Nutrition Philosophy

Here at Healthy Heels, we view food as fuel, nourishment, and something to be enjoyed. We encourage Tar Heels to eat a wide array of foods that are both nourishing and delicious. There are no bad or forbidden foods – it’s all about paying attention to your body’s needs.

Eat When You’re Hungry

Keep your body biologically fed with enough nourishment. This helps avoid the natural response to over-consume food in moments of excessive hunger. Learning to honor your initial biological signal of hunger sets the stage for building trust in yourself and in food.

  • Help yourself by bringing yummy, nutrient-dense snacks with you so that when you notice hunger, you have food available.

Enjoy Your Food

Feel the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. Some studies indicate that when you look forward to the food that you’re about to eat, your body absorbs more of its nutrients. Plus, eating food you enjoy in a pleasurable environment helps you feel satisfied and content. 

Stop Eating When You’re Full

Trust yourself with eating and listen to your body. Your body will tell you what foods you need and when it needs them no longer. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and check in on your current level of hunger.

Use Gentle Nutrition Strategies

  • Zoom out. Focus on the big picture when it comes to nutrition. Individual food choices make very little difference when it comes to health. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Consider overall patterns in your food intake.
  • Add foods, don’t subtract. Remember that all foods can be a part of a healthy life and no foods are off-limits. Instead, consider how to add nutrient-filled and diverse foods into your eating patterns.
  • Focus on variety. Different foods contain different nutrients, which means that eating a diversity of foods helps to ensure that we are getting adequate nutrients.
  • Pay attention to food that feels good. Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making your body feel good.
  • Try to include at least 2 food groups at each snack. This will help keep you nourished.
  • Create an environment that makes health easier. Your environment is the biggest predictor of your health choices, so consider how you can make shifts to your space to set yourself up for the health behaviors you want.

Pre- and Post- Workout Nutrition

Protein shakes, whey protein powder… But when do you use these?  Before or after exercising?  How do you fuel up for a workout and how do you help your muscles recover?

Ms. Mary Ellen Bingham, MS, RD, CSSD, head sports nutritionist at UNC, recommends “book-ending”.  This means you eat something small both before and after your workout.  To fuel up and in order to have enough energy to get through your time at the gym, eat within about an hour prior to exercising.  Then, eat again within 30 minutes – don’t wait until lunch or dinner time to eat.  These don’t have to be complete meals, but more so, snacks.

Check out the image below on nutrient timing that Ms. Bingham created. (Click for larger image).

For pre-workout, carbs will give you the energy to push yourself and not get exhausted.  Try crackers or toast with peanut butter, fruit, a small granola bar or a handful of pretzels.  Post-workout, you want to refuel your muscles.  First and foremost, make sure to drink water!  All that sweat is going to leave you dehydrated, so you need to be drinking before, during and after your workout.  Additionally, have a combination of both carbs and protein such as trail mix, a sports bar, a smoothie or – the classic drink that promotes fast muscle recovery – low-fat chocolate milk.

Previously, I interviewed Dr. Abbie Smith, an assistant EXSS professor.  If you read this interview (I don’t want to repeat it all!), you’ll find other similar advice.  Dr. Smith gave me nutritional advice for those trying to gain muscle, those trying to lose fat, what “cheat days” are all about and supplement information.  That blog post is extremely informative and can clear up some further questions you may have about nutrition for athletes.

So, if they’re right for you, continue with your protein shakes, nutrition bars or whatever your usual pre/post workout snack may be!  Remember – carbs before and a combination of carbs and protein after.


Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Eat Smart with your SmartPhone

Do you love your Droid or iPhone? If so, let your SmartPhone help you eat smarter and stay healthier. I spent an afternoon reviewing all of the nutrition and exercise apps out there and found four that I think you’ll love.

Download them and try them out, then let us know what you think!

