5 Reasons Why Every Student Should Have a Blog

Over the past year, I have been avidly posting on my blog/dietitian Instagram page (@DanaGoldbegRDN) which has somehow resulted in free goodies (aka healthy foods) being shipped to me from different food companies. Now, suddenly, a few of my friends are all interested in starting blogs because they think it is so cool to get free “stuff”. While free stuff (especially when it is food!) is wonderful, it is never what I intended to come from this blog, and while some people start a blog intentionally to get free stuff…or make a living for that matter, I strongly encourage all students to start a blog for other reasons…here are my top 5:

  1. A blog allows you to reflect on experiences. I talked about my career confusion in a previous post and also shared my journey through my Dietetic Internship as well as my undergraduate and graduate classes and study abroad in many different blog posts. Having to sit down and write that post on all these different experiences really makes you think critically about what you have done. What did I get out of this and what should I share with other people? It is a good way to avoid just going through the motions of life.
  2. You learn about new and different topics. Yes, the weekly posts have fallen off the train a few times over the past 3 years of blogging, but after putting out over 100 blog posts, I have to keep coming up with new and different content to share. Some of my posts are just life updates and others are things I learn in class, but others are topics family and friends mention that I have to go home and research. Not only does this allow me to share information with you, but I am also able to add to my personal bank of information to use in future careers and help future clients/patients.
  3. It helps you figure out what you are passionate about. When I first started blogging, I shared lots of different recipes. I had just moved into my first apartment and was cooking all my meals for myself for the first time, and I even considered going to culinary school! But as time went on, I realized I didn’t love my posts about recipes. I didn’t want to be a food blogger…I wanted to be a nutrition I don’t love spending hours in the kitchen or trying to take the perfect picture of my food. Instead, I realized that I loved writing posts about the science and research behind nutrition recommendations, talking about popular diets and foods, and debunking nutrition myths.
  4. You can become a better writer. I don’t claim to be Shakespeare by any means (nor do I ever aspire to be a magnificent writer), but I went through grade school DESPISING my English classes. No joke, I would come home crying from school because I hated writing and I was bad at it. I swore I would never end up in a job where I had to write, but in the end, no matter what job you end up in, you are going to have to write something at some point. Having to put words to paper every week writing posts, summarizing research and knowledge I have, is definitely a skill I can take with me wherever I end up.
  5. It is something you can share with future employers. While I may have internships and volunteer opportunities on my resume, getting a job after graduation is probably not going to be a walk in the park. I’m not knocking the internships and other experiences that I have had – they have been great – but having a blog is something that is my own. I think it shows a little bit of my personality, it is evidence of my knowledge in the nutrition field, and it shows that I have gone a little bit beyond the classic summer internships that college students have. (Maybe I am chalking my blog up to be more than it is, but I like to think that it might help me get a job in a few months 😉 )

While I have shared my experiences blogging about food, nutrition, and health, these reasons can really be applied to students in any field of study (Spanish major? Practice your Spanish writing skills. Accounting major? Share some personal finance advice or some crazy number stuff that I don’t understand. Anthropology major? Teach me about another culture.). Even if you keep your blog completely private and don’t share it with anyone, you can still reap the many of the blogging benefits.

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Nutrition for Bone Health

Calcium
When you think bone health, what is the first nutrient you think of? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you said Calcium! Yep, calcium is crucial for bone health. It is the key component of hydroxyapatite, which makes of the mineral matrix that keeps you teeth and bones sturdy and strong. Our bones are also constantly breaking down and building up – and in order to properly build, they need adequate amounts of calcium. This “adequate amount” ranges from 1,000mg- 1,300mg per day depending on age and gender and mainly comes from dairy products, almonds, leafy greens, tofu, beans, lentils, and some fish fish.

Vitamin D
Now, while calcium is the key component in bone, it pretty much is no good without its partner in crime, vitamin D. Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption, so no matter how much calcium you eat (or drink), your body isn’t absorbing much of it if you lack vitamin D. Vitamin also helps in that bone remodeling (breakdown and building) process I mentioned.

