Ask the nutritionist: “Should you eat more when you start working out more frequently?”

Reading Time: 3 minutes The more active we are, the more energy our body burns. Find out when and how to fuel yourself when exercising.

Ask the nutritionist: “How can I make healthy choices when I have no money?”

Reading Time: 2 minutes Despite what you might see on social media, healthy eating is not all avocados and $15 juices. Eating healthy on a budget is actually pretty simple. Try these tips from our nutritionist.

Ask the nutritionist: “I am healthy but on the skinny side. How do I gain weight?”

Reading Time: 2 minutes If you have a low body weight and wish to gain weight for health or sports-related reasons, here’s how to do it.

Ask the nutritionist: “Does protein powder help with muscle mass and growth?”

Reading Time: 2 minutes A nutritionist discusses how to get enough protein to build muscle and what to eat before and after your workout.

Ask the nutritionist: “What are the side effects of a keto diet?”

Reading Time: 2 minutes The keto diet has been a major topic of conversation and controversy over the past few years. Learn the risks and benefits of this low-carb trend.

How to make sense of a food label

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Nutrition labels mess with our heads. In a recent survey by Student Health 101, three in five students who responded said that they “sometimes, often, or always” find food labels difficult to interpret and apply to their own life and needs. What does 4 oz. look like? Which matters more, low sodium or low fat? “You might think everything is on the label but it’s not, or ingredients might be listed in a sort of code that you practically need a degree just to figure out. It is so much work to read and truly understand the label,” says Alaine W., a student at Moorpark College, California. Here’s how to get what you need from a food label.

1. Serving size

Often, serving size is not obvious. Servings can add up quickly, especially in processed foods. Individually wrapped servings simplify the label but add cost and packaging waste.

Servings per container 
Check the number of servings per container to find out how many servings you are actually consuming. Sometimes a “serving size” is unrealistically small.

+ Interactive quiz: Serving sizes then & now
+ Visual guide to serving sizes

2. Calories, total fat, total carb, & protein

These numbers are overrated. Most of them are less important than nutritional quality, and you can get a better sense of that from the ingredient list.

Dietary fiber is the exception. Most Americans don’t get enough fiber.

  • Good fiber source: 10% of your daily value
  • High fiber source: 20+% of your daily value

All fats are not created equal. Watch out for hidden trans-fats, , e.g., “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated” oils. These are harmful. You might find them in peanut butter, salad dressings, snack foods, candy, and other processed foods. It is legal to say foods have “zero grams of trans fat per serving” if they contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. Those small amounts add up if you eat them routinely.

Protein is not generally a health concern; most Americans get more than we need.

3. Sugar & sodium

Sugar is tricky to track. Food labels tell us how many grams of sugar are in a serving but give us no guidance about how much sugar we can safely eat.

+ Know your sugar limits

Sodium adds up quickly. Foods considered “low sodium” contain less than 300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving.

4. Vitamins & minerals

Look for “% Daily Value.” Rule of thumb:

  • 20% or more: This product provides a high proportion of this daily nutritional requirement.
  • 5% or less: This product provides a low proportion of this daily nutritional requirement.

5. Ingredients

Generally, less is more: Fewer ingredients usually mean the product is less processed and contains more whole foods. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, from highest to lowest. Pay attention to the first five ingredients. Try to avoid foods with sugar near the start of the list—and be aware that sugar has more than 50 names.

How food labels mess with our heads

According to a recent Student Health 101 survey, students struggle most with:

  • Knowing which nutritional elements to prioritize
  • Misleading packaging terminology (e.g., “natural”)
  • What the percentage Daily Value (DV) means for you
  • Comparing similar products and knowing which is healthiest

“If companies really cared about the health of the consumer, there would be one, official, label—all the information as plain as can be—then a second label to display the most relevant information to the average person in a way they can readily understand.”
—Matthew H., third-year undergraduate, University of North Alabama

“There is not always one right or wrong answer. As a simple rule of thumb, try to choose foods as close to their natural state as possible, and incorporate various food groups (fruits and vegetables, grains, protein, etc.) at every meal.”
—Jenna Volpe, RD, LDN

How students use food labels

In a recent survey by Student Health 101, almost half of the students who responded said they “always or frequently” check food labels (usually for general health and nutrition reasons, sometimes for specific medical reasons including allergies). Only 15 percent rarely or never check food labels.

When are you most likely to read food labels?
When you are:

  • Trying to eat healthier
  • Considering an unfamiliar food item
  • Dealing with a food allergy or intolerance
  • Learning something new about nutrition
  • Considering sugar content and serving size

When are you least likely to read food labels?
You are least likely to consult labels when buying for a party or special occasion.

“When you’re socializing or celebrating, there’s no need to throw in the towel. Focus on moderation and portion control, and eat consistently throughout the day so you are less likely to over-indulge later in the evening.”
—Jenna Volpe, RD, LDN

See UCookbook for demos of healthful, delicious desserts


Mind & body: A broader look at disordered eating

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In how many ways can eating be disordered? Anorexia and bulimia are familiar terms, and you might have heard of binge eating disorder. What about orthorexia, rumination disorder, muscle dysphoria, drunkorexia, or night eating disorder? Some are clinical diagnostic terms; some have been coined in the community. These and other terms reflect the broadening recognition that disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image issues can manifest in many different ways—including out-of-control eating, obsessive weight-training, cutting out food groups, abusing certain medicines, skipping meals before drinking alcohol, and more. Often, these behaviors both reflect and reinforce emotional health challenges.