  1. Drinking Water: This app reminds you to drink water and allows you to track how much water you are drinking daily. Every couple hours you hear a calming sound of pouring water. Just reach for your water bottle, chug some water, and then mark off one of the cups on the screen.
  2. Fooducate: Use this at the grocery store. Scan the barcode of an item before you put it in your cart or basket. Find out the good and bad about each item and get some guidance on healthier, but similar, products.
  3. Restaurant Nutrition: It’s hard to know exactly what’s on your plate when you are eating out.  Take your phone with you and use this app to combine menu items from popular restaurants to build your entire meal order and see the nutrition facts.
  4. iMapMyRun: Use this app to record the route, time, distance, speed, pace and calories of your walk, run or bike in real-time. Just make sure your phone is GPS-enabled.

Do you use any of these apps? Or do you think you might try them? Tell us what you think by commenting on this blog, posting to our Facebook page (UNC Campus Health Services) or tweeting (@UNCCampusHealth).


As promised in my last blog, I will be blogging today about embracing your inner DIY.  Today, we will explore the wonderful world of leftovers!

Have you ever been out to eat and you’ve eaten more than half of your meal to the point where neither finishing your meal nor taking it home with you make any sense?  When I’m in that situation, I just can’t waste the food, so I normally end up eating the rest and feeling post-Thanksgiving dinner-esque.  But here’s a better idea:  take home the leftovers and integrate them into a whole new food creation.

The other day, a friend and I went to a great Mexican restaurant for lunch and I got a chicken fajita salad.  Leftover salads are pretty pointless for me because I despise soggy lettuce, but I took it home anyway.  The next morning, I got to have a late breakfast, and I put the leftovers to good use.  First, I separated the good stuff (chicken, peppers, onions, etc.) from the soggy lettuce.  Then, I reheated it in a small skillet while I cracked a few eggs into a bowl and whisked them together with some milk.  A few minutes later, I topped my chicken fajita omelet with some homemade salsa.  What a delicious breakfast!

If I had wanted to make more of a lunch themed leftover creation, I would have ditched the soggy lettuce and remade the salad with some fresh additions.  If you find yourself in this same situation, put a cup of chopped romaine lettuce into a large salad bowl.  Mix together a can of corn and a can of black beans (drained and rinsed) and put a half cup of the mixture on top of the lettuce.  At this point, I would also throw some banana pepper rings in before I added the reheated leftovers to the top.  You can dress the salad with some salsa or some ranch dressing.  I normally use a little of both.

Had the leftovers made it to dinner that night, there are a few ways I could have completed the meal.  I probably would have started with putting the leftover fajita stuffing onto a tortilla, topping with some cheese, and heating in either the microwave or toaster oven.  For the sides, I would have mixed the corn and black beans together (from my lunch suggestion above) and served it with some brown rice.

The possibilities are really endless.  What’s the most creative way you have used your leftovers the next day?

WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Fish Oil, or No Fish Oil? Medical Journal Findings and Fish Oil Sales Just Don’t Match Up!

by: Emily Wheeler

Since this article is about both fish oil and research about fish oil, let’s start off Friday with a related fun fact: in Portuguese, the verb for “to fish” is pescar, and the noun for “research” is pesquisa. I like that combination conceptually because it makes me think of research as the process of fishing for valuable knowledge out of the vast pool of universal information. Pretty cool, right? Just me? Ok, we’ll move on.

Between the years 2007 and 2012, annual sales of fish oils and omega-3 fatty acid supplements increased from $425 million to $1043 million in the United States and similar sales booms were seen in the United Kingdom and Australasia (which consists of Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and other small neighboring pacific islands). Considering the fact that 10% of adults in the U.S. take a fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid (FA) supplement, chances are that we all know someone who spends quite a bit of money on those fishy, transparent capsules!

I turned to Google to find 10 different bottles of fish oil capsules with roughly the same quantity of fish oil per bottle (GNC, Nature Made, Sundown, Spring Valley, Nordic Naturals, Nature’s Bounty, Optimum Nutrition, Carlson, and Barlean’s) and found the average price of the 10 bottles to be $16.08 for roughly 100 days of taking 1000 mg fish oil per day (this is not an unusual quantity for people to take). No wonder fish oil sales are so high; that’s not cheap for a plastic bottle that smells like a seafood market!

