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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some commonly-asked questions about health, nutrition and wellness. Please email nutritionist@pomona.edu if you have other questions you would like answered.

What are empty calories?

Empty calories refers to foods that have lots of calories, but low nutritional value. Examples include: fried foods (fries, chicken, chips), candy, soda, many packaged foods, alcoholic beverages and refined grains such as crackers, cookies, white rice and white bread. You can avoid empty calories by avoiding the foods listed above and opting for whole grains and fruits instead.

What’s the deal with high fructose corn syrup?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made by modifying corn starch so that it contains a higher level of fructose. As a result, HFCS tastes sweeter than refined sugar, which when combined with corn subsidies makes is a very cheap sweetener. HFCS is the most common added sweetener in processed foods and beverages and is found in a vast number of products. Next time you’re at the supermarket, check out a few labels. You’ll find it everywhere, including sodas, jams, baked goods and condiments (it’s in relish and ketchup!).  The main problem with HFCS is that it is typically found in foods with empty calories and is of poor nutritional value. Try these replacements to avoid HFCS:

  • Ditch soda for water, tea, low-fat (soy)milk or 100% fruit juice
  • Try snacking on fruit instead of crackers and cookies
  • Swap refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, for whole grains like whole-grain bread and brown rice

Can food and dieting affect your mood?

Depriving yourself of certain foods while dieting can make you moody. Diet plans that limit certain foods may help you lose weight quickly, but they can also negatively impact your mood. While limiting foods high in fat and sugar can improve your daily calorie count and help you lose weight, the sense of deprivation may be too overwhelming. Focus on making changes slowly and ensuring that you can keep changes up in the long run. Seek balance over short-term results to ensure healthy weight management and mood balance.

Is organic healthier?

Whether organically-produced foods are more nutritious than their conventional counterparts is the subject of an ongoing debate. However there is mounting evidence to support the following:

  • Some organic fruits, vegetables and juices may contain more phytochemicals (antioxidants and polyphenols) compared to their conventionally grown counterparts
  • Organic meat may reduce the development of human antibiotic resistance  
  • Organic agriculture offers numerous opportunities to reduce exposure to agricultural pesticides through the food and water supply, which may be detrimental to human health
  • Organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in non-organic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate

Do "organic" and "natural" mean the same thing?

No, these are not interchangeable terms. The term "natural" is unregulated by the FDA and producers hold themselves accountable, yet natural foods are supposed to be free of added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. Organic is a heavily regulated term by the USDA. Organic foods are produced without synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers; sewage sludge is forbidden; seeds and food cannot be treated with irradiation; and GMO seeds are not used. For more information, please see the certifications page.

Should I be taking a vitamin supplement?

Vitamin supplements are not intended to be food substitutes.  A supplement can’t replicate all the nutrients and benefits of whole foods, like fruits and vegetables. Depending on your situation and eating habits, the added expense of a dietary supplement may not be necessary. If you are generally healthy and you eat a wide variety of foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat sources of calcium, and lean proteins) you probably don’t need supplements. However, if your current diet is lacking, a supplement can help fill in these deficiencies. Don’t forget: it’s a supplement, not a replacement. Make sure to eat a balanced diet with moderate portions from all food groups.

What is factory farming?

Factory farming is the process of raising livestock in confinement at high stocking density, essentially making a farm morel like a factory.  Meat, milk and eggs are the primary products of factory farming, which accounts for over 99% of the meat and egg production in the United States.

Confining animals indoors, rather than allowing them access to open land, exposes them to high levels of toxins from decomposing manure. To counteract the disease inherent in such conditions, animals are given low doses of antibiotics daily, which contribute to problems with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Animals are also exposed to pesticides and unhealthy additives, fed foods they are not accustomed to eating and given growth hormones to increase production.   

Unlike traditional farms, factory farms are willing to sacrifice the quality of their products to maximize their profits. As a result, consumers end up with inferior food that is often unhealthy. Factors that reduce food quality and can threaten our health include the high stress levels of the animals kept in crowded and confined conditions, the poor quality feed they are given, and the potential for cultivating and spreading disease rapidly through the large confinement facilities. The phrase “you are what you eat” has never been more poignant. Eating animal products that are loaded with hormones, antibiotics and toxins means you are too.

For more information on factory farming, we recommend these websites.

Is coffee bad for me? How much is too much?

Don’t fret if you rely on a cup of Joe to lift you out of your morning haze. For most healthy adults, moderate amounts of caffeine (approximately 2-3 cups of coffee per day) are generally considered safe. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, alleviates fatigue, increases wakefulness, and improves concentration and focus. In fact, recent studies show that coffee is one of the richest sources of antioxidants in the average person’s diet! While fruits and vegetables are hailed as the richest source of antioxidants, coffee seems to be the primary source for most Americans.

Excessive caffeine intake (approximately 5-6 cups of coffee per day) may lead to some unpleasant side effects. Consider cutting back if you are experiencing the following: insomnia, nervousness, irritability, stomach upset, fast heartbeat or restlessness. And don’t forget: caffeine is found in other places, like energy drinks, dark chocolate and soft drinks.

Facts Fiction
Moderate caffeine consumption may reduce your risk of Type II Diabetes, gallstones, Parkinson’s Disease and liver disease. Caffeine can help you sober up.
NCAA athletes are not allowed to consume high doses of caffeine because it can enhance physical performance. Caffeinated beverages are usually dehydrating. While caffeine acts as a mild diuretic, drinking caffeinated drinks doesn’t actually cause dehydration.
Caffeine can aggravate symptoms of anxiety for those suffering from anxiety disorders.  
Some skin care products contain caffeine to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles.