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Permanent link for On the Fence about Supplements? on April 21, 2022

The world of supplements can be a confusing and vast landscape. Nutritional or Dietary supplements are defined by the FDA as “products taken by mouth that contain a "dietary ingredient." This could be vitamins, minerals, protein, and many more substances intended to supplement the nutrients you get from the food you eat. It can be hard to determine if supplements are necessary, what supplements you should take, and if supplements even work. 

It is important to meet all of your vitamin and mineral needs but it can be hard to know if supplements are the best way to do that or if there are other options. Many studies now indicate that most dietary supplements are ineffective or can cause more harm than good, yet numerous companies advertise the many positive effects of their products. Eating a balanced diet full of nutrient rich foods is actually better than supplements because whole foods are more nutrient-dense, are a source of fiber, contain health protective substances, and are usually cheaper than supplements. Here’s a general guide on the most commonly used supplements and some tips on how to get a nutrient rich diet without supplements.

Vitamins and Minerals 101

There are two types of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble

Water-soluble - These vitamins dissolve in water are easy to absorb into the body, but are not stored in the body's tissues. This makes it very important to get enough of these vitamins in your diet each day. Any water-soluble vitamins the body doesn't absorb go down the drain - literally - when you use the bathroom.

Fat-soluble - These vitamins dissolve in fat and the body stores them in fat tissue and can draw from those stores as needed. This means if you get too much of these vitamins they will stay in your body and can have negative health effects. The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K. When supplementing these vitamins it's important to not exceed the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (shortened to UL). This limit is the largest amount of a vitamin you can take without experiencing negative health effects. It is very unlikely to reach this limit from food alone.

Now that we know the different kinds of vitamins we are going to go through some of the most commonly used supplements by young adults. We will cover why each vitamin is important, how you can get more in your diet through food, and some risks of taking it as a supplement.

Multivitamins 

Many people take multivitamins, but aren’t sure exactly why they are taking them other than “vitamins are good for you.” There is actually no definitive evidence that multivitamins improve health or prevent illness. The main issue with multivitamins is that many foods we eat regularly have been fortified, meaning they have had vital nutrients and vitamins added so that we get our recommended daily amount. When you combine a multivitamin with our already fortified diets, you can quickly end up with an excess of vitamins and nutrients in your body, which can be dangerous. Another fact to keep in mind is that most of the benefits that multivitamins claim to have aren’t backed by science and are simply a product of marketing. If you do still want to take a multivitamin and you can always take half or take a children's multivitamin so you are not getting too much of any one vitamin or mineral. (But you should check with a nutrition professional before doing so). A balanced diet is the best way to get all of the vitamins and minerals you need. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and is crucial for calcium absorption in the intestines. Vitamin D helps maintain bone health, as it is key for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. It is a very common vitamin supplement, likely because 70% of adults in the United States are deficient in vitamin D. To learn more about some factors that contribute to this, check out Stella's blog post about sunlight and its effect on mood. Vitamin D in the right dose can safely help with deficiencies, just make sure you speak with a healthcare professional to determine if you are deficient before you start taking any supplements. Vitamin D is not found in many foods in substantial amounts, fatty fish like salmon and tuna are good sources. There are also lots of foods that are fortified and are good sources of vitamin d and other vitamins, this is often dairy products and their plant-based alternatives

Antioxidants ( vitamin A and vitamin E )

Both Vitamin A and E are fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamin A is important for eye health, white blood cell production, maintaining the health of endothelial and bone cells, and it regulates cell growth and division. Vitamin E helps with immune system function and helps prevent arterial clots

Antioxidants have been marketed as protection from cancer and illness, but there is no substantial data to support this. The data we have shows that these vitamins can become toxic and increase the risk of long-term illnesses in some cases. Because of the dangers of high doses of these supplements, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional before taking them. It’s also important to know that taking antioxidant supplements for the prevention of illness isn’t backed by data or science. Some good food sources of vitamin A are leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables, tomatoes, red bell peppers, milk, eggs,cantaloupe, and mango. Some good food sources of vitamin E are plant-based oils, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin, red bell pepper, asparagus, and avocado.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, so its important to get enough each day. Vitamin C plays a role in healing infections and wounds, it aids in the production of collagen, and plays a role in neurological function. Many people incorrectly believe that vitamin C can prevent or cure a cold. There isn’t much science to back this up. Vitamin C is considered safe in moderate doses, just don’t expect it to ward off cold and flu season germs. Some food sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli/cauliflower, and potatoes.

