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Nutritionist: Healthy dining hall options available

Liz O'Donnell | Friday, September 11, 2009

Despite the ardent warnings of the teen magazines, movies and television shows about the freshman 15 – commonly thought of as the average weight gain of students during their first year of college – members of the freshman class say they aren’t worried.

“I’ve never been that good at gaining weight,” freshman Alyssa Borrego said. “I live on the fourth floor so I take the stairs to prevent it.”

Freshman Ian Duncan agreed.

“I’ve lost weight since I’ve gotten here,” he said. “Even though the dining halls have a wide variety of food, one can find healthy alternatives to fried, greasy food.”

But University Nutrition and Safety Manager Jocelyn Antonelli said for some students, the availability of food is a difficult challenge to conquer.

“Students face temptation,” she said. “Their eyes are bigger than their stomach and it’s hard to turn away food once you have it on your plate.”

Antonelli said there are a number of ways for freshmen to eat smart in the dining halls. One way is for students to stick to the mindset of thinking in terms of food groups.

“I always feel like a broken record when it comes to vegetables,” she said. “People should go to the dining hall and get more servings of vegetables at lunch and dinner.”

Extra helpings of vegetables are a good way of getting a lot of food for few calories in the end.

“They fill you up at around 25 calories a serving,” Antonelli said. “You are giving your body what it needs and not as much of what it doesn’t need.”

With the recent popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, Antonelli said students can still eat some carbohydrates, but should be cognizant about the different types of carbohydrates.

“When eating foods from breads and syrup groups, students should eat high in fiber items and less simple, sugary carbs,” she said.

When considering different types of carbohydrates to eat, Antonelli said to keep in mind the glycemic index. The index ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on the body’s blood glucose levels.

Foods low on the glycemic index increase the blood’s glucose and insulin levels only slightly, whereas foods higher on the glycemic index can cause greater spikes.

Antonelli said controlling portion sizes is another important aspect of avoiding weight gain. Typical portion sizes are generally smaller than what people tend to think.

“Pasta is generally over portioned,” she said. “A standard portion size for pasta is about half the size of a baseball.”

In order to easiest control portions, Antonelli said she recommends using smaller sized plates and bowls.

“People use their eyes a lot, so always use the smallest plates you can get your hands on,” she said. “This way, psychologically you can fill it up.”

Antonelli said myths about the dining halls circulate through campus. One of these is the rumor that “calorie sprays” are added to vegetables.

“We don’t add anything to salad and vegetables,” said Antonelli. “We add an extremely small amount of oil to pasta noodles so they don’t stick together, but nothing else.”

Students who have nutrition questions or concerns should consult the University’s food services Web site or contact one of the school’s nutritionists for advice.