Maybe hiking or biking along trails is your thing! For me, yoga and weight training make me enjoy exercising and improved my mental well-being.

Be mindful

Be aware of your food and pay attention to its taste while refraining from mindless munching. Eat with compassion and notice when rules or guilt come to mind. Be in the moment by turning off the T.V. or other entertainment. Be with your food and just your food. Savor your food by thinking about the different smells, tastes, and textures. Is your meal spicy, crunchy, or salty? Lastly, observe by noticing your body. Is it rumbling? Do you feel satisfied or full?

These practices apply to intuitive exercise as well! How did you feel after that yoga class? If your activity is done outside, take notice of your surroundings. Is it cold, bright, or quiet? While entertainment during exercise is popular, maybe try turning down the volume or completely omitting any extra noise. On the other hand, music can make workouts more enjoyable as well! It is all about what works for you.

These small changes can have powerful effects! Let us know how intuitive eating and exercise work for you. Which of these practices did you implement? Which exercises bring you joy?

Sweet Dreams!

By Claire Benoist, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

College students notoriously don’t get enough sleep. Juggling classes, assignments, studying, and other responsibilities, can make it hard to find the time. College students get an average of 6-6.9 hours of sleep, but according to the sleep foundation, young adults ages 18-25 need between 7-9 hours of sleep. Most people have heard that getting adequate sleep improves mood and focus, allows our body to go through repair cycles and boosts immune function.  It also allows us to process information and store memories. But did you know that sleep can affect nutrition too?

One of the many things our bodies do while we sleep is regulate hormone levels, including ghrelin and leptin, commonly known as the hunger hormones. Ghrelin stimulates hunger and leptin triggers the feeling of fullness. Research shows that decreased sleeping times are associated with higher ghrelin levels and lower leptin levels in the blood. This imbalance in hormones causes increased appetite, especially for high calorie foods, and tends to make people overeat during meals. And when cravings aren’t satisfied, the hangry sets in. So, what can we do to avoid this?

Here are a few tips:

1. Make sleep a priority.

Did anybody else dread the words “time for bed” when they were younger or was that just me? One of the perks of being an adult is not having anyone tell you when it’s time to go to bed, am I right? But unfortunately, as busy college students, we tend to look at sleep as something we do only once we get everything else done and we don’t prioritize it as much as we should. Our bodies like to have consistency in our sleep-wake cycle so try to go to bed within the same hour every night.

2. Make your bed a sleep only zone.

Beds are for sleeping, desks are for studying. Especially with remote learning, it’s tempting to attend classes and do your studying in your bed, but when you use your bed only for sleeping, your brain and body will associate getting into bed with going to sleep.

3. Block out noises and lights.

Make your room a dark and quiet sleep oasis by blocking out lights that are coming through your door, windows or any electronics around your room. Eye masks can help to do this and can also ensure that you wake up when you are ready to, not just when the sun tells you to. Noises can also wake you up before it’s time. A white noise machine or some ear plugs can help to drown out noises and let you get the sleep you need.

4. Exercise daily.

Exercise causes certain biological processes in the body that have been linked with better sleep quality and can help to relieve stress. This can be any exercise and doesn’t have to be any specified amount of time. A morning run through the arboretum, an afternoon at-home body weight HIIT workout video, an evening yoga flow, whatever feels good to you.

5. Avoid heavy meals, caffeine and sugar in the evening.

This is a nutrition article after all, and as much as quality sleep affects our nutrition, nutrition can also affect how well we sleep. Heavy meals can feel uncomfortable in your stomach when laying down. Keep your night-time snacking light in order to avoid the discomfort. Eating large amounts of sugar before bed can also affect how easily you fall asleep. Sugar initially causes blood sugar levels to spike, causing an energy burst. This may cause you to toss and turn as you are trying to fall asleep. A while later, blood sugar levels begin to drop as insulin helps sugar enter your cells, letting you finally fall asleep. However, soon the sugar crash effect caused by the dramatic drop of blood sugar will trigger a stress response which will likely cause you to wake up again. To avoid this, keep sweet late-night snacks balanced with fiber and/or protein which stabilize the absorption of sugar into the blood. And of course, I have to address caffeine, the life blood of college students. Caffeine is a stimulant that is found in coffee, most teas, and soda that can stay active in our bodies for as long as 5-6 hours. To avoid having it affect your sleep, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends not consuming caffeine within 6 hours of your intended bedtime.