Vitamin B 12

Vitamin B is a water-soluble vitamin, so it is also important to get enough everyday. Vitamin B12 is a very common supplement for people who follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet because it is mostly found in meat and dairy products. However, unless directed by a professional to take it as a supplement, you can obtain your daily value through fortified grain products like cereals, oatmeal, and both dairy and non-dairy varieties of milk. Outside of a plant-based diet, vitamin B12 deficiency is rare.

Protein and similar supplements

Eating enough protein in your diet is important because protein is vital for the maintenance and growth of muscle. May people take protein powder supplements to help them reach their fitness goals, but just like all the vitamins we discussed food is often a better bet than a supplement. Whole foods are often cheaper than protein supplements and contain other important nutrients you need. Its important to get as much of your protein from plant based sources as you can, as plant based foods are lower in saturated fat and better for overall health. Some good sources are legumes like beans and lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts, and artichokes. If you want to include meat into your diet you should try and limit your red meat and processed meat intake. Poultry, seafood, and dairy in moderation are good options.

So what now? 

The biggest takeaway from this should be that vitamins and supplements should be treated like any other medicine. You should always consult a doctor before taking them. If you don’t have a deficiency or a specialized diet, there is often no need for them. Eating a variety of food is cheaper and healthier than taking a supplement. Another big takeaway is that you do need vitamins and minerals for your body to function properly, but humans have survived for so long without commercial man-made supplements. If there is a particular vitamin you think you need more of, do some research to find what foods are naturally high in that vitamin and incorporate more of them into your diet. Many people wonder if they should be taking a vitamin or supplement, but for most of us we can get our vitamins better from the food we use to fuel our body .

If you want to learn more about getting vitamins and minerals from food check out this resource from the Harvard School of Public Health or you can talk to GVSU's Campus Dining Dietitian, Alison Cooney.

By: Eva VanWyck, WIT Peer Educator

Part of our WIT Blog Series


Permanent link for What is Diet Culture? on March 24, 2022

Diet culture is a wide-reaching phenomenon of encouraging and expecting extreme weight loss, deeming certain foods bad or good, and the false implication that to be healthy you need to lose weight and you need to do it with a diet. Diet and weight loss culture profit on fatphobia (also known as weight stigma) and making people feel uncomfortable in their own body. We are often made to feel that our bodies are wrong and in need of changing but, this is not true. It is important to remember that you can be healthy at any size and the implication that having fat on your body is something to be ashamed of is just plain wrong. Body size does not indicate health, and the most important thing is that you feel good in your own body and that you give it the right fuel and tools so it can do its job best.

(We also know that it’s hard to feel good in your body sometimes, so one of our peer educators wrote a whole post about Body Neutrality! You should check it out to learn more about accepting your body as it is.)

Diet culture has many manifestations and it can be tricky to know if a piece of information is sound nutritional advice or if it is part of diet culture. So, how do you know if something is diet culture? Bethany Wheeler, a registered and licensed dietician, has a Diet Culture Litmus test that is a great tool to use to determine if something is part of diet culture.

Is it diet culture?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it body shaming or claiming someone's body is the problem?
  • Does it label foods as either bad or good, or bash certain foods?
  • Is it saying food must be earned or burned off with exercise?
  • Does it only see food as fuel and look down on emotional eating?
  • Does it paint people as good or better for pursuing health?
  • Does it paint people who aren't pursuing health as lazy or lacking willpower and grit?
  • Does it ignore the fact that privilege, resources, and funds impact people's health related choices?

An answer of yes to any of these should make you wary of that information potentially being a product of diet culture.

