Serving Sizes: a visual guide

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By Rebekah Shulman, Dietitian Assistant 

When’s the last time you measured out half a cup of ice cream, ate exactly 15 chips, or leveled out two tablespoons of peanut butter? You may be surprised about what a serving of these common foods actually looks like.  While using measuring utensils and counting calories isn’t necessary to maintain a healthy diet, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the recommended serving sizes for the foods you’re eating on a daily basis, particularly if they’re calorie dense.

Below are some visual representations to think about the next time you reach for a pint of ice cream, a bag of trail mix, or a jar of peanut butter.

Peanut Butter

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Serving size = 2 Tablespoons

Pasta

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Serving size: ½ cup, or a tennis ball

Ice Cream

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Serving size = ½ cup, or a tennis ball

*This means that there are 4 servings per pint!

Trail mix

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Serving size: ¼ cup, or a golf ball, or a small handful

Almonds

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Servings size: 1 oz or 24 nuts

Potato Chips

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Serving size: 1 oz or 15 chips

Granola

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Serving size: ¼ cup or an egg

Oreos

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Serving size: 2 cookies

Salad dressing

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Serving size: 2 Tablespoons

Did any of these surprise you? It’s unnecessary to obsess over exact measurements, but being mindful of your portions can help you reach your health goals. As you can see, many “healthy” foods are higher in calories, fat, and/or sugar than you may think. Furthermore, eating smaller portions leaves room for a larger variety of foods within your daily intake, which can help you reach your macro- and micro- nutrient requirements.

 

Meal Prep Tips

 

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By Jessica Bonilla,  Dietitian Assistant

Meal prepping can be very practical and beneficial, especially when you are in a rush and don’t have time to be cooking every time you go home. By meal prepping you can avoid the temptation of buying fast food or low-nutrient snacks and stop compulsive eating behaviors when you’re hungry. In addition, it’s easier to control the number of portions you eat, and therefore, to control the number of calories you consume as well.

Try to include a variety of foods such as protein, whole grain, vegetables, fruits, and fats with all your meals in order to feel satisfied. Don’t forget to vary the texture, color and flavors to make your meals more appealing and delicious. Also, leftovers can be a great way to save up time and to avoid wasting food.

Below are four tips for meal prepping:

  • Plan ahead. Before you even go to the grocery store to buy food, make a list of the ingredients that you are going to use in your meals. Make an estimation on how much money you are willing to spend at the beginning or end of each week and make a plan. That way when you go to the store you won’t be wasting time deciding and will know exactly what to get.
  • Choose a day to cook. Choose a day during the week when you are not very busy and dedicate a couple hours to cook. Most people find it easier on the weekends because they have more time to go grocery shopping and to plan their meals, but it can be whatever day is easier to you.
  • Make a big batch. In order to save time during the week, you can cook big batches of food and freeze them. You can place your meals in tupperware/containers to make it more convenient and on-the-go.
  • Be creative. Try to use different ingredients and add color to your meals. This is a good opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and to try new things. You can challenge yourself each week to make it more interesting. For example, you can try cooking only plant-based meals or to only cook with seasonal fruits and veggies.

 

Check We Love Clean Food and Meal Prep Mondays for some inspiration!

Assorted fresh fruit at an outdoor farmer's market

Energy Drinks: What are the health risks?

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By Rebekah Shulman, Dietitian Assistant

Energy drinks are commonly used by busy college students as an easy source of caffeine. While they can help you to stay alert and focused throughout the day and night, it is important to understand the safe dosage and health effects of energy drink consumption.

Next to multivitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by American teens and young adults.  Because of their compact and convenient design, it is important for consumers to pay attention to the caffeine and sugar content, as well as the ingredients, of these beverages.  A 24 oz energy drink may contain as much as 500 mg of caffeine, while the median sugar content of sugar-sweetened energy drinks is 25 grams per 8-oz serving (comparable to that of sodas and fruit drinks).   Other ingredients that are often found in energy drinks include glucuronolactone, B vitamins, ginseng, gingko biloba, antioxidants, and trace minerals.

Caffeine Content

According to Mayo Clinic, up to 400 mg of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults.  If we assume the average amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee is 100 mg, you could consume up to four cups of coffee a day without adverse side effects.  For energy drinks or energy shots, you need to check the caffeine content on the nutrition label to keep track of your caffeine consumption.  Beverages and supplements are not legally required to disclose the caffeine content of their product, so aim for brands which do disclose this information (Monster and Rock Star Energy began disclosing this information in 2013).

Brand Comparisons

 

Here is the nutrition label for a can of Monster Energy Drink, one of the most common energy drinks.  One 8 oz can has 28 grams of added sugar and 83 mg of caffeine.  The main ingredients are sugar, glucose, citric acid, natural flavors, and taurine, along with seventeen other ingredients, including the artificial sweetener sucralose, B vitamins, and added color.  Taurine is an amino acid known to influence various physiological functions and is generally recognized as safe as a food additive.  However, the European Commission has been inconclusive on establishing an upper safe intake level and the health effects of taurine when combined with caffeine.

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Here is the nutrition label for a can of Guayaki brand Yerba Mate tea in the flavor “Bluephoria”. This can contains 14 grams of sugar (per 8 oz serving) as well as 150 mg caffeine (more than the Monster’s 83 mg).  Yerba mate is described as having “the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate”.  This beverage tends to deliver a more balanced energy boost compared to coffee, and contains many naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. In contrast to Monster, this beverage contains only natural, recognizable ingredients, such as organic cane sugar and blueberry juice concentrate.

 

 

This third energy drink variety is by the brand RUNA, and contains 0 calories, 0 grams of sugar, and 120 mg of caffeine.  Notice there are only four ingredients (all of which are natural) in this beverage.  While it may not be as widely available, or as flavorful, these natural energy drinks are on the rise as consumers look for healthier alternatives to popular, more artificial and sugar-rich brands.

The lesser evil?

While having a Red Bull in moderation will most likely have negligible health effects, students who want a quick and easy energy boost can gravitate towards the healthier, more natural energy drink options when they are available.  In general, consumers should focus on reading nutritional labels and being mindful of sugar content, caffeine content, and list of ingredients.  For a healthier energy boost, aim for minimal added sugars, and more natural ingredients in your energy drink.

It is also important to keep in mind that every individual responds to caffeine differently. Some people may be able to drink over 400 mg of caffeine with minimal effects, while others will experience jitters and heartburn from one energy drink alone.  With caffeine available in compact, sugar-rich cans, it is important to be mindful of how many of these beverages you are consuming in a day, and avoid consuming over 400 mg of caffeine in a day.  Energy drinks can be a quick fix for fatigue, but nourishing your body through calories from real food with naturally occurring sugars, vitamins, and minerals, such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts, will also help to boost your energy.

 

Does Eating really fix the problem?

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Source: OcusFocus/Getty Images

By: Vivian Siu, Healthy Aggies Nutrition Intern

Why do we eat? Besides the obvious reason that we need fuel to keep us healthy and moving, we eat because food is yummy. There’s a form of happiness that comes from eating a warm, fudgy brownie. Eating is also important during celebrations, reunions, or simply hanging out. With so much cultural diversity in this town, there are so many food choices available that make it that much harder to find an excuse to not go eat. However, there’s another reason why some of us eat. We refer to it as ‘snacking’ but sometimes it is a coping mechanism – then it is stress or emotional eating.

Reasons we eat outside of hunger

  1. We relate ‘Food’ to ‘pleasure’.

At the end of a tiring, long day what is one thing you can look forward to? A plate of fries or maybe a bowl of ice cream? Both can give you a temporary feeling of happiness, and if you’re like me, those types of comfort food are often associated with feelings of bliss, at least at first.  

But, instead of associating food that sense of pleasure and then suffering the consequences of too much junk, not enough nutrients, or just eating more food than you need, try using different activities to accomplish the bliss goal. What about that painting class you always wanted to take or learning how to play the guitar to serenade your cat and enjoy some music when you arrive home after a hard day?   This will feel especially doable if you’ve been practicing good, adequate eating habits throughout your day and are not famished! Having other activities besides eating to look forward to can cause you feel that same bliss.

  1. To avoid difficult situations and/or feelings.

During time of hardships and challenges, for many of us – including myself, we tend to avoid feelings. Avoiding feelings makes us more likely to seek out temporary fixes such as eating that feel good during the moment, but are very temporary, in fact may make things worse.  