Vitamin D has become a pretty hot nutrition topic recently. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is on the verge of becoming a global public health issue. Why? Well, if you are reading this post right now, you are likely sitting inside staring at a computer or phone screen as opposed to soaking up the sun’s UV rays. Our primary source of vitamin D comes from the sun so the decreased time spend outdoors and the increased use of sunscreen that have been seen around the globe are causing vitamin D deficiency rates shoot through the roof!

There are a few food sources of vitamin D, including fortified dairy products, some fatty fish, and mushrooms, but these can’t really provide enough to meet our need of 600-800 IU per day (and most people need up to 2,000 IU per day if they are deficient).

Exercise
The final key player in bone health isn’t a nutrient; it is exercise!- specifically weight-baring exercise. Simply carrying the weight of your skeleton in activities like walking, running, jumping, and stair climbing all help in that formation of strong bones. Not to mention, exercise improves strength and balance, which can help decrease risk of falls and broken bones.

Other Nutrients
In addition to these top three, researches have also found that low vitamin C and vitamin K levels also put people at risk of poor bone mineralization. On the other hand, people who had diets high in fruits and vegetables were found to have stronger bones… just one of the millions of reasons to eat more fruits and veggies!

Controversy
A few studies have found that high calcium intake, greater than the recommended daily intake doesn’t provide any additional benefit when it comes to bone mineral density. There have also been associations between high calcium intake (especially from supplements) and heart disease risk. Moral of the story- more calcium isn’t always better.

Artificial Sweeteners: Not so sweet after all

The next time you are about to tear open that yellow, blue, or pink packet or reach for a diet beverage, you may want to think twice. Throughout the 1900’s, artificial sweeteners seemed to be the miracle food – all the delicious sweetness people enjoy, without any of the sugar or calories. But now this “miracle food” might not be such a miracle after all. Recent research has been showing that these artificial sweeteners may be doing more harm than good!

One study of over 400,000 people found that, even though artificial sweeteners don’t have any calories, they did not help people lose weight. In fact, they found consuming more artificial sweeteners lead to weight gain and obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

How could this be possible? Less calories should mean more weight loss, right? Well, just because the sweeteners aren’t providing any calories, doesn’t mean we aren’t getting more calories elsewhere. One Harvard doctor explained that artificial sweetener consumption could cause overstimulation and desensitization of our sugar receptors, which causes people to crave sweeter and sweeter foods. It can also end up making un-sweet foods (such as vegetables) unpalatable. These sugar cravings and vegetable aversions lead to people eating more sugary and high calorie foods, which cancel out any reduction in calories from using artificial sweeteners.

Also, remember the gut microbiome I talked about in my post about Probiotics? Well, researchers found artificial sweeteners can change your gut bacteria…and not in a good way! The sweeteners increase the number of Bacteroides, an “energy hoarding” bacteria species that make it nearly impossible to lose weight. Other changes in the microbiome, caused by artificial sweeteners, make it more difficult for your body to breakdown sugar – leading glucose intolerance and diabetes.

If you are looking for any bright sides, using artificial sweeteners in place of sugar can decrease likelihood of cavities and tooth decay, and while there is a lot of hoopla around artificial sweeteners causing cancer, there haven’t been any concrete studies to prove this. But! We only have short-term studies…we don’t really know what the effects of long-term use are.

In the end, regardless of weight gain, cravings, and diabetes, artificial sweeteners are, well, artificial. I don’t know about you but I would rather avoid putting artificial chemicals in my body and stick with the real stuff (in moderation, of course) if I had the choice.

Turmeric & Golden Milk

If you don’t have a trail of this yellow/orange powder around your kitchen, you might be missing out. Turmeric is a hot topic right now and for good reason – it has tons of health benefits.

Historically, turmeric was used in Ayurvedic, eastern medicine for pain and fatigue. Turns out they were on to something… Recent research has found that curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has some serious anti-inflammatory effects.