Bad Fads: Diet trends not worth your time

Over time, a variety of fad diets have come and gone as a part of diet culture - all echoing a similar claim: quick and easy weight loss! As we said, body size and weight do not necessarily determine health so this claim is a signal that a diet does not have your best interest in mind. Most of these diets can even harm your body because many cause rapid weight loss that is not recommended by the CDC or other exercise and health professionals. The CDC states that an appropriate amount of weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week. This can be achieved with a slight calorie deficit and/or increased physical activity. They also mention an important point: when weight loss is gradual, the weight is more likely to stay off. Many of these popular diets cause rapid weight fluctuation. This is called Yo-Yo dieting and it has many negative effects beyond weight changes. It can lead to loss of muscle mass, higher risk for liver problems, increased risk of chronic disease, negative body image, and low body acceptance. Another problem with most of these popular diets is that though you may lose weight, that weight loss is probably not coming from where you think it is. The weight lost in extreme calorie deficit diets is usually muscle, bone, and water loss and body’s fat stores are maintained or even increased. If improving health is your goal, then diets with extreme calorie deficits that promote rapid weight loss are ones to avoid.

Keto

The Keto diet was developed to control epilepsy in children. According to Mayo Clinic, besides for those with epilepsy, there is little evidence to support the use of this diet in any other population and evidence is unclear as to whether or not this diet is safe for the general population. The reason being that this diet is high in fat and protein and very low in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential nutrients, meaning they are needed for your body to function properly - they are actually our bodies’ preferred source of fuel. Severely limiting them means you will be lacking essential parts of your diet and at risk of nutrient deficiency. This also often means unsaturated fats are in excess in this diet and foods like fruits and vegetables are very limited, which can increase your risk for chronic disease. With the lack of fruits and vegetables, this diet makes it extremely hard to get all the vitamins and nutrients you need and can lead to other serious medical complications. Some long term health effects are increased heart disease risk due to increased fat intake and poor cholesterol, increased risk of certain cancers, gastrointestinal problems, and prolonged nutrient deficiencies.  

Drastic calorie deficit diets

Many diet trends consist of cutting your calories drastically and eating with few other restrictions. The problem here is that many of the caloric intakes they recommend are often the daily requirements for young children. The average adult needs 2,000-2,800 calories daily. That number changes depending on your body and will increase if you are active. Calories are our body’s fuel and the number of calories you eat is less important than simply eating a variety of healthy foods and maintaining a balanced diet.

Juice cleanses

The reason you don’t need this diet is simple, your body doesn’t need a cleanse because it cleanses itself! Your liver and kidneys do this all on their own without any change in diet, they are experts at removing waste and unwanted substances from the body. If you need more convincing, these diets usually have very little results and can be pricey. You are better off skipping the juice cleanse and letting your body take care of any detoxifying.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is about keeping your body free of carbs, so after 12-14 hours of fasting, your body begins burning fat. Though this diet can result in quick weight loss, it often triggers the Yo-Yo dieting we talked about earlier. On non-fasting days, you are more likely to eat more calories and more non-nutrient dense foods, which promotes weight gain. There are other negative side effects to this diet as well. Your body will feel very tired because it lacks the carbohydrates it needs to have energy throughout the day. This diet also causes lower levels of dopamine and serotonin, which can affect mental health. 

Science-based Swaps: science-supported diet changes that can positively impact health.

If you are looking to improve your overall health there are some ways to do it that are kinder to your body and support long term health improvements.

Plant-based diet

A plant-based diet consists of mostly or entirely plant-based foods (no animal sources). Plant-based foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and oils. There is an abundance of benefits to eating plant based. For example, this diet can lower blood pressure, promote heart health, decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, and many other diseases. A plant-based diet can also improve mental health! The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that “Research that looked at the impact of diet on emotional well-being and productivity at 10 corporate sites of a major U.S. insurance company found that a plant-based dietary intervention led to significantly reduced feelings of depression, anxiety, and fatigue”

Intuitive eating

Intuitive eating is a philosophy about giving your body what it needs when it needs it. Unlike a traditional diet, there are no guidelines or restrictions; the goal is treating your body well. Intuitive eating has many benefits, including improved cholesterol levels, higher self-esteem, reduced stress, and improved metabolism.

What is Most Important when it comes to Fueling our Body

Often getting physical activity, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding alcohol and smoking are more important for your health than your weight. Weight loss is not necessarily the path to health despite what diet culture tells us. Look out for the signs of diet culture and fad diets and take steps to promote your health in ways that make your body feel good.

