Food labels, commercials, and all sorts of health news resources love to throw around words that make foods sound special without doing a great job of explaining what their buzzwords mean. One example of this is the famous “antioxidant!”
“Pomegranate juice is a super food! In history it was considered the food of the gods because it is packed with antioxidants, which help to maintain health and youthful appearance!”
Sound relatively familiar? That wasn’t an exact quote from any particular commercial, but I have heard similar claims countless times! However, the only thing that I’ve learned about antioxidants from commercials is that they’re apparently great for you and you should definitely buy foods that contain them if you want to maintain your precious youthful appearance. They also apparently prevent the vicious, lurking enemy known as free radicals. Because everyone knows that that means, right?
Wrong. In fact, I didn’t learn exactly what antioxidants or free radicals meant until I started taking chemistry classes, and even then it took a few different explanations for me to understand. So for the majority of us, people in the world not majoring in chemistry, I shall now explain what antioxidants and free radicals do in terms of nutrition and the human body in as simple of a way as possible.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are chemicals, and the word “antioxidants” refers to a whole group of chemicals that can donate electrons. The ability to donate electrons is important when it comes to dealing free radicals, which we will get to soon.
What are free radicals?
All matter is made up of atoms, which are surrounded by electrons. Electron interactions are the basis of every compound, and electrons like to stick together, so they are usually found in pairs. When atoms are exposed to oxygen, they can be “oxidized” so that the original form of the atom is basically broken, ruining the preferred electron pairs and sometimes leading to an unpaired electron in an atom. This unpaired electron will try its best to find another electron to pair with, and will even “steal” an electron from another atom. However, then that robbed atom will be left with an odd number of electrons, and thus begins a vicious cycle of atoms and cells fighting for electrons because of the damage that a loose free radical (the other term for an unpaired electron) can cause. This struggle for electrons is known as oxidative stress, which can interrupt not only cell structure, but the structure of the DNA within our cells. And it doesn’t take much more than common sense to know that DNA damage is bad news. In fact, oxidative stress has been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and, of course, the lovely process called aging.
How do antioxidants protect against free radicals?
Because we’ve already established that antioxidant compounds are chemical compounds that can donate electrons, we now start to see why they might be so useful in dealing with free radicals that inevitably occur in our bodies on a very regular basis. Because the antioxidant compound has the special ability to donate an electron to free radicals, they prevent the free radical cascade of electron snatching from important cell structures already existing in our bodies. They may also serve to be able to repair some of the damage already caused by free radicals.
Where do I find antioxidants in my diet?
Some of the most commonly found chemical compounds with antioxidant properties in foods are found in the forms of vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, lycopene, and selenium. I would say that most people get an adequate amount of antioxidants from a balanced daily diet, but here are some of the sources to be aware of. (They are definitely not the only sources!):
Vitamin A: sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, broccoli, squash, carrots, collard greens, kale,
Vitamin E: nuts, whole grains, vegetables and vegetable oils
Vitamin C: citrus fruits, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, strawberries
Beta Carotene: pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash
Selenium: brazil nuts, fish, red meat, grains, eggs, garlic, milk
Flavonoids: soy, red wine, pomegranate, cranberries, blueberries, tea
Lignan: flax, barley, rye, oats
As you can see, antioxidant compounds can be found in every food group, but fruits and vegetables are especially great!
How important are they really?
Don’t take this the wrong way, but in my opinion antioxidants aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be. They are definitely important and we should all be consuming plenty of them in our diets, but eating fruits and vegetables will never be able to guarantee you a life free of cancer, heart disease, or any other of the tragic ailments of the human body. Using vitamin E oils can help prevent antioxidant damage to skin, which is great, but some studies have shown that high doses of specific antioxidants can actually increase chances of certain cancers or diseases. As with most health recommendations, there are both good and bad sides to everything and the same things will never work for every single person.
Eating from all food groups, every day will always be the best way to ensure that our bodies are getting the nutrition that they need. The simple act of breathing causes oxidative stress and free radical creation, so we can never completely avoid this process, but we don’t need to—everything has a place and a purpose and even free radicals can be beneficial in some cases. Pomegranate juice is still delicious, but you should know that just because the label says “great source of antioxidants” doesn’t mean that your $6 is buying you a small bottle of the elixir of immortality.