6. Avoid electronics 30-60 minutes before bed.

Am I seriously suggesting to Gen Z-ers that they shouldn’t be using electronics before bed? No Netflix? No TikTok? Yes, I realize that’s a lot to ask but it’s much too easy to keep scrolling and clicking “next episode” and not see the hours go by. Scrolling through Instagram, watching your favorite show on Netflix, or even reading though your BIS 2B notes causes mental stimulation which is the opposite of what you want before bed. The blue light emission from electronic devices can also disrupt the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. So, what can you do instead?

I’m glad you asked! Here are some ideas of non-electronic things you can do to get ready for bed:

1. Read a book. I’m not talking about school-assigned reading here. This should be a book you enjoy reading that relaxes you.

2. Prepare for tomorrow. Write down the things that are on your mind that you need to do tomorrow and put it away. This will help clear your mind and keep tomorrow’s responsibilities from keeping you awake tonight.

3. Journal. This practice has gained popularity in recent years. Write down anything important that happened that day, how you feel, what your goals are for the next day, or just whatever thoughts come to mind.

4. Pamper yourself. Paint your nails. Do a facemask. Light some candles. Take some time to do whatever makes you feel good.

5. Yoga/Meditate. There are some great resources for guided meditations and calming yoga flows online. Find one you like, dim the lights and let yourself fully relax.

Sweet dreams, Aggies!

The Benefits of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

By Brandy Carrillo, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

In today’s crazy diet culture, it can be quite tricky to navigate the maze of macronutrients, micronutrients, grocery shopping, meal prepping, food preparation, etc. One misconception I’ve continuously come across is that fat is bad and should be avoided at all costs. In reality, fats are an essential part of a balanced diet and contribute to organ protection, supporting cell growth, energy source, and many more processes. Fats are composed of fatty acid chains- either saturated or unsaturated and within unsaturated fats are both omega-3 (alpha-linolenic) and omega-6 (linoleic) fatty acids. Both of these fatty acids are essential, meaning that the human body is not able to produce them on its own and needs to get them from outside sources. The two are extremely important to growth and repair but are also important precursors to other bioactive lipid mediators as well.

Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory function and are primarily known for their role in heart health and can be found in both plant and animal sources. They are also known for their role in supporting brain, nerve, and eye development infants and maintaining a healthy immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in many foods including oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring, walnuts, flaxseed, and leafy green vegetables.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that individuals consume at least 2 servings of seafood (fatty fish) per week which are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-6 is more pro-inflammatory in comparison to omega-3’s anti-inflammatory action, but it’s still important to consume foods containing omega-6 fatty acids. They help support gene regulation, a healthy immune system, as well as blood coagulation and clotting.

Sources of omega-6 include vegetable oils like sunflower, corn and canola, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, as well as meat and eggs.

Overall, both of these fatty acids are essential fats that your body needs for energy and proper functioning, though it is crucial to take into consideration the anti-inflammatory versus pro-inflammatory functions of the two fats and to focus on consuming more omega-3 versus omega-6 fatty acids. The typical American diet usually results in a much higher intake of omega-6 than omega-3. To make sure you get enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, try to eat a few servings of seafood each week, or if you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet you can incorporate plant-based sources of omega-3 like flaxseed or chia seeds in a smoothie or oatmeal, beans in a salad or burrito bowl, or edamame in a stirfry! By focusing on having a balanced diet- focusing on healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein foods, you’ll get the complete range of essential nutrients your body needs!

Tips for a Healthy Holiday

By Wenjun Liu, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

December is about family and food and seasonal celebrations can help us forget about everything 2020 has brought and not notice the winter cold as much. A big part of the season is delicious food. Having a piece of pecan pie and a tumbler of eggnog should not bring you anxiety, but instead, should bring pure joy with every single bite and sip. 