Campus Resources

And, if you are struggling with navigating your way through food and nutrition, the Campus Dining Dietitian, Allison, is available for appointments about general nutrition, weight loss, nutrient needs, allergy restrictions and so much more. It's free for students! Furthermore, if you are struggling with disordered eating or body image, the University Counseling Center has many resources to help.

By: Eva VanWyck, WIT Peer Educator

Part of our WIT Blog Series


Permanent link for How to "Beet" the Winter Blues on February 21, 2022

Can Food Really Affect Your Mood?

Are you getting a little tired of the endless cloudy Michigan skies? Has it been hard to focus on homework…spring weather in your daydreams? Maybe falling snow has lost its charm. Maybe you’re starting to think the lake effect is more like the lake de fect. Well you are not alone– according to a psychiatry journal, about 46 million Americans (18 and older) experience a gloomy winter. 

The good news is that what you lick off your spoon (or fork) can be a game changer for your mood. Neurotransmitters are little signals in the brain that impact the way you feel and can be affected by different nutrients found in food. There are so many tiny vitamins (like B12 and B6) or other nutrients (like folic acid and tyrosine) that can make a big difference!

5 Foods to Help Lift Moods

  1. Did the title give it away? Beets are one of the many great options to lift your mood. Their bright color isn’t the only exciting part about them. They contain nitrates that can decrease blood pressure and increase oxygen. Choline found in beets is a key helper for making one of those neurotransmitters (the tiny signals important for mood) in the brain. Other benefits of beets include memory help, decreased chance of heart disease, and decreased inflammation. 
  2. Winter squash is a seasonal favorite that is a mood favorite too. The vitamin B6 it contains is extremely important for keeping a good mood, not to mention all the fun varieties. Butternut, spaghetti, delicata and many others are all part of the clan that can give you a vitamin B6 boost. Pumpkin, another squash family member, not only contains vitamin B6 but also magnesium. Magnesium is an important mineral that could lower symptoms of depression.
  3. Bananas, like squash, have high amounts of vitamin B6. They also contain a good source of fiber which is important for the regulation of blood sugars and prevent energy roller coasters. They also contain prebiotics (note: not probiotics) which good bacteria thrive on in the gut. For more information on gut health visit one of our previous blog posts Mind-Gut Connection.
  4. Sweet potato, another orange vegetable variety, has vitamin C. Not only do these golden potatoes have the potential of lowering depression symptoms, they also have the ability to lower inflammation, another important aspect of mood. As you might already know, vitamin C can additionally support the immune system, a little bonus during the cold seasons.
  5. Brussels sprouts are another amazing option. Maybe not your first choice, but you don’t want to miss out on all the folic acid brain-mood booster qualities they can provide.

So Many to Choose From!

There are many other foods that can boost your mood. Some general options include:

  • Foods high in fiber
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Legumes (lentils/beans)
  • Potatoes (the skin is the best part!)
  • And many other fruits/vegetables besides those previously mentioned

Visit this Healthline website for more foods that can help with mood.

Slip It In

With so many options it might be overwhelming to think about how to get all of it into your diet. It’s important to remember, however, that you don’t need to eat them all at once. Maybe start by trying to incorporate one of these foods into a meal each week. You can always keep adding them in as it becomes easier. Furthermore, there are so many possibilities and ways to eat them it might take a little experimentation to see what makes your taste buds dance. Frozen, canned, shredded, sauteed, blended, baked, microwaved, chopped or any combination– your brain and mood don’t mind how it comes.

Some Specific Examples of How to Include

One low-cost easy way to get pumpkin in your diet is to buy 100% canned pumpkin puree. You could add it to your oatmeal, overnight oats or to a smoothie. Add shredded brussels sprouts to a stir fry, salad or soup. Skewering a few beets from a jar and eating them right off the fork is always a tasty snack. If you have access to raw beets, shred them for a colorful salad or roast some beets in the oven. Maybe grab a banana with some spare dining dollars. Simply thinking of ways to eat them could put you in a better mood!

There are also many resources online to help inspire you. Epicurious is a website and app. You can customize your search results for the specific food, type of meal, allergies, level of difficulty and much more!