It’s no secret that exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle. But it’s time to look beyond the four corners of the gym – to the outdoor terrain. From courts and rinks, to paths and trails, it’s likely that numerous opportunities for fun activities are nestled within your local community. Allow your worries to fade away, and let the adventure begin. Read on for few of our favorite summer sports – and what you’ll need to get started!
What You’ll Need: tennis shoes, tennis racket, tennis balls
Exercise Benefits: fully body- cardiovascular and muscular
Sport: Mountain Biking
What You’ll Need: mountain bike, helmet,
Exercise Benefits: primarily quadriceps, hamstrings, calves
Sport: Cross Country
What You’ll Need: a quality pair of running shoes
Exercise Benefits: cardiovascular, aids bone density
What You’ll Need: badminton racket, shuttles, badminton net
Exercise Benefits: fully body- cardiovascular and muscular
There is a new type of exercise class increasing in popularity that you may have already heard of, known as “Barre” or “Pure Barre.” Dancers know that the horizontal bar at waist level that dancers, especially ballerinas, use to maintain balance during some exercises is more formally known as the “barre.” However, barre studios are popping up all over the place and they’re not targeting dancers—they’re inviting anyone who is looking for a new, fun workout style to enter their doors and start working toward those strong, lean muscles of a dancer.
What can you expect from a barre class?
Most barre classes are not designed to burn a lot of calories or to be a cardio workout. They are designed to increase muscle tone through small, focused movements. Many people say that they don’t feel strained or extremely tired during and directly following the class, but the next-day soreness is an indication of their progress. Others find the classes challenging and tiring; it all depends on the particular class, teacher, and studio that you pick.
What should you wear to a barre class?
It is recommended that you wear comfortable, stretchy clothing to barre classes to allow for a wide range of motion. It is not recommended that men or women wear shorts and I would guess that this recommendation is most likely put in place to maintain your decency during workouts where you lift a leg up and place it on the barre. Yoga pants and leggings are the best choices for women and men should wear sweat pants that are not extremely loose or baggy. Depending on the rules of the studio, men may be able to wear basketball shorts in some classes. However, covered muscles also mean warmer and more flexible muscles. Some studios have carpet and some have hardwood floors, and shoes are not worn during the workout. Many regular barre students find that buying socks with the little grippy spots on the bottoms helps them maintain better balance and be more successful and controlled in their workouts.
What if I have neither dance experience, nor a “dancer’s body?”
Come as you are! Barre studios do not require any previous dance experience because the workouts do not use movements that would be familiar only to dancers. The classes use many familiar workout movements such as squats and even crunches. Also, don’t expect every participant to be a long, lean dancer! Barre students come in all shapes and sizes, men are definitely invited, and everyone can benefit from the great, muscle-toning movements.
What equipment is required for the classes?
Many barre workouts use workout balls (the lightweight, squishy kind, not medicine balls), light hand weights, elastic resistance bands, and sometimes yoga straps or blocks. If you’re working out at a studio, all you need to bring is a water bottle and yourself dressed in the proper clothes; the studio will provide the rest. You may need to purchase equipment to do your barre workouts at home, however, and many DVD’s can be purchased where the back of a chair is used in place of a studio barre.
What is the outline of a typical barre class?
Most barre classes last for 50 minutes or one hour and start with a ten minute warm-up, an arms sequence using the light hand weights, followed by a legs and core segment that uses the ballet barre as well as some floor exercises. The last ten minutes of the class are spent stretching and cooling down from the workout, and barre classes are typically set to upbeat music.
Where can I take a class?
This link shows Pure Barre studio locations near you when you enter your state and zip code: http://purebarre.com/locations/. You can also simply search on Google the phrase “barre studios near me,” and several different locations and studio chains will come up. Most of their websites have location finders similar to the one I have linked above. There are at least five barre studios in Durham and Chapel Hill!
I have not yet had the opportunity to take a barre class, but after talking to a few people who have become regulars, I think I’ll give it a try once I get back to Chapel Hill! Most studios have special new student offers, such as taking the first class free or paying a reduced price for a month of unlimited classes when you begin! When I have the chance to take a class for myself, I’ll be sure to write about what I think about it and how everything went. I’m always excited to try out new workout styles and classes, so I’ll be on the lookout for more trendy new studios and workout types in the future!
Also, feel free to watch this short video about barre classes that was featured on a news segment. The two instructors explain a little more about barre and give a demonstration with the help of the newscasters!
