A Healthy Start to the New Semester
New Years is long since past, as well as our dieting resolutions. As we sit here, in the dead of winter, we dream of warm days, sandy beaches, and that day in the not so far future when you are going to have to squeeze into that bathing suit. Although , society and the media has placed great importance over a frail, emaciated image of what a body should appear as in a bathing suit, a healthy body is more important for maintaining physical and emotional well being. Throughout the next couple of months, the Health Matters Newsletters is going to concentrate on simple changes that anyone can make for establishing a healthy lifestyle. For this month, we will begin with the basics of Nutrition.
Eating is primitive, like sleeping or going to the bathroom. When food sources are abundant, our brains are trained to eat as much as our body needs to function, survive, and reproduce. Eating can also be a source of comfort and pleasure. For some, food is a way to relieve the stress of our day to day lives. Balanced nutrition is essential to maintaining overall good health, but it also can affect your ability to cope with stress. Let’s face it: Food is good! Eating is fun! It’s no wonder we find it hard to deprive ourselves of this most basic and nurturing act. It all begins with balance…… Healthy eating is a lifetime commitment. And for most of us, healthy eating comes with a huge lifestyle change.
Unfortunately, we are all faced with pitfalls of dieting both as college students and in our adult lives. Do any of these sound familiar?
- We tend to skip meals. Skipping meals can actually contribute to weight gain, not loss. One recent study conducted by the National Institute on Aging indicated that people who skipped meals during the day and ate all their calories at one nightly meal showed unhealthy changes in their metabolism, similar to unhealthy blood sugar levels observed in people with diabetes. Another problem with skipping meals is that by the time mealtime rolls around, you are famished, and you loose sight of your body’s natural hunger cues. You don’t really know when you are hungry anymore. Most overeaters don’t stop eating when they are uncomfortable. They stop when they are stuffed.
- We have no sense of portion control. Serving sizes can be tricky, especially when it comes to processed foods. If a processed food comes in one package, chances are that one package holds more then one serving. Even when you are cooking healthy food in your kitchen, you need to know how much food qualifies as a serving in order to accurately track your calories. Too often, students fill their plates with what looks good. Once they sit down at their tables, they may find that they eat everything on their overloaded plates even if they are not hungry.
- We stay up too late. Staying up late, means extra waking hours, and possibly more snacking. Sleep deprivation can starve our bodies of the energy that we need for exercise the following day. When you are tired, your body releases hormones that affect your metabolism and make you crave empty calories like cookies and chips.
- We eat the wrong foods. Like most overweight Americans, many of us have a history of eating and drinking too much of the wrong types of foods and beverages and eating too little of the right kinds of foods. We don’t pay enough attention to what or how much we eat at any given time, from snacks to meals. We snack while studying or working at our desks. We use vending machines as a source of our meals.
The American diet is full of the wrong kinds of foods, and eating too many of these foods can increase your chances of getting sick from catching the common cold to developing high blood pressure. Eating too much of the wrong stuff will also leave you with less energy mentally and physically. Here are some of the main culprits:
- Red meat, fast foods and processed foods are consumed at all hours.
- Loads of cholesterol, salt and sugar are added to the mix.
- We do not get enough fresh fruits and vegetables .
- Fiber and antioxidants are at a bare minimum
- Our drink of choice is soda, soda and more soda.
- Chaotic schedules result in many skipped meals and/or eating on the run.
- Increased Alcohol Intake. Alcoholic beverages contain hidden calories. The average beer or glass of wine contains 150 calories that tend to be stored as body fat.
Maintaining a healthy weight is a process. The best way to jump start your metabolic function is to eat well, regularly, and often. Food is the fuel needed to keep your body and brain energized. Including all food groups in your daily eating is important because it helps to fuel your brain as well as your body.
Fruits and Vegetables. (At least five servings daily) Fruits and vegetables help to boost your immune system, and are good for your eyes, hair and blood. They are a good source of vitamins A and C, minerals and fiber.
- Enjoy at least one raw fruit each day. Try a new fruit every week to add variety to your diet.
- Eat fruit for dessert!
- Avoid dried fruits. They are more concentrated in calories and sugar than raw fruits and are not as filling.
- Whole fruit rather then fruit juices. Fruit juice contains less fiber, so it is not as filling as whole fruit, and it is more concentrated in sugars, so it will cause a spike in your blood sugar.
