Healthy eating habits

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By VENKATARAGHAVAN RAMAMOORTHY
Guest Columnist

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — My research began when I asked my students in an understanding nutrition class about the quality of foods being served by UCM dining services. The replies were mixed with some good opinions and some exaggeratingly bad ones. I decided to understand the phenomenon myself by personally dining in all of the three dining halls (Ellis, Westside Market and Fitzgerald) at UCM.

To my surprise, the quality of foods served was way better than the mediocre reviews. All the components of a healthy and balanced diet were served in adequate amounts in all the dining halls, during each of the breakfast meals and dinner sessions. All of them had special arrangements for unlimited servings of salads, vegetables, fruits and fresh juices. They also had provisions for lean meats and vegetarian protein sources such as tofu, lentils, nuts and whole grains. In addition, a variety of healthy soups and porridges made me feel like I had arrived in a food Neverland. However, there were also options such as pizza, custard, cookies, burgers, french fries and soda dispensers yielding tons of unhealthy beverages.

Looking at these options, I felt students need to be educated about healthy food choices so they can clearly differentiate between the options and improve their judgment about the foods being served. In this regard, I would like to educate them about the “seven tips” strategy proposed by leading dietitian and nutritionist Jill Kohn in the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ November 2015 issue.

Have a plan: Before you decide to eat, have a tour of the entire dining hall to catch a bird’s eye view of all the options. Look at the menu card for the day, well ahead of the meals, and familiarize yourself with the options before actually starting to eat.

Be very vigilant in making wise choices: Try to taste test all the foods in small bite-sized portions. Understand the calories and nutrients in each option in addition to taste. Try to look for the fresh foods and produce and spend more time in healthier and greener sections.

Be deliberate in reducing the serving sizes: In those sections where food is being served by the service personnel, be deliberate in asking for reduced portion sizes.

Substitute wisely: Substitute french fries with servings of fruits and vegetables, and sodas and sweetened beverages with fresh juices and water. Also substitute whole grain and vegetable quiches for pizzas, and whole grain breads for white ones.

Eat Slowly: Always spare some time to eat the foods of your liking. While consuming unhealthy high-fat foods, eat smaller servings but retain the same amount of time, thus adequately chewing and relishing and thereby improving satiety for these foods.

Turn off your electronic gadgets: Always focus on what you eat and try to silence your phones and other gadgets when eating. Unfocussed eating leads to frequent overconsumption of unhealthy foods and leaves less time for making healthier choices.

Check for calories and nutrients in each serving of your options: Though the majority of us know the food options at the dining services, few of us care about the nutrient quality and the contents. Once the menu is displayed you can use the USDA website to look into the nutrients in each serving of the commonly served food options. This would help you to predetermine the nutrient composition of the foods and make healthy choices.

All of these tips, if followed vigorously, could significantly improve healthy eating patterns. However, even certain common substitutions such as fruits and vegetables instead of fried foods, and water instead of sweetened beverages could cut down 20 to 30 percent of extra calories consumed per day. Thus, wise food choices may seem intimidating but with little steps and preparations students can abstract the best and nutrient-dense choices and make full worth of their UCM dining dollars.

Venkataraghavan Ramamoorthy is an assistant professor of nutrition at UCM.