This link also gives a helpful review of the different styles that some of the big name studios offer in their classes. As it turns out, barre might not be as easy as I may have expected… have fun!
Okay, it’s always a great time of year to go to the Farmer’s Market…but, y’all. THIS is a GREAT time of year to go to the Farmer’s Market.
I’ll admit; I’m actually only an occasional market goer. Let’s be real. Even the best of us can fall into food ruts–especially if funds are tight. And Farmer’s Markets can seem fleeting and ephemeral–especially if you’re not an early riser on Saturday mornings or have problems remembering what day it is…ahem, not that I’d know anything about that.
Getting to a Farmer’s Market can be a great way to reconnect with the food you put into your body, though. The food is fresh, in season, and grown by people who care. Going to the Farmer’s Market inspires me to eat new, healthy things that I may not have thought of before. And sometimes I find GREAT deal$$$.
A SUMMER SHOPPING SUGGESTION TO WHET YOUR APPETITE:
- Basil is in season right now, and a bunch will cost $1 – $2.50.
Take it home, trim the ends of the stems, and put the bunch in a jar of water. No need to refrigerate! It should last a while on your counter this way.
Add leaves to your sandwiches, smoothies, teas, salads, or noodle dishes and feel like a winner. Or! Make a simple basil pesto…
HOW TO MAKE A SIMPLE BASIL PESTO:
(You’ll need fresh basil, fresh garlic, a blender or a knife, olive oil, some parmesan-esque cheese, optional walnuts, and a sense of adventure because I don’t measure this precisely)
Pinch the basil leaves from their stems – I aim for about a packed cup, but you can do with more or less.
Smash 3 cloves of garlic with the flat side of a knife for easy peeling.
Either chop up the basil and garlic really fine, or throw it into a blender with a little olive oil. (Tip: add some spinach or kale if you want extra nutrients) Add some chopped walnuts if you’re into that. Add about 1/3 cup of grated cheese and stir it all up while drizzling with olive oil. Add more of any ingredient according to your taste. You really can’t screw up too bad. It can be chunky or saucy. It will taste good.
Toss this mix onto some noodles or grill some chicken in it or spread it on a sandwich. Feed it to a friend and impress them.
CONVINCED YET? Here are MARKET DETAILS for you LOCALS (this post assumes that you live on or close to UNC’s campus.)
The Carrboro Farmer’s Market (http://www.carrborofarmersmarket.com/)
- Saturday 7:00am – 12:00pm (All year)
- Wednesday 3:00pm – 6:00pm (During the growing season, April – October)
- Located at 301 W Main Street, Carrboro
- Don’t have a car? On Saturdays, take the CM or CW bus from South Columbia Street and Rosemary to Carrboro Town Hall, then keep walking down W. Main Street until you’re at the Carrboro Town Commons. Check google maps’ public transit or http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=706 for route updates.
The Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market (http://www.thechapelhillfarmersmarket.com/)
- Saturday 8:00am – 12:00pm
- Tuesdays 3:00pm – 6:00pm
- Located at 201 SOUTH Estes Drive, Chapel Hill (Right in front of University Mall)
- Don’t have a car? On Saturdays, you can take the FG bus from Carolina Coffee Shop on Franklin to University Mall. Check google maps’ public transit or http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=706 for route updates.
PRO TIPS FOR GOING TO MARKET
- Bring a bag (many vendors have them, but some may not)
- Bring cash (though many vendors accept cards, it’s just easier)
- If you’re gong to Carrboro on a Saturday, don’t bother eating breakfast. At the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, you can buy delicious coffee and donuts.
- Don’t be afraid to chat! I’ve had great luck asking farmers and fellow shoppers how they prepare the various food items on sale.
Disclaimer: This post was written by Campus Health and Student Wellness Staff
Welcome to a new week! I hope you jumped out of bed with a purpose in mind, ready to live exactly how you want. If not, that’s ok too – maybe it’s more sleep you need! I hope that the summer has given you time to focus on your overall wellness. Maybe you’ve been working hard to eat more healthfully, be more active, or quit smoking. Along the way, you may have hit some unavoidable roadblocks stopping you from reaching your goal. When bad things happen – do you recognize them as a passing storm cloud, or do you believe that the universe is wholly aligned against you? The answer matters – a lot! We’re going to begin this morning with a look into optimism, and why it’s an essential aspect of a well-balanced life.
