If you’re anything like me (and regularly binge on Ben and Jerry’s and eat entire bags of popcorn at 1 am with your roommate), nutrition and college haven’t necessarily meshed together so well. But health is a major concern of mine, and, to me at least, there is no greater moment of panic than when I start to feel snug in my favorite pair of jeans. So when I sat down to talk with Sargent Choice nutritionist Sarah Butler, I wanted to know what every college girl wants to know–which foods in the dining hall should I be eating, and which ones should I avoid?
But, to my surprise, when I asked Sarah which foods I should or shouldn’t be eating, she couldn’t give me an answer. She explained, “When people compare foods, like saying ‘eat baby carrots, not potato chips,’ it turns food into this game of good food versus bad food. Then people binge on whatever is considered the ‘good’ food and completely cancel the ‘bad’ food out of their diet, which isn’t necessarily healthy.”
Sarah makes a good point, and calls attention to an important flaw in the way that most people have been taught to think about food. For as long as I can remember, food has always been about this epic battle between good and evil, good being fruits and vegetables and bad being chocolate and pepperoni pizza. But food isn’t inherently good or bad; it’s just food, and through her work with Sargent Choice in our dining halls, Sarah’s hope is for people to start looking at it differently.
What Sarah believes is important for people to understand about their food, rather than how good or evil it is, is the energy density of what they’re eating. Energy density is basically how many calories are in each gram of food. There are two types of energy density. The first, high energy density (HED) foods, have a high number of calories for a small volume of food. This includes items like oil, potato chips, and crackers that give you quick bursts of energy and are pretty dry because they each have a low percentage of water content. Most college students (like me) tend to munch on these foods for snacks between meals because it gives you the jolt of energy that you need to make it through the day. But because of the HED of these foods, you’ve probably found (like me) that you can chomp through a box of Ritz crackers in one sitting and not even notice, let alone feel full. The second, low energy density (LED) foods, have a low number of calories for a large volume of food, like non-starchy fruits and vegetables. Naturally, I jump to the conclusion that people should just eat lots of LED foods to stay healthy, but again, Sarah stops me from giving either choice a bad connotation. “You need both to maintain a healthy diet, there’s no good or bad energy density. Both exist for a reason,” she says. In fact, Sarah explains that athletes and otherwise active people need lots of HED foods in their diet to keep up with their body’s demand for energy.
With this in mind, if you want to avoid overeating between meals, Sarah recommends combining HED and LED foods for a snack that is not only more filling, but also more tasty and satisfying. “The next time you’re in the dining hall, grab an apple or banana, and when 2 am rolls around and your stomach is rumbling, eat it with some peanut butter.” Sarah also praises hummus, cheese sticks, and yogurt as great food items for making tasty snack combinations.
In terms of making healthy decisions in the dining hall, Sarah suggests consulting Sargent Choice simple 1-2-3 meal planning chart. All Sargent Choice meals follow this format. For each meal, make sure you have:
- Energy You Need Right Now – whole grains or starchy vegetables
- Filling Power – non-starchy vegetables or fruit
- Protein To Make It Last – usually a dairy, meat, or alternative (such as hummus or nuts).
This combination of LED and HED foods fills you up faster with a healthy number of calories, and the variety makes the food all the more satisfying. For example, Sarah raves about the dining hall mac and cheese: “The make-your-own mac and cheese station provides so many options for adding in different vegetables, so if you’re craving mac and cheese, an easy and health conscious way to satisfy your craving is to add in broccoli or whatever vegetable is on the line.”
For more information on healthy eating and how to put together meals and snacks on your own similar to those provided by
Sargent Choice, please check out their website:
And don’t forget to like them on Facebook (their goal for the semester is to get +2000 likes!)