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Top 10 Tips For Reaching Your Nutritional Peak

performance enhancers

By Sheila Tucker, MA, RD, LDN
Administrative Dietitian, B.C. Dining

You probably already know that a low-fat, balanced diet is what experts are touting as the key to nutritional health. But, just when you think you have your diet all figured out, along comes some new, confusing study reported on the evening news and all that knowledge gets thrown into a muddle.

Fear not. Combining a low-fat diet with these Top Ten Tips to Reaching Your Nutritional Peak should clear the way as you ascend to your top form:


1. Value Variety

Most people stick with a small repertoire of foods which they eat over and over and over again. Enjoying a variety of foods allows you to expand your taste buds and your nutrient intake to include some of the latest hot research finds. Why not branch out from your sandwich on pita habit every lunch to trying a whole-grain bread? Try some cut-up fruit in your cereal instead of just milk. Experiment with a new grain or vegetable at dinner: couscous, brown rice, steamed winter greens, baked acorn squash....our menu features an array of choices to try. Experiment with something new just once a week and in no time you'll find your old repertoire filled with delicious alternatives.


2. Let's Do Breakfast

Refuel your tank with high octane breakfast foods no matter what time you start your day. Use that first meal of the day to stoke your fire with a couple of servings of energizing complex carbohydrates like cereal, whole-grain toast, a bagel. Top off your tank with yogurt, milk or cottage cheese. The protein in these dairy foods gives your breakfast some staying power so you won't be on the prowl for a snack an hour later. Need to eat on the run? Use some of these grab'n'go ideas: yogurt with crunchy cereal or fruit on top, cottage cheese on toast, bite-size whole-grain cereal (like Mini-Wheats or Cheerios) with a side of milk in a travel mug. Use your imagination....leftover slice of pizza, anyone?


3. We've got to stop meating like this

Try a one-meal-a-week substitution of plant protein for animal protein. Black beans and rice, a stir-fry with tofu or chickpeas in a salad will do a favor for your health, your wallet and the planet. Plant proteins have an advantage over animal proteins in the form of less fat, less cholesterol and more fiber. Soy (like tofu, tempeh and some "fake meat" products) has been receiving accolades for its ability to lower cholesterol and potentially decrease cancer risk, menopausal symptoms and improve bone health. Our "Cutting Edge" program makes choosing meals without meat simple by offering a variety of plant-based entrees every lunch and dinner in each dining hall. Ask your server for a sample taste; you will be pleasantly surprised.


4. Discover a pot of gold

Find the phytochemical pot of gold by choosing at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day in all the colors of the rainbow . Wonderful research results are encouraging us to choose a variety of fruits and vegetables in deep orange, green, red, yellow and blue to supply the plant compounds, called phytochemicals, that may be a disease-fighting arsenal right in our kitchens. Expand your repertoire form broccoli and apples and try some deep orange plants like baked sweet potato or cantaloupe. Put green peppers in your sandwich or strawberries in your yogurt. Generally, the deeper the color, the more nutrition. A serving is just half a cup. Get coloring with at least five a day.


5. Go with the grains

Grains are the fuel to power you through your hectic day. They also provide needed nutrients and fiber. Aim to start your day with a serving or two of a whole grain Look for the word "whole" on the ingredient list of your cereal box and at least 2-3 grams of fiber/ serving. Include one or two half-cup servings of grain per meal or snack to reach at least six servings per day and 20-25 grams of fiber. Try whole grain choices like whole wheat pita, brown rice or bulgur available on our menus.


6. Bone up on calcium

To prevent osteoporosis and promote bone health, the latest calcium recommendation has increased to 1,000 mg/ day for women 19-50 years and 1,200 mg for women over age 50. That translates to 3-4 dairy servings ( or equivalent)/ day. Start your day with a calcium source likea cup of milk, yogurt or calcium-fortified orange juice. Include another two sources in your day such as more milk, low-fat cheese, tofu with calcium or green leafy vegetables. If you have trouble digesting milk products due to lactose intolerance, lactose-free milk is available on campus.


7. Water: The clear solution

Water is a crucial but often overlooked essential nutrient. Whether you are exercising, managing your weight or just want to fine-tune your health, reach your nutritional peak by drinking at least two quarts of water a day year round. Give yourself a subtle reminder to drink by carrying a 32- oz water bottle in your backpack or by keeping it in your refrigerator. By the time you go to bed, you should have downed the contents twice. Casual exercisers and competitive athletes alike need an additional 1-3 cups of water for every hour of exercise to compensate for losses. Even slight dehydration can adversely affect muscles and coordination causing a decline in athletic performance. You will already be dehydrated if you wait for thirst to be your low water indicator. Make drinking water a scheduled part of your day.


8. Fat finesse, not fat phobia

Fat has many important functions in the body and should be part of our daily diet. Fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K rely on fat for transport in the body. Body membranes, hormones and the insulating cushion for our organs all contain needed fat. Fat also helps you feel satiated, or full, after a meal instead of hungry-in-an-hour like after an all-carbohydrate meal. While a low fat diet is the name of the game, a no fat diet is not. Enjoy small amounts of fat each day. Try reduced-fat cream cheese or a small amount of peanut butter on a bagel, canola oil margarine on bread or a little oil & vinegar dressing on your salad. Balance your fat intake to an average of 3 grams for every 100 calorie portion of food.


9. Alcohol Advice: Light libations

Beyond " moderation", alcohol is no nutritional bargain. Alcohol is a dense source of hidden calories and a drain on the storage and metabolism of essential nutrients. All things being equal, drinking six beers per week can lead to a 4-5 pound weight gain each semester! If you drink, keep libations light and nutrition at peak by following this alcohol advice:

  > at social gatherings, make your first drink nonalcoholic
  > make any alcoholic drink last an hour to allow for metabolism
  > don't top off drinks; you'll lose count
  > dietize drinks with ice, seltzer, or spritzer to get a larger volume without increased alcohol
  > for each alcoholic drink consumed, drink an equal amount of water
  > moderation is one drink a day for women, two a day for men

10. Remember the three r's: Be reasonable, realistic and readjust

There is no such thing as a "good food" or " bad food", just bad diets. Learn to balance your intake so that you can enjoy all the foods you love without going overboard. Practice moderation, burn fuel with regular exercise and enjoy. Take one baby step at a time when making changes. Don't allow food guilt to be part of your daily menu. Enjoy your meals and the people with whom you share them.