First, let’s take a closer look at what it means to have an optimistic world view. Let’s be clear- there are several things that optimism is not. Optimism is not happiness, as happiness is an indefinable and subjective emotion. Optimism is not forcing a smile, mentally chanting “cheer up buttercup,” or prancing through a field of daisies. These behaviors could be a natural byproduct of experiencing optimism in your life, but they likely will not bring you a sense of inner peace in of themselves. Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something. By extension, optimism allows you to believe that your life is worth living.
Sounds great, huh? Here are a few behaviors you can use in your life to achieve a greater sense of optimism:
- Create and purse your own goals: This is the foundation of a meaningful life. People who get things done and laugh along the way don’t have access to some secret elixir – rather, they know what they want from their life and they work hard to make it happen. Do you want to lose weight and feel better about your body? The drive must come from within – not a nagging parent or a concerned counselor. You’re much more likely to cultivate personal inspiration if you are invested in the achievement of your goal. Start small – drinking more water, being active 30 minutes a day, and adding more vegetables to your plate. This is a simple example of a goal that an optimist might create! Optimists are also persistent; they don’t let setbacks define them or their life.
- Solve problems proactively: It’s easy to run on autopilot in life and react to challenges with indecision and disengagement. Optimists, however, do things differently. When a storm strikes and a problem arises – take action immediately. Grab a pen and paper and write the problem at the top, followed by a list of possible solutions with pros and cons for each. Then, weight the options and take action. It’s easier to lay in bed and watch House of Cards all day, but taking small steps to fix a problem will actually make you feel a lot better. Take the optimistic route!
- Think of the worst possible outcome: That’s right, a healthy dose of realism could actually make you more optimistic. Anticipating failure, THEN making changes to ensure that these outcomes don’t happen will help set you up for success! You may have heard the trite phrase – “stop worrying, everything will be ok.” Instead of forcibly blocking thoughts, brainstorming practical solutions to possible problems will help pessimists achieve a more optimistic mindset.
How optimistic are you? If you’re still unsure after reading through these behaviors, take the optimism quiz to find out once and for all.
I was recently at the grocery store during our week without added sugar, stocking up on plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. As I was picking things out, I was just noticing that there were zucchini, and then a few inches to the right there were “organic” zucchini, for a higher price, of course. And then all of the sudden I thought, “wait a second… what does “organic” really even mean when it comes to zucchini? What about when it comes to chicken? And why is it worth the extra money, because I’ve never seen an organic product that was cheaper than the same product not specified as organic?” I did some research and found that there is no one definite answer, but there is a lot to learn and be aware of when it comes to “organic” food and your next trip to the grocery store.
I couldn’t find a universally solid definition of “organic,” but I did find the statement of the goal of organic food according to the USDA: “to integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”  I was actually slightly surprised at this statement of purpose, because when I think “organic,” I think of a set of strict rules applied to how the food is grown and harvested instead of a declaration of good intentions toward the environmental future. As much as I appreciate the good things that organic food intends to do for the earth and everyone and everything that lives in it, I was still mostly interested in what “organic” means in terms of what goes or doesn’t go into my food, so I found these enlightening clarifications.
• Stickers or labels that say “USDA Organic” or “certified organic” contain 95% or more ingredients that are free of additives including pesticides, fertilizers, dyes, irradiation, solvents, or genetic engineering. The rest of the 5% may be processed with additives on an approved list and still allow the overall product to be considered “organic.”
• “100% organic” means that all ingredients of the food meet the guidelines contained above. This frequently applies to whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, because how exactly do you get only 95% of a zucchini to be organic?…
• “Made with organic ingredients” means that 70% or more of the ingredients in that food are certified organic, but the USDA organic symbol cannot be used on the packaging of that food.
• Organic products that come from animals that produce meat, dairy products, and eggs cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones.
Sounds pretty good, right? Of course we would want our food to be free of potentially harmful pesticides and added chemical ingredients if we can afford it! But is “organic” worth the extra price? In theory, yes—it seems that it would be worth a little extra to have food with less environmental impact, and less chemical additives that we don’t completely understand. However, how do we know that companies are really following the “rules” and not just putting a stamp on their foods and selling them for money?