Fish oil caps

“Fish Oil Caps” by Stephen Cummings of Flickr Creative Commons

In March, 2014, JAMA Internal Medicine published a research letter in which Dr.’s Andrew Grey and Mark Bolland identified randomized clinical trials (RCTs) or meta-analyses of RCTs about omega-2 fatty acid use published in the top ranking internal medicine journals in the world between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2012. A randomized control trial is a research study in which two groups of people are followed over time, and one group is given the treatment (fish oil supplements in this case) and the other group is given a placebo (a similar-looking pill that actually contains no fish oil), so each participant does not know which group they are in (to prevent bias). Then the groups are assessed to see if there are any significant differences between the “case” and the “control” groups, such as differences in cardiovascular health in the fish oil trials. The assessment of 18 RCTs found that only 2 of the 18 reported that they found a health benefit to treatment with omega-3 fatty acid supplements (which term I am using interchangeably with fish oil in this article).

The researchers then found the popular news reports that covered the same RCTs that they had assessed and used a 5-point scale with 1 meaning “clearly unfavorable” and 5 meaning “clearly favorable” to assess the way each news report chose to report the findings of the RCTs. For each of the 18 RCTs assessed, they found between 0 and 27 news stories covering each one, ranked them all using the 5-point scale, and then found the median editorial score to be 4. Because a score of 5 means “clearly favorable,” most of the editorial reviews of the RCTs were enthusiastic about the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements, even though only 2 of the 18 studies showed health benefit to their use.

If the majority of RCTs published in the top internal medicine journals in the world have found no notable health benefit to taking fish oil supplements, why have fish oil sales increased exponentially in recent years in various parts of the world?

Randomized clinical trials are considered the “gold standard” for a research study that is trying to establish a clear relationship between a treatment and an outcome, and they are typically the most trusted study design. However, the analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that the RCT publications in prominent medical journals have had very little effect on the use of fish oil supplements, as well as the media portrayal of these supplements.

Since 90% of people who take omega-3 FA supplements do so by their own choice and not at the advice of a health care professional, it is understandable why this trend is occurring. These supplements are readily available in the vitamin aisles of thousands of stores, are more affordable than a prescription, and are touted as beneficial to heart health or lowering cholesterol by hundreds of news sources.

These use of these supplements was even endorsed by the American Heart Association in 2002 because less reliable research evidence than the RCTs had shown a benefit to cardiovascular health.

When previous research has shown a benefit, media sources have spread the message far and wide, and supplement companies have seized the opportunity to claim that their product will make people healthier, it is hard to contradict all of this information and change consumer’s minds.  Even when newer, more reliable evidence has emerged saying that what we previously thought about fish oil supplements might not be entirely correct, the majority of consumers don’t take the time to look for hard evidence of a benefit before they make their way to the pharmacy.

Before you go out and spend money on a product claiming a health benefit, it is best to look for the original up-to-date research showing what benefit, or lack thereof, has been found. Even then, it’s always best to talk to your doctor before you alter your diet or begin taking a supplement. You never know how it many affect you based on your unique medical history and it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health! (Plus, I’d personally get my omega-3’s straight from the source and eat real fish instead.)

wild salmon grilled on a cedar plank

“Wild salmon grilled on a cedar plank” by woodlywonderworks of Flickr Creative Commons


Grey A, Bolland M. Clinical Trial Evidence and Use of Fish Oil Supplements. JAMA Intern Med.2014;174(3):460-462. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.12765.

Live to 100: Do This, Not That

By: Ben Smart

With the advent of improved scientific and social structures, it’s easier today than ever before to live well. But so often we neglect the healthy choice for the more convenient (and often less healthy) one. Let’s take a look at simple switches you can make to live longer- maybe even to 100.

Do This: Exercise 5x per week 

Not That: Avoid exercise because, like, who wants to get all sweaty

photo: "Exercise" by: Andyinnyc; source: flickr creative commons
photo: “Exercise” by: Andyinnyc; source: flickr creative commons

Regular exercise has been scientifically studied for its role in increasing lifespan. Here’s a list from of the benefits of regular exercise:

