Health Nut: Healthy eating starts at ground level

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September 13, 2010

11:18 PM

Good nutrition and college don’t always mix. From the fried temptations of our dining halls to the mystery frat concoctions some of us enjoy, it’s easy to fill our stomachs with empty calories. In the United States — and especially in college — we are faced with a bewildering number of dietary choices every day. Perhaps the most powerful tool we have in conquering the food giant is to simplify the options. As Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” has so simply, yet so originally, advised: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Living by this mantra sounds easy, but old habits die hard. Many of us were raised on meals centered on meats and perhaps meagerly supplemented by a side — if you could call it that — of veggies.
Start thinking about reversing the edible hierarchy on your platter. Find a way to fill most of your plate with plants — whether they are green vegetables, fruits, or even nuts. Look for alternative sources of the protein and iron derived from red meats, and if meat finds its way into your meal, try to eat a portion that’s about the size of a deck of cards, about six ounces. Also know that the fewer the legs, the better. Basically, fish is better than bird, which is better than cow.

Another integral, yet often ignored, component of eating right is drinking a healthy amount of water. Develop a water habit, and enjoy the benefits of weight loss, energy maintenance, digestive efficiency, healthy skin and more effective exercise. Drink one glass when you wake up, one glass at every meal, and one glass between meals.

Of course, eating right all the time isn’t possible, and it certainly isn’t desirable. Enjoy a treat when it presents itself, but keep portion control in mind — a handful of Doritos or one scoop of ice cream won’t derail a day of good eating. Eating right is all about consistently making the healthy choice — and occasionally making the fun one.

Where does alcohol find its way into eating right? Alcohol, for better or for worse, is central to the college experience of many students. Alcohol has the same calorie density as fat, which is more than twice that of carbohydrates or proteins. At the same time — however, we are often reminded that certain health benefits accompany one or two drinks a day. However, I can assure you that these studies were not conducted with the radioactive-appearing gin buckets that we all know too well. Branch out and drink a good local beer, a glass of red wine or a low-calorie mixed drink. Not all drinks are created equal, and the choices you make regarding what you drink are no less important than those you make about what you eat.

It follows, naturally, that after discussing drinking, perhaps I should discuss snacking. Thankfully, it’s not impossible to combat the compulsive snack choices that the inebriated college student often makes. The next time you go to the store, buy snacks that are both nutritious and delicious. Get creative — make your own trail mix, fruit salads or veggie platters. Often, we snack for no other reason than that the snacks are readily available, so make the available snacks healthy ones, and feel good about what you are eating.

I hope these simplifying recommendations will help you in your quest for dietary health and happiness. Only in a perfect world would it be easy to heed every bit of advice outlined here, or in similar health columns, but as long as you approach the world of food armed with these bits of dietary knowledge, you will find that the decisions will tend to make themselves.

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