In my first year working at HBS, I discovered that the students here are not your typical graduate students. They try to stay physically fit, but their social lives can sometimes get in the way; and the countless company cocktails and receptions provide them free food and beverages throughout the day. Unfortunately, this lifestyle has a down side: It’s no wonder that some students struggle to manage their weight and may even discover they have elevated cholesterol levels.
With a little thought and planning, you can get the best nutritional value from the choices you’re making. Changing your approach to dietary improvement can make a big difference in your motivation to be fit. By focusing on adding healthful ingredients instead of eliminating them, which potentially reduces the pleasure of eating, you may encounter greater success. Increasing your dietary fiber intake by consuming more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, and including a greater proportion of heart-healthy fats derived from plant or fish sources such as nuts, olive oil, or salmon is important.
As the traditional Food Guide Pyramid is under revision, scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health, including the nutrition department chair, Dr. Walter C. Willett, have proposed a new “Healthy Eating Pyramid.” Based on scientific evidence linking diet and health, it illustrates food intake guidelines to reduce the risk for chronic diseases. (To view an image of this pyramid, and to read more detailed information, visit the Nutrition Source website: //www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/). Some students here at HBS may recognize this “Healthy Eating Pyramid” as the way they eat “at home” in their native countries.
Here are suggestions the next time you’re out for dinner or visiting Spangler:
o Choose Whole Grains: Aside from what most fad diets are promoting these days, carbohydrates are still the body’s preferred fuel source and foundation of a healthy diet. It’s okay to have a bagel or pasta, but the bulk of your bread and cereal intake should be whole grains. Check the food label and look for the word ‘whole’ as one of the first three ingredients. Look for at least five grams of fiber per serving. Choose a breakfast cereal like oatmeal, raisin bran, or Kashi( for breakfast. At lunch and dinner go for whole wheat bread, bulger, quinoa, or whole wheat pasta.
o Select Plant and Fish Sources of Fat: After the low-fat craze of the 90’s most of us are conditioned to put foods back on the shelf if there is more than two grams of fat. Think again! Look at the ingredient list to compare the source of fat. If it is derived from nuts, soybeans, plant oils or fish, it can help to lower your cholesterol. Avoid partially hydrogenated oils (or “trans fats”) and tropical oils, like coconut or palm oil. If you’re eating out a lot, stay away from curries, cream sauces, and anything fried.
o Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables: Eat a rainbow of colors derived from plants to maximize intake of antioxidants and health promoting phyto(plant)chemicals. Keep a package of frozen blueberries in the freezer to add to cereal each morning. Have a glass of 100 % juice; however, don’t rely too much on juice as it has a lot of sugar and not much fiber. Add salsa to your routine, and load up sandwiches with veggies. The salad bar at Spangler is a site for sore eyes, brimming with dark, green leafy vegetables, fresh citrus fruits year-round, and check out the asparagus or eggplant dishes – Check it out! Wow!!
o More Plant Based Protein: Expose your taste buds to new tastes like hummus (if you normally don’t like beans) or edemame (if you’re not a tofu fan). Lentil soups and vegetarian chili can pack in enough protein with the extra benefit of fiber to satisfy your appetite at any meal.
With the recent trend of protein-pushing fad diets, students are snacking differently. The vegetable tray will go untouched, but the cocktail wieners disappear fast. Many of us can benefit from reducing refined sugars contained in soda, sweets and refined (no fiber) grains. But, avoiding fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy or soymilk, can contribute to health problems. Modifying protein sources by selecting more fish, skinless poultry, or vegetarian options like beans or tofu, versus red meat, can benefit everyone.
There is no miracle pill or food that will solve your weight and health problems. The solution is changing your dietary and lifestyle habits to promote more physical activity and improved dietary choices that you can maintain. To get started, ask yourself why these changes are important to you? Whether it is to lose weight, feel more energetic or to reduce the risk for heart disease, establish a realistic goal and identify the obstacles. Focus on the “3 P’s” to ensure success: (1) Plan in advance. (2) Portion control and awareness is key. (3) Portability ensures that you have healthy snacks and fuel at all times. Decide to eat healthy and be healthy today.
Barbara Ruhs, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietician at Harvard University Health Services. She is available to HBS students in Cumnock Hall on Thursdays. Call your primary care provider for a referral to make an appointment.