The unfortunate news is that we don’t always know that. Technically, companies who are inspected and found to be in violation of the “organic” regulations are subject to fines. However, while an average fine of $11,000 dollars sounds like a lot to most people, to a multi-million dollar company, it might not be a big deal at all. In fact, I read a lot of controversy about whether or not many companies violate the standards of their organic labels, willingly pay the penalty fines, and still make enough money to negate the penalty losses due to the increased price for which they can sell products with an “organic” seal printed on them.
It’s a tough call to take the risk of paying more for food that might not even meet the standards we think we’re paying extra for. One thing to note, however, is that it has been proven repeatedly that “organic” food has no more nutritional value than non-organic food (in terms of vitamin and mineral content). It has been proven that organic products almost always contain lower amounts of pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones, which sounds better for you, but the importance of these factors is also still a matter of debate.
According to www.organic.org, the conversion process to take a non-organic farm to the official status of “organic land” takes three whole years. Produce grown in the first year cannot be considered or sold as organic, food grown in the second year can be labeled “In conversion,” and finally, food grown in the third year of the process may be labeled as organic. This conversion process is only the beginning of the reason that organic food is often noticeably more expensive than conventional foods. There are many other reasons for this price increase including farm size, labor and management, and lack of federal subsidies. Organic farms are often smaller, and smaller farms typically have to sell their food for higher prices to make a profit. Using no fertilizers and pesticides often means more labor-intensive care for the organic crops, and conventional farms often receive governmental subsidies that allow them to sell their food for less. All of these points are possible reasons why organic food might be considerably more expensive.
I can’t tell you that you should or should not buy organic food or that it will or will not be worth your money, that’s up to you to decide. But I will share these facts that helped me decide which foods I would be willing to pay a little extra for to go organic and which I would not.
The following labels might not mean what you think they mean (“The Princess Bride” anybody? No? Okay.):
• Antibiotic free
• Free range, free roaming
• Hormone free
• No Chemicals
These are relatively vague claims that sound good, but often go unverified. Free range or free roaming chickens may get to spend about an hour a day outside of their cages to eat. Sad, but I’m telling the truth here people. “Hormone free” could be an ambiguous way of saying “we didn’t directly inject our animals with growth hormones, but we don’t make the food so we can’t guarantee that they weren’t fed some kind of hormones. But since we didn’t do it, we’ll say it’s hormone free.” Also, what the heck does natural mean? That doesn’t tell me anything specific at all about what is inside my food. For all I know, they’ve classified my zucchini as “natural” because they decided not to make them grow orange instead of green.
Many sources also agree that when it comes to fruits and vegetables with thick peels that you never eat, such as oranges and bananas, the part you eat doesn’t differ much at all between organic and non-organic products. However, this list, known as “the dirty dozen,” tells the foods with the highest pesticide and fertilizer residues. It seems the original list was a dozen, but it has not been updated to over twenty products :
• Cherry tomatoes
• Hot and sweet peppers
• Collard greens
• Chocolate (!?)
I’m not a USDA food inspector or an organic farmer, but I did the best I could to find out a little more about what exactly it means for food to be “organic.” If organic food isn’t in your budget, I say have no fear, continue to buy and eat fresh meat and produce, and don’t stress too much about it. However, if organic food is within your budget, you should never feel bad about spending that extra money as an investment in the environment and the people who grow the food and bring it to you.
I know the question you’re still asking: Did she buy the organic or the regular zucchini?? I guess you’ll never know…
I feel like no matter what I do, I perpetually have dark circles under my eyes. I don’t remember having these when I was younger, so I spent some time reading about common causes and solutions. Read below to find out, and leave those dark circles under your eyes to the animals that are meant to have them!
First, it is helpful to know that the skin under our eyes is some of the thinnest of all the places on our bodies. Therefore, it’s very sensitive to the flow of water, or to sun damage or allergies.
Here are some common causes of dark circles or bags under the eyes:
1. Not getting enough sleep:
This one might be the most obvious on the list. Any stressed out college student could tell someone this! Although scientists don’t actually know why, not getting enough sleep does seem to cause or contribute to dark under eye circles or bags. Therefore, it’s another good reason to try to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Given the time of year, I thought I’d mention this one. Allergies have actually been found to be a culprit because they can cause the blood vessels under the eyes to dilate, leading to the dark circles. Therefore, it may be helpful to treat your seasonal allergies if you aren’t already. I don’t know what I’d do without my antihistamines!