- Cook your vegetables for the least amount of time possible to preserve nutrients
- Avoid added fat by steaming, grilling or stir frying vegetables in a nonstick pan.
- Try to eat at least one vegetable raw each day
- Eat a vegetable salad most days of the week
- Plan ahead – keep cut up vegetables such as bell peppers, broccoli and baby carrots in your fridge fro easy snacking at home or to take to work or school.
Milk and Dairy. (3 servings daily) Dairy products help to maintain strong bones and teeth. They are a good source of calcium and protein. Choose fat free (skim) milk, 1 % (low-fat) milk, buttermilk, plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt, fat –free or low-fat yogurt with fruit (no sugar added), fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese, and fat-free or low-fat ricotta cheese. Egg whites are also an excellent fat-free source of protein.
Meat and Protein. (3 servings daily) Protein helps to build muscles, fight infection, and heal wounds. Choose lean cuts of meat, such as pork tenderloin and beef round, chuck, sirloin or tenderloin. Choose the leanest poultry which is the skinless white meat from the breast of a chicken or turkey. Select fish and seafood that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. This includes salmon, sardine (water packed), herring, mackerel, trout, and tuna.
Remember to include protein with each meal and snack so your body can use it throughout the day. Limit your servings of lean red meat to twice a week. Red meat tends to be higher in saturated fat. Fish is an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and selenium. Cold-water fish contain more heart-healthy fats and also have more calories. Avoid processed meats, such as bologna, hot dogs and sausage. They are generally high in fat and calories.
Grains. (2 servings daily) Grains provide your brain and muscle with energy and are a good source of B-vitamins and iron. Whole grain are those that have undergone minimal processing and have retained most of their nutritional value. When choosing bread products, read the label carefully. If it says, “enriched” the product probably contains white flour which makes it low in fiber and nutrition. Choose breads with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving, but aim for 5 grams. In the ingredient list , the first item should be “whole wheat” or “whole grain”.
Most packaged breakfast cereals are highly processed and loaded with added sugar. Choose packaged cereals with fewer then 5 grams of sugar and at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
Fats and Oils (100-150 calories daily) Fats keep hair and skin soft while giving you a feeling of fullness. . Healthy fats include small serving of nuts and seeds and an occasional spray or splash of olive oil or canola oil for your salads or cooked dishes. Try to spend these on healthy food choices instead of candy or sweets. Your meals should be made up mostly of whole foods, with less emphasis on “ diet food” substitutes.
You should eat five or six meals each day, including three main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and tow or three snacks. Parceling out your calories through the day means that you will stay full and won’t go on sugar or carb binges to satisfy your growling stomach. It also means that you won’t go to bed feeling stuffed and sick from too many empty calories.
Eating more-frequent meals and snacks will:
- Keep you from feeling deprived.
- Help control your blood sugar and insulin levels (Insulin is a fat-forming hormone).
- Lead to lower body fat.
- Keep you energized for exercise and activity
- Reduce stress hormones in the body that can contribute to fat accumulation.
- Establish a regular pattern of eating that helps counter impulse eating.
As we look at the foods that we eat, we should also look at the amount. Portion size is very important when eating a nutritious, well balanced meal. A healthy plate starts with putting all of your food on one plate, as apposed to using a separate salad and dessert plate. Then, fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, leaving the remaining half for your entrée and dessert.
Here are some visual cues for measuring or eyeballing portion sizes.
- Fist = 1 cup of fruit or 1 medium, whole, raw fruit
- Palm = 3-4 oz
- Thumb = 1 ounce of cheese or meat
- Fingertip = approximately one teaspoon
- Tip of thumb = approximately on tablespoon
- Once cupped hand = 1 to 2 ounces of dry goods such as nuts, cereal or pretzels.
After measuring all your food for a week or so, you will be able to make fairly accurate estimates by eye without having to measure everything each time you eat. Over time, you will know what is just right for you , whether you are plating a meal in your own kitchen or deciding how much of your entrée to eat in a restaurant .
Just because a product looks healthy does not mean it is . Pay special attention to the calories on “light”, “ reduced-fat” , “low-fat” and “fat-free” products. When the fat is removed from many recipes, salt and sugar are added to boost flavor. This can result in a fat-free or low-fat product that actually has more calories and/or sugar and /or salt then the regular version.
