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How to Eat Healthy in the Dining Halls

Shaina Mishkin/Collegian File Photo

With spring approaching, students all around are desperately searching for ways to reverse the freshman fifteen. Because it’s so easy to load up on a ton of sugar, processed foods and carbohydrates at the dining halls, outlined here are a few ways that we can keep up healthy eating habits at college.

Color Your Plate

They say the more colors on your plate, the healthier your meal.  In order to make your plate more colorful, take advantage of the assortments of fresh fruits and vegetables offered. All of the dining halls provide bananas, grapes, apples, pineapple, raw carrots, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, and broccoli.

To spice it up, have one of the specialty salads that the dining halls offer on a daily basis. Fruits and vegetables are low in fat, sodium, and calories. They are also bursting with vitamins that keep you healthy and strong, increasing your energy levels and helping your body fight off sickness.

Represent All the Major Food Groups

In addition to loading your plate with fruits and vegetables, you should also make sure that you have your servings of carbohydrates, dairy, and protein.

UMass dining offers many options for getting carbohydrates: many pasta variations are available, as well as several daily rice or grain dishes, along with whole grain bread products.  Carbs are high in fiber, which reduces cholesterol, and magnesium which helps your body increase bone strength and release energy.

It is also important to consume dairy, as the calcium in dairy helps to build strong bones and maintain a healthy blood pressure. Dairy can be found in the dining halls in the form of milk, cheeses and yogurt.

Finally, the last major food group that you should be consuming is protein. UMass dining halls offer many bean dishes, as well as peanut butter and hummus, all very high in protein. Every entree contains a meat dish, which, on any given night, could be chicken, fish, shrimp, beef or pork. Proteins are high in iron, which maintains oxygen levels in your blood. They also contain magnesium, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids (which improve the health of your arteries).

Be Conscious of Portion Control

Make sure that, if all of your food groups were put on a four-way scale (fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, dairy, and protein), the scale would balance. Eating too much of one food group can and will deprive of you of the essential vitamins and dietary benefits that you can gain from the others.

Avoid Bad Sugar and Fat

While the UMass dining halls are very cognizant of healthy eating, some foods are just plain bad for you. Eating foods bathed in grease (such as burgers, spring rolls, and battered meats) is extremely unhealthy. Try to find protein and dairy that are lean (such as chicken and fish) and low in fat (such as skim milk and yogurt). Foods with additives that are high in sugar offer no nutritional benefit. Many syrups and sauces added to stir fry and meat combos offered at the Asian station are filled with processed chemicals, which should be avoided. Also, although there is an impressive array of drinks to select from at the UMass dining halls, there are many beverages that are dehydrating and unhealthy, like soda and sugary energy drinks. To hydrate yourself with healthy options, choose water, juice, or milk. Finally, there is a way to eat dessert without filling your body with unhealthy additives. Coffee or tea can often be satisfying alternatives at the end of a meal, and the dining halls often offer healthy deserts, such as carrot cake, zucchini or banana walnut breads, or fruit cobblers.

Explore Vegetarian and Vegan Options

There is a vegetarian station at every UMass dining hall. These offer healthy alternatives, such as tofu, veggie burgers and falafel. These meals are usually low in fat and sugar, and high in nutrients.

Consider Other Options On Campus

While the dining halls offer many great options, there are many other on-campus dining options that strive to offer only the healthiest meals. The Procrastination Station at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library offers many a la carte snacks, including granola bars, salads, fruit and hummus, as well as fresh soup and hot beverages. Also, the Earthfoods Café in the Student Union offers delicious and nutritious vegetarian meals, fresh every day using all local ingredients. If you have any of the meal plans that offer YCMP swipes, these alternative eateries can prove to be some of your favorites.

For further information concerning staying healthy at the dining halls, visit http://www.umassnutrition.com/eating-healthy.

Elise Martorano can be reached at emartora@student.umass.edu

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