On nutrition: Off-to-college advice on healthful eating

Posted Sept. 05, 2011, at 4:30 p.m.

“Will you have a refrigerator in your dorm room?” I asked Ben, who headed off to college last week.

“Yep,” he said. “One of my roommates has one. Don’t know what we’ll use it for though …”

I suggested milk and fruit and vegetables. He nodded politely.

And a place to save leftover pizza, I added. He smiled.

Nutrition may not be the first thing you think about as you embark on college life. But hear me out, young men and women. As you feed your body, so you feed your mind. Here are some nutrition equations that may be important to learn.

Count to four. According to national data collected from almost 17,000 Americans, four basic lifestyle behaviors predict who will likely live a longer, healthier life. No. 1: Never smoke. No. 2: Eat a healthy diet. No. 3: Get adequate physical activity. No. 4: Drink alcohol moderately (or not at all). Practice these behaviors, say health experts, and you have a much lower risk of dying too young from cancer, heart disease or other causes.

Divide (your plate) by three. That’s the “Plate Method” for a healthy diet: In the cafeteria line or out with your friends (trust me), make half your plate vegetables — the nonstarchy variety such as salad greens, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli. Fill one-fourth of your plate with protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, soy or other meat substitute. Use the other fourth of your plate for starches such as bread, rice, pasta or pizza crust (whole grains preferred). This proportion of foods provides the right balance of nutrients for most of us.

Add two or three. That many daily cups of milk, yogurt or other calcium-enriched foods fortify young bodies for the rigors of college life with valuable protein, vitamins and minerals. Don’t be afraid of chocolate milk, especially if you are an athlete. It contains the same essential nutrients of plain milk and has what many experts deem the perfect combination of protein and carbohydrate to aid in muscle recovery after exercise. Note: The added sugar in chocolate milk provides an estimated 3 percent of the sugar in the diets of children and teens. Fruit drinks and soft drinks contribute 45 percent.

Add five. That’s how many cups of fruits and vegetables to aim for each day, say experts. What college students actually eat, however, is “less than ideal,” according to researchers at Oregon State University. They found that college men and women ate less than one serving of fruit or vegetables a day. (They also found that males skip more meals and snack more often than females.)

Last, what’s a young college student to do when the nutritional road gets rough?

Call home. You’ll always have someone to tell you what to put in your refrigerator.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Email her at bquinn@chomp.org.

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