Here is quick guide to decoding packaging promises:
- Organic foods have been grown without the use of pesticides, which means that they can be much better for you, especially when it comes to whole fruits and vegetables. But be careful with packaged foods: Just because the ingredients are organic does not necessarily mean the product is healthy. Some candy is organic.
- Reduced calorie means the food contains at least 25 percent fewer calories than the regular version . But this does not guarantee it will be good fro your caloric intake.
- Low calorie means the product contains no more then 40 calories per serving (except sugar substitutes).
- Reduced fat means that a product has 25 percent less fat than the regular counterpart – but could still contain quiet a bit of fat.
- Light means a product has 50 percent less fat than its regular counterpart. Again, it’s better than nothing, but double-check the grams of fat per serving to see what 50% adds up to.
- Low fat means there is 3 grams or less of fat in a serving. Products with this label are usually a good bet.
- Fat free means the product contains a half of a gram or less of fat per serving. Just double-check the calories to make sure they did not pile on the sugar.
- Light in sodium means this product has half the sodium of its traditional counterpart. Again, that is a good sign, but check for actual milligrams per serving.
While people are quick to pin the blame on the dining hall for that additional weight gain while attending college, most college dining halls offer a wide variety of foods including fresh fruits and vegetables. However, these healthy foods might not be the food that college students choose for their tray. Many opt for the fried foods or the desserts instead. Here are some suggestions to make healthier choices while dining.
Grilled or baked foods
Refined grains , like white bread and white rice
Whole grains, like whole wheat bread and brown rice
Low fat or fat free milk
Baked potato and veggies
Sweetened soft drinks
Sweetened desserts such as cookies, cake and ice cream
Dorm Room Remedies
Irregular schedules, cramming for exams, or just trying to get those last few pages of a paper completed, can be stressful, as well as time consuming. If you are unable to get to the dining hall for a meal, you might resort to the vending machine as a quick dinner. Stop ! An even better option would be to keep your room stocked with healthy snacks such as granola bars, energy or protein bars, popcorn, animal crackers, peanut butter, crackers, pita bread, cereal, oatmeal, trail mix, nuts, tuna fish, fresh or canned fruit, soup, and pudding. If you have a fridge get some string cheese, yogurt cups and smoothies, baby carrots, hummus, water, flavored seltzer waters, low fat milk.
This not only provides your body with the energy that it needs to get the tasks at hand completed, but also prevents unnecessary lethargy from sugar enriched, complex carbohydrates found in the vending machine.
- Eat a good breakfast every morning. Breakfast kick starts your metabolism. It provides your brain and your body with the energy needed to feel good, cope with stress, and perform better in the classroom, on the athletic field and in your job.
- Eat three meals a day and two to three snacks. Eating every two to three hours is a good idea if you are under stress. This will help to prevent your body from getting hungry leaving you even more stressed and more apt to binge.
- Eat fruits and vegetable. Food high in potassium, such as oranges, squash, potatoes, apricots, limes, bananas, avocados, tomatoes and peaches are low in calories and high in energy. They can be used in a meal or as a snack to help keep your body going.
- Eat foods that are high in calcium such as yogurt, cheese and tofu. These foods will build up stores of calcium in your body and prevent osteoporosis in later life.
- Eat protein at every meal. Protein helps build muscles, fight infection, and heal wounds.
- Get at least eight to ten ours of sleep each night.
- Include healthy fats in your diet, particularly foods with omega-3s. Avoid trans fat. Omega-3s will aid in protecting you from heart disease.
- Limit soft drinks and juices with high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. These drinks can give you instant energy, but the fall out is that the energy is short lived, leaving you feeling lethargic and lazy shortly after.
- Drink lots of water. Water is a very important nutrient that is often forgotten. Your body needs at least eight glasses of water each day, and if you exercise, or play sports, you may need more.
- Limit sugar, sweets, and junk food from your diet. These foods, available in most vending machines, offer minimal nutritional value.
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol depletes your body’s B vitamins and can disrupt sleep and impair judgment or clarity of thought.
- Limit caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate). Caffeine causes nervousness and inhibits sleep if too much is ingested.
- Take a daily multi-vitamin. A daily multivitamin can minimize the physical damage caused by stress.