  • Improves blood circulation, which reduces the risk of heart disease
  • Keeps weight under control
  • Helps in the battle to quit smoking
  • Improves blood cholesterol levels
  • Prevents and manages high blood pressure
  • Prevents bone loss
  • Boosts energy level
  • Helps manage stress
  • Releases tension
  • Promotes enthusiasm and optimism
  • Counters anxiety and depression
  • Helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly
  • Improves self-image
  • Increases muscle strength, increasing the ability to do other physical activities
  • Provides a way to share an activity with family and friends
  • Reduces coronary heart disease in women by 30-40 percent
  • Reduces risk of stroke by 20 percent in moderately active people and by 27 percent in highly active ones
  • Establishes good heart-healthy habits in children and counters the conditions (obesity, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol levels, poor lifestyle habits, etc.) that lead to heart attack and stroke later in life
  • Helps delay or prevent chronic illnesses and diseases associated with aging and maintains quality of life and independence longer for seniors

Do This: Floss daily

Not That: Floss only when you feel like

Picking up the dental floss and cleaning out the gaps between your teeth nightly can add up to 6 years to your life! How can this be? The line of thinking is that flossing reduces harmful bacteria between your teeth, reducing inflammation. And less inflammation means a healthier heart and a reduced risk of stroke. Make it a habit, and reap the benefits. You’ll even get a prettier smile as a side benefit.

Do This: Sleep 7-8 hours a night

Not That: Stay up late every night, because sleep is for the weak!

There’s this belief that when you sleep, you’re missing out on life. This idea isn’t just flawed logic- it’s dangerous to your health. Sleep is reparative, necessary, and can make your waking hours feel better. When you sleep, your brain and body repair cells in preparation for the next day. Aim for 7-9 hours, depending on your age and activity level.

7 Healthy Smoothies for the Perfect Summer Snack


As the days get longer and the sun shines brighter, the warmer seasons are definitely underway (assuming that you’re in the northern hemisphere!). Whether you’re poolside or working hard in the classroom, a healthy fruit and vegetable smoothie is always a great companion. I personally enjoy at least one smoothie a day, but everyone has different dietary needs, so eat what is best for you! What makes smoothies so great? It’s their ability to transform admittedly bland ingredients into a tasty fusion of flavors. There are a variety of different ingredients to play with – including fruits, vegetables, almond milk, apple juice, yogurt, and more. For a moderately active 20 year old, the CDC recommends that you eat 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables per day. Check out the tips below to find your smoothie nirvana and get blending!

The Goal: Your perfect smoothie – blended with the balanced combination of fruits, vegetables, and add-ins

What You’ll Need: A blender, a knife, fruits and vegetables (see below), various add-ins

The Smoothie Combinations:

  • 1 banana + ¾ cup greek yogurt + a handful of kale + 3 ice cubes
  • 2 peeled oranges + ¾ cup greek yogurt + a handful of spinach + 3 ice cubes
  • 1 ½ cups frozen mixed berries + ½ cup almond milk + ½ cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup pineapple + ½ banana + 4 ice cubes + 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 mango + ½ cup almond milk + 1 tomato + a handful of spinach
  • ½ papaya + ½ apple + ¼ cups coconut milk + ½ cup almond milk + 4 ice cubes
  • 1 cup apple juice + 5 frozen strawberries + ½ banana + 4 ice cubes

The combinations above are suggestions – but there are many ways to put together ingredients to create a smoothie you enjoy. Happy blending!

image courtesy of

Eat Well and Stay Active This Summer

In this last week of class, with finals looming, many students are feeling the stress of this time of the semester. I notice that as the assignments and deadlines approach, I find myself exercising less and eating whatever I find in front of me that is quick to prepare (or does not require any preparation at all, cue the bag of marshmallows). I start to feel pretty tired and stressed, and I don’t always have time to pay close attention to my exercise and eating patterns. Food and physical activity goals melt away and then just seem like memories of things I once cared about.