One important fact to remember is that it’s okay to feel sad, mad, and frustrated. If it wasn’t for these feelings, would we know what happiness really is? Learning how to talk about your feelings, whether it be in the form of journaling, calling a hotline, or talking to a friend, can help you realize the deeper rooted problem that is causing you to want to turn to food for comfort.

  1.     Physiological Response.

One thing I’ve learned from my 2 ½ years of college so far is that there are days where I can be swamped with work, class, assignments, studying, you get the idea, right? If I don’t take the time to feed myself, lovingly throughout the day, I find myself more irritable and more susceptible to my cravings/eating more junk food because I’m “hangry” when I finally get home.

Having a regular and nutritious meal schedule is important to staying healthy and lessening the likelihood of emotional eating.

  1.     Self-Image.

Society has led most to believe that beautiful means thin and skinny, with flat tummies.

Our lives are filled with some of the most innovative and connected technology, it can be hard to avoid societal influences of what beauty is. In reality, beauty is something that cannot be defined, at least not by society. Beauty is more than just appearances. It can be seen through the actions of taking care of yourself, being true to who you are, being kind to friends, family, and strangers, taking care of the earth, and the list could go on. If taking care of yourself means indulging in some sweets once in a while, that’s perfectly fine. Just remember that eating as a temporary fix for whatever challenge you may be facing is okay, but it’s important to remember that addressing the problem can pave the way to a more permanent solution.

National Nutrition Month 2018!

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By: Johanna Yao, Healthy Aggies intern

“I am going to eat healthier starting tomorrow,” I say for the hundredth time this quarter after I feel sick indulging in a bunch of Girl Scouts Cookies. We tend to have these bursts of motivation to become healthier after days of bad eating, however motivation is often lost once the next meal comes around. Eating healthy is challenging, especially as a college student. Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month? Now is the perfect time to re-evaluate goals towards developing healthier eating habits! Here are 5 tips I follow to be healthier:

 

  • Swap unhealthy snacks for something better

 

Instead of opting to eat junk food such as cookies, candy and chips,  pack some fruit or veggies instead. Examples of fruit that can be tossed in your lunchbag include apples, tangerines or bananas; and as for veggie snacks, go for celery and peanut butter or baby carrots with hummus. These choices not only provide vitamins and minerals but also help you fulfill the daily MyPlate portions!

 

  • Practice portion control!

 

We have all experienced the “shock” after we eat half a bag of chips without even realizing it. Eating from a bag promotes mindless eating, and you end up consuming massive amount of calories without even thinking.  Alternatively, place one serving of chips in a bowl. Now you are in control of your portion size, and will be less tempted to overeat.

 

  • Bring your reusable water bottle everywhere you go!

 

Carrying your reusable water bottle around with you is not only a reminder to stay hydrated, it will also help curb your cravings for sugary drinks! Instead of buying bottles of sugar heavy drinks, choose to refill your water bottle and carry on with your day!

 

  • Meal Prep!

 

Though it can be hassle to cook (since we could be using that time to study), setting aside 1-2 hours during the weekend to make meals for the rest of the week is not only more time efficient but often healthier and cheaper. This way, you know exactly what is going on your plate and you can alter proportions and taste to your to your liking. Additionally, planning ahead is more budget friendly than buying food for each meal.

 

  • Don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach!

 

You’ve heard this before, but research has shown that being hungry can have an effect on the way we shop.  When hungry, a hormone is produced that enhances your impulsiveness and hinders your ability to make rational decisions. If you go into a grocery store hungry, you are more likely to buy foods that you crave at the moment, but wouldn’t buy normally. Eating something before shopping can help prevent you from impulsively buying foods that are not on your list.

Becoming healthy can seem like a long and never ending journey, but making small changes in your everyday habits can make a big difference in the long run. By implementing these small but attainable goals, taking care of your body is a lot easier!

Sustaining Your New Year’s Resolution

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By Jackie Ahern

It’s a little over a week into 2018: a perfect time to reflect on the successes and struggles of those pesky New Year’s resolutions we all seem to make. For those of you that have stuck to your goal of going to the gym more often, or eating more leafy greens, congratulations! Research has shown it takes 21 days to make something a habit, so you’re halfway there! For those of you that haven’t been so successful, you’re absolutely not alone.