You don’t need to deprive yourself, eat only boring foods, or take your treats with a side order of guilt. Here are some tips for a healthy holiday season: 

  1. Don’t celebrate with an empty fuel tank. Before setting out for a feast with the family, eat something so you are not starving. Snack on something that combines complex carbohydrates with protein and unsaturated fat, like apple slices with peanut butter or a slice of turkey and cheese on whole-wheat pita bread. When you’re super hungry, it is much harder to practice restraint at the celebration.
  2. Take 10 before taking seconds. It takes a few minutes for your stomach’s “I’m getting full” signal to get to your brain. After finishing your first round of food, take a 10-minute break. Make conversation. Drink some water. Then recheck your appetite. You might realize you are full or want only a small portion of seconds.
  3. Distance helps the heart stay healthy. Don’t linger in the kitchen. That makes it easier to mindlessly reach for food. 
  4. Drink, Drink, Drink. Have a glass of water between holiday drinks. It will help keep you from drinking more than you wanted to and also keep you hydrated!
  5. Put on your sneakers. Exercising is a great way to work off some holiday anxiety and boost physical and mental health. If you are at a family gathering, suggest some games with body movements before the feast or even between dinner and dessert.
  6. Make room for veggies. At meals, don’t ignore fruits and vegetables. They make great snacks and even better side or main dishes. Find a “MyPlate” Holiday makeover presentation here.
  7. Don’t shop hungry. Eat before you go shopping to minimize straying from your list with impulse buys. 
  8. Pay attention to what really matters. Although food is an integral part of the holidays, it is really the time for family and friends. Whether you plan to celebrate the holiday in person or virtually, treasure the time of the year when you can truly sit down and catch up with everyone. 

Hope you all enjoy this special holiday season. Stay safe and have fun! 

The Vast Universe of Bacteria and Our Microbiome

By Meigan Freeman, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

We go throughout our day without ever really thinking how we are able to digest our lunch, circulate blood to our tissues, and read this text. To put it much too simply, our bodies are made up of vast networks of cells communicating with one another. However, research has uncovered another species helping us with these bodily tasks: single celled bacteria. There is an entire microbial world living right alongside us with whom we often do not give a second thought. In fact, there are trillions of bacteria living on and in your body right at this moment. A recent study estimated that there are just as many bacteria living in us as the number of human cells we have (this is in contrast to the previous estimate of 10:1 bacteria to human cells). Additionally, these microbes are not just useless hosts, in contrast, they contribute more genes necessary to human survival than humans do (source). Bacteria are central to our existence, without them I don’t think humans would have the earthly impact they have today.

Bacteria are single-celled organisms and have been around much longer than humans have. It is hard for us to comprehend the insignificant amount of time that humans have been on earth, but we have only been around for a tiny sliver of the earth’s life (around 200 thousand years), and bacteria were the first to evolve around 3.5 million years ago. The oldest fossil currently discovered is of a cyanobacteria, who thankfully began photosynthesizing which increased oxygen storage on earth and led to the evolution of plants, animals, and much much later, humans. Bacteria played a huge part in our existence millions of years ago and continue to play a huge part in our lives today.

Although we often associate bacteria with illness, the majority of bacteria have no effect on humans and others live in symbiosis with us by taking residence in our gut. These specific bacteria are known as our intestinal microflora and are extremely beneficial to human digestion. Two ways that our intestinal flora benefits us is by increasing our resistance to infection and by producing essential nutrients.

It turns out humans are not very good at sensing harmful bacteria in their food or water and we end up ingesting small amounts of pathogenic bacteria quite frequently. Fortunately, the microflora in our gut is very competitive, not unlike the competition we see in larger ecosystems. If we ingest new bacteria strains, including pathogens, our bacteria will fight to keep their spot in our gut. One way our microflora out competes new bacteria is by producing bacteriocins, a protein that is toxic to similar bacteria and limits the growth of new strains (source). This bacterial competition keeps new strains from establishing a home in our gut unless we digest a significant amount of the pathogen. It is due to our microbiome that most people have a resistance to a certain level of pathogens.

Nutritionally, our microflora benefits us by producing essential vitamins and short-chain fatty acids. Our microbiome is known to produce a variety of B vitamins and vitamin K which is essential to our diet. One study discovered that participants on a low-vitamin K diet did not suffer from vitamin K deficiency due to their microbiome providing this nutrient for them. Additionally, our microbiome digest fiber to produce short-chain fatty acids including butyrate, propionate, and acetate. These fatty acids are very beneficial for our health. Butyrate is being studied for its potential to induce cell death in cancerous colon cells. Propionate and acetate increases feelings of fullness after meals and is why you feel full longer after eating a meal high in fiber (source). 

Fortunately for us, the microbiome pretty much functions and benefits humans without our input. However, there are some foods we can eat to maximize microbial benefits. These foods are fermented and introduce probiotics, or healthy bacteria, into our gut. Fermented, probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir (fermented dairy drink), kombucha (fermented tea), kimchi (fermented cabbage), and other pickled vegetables. Although probiotics are not necessary, they may help digestion and stomach issues, like constipation or diarrhea. In contrast, fiber is necessary for humans and our microbiome loves fiber. Fiber can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans. Eating fiber makes you feel full longer and aids in healthy digestion. We do not think of our microbiome much, but next time you eat a meal, think of the billions of bacteria you are feeding and taking care of, and be sure to eat some fiber! 