But hold on, all is not lost! We have one big opportunity coming up to spend a little more time on ourselves: summer. (more…)

Workout Wednesday: Fitness Tips for Post-Spring Break Students

by Ben Smart

Spring Break is over – and classes are back in session. Now that you’re back on campus, this is a great opportunity to get back into healthy routines to finish the semester strong. Here are some articles to help you in your journey:

  1. When is the best time of the day to work out? Find out here:
  2. How many meals is best per day? Is it 2, 3, 4, or 5? Get all the information here:
  3. Feeling stressed? There are lots of ways to manage a crazy lifestyle. Explore a few solutions with this article:

If you’re ready to hit the gym, here are the hours of UNC’s fitness centers:



Normal HoursMon – Thurs 6:00 AM – 12:00 AMFri 6:00 AM – 9:00 PM

Sat 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM

*Football Sat 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Sun 12:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Normal HoursMon – Thurs 6:00 AM- 12:00 AMFri 6:00 AM- 9:00 PM

Sat 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM

*Football Sat CLOSED

Sun 12:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Campus Rec

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation staff members. Each Wednesday we’ll be swapping blog posts with the Tarheel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on

The Fastest Way to Lose Weight?

no food Recently, I went to doctor and they needed a blood sample. A fasting blood sample. Normally this is done in the morning, so that you can have the blood taken soon after waking up. But, my appointment was pushed to 2pm, and I ended up having to skip breakfast and then lunch. I ended up not eating until 6pm that evening. Fasting is purposely avoiding food. And, there are many reasons why people do it….

Why do people fast?

Almost all major religions include fasting as a spiritual practice. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and Muslims spend the month of Ramadan fasting from sunrise to sunset to strengthen spiritual connection to God and to sympathize with the poor. In Judaism, Yom Kippur is the day of atonement that also includes fasting. Other major religions, like Christianity, also practice fasting as a way to deepen the spiritual connection with God.

Others fast in protest, often called a “hunger strike.” Gandhi used hunger strikes throughout his involvement in India’s independence movement. Today, everyone from prisoners in California to immigration activists uses hunger strikes to protest injustice and draw attention to their cause.

Outside the spiritual and activism realms, people typically fast for two reasons: to detoxify the body and to lose weight.

Types of fasts

Fasting varies from the intermittent fasting, which involves incorporating a fasting day into your weekly diet to juice fasting or “cleanses” to water fasting. Intermittent fasting has been shown effective in helping people lose weight. However, those effects may not last. As with many other fad diets, research suggests the weight loss may be temporary. Water-only fasting means no food or liquids except water and can be very dangerous.

Does it work?

Fasting may be the fastest way to lose weight, but it’s likely water weight, and it’s very likely to come right back once you stop fasting. Plus, some research suggests that repeated “quick-fix” weight loss, or yo-yo dieting, may cause slowed metabolism and increased risk for heart attacks.

As for detoxifying, your kidneys and liver already do most of that every day. It’s their job. There is no evidence that fasting detoxifies the body any more than eating a healthy diet.

Fasting may also lead to some unpleasant side effects like nutrient deficiency, fatigue, dizziness, constipation, dehydration, gallstones, and cold intolerance.

On the flip side, other studies suggest that fasting may improve longevity.

So….fasting makes you lose weight…but it may be temporary. Fasting makes you live longer. Wait; no it doesn’t…. With all this conflicting information, how can you decide if fasting is right for you?

Here’s something else to consider: the psychology of fasting.

Those of you who read my diet soda blog know where I’m headed. If you are fasting to lose hungryweight, you may be psychologically setting yourself up for disaster. Because eating food is way more complicated than filling your body’s gas tank; it is a multi-sensory, social, psychological experience. This may explain research that shows a correlation between “perceived deprivation” of food and binge eating behavior. In other words, simply feeling deprived of food or the ability to eat what you want when you want can be enough to trigger overeating. Which may lead to the type of yo-yo dieting that is linked to increased health risks.

And lastly, if you are considering a fast for health reasons, take a moment to think critically about the fasting industry, a growing part of the multi-billion dollar diet industry. Companies are making big bucks on your belief that you need to lose weight or cleanse your body. If you want to learn more about how fasting effects your body, bring it up at your next medical appointment at Campus Health Services. Or, if you want to talk to someone about your diet and weight, see our dietitian for a free consultation.

During my day of fasting for my doctor’s appointment, I felt cranky, slow, and irritable, and I came home and ate three peanut butter sandwiches as soon as I could eat again. People fast for different reasons, and people have been fasting for spiritual reasons way before our modern culture created the diet industry. Fasting can be spiritually and emotionally enlightening. But fasting to “fix” your body? That’s not a message I want to feed.