Why is “anti-inflammatory” a good thing?

In a few cases, inflammation is a good thing – like healing cuts or wounds and fighting foreign pathogens in the body. However, when there is a chronic, low level of inflammation in the body it can increase risk for heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimer’s, among many others. Stress, environmental toxins, and chemicals and preservatives in our food can all cause some of this chronic inflammation, which turmeric can help counteract.

Does turmeric sound appealing now?

If adding turmeric into your diet sounds more appealing now, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Whether you’re adding turmeric to your stir fry, eggs, golden milk (see my favorite recipe below!), salads, or soups, make sure you add some black pepper – this boosts absorption of the curcumin in turmeric up to 2000%
  2. While it is more of a pain to cook with, raw turmeric root more potent than the powdered spice form of turmeric

Remember…

Just like any other food or supplement, turmeric is not a magic pill. In order to get the real anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric, it is also important to be eating a diet rich in whole, real foods (not the processed stuff), fruits and vegetables, and fiber.

My favorite turmeric recipe – Golden Milk

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Emotional Eating & Food as Fuel

This past Sunday was commencement at Case Western, and even though I wasn’t graduating, I still got to do a lot of celebrating because two of my best friends from undergrad were graduating. What I really mean by celebrating was going out to a lot of nice and yummy restaurants. My friends’ families’ were kind enough to include me at dinner on Saturday and lunch and dinner on Sunday.

If you know me, you know that I love a good meal out at a restaurant (especially if it is somewhere I’ve never been), but this weekend was a lot… I am not use to going out so much! I stuck with healthy choices (mostly protein and veggies) at my meals and shared some dessert, but the whole weekend got me thinking about how we view food as a culture.

In the caveman times, food was merely fuel to keep us going. Today, we eat to celebrate (graduations and birthdays, for example), we eat when we are sad (cue the break-up pint of ice cream), we eat/munch out of boredom (like the popcorn while watching TV), and we eat when we are stressed (you should see the university library during finals!).

As you can see, we strongly associate food with emotions and feelings…no wonder so many people struggle with emotional eating! If you think about it though, most of us are conditioned from a very young age to associate food (usually unhealthy food) with our emotions or actions. For example, say little Billy keeps crying as he gets a shot at the doctor so he gets a lollypop to cheer him up or his mom says he can have ice cream if he quietly and patiently waits while she buys the groceries. In these cases, Billy now associates (again, unhealthy) food with unhappiness/pain and with doing something good/behaving.

Why do we always use unhealthy foods as rewards? That’s because sweet and salty foods cause our brains to release dopamine, the hormone that makes you feel happy. While this sounds great (of course we all want to feel happy), dopamine is also the hormone that can create addiction – just one of the reasons why so many American’s are addicted to sugar and salt. Also, remember that although those foods may cause immediate happiness, sugar and salt are ultimately not good for you. They can lead to high blood pressure, inflammation, and even throw off all sorts of hormones that could cause anxiety or depression (the exact opposite of the initial feeling of happiness!).

So while almost everyone may struggle with emotional eating (including me!), it is important to think back to what food is really for – to fuel our bodies. I don’t think you would intentionally put fuel in our car that you knew would clog the pipes, so the next time you are reaching for the bag of chips or box of cookies, ask yourself, is this fueling my body with good, healthy nutrients that won’t “clog the pipes”?

And if you are a parent of little kiddos, try not to use food as a reward or use food to fill a need other than hunger. It is, of course, part of life to have cake and ice cream on your birthday (don’t give that up!!), but try not to use foods (especially sweet and salty ones) as bribes or treats for desired behaviors. It can help prevent some of those food-emotion associations later on.

Probiotics

Last Wednesday the nutrition department at school had their annual symposium. This year’s topic: the gut microbiome. The microbiome is a pretty hot topic right now. There is so much interesting research on how it affects our health so there is no way I could share everything with you in one post (or even a few!). If you aren’t familiar with the microbiome, it is the collection of the billions of different bacteria (both good and bad) that live inside our guts, and the composition (both the type and number) these bacteria play a role in our health. They can influence whether or not we get certain diseases, how efficiently our metabolism runs, our hormone levels, our immune system, and much, much more. And guess what? Diet is the #1 factor that determines which bacteria live in our gut!