The Truth about Lemon Water

By Claire Benoist, Healthy Aggies Nutrition Peer Counselor

Spend any amount of time scrolling through nutrition videos online and you’ll probably stumble across at least a few that rave about the many health benefits of drinking lemon water in the morning. Lemon water seems to be the magic ingredient for everything from detox to weight loss. But are these claims based on facts or fiction? Let’s explore a few of the most common claims on lemon water. 

The vitamin C content

Yes, lemons do contain vitamin C. About 83mg to be exact. But that’s in the entire lemon (including the peel). The more commonly consumed part of the lemon contains about 18mg of vitamin C. Keep in mind that the recommendation of daily vitamin C intake for adults is 75-130mg. So, contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, lemons aren’t the holy grail of vitamin C sources. This common misbelief is likely due to the fact that lemons and other citrus fruits were used to treat scurvy (vitamin C deficiency disease) in sailors a few hundred years ago. However, we now know that there are many foods higher in vitamin C than lemons. Bell peppers (130mg/ ½ cup), strawberries (89mg/cup), kale (80mg/cup), kiwis (71mg/kiwi), and broccoli (50mg/ ½ cup) are just a few examples. Not trying to rain on lemon’s parade completely here, it’s a fine source of vitamin C. All I’m trying to say is, you’ve got options! 

The weight loss benefits

I’d like to start this section by saying that I don’t personally believe weight loss should be a selling point of foods. Flavor? Yes. Health benefits? Absolutely. Weight loss power? No. Nevertheless, let’s explore this common claim. This belief seems to be mostly based on the fact that lemons contain pectin, a soluble fiber. If you remember from our article on beans, soluble fiber forms a gel during digestion which, among other things, helps slow down digestion, making you feel fuller longer after a meal. However, the pectin in lemons is mainly found in the skin (peel) of the lemon. I don’t know about you but I don’t typically eat lemons whole. Lemons also contain certain antioxidants that have been shown to reduce weight gain in overfed mice.  However, they have not yet been studied in humans, so we don’t truly know their effects in our bodies yet. One way that lemon water might help with weight loss is if it replaces a high sugar drink like soda or store-bought juice. However, this has more to do with the fact that you’re reducing your sugar intake and less to do with the actual lemons. 

Lemon as a detoxing agent

There is no such thing as needing to detox your body. Your body has its own mechanisms for “detoxing” through the formation of urine, feces and sweat. Consuming enough water and fiber is all you need to do to support those mechanisms. Some will claim that it’s lemon’s pH levels that contribute to its detoxifying power. However, let’s remember that all the food you consume goes through the stomach (pH ~1-2), which will acidify all the food that it receives in order to break it down and kill any pathogens that may have been ingested. The acidic mush that results from this trip through the stomach is then released into the small intestines where it is met with bile salts that will neutralize it. So, the acidity level of lemon, or any food, is not going to be part of its health benefits. The acidity of lemons can also be harsh on your pearly whites, so make sure to rinse your mouth with plain water after you drink lemon water and wait at least an hour before brushing your teeth to prevent damage to your enamel. 

Lemon water keeps you hydrated

If lemon water helps you drink more water, then yes, lemon water can help keep you hydrated. But it’s not the lemon that keeps you hydrated, it’s the water. So, if you don’t like it, don’t sweat it, there are plenty of other ways to increase your water consumption if that’s your goal. For inspiration, check out our 5 ways to remember to drink water tips and tricks!

The very cool chemical you’re probably not getting in lemon water

In addition to containing the bulk of the vitamin C found in lemons and other citrus fruits, the peel also contains a chemical known as limonene. Limonene serves as a natural predator deterrent when the fruit is still on the tree, but once it’s in our bodies, it is thought to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-stress, and maybe even disease-preventing properties. It’s important to keep in mind that most studies so far have been done on animals. So even though so far the research points towards positive results, more research needs to be done to confirm these health benefits in humans. Limonene is commonly used in insect repellants and some pesticides as well as perfumes, essential oils, soaps, and air fresheners because of its pleasant aroma.