New Year’s resolutions are tough. For one, there are a lot of expectations and hype surrounding becoming a newer, better version of yourself, al starting on January 1st (or the 2nd if that NYE party was a real rager); however, in reality, time is relative. There’s no difference between starting a new habit on January 1st or June 1st, other than those 6 months. Granted you live for at least 20 more years (here’s hoping), 6 months is a pretty small fraction. What I’m trying to say is that January 1st isn’t the end-all-be-all for changing your life for the better. If you aren’t able to stick to your first resolution for whatever reason, whether it be that it’s too expensive, too time-consuming or just too difficult to keep up, that’s okay. You don’t have to abandon the resolution; just modify it. When an engineer designs a building but it gets painted the wrong color, they don’t tear down the whole building. They just repaint it.

A good New Year’s resolution, or any lifestyle change for that matter, needs to be something you can see yourself being able to continue for the rest, or most, of your life. For example, I know I cannot completely cut out desert forever (have you ever had ice cream?) but what I could do is cut down on my portion size, or only have it a couple times a week instead of every night. Additionally as a student, working out every day at 7am isn’t exactly sustainable, but working out after class 3 or 4 times a week could be. If down the line you find yourself suddenly hating ice cream, or craving more workouts, you can definitely switch some things up, but in the beginning, its best to start small with more attainable goals.

So what is a good way to assess an attainable, smart goal? Well, there’s a convenient acronym for that. It’s called SMART: Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. Specific refers to a clear definition of the goal, such as “I will take a 30-minute walk in the morning, 3 times a week” versus just, “I will get in shape.” Measurable means having a way to evaluate how thoroughly the goal has been met, such as marking exercise days on a calendar or keeping a food journal. Achievable means the goal must be within the realm of possibility; for example, “I will lose 1 pound a week” instead of, “I will lose 20 pounds this month.” Talking to a professional like a doctor, dietitian, or personal trainer can help to navigate how achievable a health-related goal is. Relevant refers to how much the goal fits in with your lifestyle and other pursuits. For example, while in school, a resolution such as “I will learn how to swim” may be more relevant than “I will learn how to scuba dive.” Lastly, timely means that the goal should have some defined checkpoint or endpoint, such as “I will eventually be able to meditate for 20 minutes by adding 5 minutes to my meditation every 2 weeks.” Of course, from there you can decide to modify the goal.

And finally… Think about where you were 3 months ago. If you had made just a small lifestyle change then, today could a very different day. With time flying by the way that it does, who knows where you could be in just a few months by taking a small step towards a healthier future, today.

I don’t have time…

 

 

you always have time

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

“I don’t have time to…” fill in the blank with whatever old New Year’s resolution or healthy habit you’ve been wanting to implement in your life. Think: exercise, meal prep, take baths, or catch up with a friend. I find myself saying this a lot, meanwhile I somehow always find the time to binge watch Friends until 1 am, when really I should have taken the extra minute to floss. We’ve all been there.

So what does it mean to not have time? Is it that there really isn’t enough hours in the day to take a 30 minute walk, or cut up some extra vegetables for the week? When you do the math, there’s 1440 minutes in a day and 30 minutes is only 2% of that. This calls for a change in perspective.

Let’s talk about priorities. I’d like to challenge you to shift your way of thinking from, “I don’t have the time” to, “It’s not a priority for me right now.”

“I don’t have the time” is an absolute negative, where there is no possible way you could achieve this task and it is out of your control. It also removes yourself from the issue, ridding yourself from the responsibility of your own choices. It seems like an innocent enough mindset, but it is not a good strategy to live with intention.

Meanwhile, “It’s not a priority for me right now” is an acknowledgement of your own decision, that whatever you’re not doing (me personally: flossing) is a result of your own choices. This isn’t a negative thing, it’s an opportunity for self-reflection. You are in control of your priorities. Shifting your mindset in regards to your choices gives you the power to question if your current habits are your true priority. Ask yourself, is watching Netflix a priority over exercise? Is scrolling through social media a priority over cooking a balanced meal? If it is, great! If it isn’t, reflect on that and make a change.

With finals around the corner, studying will definitely be a high priority item for myself and other students; however don’t forget to make self-care a high priority as well. Take study breaks, fuel your body with good foods, and practice deep breathing if you feel stressed out. Good luck Healthy Aggies!