Roanna Martin

"make [food] simple and let things taste of what they are." {Curnonsky}


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How to Eat Healthy in the Dining Hall

College students often have some sort of complaint about the nearest dining hall. Either there isn’t “enough” food, there aren’t the specific foods they want, the food is “gross” or the classic “I promise they put laxatives in the food.” Well, coming from someone who ate at a college dining hall for 3 years during my undergrad, and now cooks for myself, here’s some advice for college students, “Take advantage of it!!!” Seriously. Particularly after working with the foodservice staff here at WVU for the past few weeks, they truly care about your dining experience. They want you to have healthy and delicious options!

Yesterday, Emily and I were able to give a presentation, by the same name as this blog post, to a group of students as part of a wellness program. We started off by distributing plates and cups from the dining hall, and a dry erase market to each student. Their assignment was to draw what proportion of their plates and cups should come from the five food groups: grain, vegetables, fruit, protein foods, and dairy. Here is one of the responses we got: So the student was pretty close, although she overestimated fruit and vegetables slightly. However- I’m not going to complain about that. You can hardly ever go wrong by adding more vegetables to your plate. Here’s what a plate ought to look like, according to the United States Department of Agriculture MyPlate initiative.

 

If you want to see the artwork of some of my younger students in a previous rotation, check out this post.

After this activity, we talked through each section of the cafeteria with the students. We listed healthier options at each station, and gave suggestions on spicing up cafeteria meals. Students also had the opportunity to draw on their plate what they typically get as a meal, and then we talked through some small changes they could make to improve the nutrient profile of what they are putting into their bodies. So, for example, on this plate, we suggested replacing the hash browns (which are high in fat) with another starch, preferably a whole grain. A slice of toast, a scoop of oatmeal, or a half a bagel would be a better choice than the high fat hash browns.

We also brought some food models and test tubes of fat and sugar content of foods to share with the group. The fact that the amount of fat in a cheeseburger fills up three test tubes is pretty startling. That doesn’t mean you can never eat a cheeseburger, it simply means that you shouldn’t have them every day.

One of my favorite models is the five pounds of fat and five pounds of muscle models. Both of them are the same weight, but the muscle is much more dense and compact. Think about what this means in your body. Plus, muscle is more metabolically active than fat. This means that if your body muscle composition is higher, you will burn more calories at your basal metabolic rate. The exact number of calories that muscle burns versus fat is hard to pinpoint, and there are differing numbers thrown around. In addition, there are many other factors affecting calorie burn, so working with exact numbers is not necessarily helpful.

Bottom line: healthy choices can be made anywhere- it just takes a bit of critical thinking and creativity!

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BMI vs. Body Composition

I’m assuming that most people have heard of BMI- or Body Mass Index. It’s basically a ratio of your height to weight. In the metric system, this is calculated as your weight in kilograms divided by your weight in meters squared. In the English system, you multiply your weight by 703 and then divide by your height in inches squared. The resulting number, your BMI, then places you in one of the following categories:

  • Underweight: BMI < 18.5
  • Healthy Weight: BMI 18.5-24.9
  • Overweight: BMI 25-29.9
  • Obese: BMI 30.39.9
  • Extreme Obesity: BMI > 40

 

 

To test this yourself, plug your numbers in at the Mayo Clinic.

This is a very quick way to assess weight status, and can be helpful in certain circumstances such as reflecting disease risk. However, BMI does not always provide a true picture of health, since it does not reflect body fat. Therefore, very muscular people may be classified as overweight.

In order to assess lean and adipose tissue, several other methods are used by health professionals. Assessing the waist circumference is one of the most practical indicators of fat distribution. Intra-abdominal fat, or central obesity, is more closely associated with increased risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, gallstones, and some types of cancer. In general, waist circumference greater than the following values are at higher risk of the above diseases:

Women: Waist circumference > 35 inches

Men: Waist circumference > 40 inches

 Waist to hip ratio can also be used as a marker, but the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends circumference alone because the ratio requires extra steps and does not provide any additional information.

If you have access to it, another great way to assess body composition is using a more technologically involved approach such as bioelectrical impedance. Today I got to see the bioelectrical impedance machine at work with some athletes here at WVU, since I am working with the Registered Dietitian on campus. This model requires that you stand on a scale with electrodes, and place your hands on electrode receptors. A low-intensity electrical current is sent through your body. Because electrolyte- containing fluids are found primarily in lean body tissues, the leaner the person, the less resistance there is to the current. The measurement of electrical resistance is then used as part of a mathematical equation to estimate the percentage of body fat. You can purchase bioelectrical impedance machines for home use, but they are typically just a scale, or just handheld. Since the electric pulse is coming from just one side, you will get a more accurate reading of just the bottom half (scale) or top half (handheld) part of your body. So, these aren’t the most accurate devices.

 

The assessment is completed after fasting (preferably first thing in the morning before breakfast) and prior to drinking any liquid. You simply stand on the scale quietly and the machine does its work. Then you get a great printout that indicates amount of lean body mass, body fat (or adipose) mass, body water balance, and percent body fat. One really neat thing is that you can even see a segmental lean analysis- where each arm, leg, and trunk are assessed for lean mass.

 


Although not feasible and accessible for everyone, body composition by bioelectrical impedance is a great way to assess your lean body mass!

Source: Whitney E and Rolfes SR. Understanding Nutrition. 11th Ed.Thomson and Wadsworth. 2008.