The bottom line

Lemons aren’t the magic fairy dust of health that influencers and celebrities are making them out to be. Lemon water can, however, still be a great addition to your daily routine if you enjoy it. If plain water isn’t your thing, adding lemon to your water can make staying hydrated more delicious and enjoyable. Among other things, proper hydration helps support a healthy digestive system which allows us to absorb the nutrients we need and get rid of the waste we don’t need. Also keep in mind that some of the nutrients available in lemons are found in the peel so don’t be scared to get adventurous and add some citrus zest into your baking and things like stirfrys or marinades. As a last thought, if nothing else, developing the habit to drink a set amount of water first thing in the morning (with or without lemon) can help increase your overall water consumption and support your daily hydration goals.

The Truth about Carbs

By Brandy Carrillo, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Have you heard any of these phrases before?

Carbs cause weight gain

Fruit is bad because it’s high in carbs

Only “white” refined grains contain carbs

Within the diet world, carbohydrates have acquired a bad reputation and there are a plethora of misconceptions surrounding their role in a balanced diet. Certain diets call for a tight restriction on the amount of carbohydrates you consume, with claims that this can help your body burn fat and speed up your metabolism. I’m here to debunk all of these claims and prove to you that carbohydrates aren’t actually as bad as you may think.

All carbohydrates essentially do the same thing- they are converted into glucose for our body to use as a fuel source and in the process, raise our blood sugar levels. These sugars are extremely important for proper body functioning and are a crucial fuel source for your brain (which isn’t easily able to use other sources of energy, like protein or fat). When you limit your carbohydrate intake, you’re essentially depriving your body of its main source of fuel.

The difference in carbohydrate quality stems from how quickly these foods increase our blood sugar which all depends on the food’s fiber content. Fiber not only protects your gut health and digestion but also helps regulate glucose levels in the blood. Foods with higher amounts of fiber take longer to be digested and in turn, slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Because of this, refined carbs, which are stripped of this fiber and other nutrients, are digested a lot faster and can increase glucose levels very rapidly in comparison to whole grain foods.

The most important thing when eating carbs is not the amount but more so the type of carbohydrates you’re consuming. Carbohydrates are found in so many different foods (both “healthy” and “unhealthy”)

Foods that contain carbohydrates include:

  • Grains: pasta, rice, bread, crackers
  • Fruits and Vegetables: apples, oranges, broccoli, potatoes
  • Dairy: milk, yogurt
  • Legumes: beans, peas, lentils
  • Snack foods and desserts
  • Juices, sodas, energy drinks

While carbs are in almost all foods, it’s important to eat a balance between unprocessed whole foods high in fiber and other nutrients and the occasional more processed cookie or cereal.

So if all this true… then why do so many fad diets promote low carb?

While it’s true that a low carb diet can potentially lead to weight loss, this weight loss is usually not sustainable and can actually hurt more than help. When your body isn’t getting enough carbohydrates it’s forced to rely on fat and protein for energy. These types of diets are difficult to uphold in the long-term and can be detrimental if not done safely or without prior consultation from a dietitian.

Carbohydrates are a super important part of a healthy balanced diet. They are our body’s primary fuel source and can provide us with a variety of important nutrients. Even if your goal includes weight loss, they should be incorporated into your meal plan. Carbs should not be feared, they should be celebrated! How do you celebrate carbs?

Good Food? Bad Food?

By Wenjun Liu, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

When we talk about food, we sometimes use absolutes. But, are there “good” or “bad” foods?  Spinach is good for you. Milk is bad for you. Quinoa is good for you. Gluten is bad for you. Could it possibly be this simple or are we missing something when we talk about food? According to a study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 75% of American women claim that they experience unhealthy thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to food. Food can be a source of pleasure, joy and can help bring people together. It can also be turned into a place of shame and guilt.

Dividing food into good and bad is a massive simplification. It is like putting a green or red checkmark mark on the food. When we place a value on food and discuss if the food is good or bad, right or wrong, it is a set up for food anxiety. In fact, our health is not made up of one meal or one bite. We want you to be healthy not only physically but also mentally, and enjoy every single bite of the variety of food you eat.

Takeaway#1: Ditch the Guilt

Food should not be a guilty pleasure, instead, it is an essential pleasure! If you do not always stick to your planned foods, it is fine and it is not the end of the world. Acknowledge that you really enjoy the delicious food you eat and be equally motivated to enjoy the healthy choices as often as you enjoy something less nutrient dense.