Winter Doesn’t Have to be a Downer

Food may not be the first idea that comes to mind when trying to solve seasonal blues, but it clearly can have an impact. Enhancing your menus with some beets, bananas, squash, sweet potatoes or brussels sprouts has shown to boost mood and turn winter blues into reds, yellows and oranges. Keeping in mind some of these food ideas and having fun making up your meals are some first steps to keep you smiling through the end of March.

Don’t Hesitate

If seasonal depression is becoming unbearable, don’t hesitate to book a free consultation with the counseling center at GVSU. Or, if you need some more nutrition advice, and/or have some other wellness goals in mind there are many other resources on the Recreation and Wellness page. Want to ask an anonymous question? Our WIT Peer Educators are happy to answer questions on Ask WIT. The newest program called Wellness Navigators could even give you free one-on-one guidance!

By: Josie Kasmauskis, WIT Peer Educator

Part of our WIT Blog Series.


Permanent link for Eating Healthy and Sustainably (on a Budget) for One on February 15, 2022

The “Baby Carrot” Cycle

I’ll admit it, I did it too.  You know, the endless cycle of wanting to eat more vegetables, buying that one bag of baby carrots (you know the kind) or a bag of fresh lettuce, and eating maybe half the bag just to forget about them. Once I do remember, I find them hidden in my fridge and realize they don’t look nearly as good as they did when I bought them. Not to mention the guilt I feel when I realize nothing is salvageable and I have to throw it all out. If you are anything like me and feel this guilt (about the money I just wasted and the food waste I just created), the first stage is acceptance. The second stage though is using some of the tips I have below for navigating how to eat healthy, sustainably, AND on a budget.

Why Does Food Waste Matter?

So we know food waste is bad, but why? According to the USDA, 30-40 percent of the food supply is wasted. This adds up to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010 alone. 

Not only is food waste contributing to inefficiency and negative environmental effects, but it is costing us money too. The USDA also estimates that the average American family of 4 loses $1500 to uneaten food every year. From an ethical perspective, much of the food being wasted that is still safe to eat could be going towards addressing food insecurity. On the same note of ethics, wasted meat products also means that an animal that has died in order to provide food, has now died with no purpose. For more information about how GVSU is addressing food insecurity on our campus, read about Replenish below!

Make Frozen Vegetables Your Best Friend!

Eating healthy for one person in college (on a budget) is not easy, but it can be done! The first step is to break the stigma around frozen vegetables. I have heard a few times from other college students that “frozen fruits and vegetables aren’t as healthy” or “I only buy fresh vegetables.”

It’s time to dispel these rumors once and for all. Frozen vegetables are healthy and contain just as many nutrients as fresh, if not more than fresh store bought since they are usually frozen while they’re in their prime. When shopping for frozen fruits and vegetables, pay attention to the labels to check for those that do not have additives. Of course frozen vegetables can still age in the freezer and may not be as nutritionally dense after a year, but it will last you much longer than the few days you get with fresh. 

It is also important to note the”best if used by” dates on frozen fruits or vegetables. These dates are only usually recommendations based on when the food tastes best and can still be safe beyond this date, but it is usually better to buy food that does not expire for a while to avoid this. So if this happens, don’t stress! It is probably still safe to eat as long as it is cooked thoroughly. 

Maximizing Shelf Life (How to Store Fresh Fruits/Veggies Properly!)

Grocery shopping for fresh AND frozen fruits and vegetables is a great way to limit food waste and still eat healthy. When we are buying fresh fruits and vegetables, there are ways to store them properly to extend their shelf life. This NY Times article outlines a few really great ways to do this, but I will summarize for you here. First, start fresh! Even though frozen fruits and vegetables are just as good for you, there might be times when you prefer fresh options. Make sure when shopping for fruits and vegetables, that you are shopping for the freshest ones and that they don’t have any signs of aging already. Next, consider the conditions of how your food is stored. The author suggests considering “temperature, ethylene, and airflow.” This just means gaining a better understanding of what causes fruits and vegetables to go bad prematurely. Ethylene is a gas released by some fruits/vegetables that causes produce to ripen faster. Some may be better at room temperature, others in the fridge in a container rather than the produce bag it comes in. I recommend checking out the full article for specifics by the type of produce you are storing. 