So how do you make sure your microbiome is in tip-top shape? Well, there are many different things to think about, but I am going to just focus on 1 here today — probiotics.

Most of us have probably heard of probiotics in a few contexts – supplements and yogurt. Probiotics are actually live, good bacteria that help create a good balance of the different bacteria in your gut. In other words, they help improve your microbiome, which is good news for your health and digestion.

How much do you need? Taking 1 probiotic supplement every day or consuming 2-4 tablespoons of fermented foods every day is optimal.

If you are going to take a supplement, you want to pay attention to the strains and the CFUs.

  • Strains are the number of different types of bacteria in the supplements. Try to find a supplement with at least 5 different strains to get the most benefit (the more the better).
  • CFUs are the colony forming units or the actual number of live bacteria in the supplement. Aim for a supplement with 25-30 billion CFUs. Some people can benefit from up to 900 billion CFU’s, including those with IBD and celiac, but 25-30 billion is typically enough for healthy individuals.

Sound too science-y and confusing? Eating 2-4 tablespoons of probiotic containing foods is just as good! Probiotics are found in fermented foods like unpasteurized sauerkraut (the stuff you find in the fridge), kefir, yogurt, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, and tempeh. Getting probiotics from just one of these foods is great, but mixing up your sources of probiotics is extra helpful.

Interested in knowing more about the microbiome? Ask me your questions and I would love to share more!

It Isn’t Only About Calories

What is the first thing you think about when it comes to health or weight loss? I am pretty sure I can guess that it is either diet or exercise. Did I guess correctly?

While diet and exercise both play very critical roles in health and body weight, there are many other things that people tend to forget about. Yep, it more than just calories in versus calories out than can impact how you feel or how much you weigh.

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Sleep –Not only can lack of sleep leave you with brain fog and feeling tired, it can also make it difficult to lose weight. Here’s why: lack of sleep increases a hormone in your body called ghrelin- your hunger hormones that tells your brain it is time to eat. Therefore, lack of sleep can cause you to eat more calories and have more cravings. Also, just like a lack of sleep makes your brain feel tired, it makes your metabolism feel tired too. That means your body doesn’t function as efficiently and you aren’t burning calories the same way as you would if you were well rested. Not to mention, it is difficult to get in a good workout in when you’re tired.
  2. Stress – When you are stressed, your body goes into the “fight or flight” response (also called “survival mode”). Just like the name, your body is doing everything it can to survive; your cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase and your body stops using your fat stores for energy. Why? Because your body thinks it needs to hold on to and use all of its energy to deal with the stress. Think about it…in evolutionary history, stress use to mean running from a dangerous situation, which does in fact require lots of energy, but now our stressors (like work and school) don’t require the same amount of energy as running from animals does. High stress and cortisol levels also cause you to crave energy dense/high calorie foods because, again, your body thinks it needs lots of energy to handle the stressor.
  3. Inflammation – Inflammation is a natural way the body protects and heals itself, but excess inflammation can cause weight gain and increased risk for chronic disease. Sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat are all pro-inflammatory foods (aka the bad guys), and more and more studies are showing dairy, artificial sweeteners, chemical food additives, and white flour are also culprits of inflammation. This means that even if you are only eating 800 calories per day worth of these foods, you are unlikely to lose weight (and you might also find yourself with headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and increased risk for heart disease and cancer).

While I am the nutrition guru and wish that all problems could be solved with nutrition, it is important to remember that there are other factors that control our weight and overall health. Try getting an extra hour or two of sleep, doing some relaxing activities (like yoga, reading, listening to some music, or taking a walk outdoors), and cutting out some of the pro-inflammatory foods and see how you feel. You might be surprised by the results after just one week!