If you press on the dark circles under your eyes but the darkness doesn’t go away, it may mean that the actual pigment of the skin has changed. This change may be less temporary than other causes. People of Asian or African descent are more prone to this change in pigmentation under the eyes. It could also be caused by too much sun exposure.
No matter what the cause, it will be helpful to:
- Wear good sunscreen on your face each day, and apply it all the way up to your bottom lashline.
- Don’t rub your eyes! Friction causes a darkening of the skin.
- If you’re sensitive about how the dark circles look, some people use concealer or makeup.
4. Blood vessels:
On the other hand, if you press on the circles under your eyes and the darkness does go away, then it could be an issue of blood vessels showing through your skin. In this case, you can apply a retinoid cream every night before you go to sleep. They make either prescription or over-the-counter brands.
5. Smoking or Alcohol Use:
Additionally, if you smoke, then see this as another reason to try to quit! Smoking can cause or worsen dark under eye circles and bags. Drinking a lot of alcohol in one sitting can have a negative effect on dark circles as well.
If you’re feeling really concerned or would just like to talk to a medical professional, you can always go to Campus Health walk-in services, or check out UNC Hospital’s Department of Dermatology.
Disclaimer: Post written by Campus Health and Student Wellness staff
Quick – which machine burns more calories, the treadmill or the elliptical? And what are the dangers of using each? And which is better overall? Most gyms contain rows of different cardio machines and it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. We’re going to focus on the two most common machines here, the treadmill and the elliptical. Each one has it pros and cons, and the bottom line is that is depends on your body and your fitness goals.
Let’s talk about the treadmill first. Basically, this machine emulates walking and running on a flat surface. The treadmill is very versatile and can be adjusted to different inclines and speeds. When you use a treadmill, you are using familiar body movements rather than having to deal with awkward machines. Above all, walking and running strengthens muscles and bones over time. However, overuse of the treadmill without stretching before can really do a number on your joints if you aren’t careful. Running is hard and intense – you need to be ready and in adequate shape before using a treadmill for too long.
On to the elliptical! The elliptical is low-impact (good for your joints) and allows for cross-training with the arm handles. Not to mention – you can use the elliptical backwards to work different muscle groups. It’s a great choice if you are recovering from an injury or if you want to do a long cardio session. However, this machine can be awkward to use at first as it’s unlike walking or running. The elliptical much less dynamic than the treadmill in terms of speed and intensity. Its also deceiving how hard you are working out, as its easy to use only the momentum at low intensities.
What about calories? If you’re trying to maintain a health weight, this could be important to you. A study by the Medical College of Wisconsin showed that the average number of calories burned per hour on the treadmill was about 800, while the elliptical was 770.This difference is almost negligible, so read on for more distinctions.
All in all, the elliptical is a great choice for you if you want to improve cardiovascular health with low impact (safer on the joints!). High interval training (there is usually a button on the machine) will give you the best workout on the elliptical. On the other hand, a treadmill will make you work harder and is a better choice for more experienced exercisers. For the best workout regimen, try to include both machines to reap all the benefits without overbearing your body. Not to mention – variety can really spice up your workout!
This week, in an attempt to become more conscious of what we eat on a regular basis, my family decided that we were going to have a “sugar-free” week. We didn’t make the decision in order to lose weight or because we think sugar is just a terrible thing and no one should ever eat it. We all decided to do it because by not eating sugar, we are forced to be conscious of everything that we eat and to know what ingredients are in our food. We also know that even when we feel like we’re making healthy choices and not eating tons of desserts or “junk food,” we still consume a lot of sugar added to foods that we buy.
So what are our rules?
For our challenge, we decided to eliminate only products containing added sugar, processed sugar, and sugar syrups, such as high fructose corn syrup. This means that it is not a true “sugar-free” week because we are still eating natural sugars, such as those found in fruits and vegetables, as well as 100% (no sugar added) fruit juices and honey. When it comes to food I’m a pretty big fan of the philosophy that if the earth made it, people haven’t added anything to it, and it can be found in grocery stores, it’s probably a pretty good choice.