Takeaway #2: Balance is the KEY

All kinds of foods should be enjoyed in moderation. One thing to remember is that foods are mostly made up of proteins, fats, and/or carbohydrates. These macronutrients are basic needs for our bodies. Vitamins and minerals are equally important as they are needed for bodies to function properly. Restricting major food groups just because you think they are “bad” not only leads to nutrient deficiencies but may also make you hungry and increases the desire to binge eat.

Takeaway #3: It is just Carbohydrates

Social media nowadays makes you want to believe that some food choices are better than others. The fact is that our digestive systems break everything down into molecules that look the same and carry out the same functions. For example, the notion of “good” and “bad” carbohydrates is purely based on how the body absorbs them. Their scientific names would be “complex” and “simple” carbohydrates. It is true some carbohydrates get digested more rapidly, prompting a rapid increase in blood sugar and insulin secretion. Such a response in our bodies can result in a sudden drop in blood sugar leading to hunger and cravings, which is what people are afraid of. But most people eat combinations of foods. And so the effects of different kinds of carbohydrates on blood sugar are not as extreme as they are sometimes portrayed.

Takeaway #4:  Sensible self-centered eating habits

Be mindful when eating; you can chew slowly to enjoy the textures and flavors of your food. Try to avoid watching TV or working on things on your laptop while you are eating, because these could slow down your brains’ responses to fullness.

Please remember how lucky you are to have access to different types of food, where others in the world may not. Honoring your food in this way may just stop you from thinking about “good” or “bad” and enjoy the pleasures of a healthy eating pattern.  How do you enjoy balance in the foods you eat?  Let us know!

Healthy Eating for the Earth and Yourself!

By: Meigan Freeman, UC Davis Healthy Aggies Nutrition Peer Counselor

            As climate change rears its ugly head and California burns, you may be wondering what you, personally, can do to help our planet. Luckily, eating for the Earth and eating healthfully are often one and the same! I am going to lay out some easy tips you can take to eat for a healthy Earth and a healthier you, all at once. Remember, change is about small, personal, and realistic steps. Take what tips you can, and leave what doesn’t work for another day.

Tip #1 Buy in season. In these modern times where we produce year round, we are removed from the farming aspect of our food. Purchasing food out of season in your area often has a higher impact on Earth’s limited resources and buying in season has many perks. Often in-season produce is less expensive, has more nutrients, and better flavor! Purchasing fruits and veggies in season increases the likelihood that the produce is coming from a local farmer which decreases the carbon footprint to get to your grocery store. In-season produce in California right now (autumn) includes apples, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, grapes, lemons, and more! Check out this resource to see what other food is in season all year round. Favorite fruit or vegetable not in season? Consider buying frozen for a less expensive alternative to produce that is trucked in from away.

Tip #2 Buy your kitchen utensils and tools from thrift shops. Have you visited your local thrift stores yet? Buying used items is a great way to reduce waste, reuse items, and it is budget friendly! I have found cute tea kettles, cups, plates, and silverware at thrift shops and the mismatch of items makes my kitchen eclectic.

Tip #3 Use your leftovers and kitchen scraps. Many of us living in apartment complexes do not have the option to compost, but we can still use our kitchen scraps for another meal. Consider saving potato peels, garlic and onion skins, mushrooms, carrot tops, and whatever else you use in a jar in the freezer. Once the jar is full, boil the scraps in water for an hour and strain out the veggie bits. The liquid you have left is a tasty homemade veggie broth, a perfect base for beans, soup, and any recipe that calls for broth!

Tip #4 Grow your own herbs. Growing herbs is so fun and satisfying. You can grow these near a window, in an old yogurt container or pot. You can buy herbs from most hardware or garden stores as seeds or full plants. As a bonus, the plant will look adorable on your window sill or table. Use the fresh herbs in anything you cook for extra flavor and you won’t need to buy expensive dried herbs as often.

Tip #5 Save your jars and plastic containers. Buying Tupperware is not necessary; have you noticed that almost everything we buy already comes in nice glass and plastic containers? Rather than throw them in recycling bins, wash and save them for your leftovers! You can also use them to store baking supplies, grains, and other ingredients.

These sustainable tips are hard to beat with their benefits to your health, by buying more nutritious in-season veggies; wallet by purchasing used appliances; and the Earth, by saving plastic and kitchen scraps for reuse. I hope these ideas have helped you think more about sustainable eating. Let us know in the comments what your favorite sustainable tip is!