Freeze Your Bread & Leftovers

Something I have learned when it comes to grocery shopping and eating just for one person is how quickly bread and leftovers go bad. But there are solutions to these problems!

First, refrigerate (or freeze) your bread. You can just throw the bread in the original packaging and throw it in the fridge or freezer (depending on how quickly you tend to eat bread). For those of us (myself included) who like to bake, homemade bread loaves can be stored in the freezer as well. To freeze store bought or homemade bread loaves for longer periods of time, make sure the bread is cooled and sliced then wrap first with plastic wrap then with foil or freezer paper. This link discusses more about the correct way to preserve homemade bread loaves.

Second is leftovers! If you make a meal with lots of leftovers, but you’re not the kind of person to eat the same thing multiple times that week before it goes bad, freeze your leftovers! Your food will taste fresher and you will have the option of a quick homemade dinner or lunch later on. The USDA outlines safe ways to freeze, thaw, and reheat leftovers here

Stir Fry, Pasta, & Curries

Cooking for one person without tons of leftovers can be hard,especially when you’ve just gone grocery shopping and need to use up a lot of the fresh vegetables you bought. An option for this is to cook things like stir fry, pasta, or curries. These can not only be relatively easy and quick to cook, but allow you to add whatever you might have laying around in your fridge. It’s relatively easy to make these recipes your own and tweak them to the foods you like or already have. Here is one idea for a veggie stir fry recipe. For other recipes, check out the One Dish Kitchen for single serving recipe ideas. 

Start a Compost

While limiting food waste sounds great in theory, we’re also human and it happens. So what can we do with our food waste when it does happen? The answer is COMPOSTING! We see the compost trash bins on campus, but what is compost you may ask? Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow, according to the EPA. Making compost takes food waste out of our landfills where they take up space and release methane which is a greenhouse gas. The EPA outlines the basics of composting if you’re interested in learning more. NPR LifeKit also published a great guide on how to compost at home. 

Replenish at GVSU

If you are a student at GVSU experiencing food insecurity at any level, Replenish is our on campus food pantry. There are three locations: Kirkhof 074 - Allendale Campus: open weekdays from Noon to 5 pm, Steelcase Library - DeVos Campus (1st floor entrance): open during library hours, and CHS 343 - Cook-DeVos Center for Health Science building: open 8 - 5 (CHS location is currently unavailable). Replenish is a completely free resource available for all students. Students are permitted two visits per month but emergency accommodations can be made. All you need to bring is:

  • Your student ID;
  • A passed daily Covid-19 assessment;
  • and a reusable grocery bag. 

Replenish also collects donations of pantry stable foods, hygiene items, household cleaning supplies, and new or lightly used school supplies. The Allendale location accepts walk-ins. 

As I mentioned before, eating healthy for one person in college on a budget is not easy, but it can be done! Just take it one step at a time.

By: Sofia Hessler, WIT Peer Educator

Part of our WIT Blog Series.


Permanent link for Mind-Gut Connection on January 27, 2022

We’ve all heard the expression, “It’s all in your head,” but is that true?  

We experience stress and anxieties through school, work, and/or our social lives, almost on a daily basis. Usually we think about stress-relievers or self-care strategies to help with these feelings, but by learning how these processes work on a physiological level in our own bodies, it can help us discover ways to decrease these negative feelings in a different way. Our mood, emotions, and stress levels tend to be correlated with, and are thought of coming from our brain in the central nervous system. However, our nervous systems consist of more than just the central and peripheral nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord and the nerves, respectively. The enteric nervous system, which governs the gastrointestinal tract, also plays a very important role in communicating with the brain in order to regulate cognition, immunity, hormones, and emotions. By looking into how the gastrointestinal (GI) tract works, it can help bring understanding on how there’s a connection between our brains, our mood and our food. 

Gut Bacteria and Our Mental Health

An important aspect for the GI tract to function efficiently, that is not necessarily a part of our own bodies but still very important, is gut bacteria or the microbiome. These little organisms have such a large impact not only on the enteric nervous system, but the central nervous system as well. On the intestinal level, the gut flora can prevent dysfunction in the gastrointestinal tract and affect the nutrient availability in the food we eat. In a study conducted on ‘germ free’ animals, the findings supported that gut flora influences memory, anxiety, and stress. Stress and inflammation can be closely linked together. Stress can be in response to our body’s ‘fight or flight response’ and releases specific hormones and neurotransmitters which also activates inflammation. Yet, many people, such as students, experience chronic, or long lasting, stress and inflammation, which negatively affects the whole body. Microorganisms in the gut have been shown to decrease inflammation. In these studies, probiotics have also decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression, similarly to prescription medications. 