The way we’ve been monitoring our food choices is simply by doing lots of cooking from scratch and by reading the ingredients on all pre-packaged and processed foods. For example, nearly all bread at the grocery store contains sugar. Granted, the whole loaf probably contains about two tablespoons of sugar, but we’re staying true to our commitment. Therefore, we’ve been making homemade bread using a couple tablespoons of honey instead of sugar to feed the yeast and it’s delicious!
What has it been like so far?
We quickly discovered that A LOT of foods contain added sugar. My mom and I sat down and planned out a menu of foods without added sugar and then hit the grocery store. Here is an example of a week of meals with no added sugar that we planned for dinner:
Monday: Lima beans, venison tenderloin, and rice cooked in beef consommé and (sugar free) French onion soup to make it extra flavorful.
Tuesday: Hamburgers, (no bun unless you have better luck finding them than we did), potatoes fried in a pan with olive oil, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and any seasoning you like, and salad. We made homemade ranch as well as a basic vinaigrette.
Wednesday: Taco salad with tortilla chips, black beans, Spanish rice, meat if you choose, and all of the necessary toppings.
Thursday: Beef roast cooked with potatoes, carrots, and onions with sides of asparagus and fresh fruit.
Friday: Homemade pizza (you’ll probably need to make the crust and the sauce yourself, but that can be fun!)
Saturday: Spaghetti, salad, garlic bread. Again, homemade bread, salad dressing, and spaghetti sauce are probably your best bet.
Sunday: Grilled chicken, corn on the cobb, and any other veggie sides you like (corn is just one of my favorites).
As you can see, a week without added sugar require quite a bit of extra attention, lots of cooking, and the time to make some things homemade that you might normally buy. When I’ve been craving something sweet, I’ve turned to a fruit smoothie or a cup of frozen grape juice, because for some reason I’ve always enjoyed that.
Now for an honest review of how I feel about all of this:
Our week won’t be complete until Monday, so we’re only halfway through, but we’ve all been successful so far! It’s definitely been quite a challenge for me because I have a major sweet tooth and I typically finish every lunch and dinner meal with a piece of dark chocolate or some other sweet treat. Also, I my summer job requires me to be around a store full of ice cream for several hours every day, which is so extremely tempting.
Overall, this is what I think about it: Is it a great way to become more aware of what we eat? Absolutely. I’ve been so much more aware of just how much grazing and nibbling I do throughout the day on sugar-filled foods at work as well as how much sugar I unknowingly eat on a regular basis. Do I feel magically healthier and more energized overall like some people say they do when they give up processed foods? To be honest, not really. I feel good that I’m making healthy food choices every day and I’m sure it’s great for my body, but I don’t feel much different than I normally do. Is there a possibility that I’ll want to make this a long-term goal and continue once the week is over? Probably not. To me, it’s all about moderation, and I’m happier when I’m not thinking about the fact that I want ice cream but I “can’t” have it. I also don’t think that sugar is a terrible dietary choice that I should continue to try to avoid, I should just try to eat it in reasonable quantities.
When Tuesday comes, I’m sure I’ll pat myself on the back and be happy that I made it through our week-long challenge. Then I’ll go buy myself a dark chocolate bar and appreciate the sweetness! I would say that the best thing I’ve gained from the week so far is that by reducing that amount of sugar, we include a lot more whole fruits and vegetables into our diet and that’s a habit I hope to keep up throughout the summer and as I begin to cook and grocery shop on my own when the school year starts!
Thanks for reading about my week of reduced sugar and Happy Independence Day everyone! Be safe and have lots of fun!
Just about 10 years ago, I was fresh out of undergrad, and, like many of you, trying to figure out my place in the world. I was working for a cytogenetics company, but I knew that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working in that field. While it had its interesting moments, it quickly became boring and uninspired.
I started to ask myself those age old questions: What would be my career path? What are my values? What’s important to me? Because I didn’t have a great way to answer that, I turned, once again, to higher education, and applied to graduate school. Well, little did I know at the time, I’d leave the program to which I was accepted during the first semester after realizing that it just wasn’t for me. Dropping out of grad school was literally, without a doubt, one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make.