Flawed Gut Bacteria: Help it with Fiber

However, not all microorganisms should be viewed equally and can vary based on diet, medications, environment, or even what season it is. Some common examples of manifestations of a flawed gut that may occur can be bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or cramping.  It is important to have specific microbes rather than others to support a healthy GI tract. A very important aspect within one’s diet that can support the gut flora is fiber. Most people only get about half of what their fiber intake should actually be. Fiber is so valuable, as the microbes essentially eat and thrive from it. Fiber is also important for many other different things in addition to gut health such as lowering cholesterol, blood sugar and reducing risk of heart disease.

How to Increase Microorganisms in your Gut

  • Increase intake of whole plant-based sources for fiber:  legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Incorporate some fermented foods into your diet: yogurt, kombucha, or kimchi, or even supplementing with a probiotic (always ask a healthcare professional before supplementing your diet).
  • Get enough sleep: 7-8 hours a night
  • Exercise regularly: a few days a week
  • Reduce stress

These habits, in addition to gut health, can also benefit your overall health and wellness.

Our Body Systems Work Together

The body is made up of many different systems, but that does not mean they work independently of each other. These systems and processes work together in order to keep our bodies running smoothly. The digestive system illustrates this very well, as it impacts immunity, hormones, mental health and more.  Even though it seems like we don’t have enough time and energy to be 100% perfect all the time, little changes in choices can help us in more ways than one.

By: Claire Latourell, WIT Peer Educator

Part of our WIT Blog Series.


Permanent link for Explore Wellness with WIT in Winter 2022 on January 10, 2022

“Wellness” has become a bit of a buzzword lately. We’re bombarded with ads for wellness products, we see the term tied to fad diets, and we’re told to buy items in order to practice self-care. But, do we really need all of that to be well? Unfortunately, it feels like the word “wellness” is being used to market consumerism rather than what its true meaning is... 

According to the National Wellness Institute, wellness is a life-long journey; "a conscious, self-directed, and evolving process of achieving full potential.” And if you look even bigger, the Global Wellness Institute says wellness is “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” 

There’s no purchase necessary when it comes to wellness. (But, there may be some reading and learning!)

Nowadays, a lot of us want short and simple information that we can read quickly and keep scrolling. But, there are some topics that require just a little more attention than a social media post.That’s why our WIT peer educators are going to be writing blog posts this semester to dive deeper into topics of general wellness, nutrition, sexual health, and rest. All of these areas can help you on your well-being journey.

If you want to check out previous posts written by the team, we’ve got plenty on the RecWell blog already (you can filter the posts by topic!). This is also where the new posts will show up each week - or you can just click the link on our Instagram stories each week.

Follow along with us this semester as we focus on what wellness really means, how we can improve our lives, and why learning about these topics is so valuable!  

By: Ryleigh Emelander, MPH Candidate, Health Promotion Assistant and Katie Jourdan, Student Health Promotions Coordinator


Permanent link for Fueling Your Workout with Food on December 3, 2019

Deciding what to eat before a workout can be tricky. Eating too close to workouts or choosing the wrong foods may throw a wrench in your fitness routine. Add in a full day of classes, plus time for a healthy snack before being active, and it can sometimes seem almost impossible. Fortunately, we have some great tips on how to help you worry less about fueling up and focus more on your workout ahead:

Experiment with eating times. 

  • The truth is... there is no timeframe to eat before exercise that works for everyone’s body. Instead, find what works best for you within the timeframe of 30 minutes to 4 hours before beginning physical activities. 
  • Adjust portions accordingly to the amount of time you eat before your workout. For example, a snack would be a better option if eating 30-60 minutes before, and a meal is better for eating 1-4 hours before starting a workout. 

Build a good snack. 

  • Carbs normally get a bad rep, but they’re a fantastic source of energy and are essential to any pre-workout snack. A good pre-exercise meal or snack will have carbs to help increase your energy and speed up recovery after. 
  • However, be sure to include some protein as well. This will help reduce soreness you may experience after your workout. 
  • Choosing foods that are low in fat and fiber will ensure tolerance to avoid an upset stomach. 

Hydrate! 

  • Fun fact: our bodies are made up of approximately 2/3 water. This means that we not only need to drink an adequate amount everyday to promote better health, but especially when doing physical activities of any kind. 
  • Be sure to hydrate by consuming fluids, such as water or your favorite sports drink, an hour before working out. 
  • You can also hydrate by choosing foods mainly made up of water, such as watermelon, lettuce, and tomatoes. This will help to prevent dehydration that could end your workout early. 

Have one of these tried and tested pre-workout combos. 

Still a little hesitant on where to begin? Try a snack listed below that’s a good carb and protein combination to get your workout off to a great start: 

1-4 hours before exercise: 

  • Lean hamburger or chicken on bun + side salad + yogurt or fruit parfait 
  • Low fat cottage cheese + crackers + grapes
  • Oatmeal with brown sugar and walnuts + skim milk + banana 
  • Baked salmon + brown rice + roasted veggies

30-60 minutes before exercise: 

  • Apple or pear + nut butter 
  • Dried fruit + mixed nuts  
  • Jam sandwich 
  • Sports gel, bar, or gummies 

Connect with our dietitian! 

  • Make an appointment with our Registered Dietitian for a personalized approach to your nutrition. Appointments can be made by contacting Fitness and Wellness Services at 616-331-3659 or rec@gvsu.edu.
  • All packages include 3 appointments and are only $15 for students! 

By: Alex Sixt

Image Credit: Samantha Molnar


Permanent link for Nutrition Tips on October 14, 2019

With busy schedules and a few too many trips to late night, you might find your diet slipping when it comes to getting the nutrition that you need. Eating healthy on a budget, in a small kitchen in your apartment, and with a full day of classes isn’t always the most convenient. Some our our our favorite tips for making nutrition a habit and a lot more accessible are:

  1. Water, Water, Water. Yes, you’ve heard it time and time again. Drinking an adequate amount of water every day can have substantial effects on your health. Staying hydrated promotes better productivity, mood, and optimal body function. Stray away from drinking too many liquid calories, such as sodas and juices, that have a lot of hidden sugars. If you’re looking to shift your current habits, keep liquid calories as a treat. We suggest bringing a water bottle to class to make drinking water convenient and more accessible.
     
  2. Try meal prepping! If you have a full schedule and are often too tired to cook when you get home, plan for the week ahead. Instead of feeling tired and hitting the drive thru, have something ready to warm up when you walk in the door. Meal prepping will save you money, time and make healthy eating less stressful. Whether overnight oats for busy mornings or just making 4 servings when cooking dinner instead of one, your busy self will thank you for planning ahead. (Pinterest has plenty of ideas to switch up your meals from week to week!)
     
  3. Read your labels. This doesn’t mean you have to switch up your current eating habits; you should just be more aware of the things that you’re putting into your body. Oftentimes the sugar, saturated fats, and calorie count can be misleading if you aren’t accounting for the serving size. Sometimes a simple swap can offer much more of the things you want, like nutrients, and less of the things you don’t want, like sugar. Apps like My Fitness Pal also provide an easy way to track your nutrients by simply searching for the food that you’re eating!
     
  4. Keep healthy options readily available. If you get a sudden craving for something before bed, keeping healthy sweets like fruit at hand will help curb those unhealthy cravings. If you don’t have unhealthy options at easy access, you won’t eat them. Plan out healthy snacks to bring to class and for times like late night cravings. We suggest things like nuts and fruit. Or if you really are craving the unhealthy snacks, buy those in portion controlled containers. Buying those snacks in bulk sizes can lead to you eating more than needed.
     
  5. Visit our dietician! For a more individualized approach to your nutrition, make an appointment with our Registered Dietitian right here on campus. Appointments can address concerns ranging from how to eat healthy on campus, as well as how to adopt healthy eating behaviors and concerns like eating disorders and dietary restrictions.

For more information about nutrition:

By: Alexis Smith



Page last modified April 21, 2022