Frustrated, confused, and STRESSED OUT, I needed to figure what my next move was going to be. In the midst of scrambling to apply for any job I could get, I came upon an advertisement for the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at Duke Integrative Medicine. The words “stress reduction” jumped off the page. I had almost no knowledge of mindfulness or meditation, but I did have curiosity and time on my hands. I was skeptical that it would do anything to help me, but I was willing to at least give it a shot. So, I registered for their 8-week foundations program. It required a lot of time and effort, but it is still one of the single greatest set of skills that I’ve learned in my 32 years on this Earth. I still practice every single day. I’m not one to use these words lightly, but it changed my life in ways that I could not imagine at that time. Since that time, I have given a talk about mindfulness and its benefits to the Spina Bifida Association of the Carolinas, created a Youtube video, was a research coordinator for a study examining the biological, physiological, and psychological benefits of mindfulness meditation, and am even developing a mindfulness workshop for UNC undergraduate students over the summer in collaboration with Student Wellness.
You might be wondering at this point, “Mindfulness? What is this dude talking about?” Well, I’m glad you asked! Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment with intention, without judgment, and with an attitude of acceptance of present moment experience. It could be something as simple as focusing on how your breath feels, noticing that you’re feeling tired, noticing how the warm sun feels on your skin. You don’t need to do anything about your experience, you just need notice it and then simply turn your attention to whatever comes next.
Even if it’s not a life altering experience for you, there is mounting evidence to suggest that mindfulness can be beneficial to physical health, like reducing blood pressure and enhancing our immune system. There are also mental health benefits like reducing anxiety, depression, and stress, and an increase in overall wellbeing. Here are just a few articles on the subject:
Brown University Health Education:
Helpguide.org (in collaboration with Harvard Medical School):
Greater Good – The Science of a Meaningful Life at UC Berkeley
So, you really want to increase your mindfulness and start enjoying all of these health benefits, but aren’t really sure about how to do that? Well, I’ll give you a hint, it starts with an “m” and ends with “-editation”. That’s right, meditation! You might be saying to yourself, “but I thought meditation were just for people who wear dreadlocks and play in drum circles or for monks?” The good news is that you do not have to be part of a special group to start a meditation practice. You can practice alone or with a group of friends. Here are a couple of simple meditation practices to get you started:
You don’t have to be near a lake or even have your legs in lotus position! Here are some simple steps to begin:
1. Find a comfortable place to sit, whether it’s in a chair, on a mat, on the floor, just wherever works best for you.
2. Make sure not to have your back too rigid and straight, but not so relaxed that you’re slouching. You should sit in a dignified manner.
3. You can keep your eyes open or even half open. You can also close them if that’s comfortable, but this may encourage you to fall asleep.
4. Now, bring your attention to the sensation of your breath. Notice how the cool air feels as it enters through your nostrils.
5. Now move your attention down to your chest and belly. Notice how the chest and belly expand out with each inhalation, and contracts or flattens out on the exhalation. See if you can count at least 5 exhalations.
6. If you notice that your focus starts to drift away from your breath and to your thoughts, for example, just notice that this has happened and slowly, without any judgment, bring your full attention and awareness back to the sensation of the breath. Just be sure that you don’t beat yourself because your mind wandered.
7. Try and keep your attention on the breath for just 10 minutes. It’s not easy, but keep at it!
Another simple exercise that you can do is a walking meditation. You can do this as you’re walking between classes, or anywhere on campus, and no one has to know that you’re doing it (unless you want them to know):
1. Bring your attention to your feet, and notice what it feels like to have them firmly on the ground. You may notice how your shoes and socks feel on your feet.
2. While lifting each foot and leg off the ground, try to notice how it feels to lift your foot and leg into the air.
3. While alternating each foot and leg, notice the experience of your weight shifting as you move forward.
4. Bring your awareness to your upper body and pay attention to your arms as they swing and any other motion you feel in your upper body as you walk.
Use a wheelchair? No problem! You can do this too!
1. Bring your attention to your arms and hands as they move back and you get ready to push your wheels.
2. You may notice how the muscles in your back squeeze together or how your shoulder muscles stretch.
3. Notice what your hands feel as they grip your wheels.
4. Finally, see what you experience as you start to push your wheels. You may feel the muscles in your biceps and triceps flexing and stretching. Don’t worry if you don’t notice this. Just bring your full attention to what you do feel.
You’re now on your way to having your own mindfulness practice. Now, go out there and start giving your attention to each moment! You never know what you might discover.
Dennis Carmody is an MPH candidate in the Health Behavior department at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He is currently enjoying his summer practicum with the great folks at UNC Student Wellness.
Disclaimer: Student Wellness wrote this post, not Campus Rec.