How self-criticism can harm us

In many cases (but not all), disordered eating is related to an urge to more closely resemble a popular physical type. “People often feel that peace with your body is conditional: ‘I’ll accept my body when I lose weight or when I exercise more often,’” says Dr. Megan Jones, clinical assistant professor at Stanford University and chief science officer at Lantern, an evidence-based program for improving body image and reducing disordered eating behaviors.

“However, research shows that when you are less self-critical and improve your body image, you’re actually more likely to do the things necessary to optimize your emotional and physical well-being.”

What do many people with eating disorders have in common?

Body image & shame

Negative body image
Thoughts and behaviors might include:

  • Body-checking: Obsessively checking the mirror, scrutinizing parts of the body, or holding/pinching skin folds
  • Self-scrutiny: Criticizing your own body, in your head or out loud
  • Constant comparison: Comparing one’s own shape and size to that of others

Shame and guilt
Shame and guilt often follow the act of eating. People with eating disorders may feel unworthy of food as a source of nourishment, pleasure, or recovery.

  • Shame is a feeling of being inherently flawed: “I am bad/wrong.”
  • Guilt is feeling regretful about an action or behavior: “I did something bad/wrong.”

Black & white thoughts

Cognitive distortion: Black-&-white thinking
Cognitive distortions are destructive beliefs and self-judgments; these can reinforce eating disorder behaviors. Often, these are learned early in life.

Black-and-white (polarized thinking) is an “all or nothing” mentality that leaves no room for middle ground.

  • Food choices are categorized as “good” or “bad”, “safe” or “unsafe”.
  • Black-and-white thinkers tend to alternate between extreme behaviors specific to food and exercise (all or nothing).
  • Typical thought: “I already blew it by eating that cookie with lunch… Now I’m just going to eat whatever I want for the rest of the day and start over again tomorrow…”

Cognitive distortions

Personalization, mind-reading, and blaming


  • Constantly measuring one’s worth by comparing oneself to others
  • Typical thought: “I’m the biggest person in this room.”


  • Making assumptions about what others think of us without substantial evidence
  • Typical thought: “I hate grocery shopping because when I have lots food in my shopping cart, everybody around me is thinking I’m a fat pig, and I can’t handle that.”


  • Taking the victim role: e.g., “They made me feel bad about my body so now I don’t care; I’m just going to binge on whatever I want.”
  • Blaming ourselves: e.g., “My ex broke up with me because I’m not good-looking enough.”

Cognitive distortions

Over-generalization and catastrophic thinking


  • Taking a small piece of evidence or a one-time event and jumping to conclusions about “always” or “never”
  • Typical thought: “I gained weight this weekend… I will keep gaining weight every weekend for the rest of my life.”

Catastrophic thinking

  • Worrying about worst-case scenarios
    on a regular basis
  • Typical thought: “What if I lose control around food? If I’m alone then it’s possible, and since I will be alone later then it will definitely happen to me…”

Rigidity & isolation

Extreme rigidity

  • Calorie-counting and setting a daily
    calorie allowance
  • Strictly measured portions
  • Food rules: cutting out certain types of food
  • Limited variety; lack of flexibility: eating the same foods or food combinations every day

Social isolation

  • Avoiding social situations centered around food, such as restaurants, birthday celebrations, and holiday parties
  • Stems from fear of being judged or feeling pressured to eat a food that makes them anxious

Student story
“When people [manipulate] the natural way their bodies function with [eating disorder behaviors], it changes their personality, values, and attitude.”
—Randi P., fourth-year undergraduate at Pittsburg State University, Pennsylvania

Official eating disorders & related diagnoses: old & new

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association updated its categories of eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The new diagnostic criteria are intended to support more individualized treatment approaches and achieve better outcomes.

These descriptions are abbreviated; they do not include information on the frequency and duration of relevant behaviors. Eating disorders should be diagnosed by a health care professional with relevant expertise and qualifications.

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Restriction of energy intake (calories) leading to a significantly low body weight, with intense fear of gaining weight and often denial of the seriousness of low body weight; “subthreshold” anorexia nervosa involves similar behaviors with a normal body weight
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: Restrictive eating patterns ranging from feeding problems in infancy to restrictive eating in a young adult afraid of choking or vomiting; the causes are psychological but do not involve distorted body image or weight concerns
  • Binge Eating Disorder: Binge eating not followed by compensatory behaviors; “subthreshold” binge eating disorder involves similar behaviors with less frequency
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Extreme preoccupation with a perceived flaw in appearance, interfering with daily life; not an eating disorder per se, but may accompany one
  • Bulimia Nervosa: Binge eating (eating abnormally large amounts of food, past the point of feeling full, and feeling out of control while eating) followed by compensatory behaviors, e.g., self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives and diuretics, or excessive exercise; “subthreshold” bulimia nervosa involves similar behaviors with less frequency
  • Muscle Dysmorphia: Extreme preoccupation with the desire to have a muscular physique; not an eating disorder per se, but may accompany one
  • Night Eating Syndrome: A pattern of eating very late in the evening or in the middle of the night
  • Pica: Repeatedly eating non-food substances, e.g., dirt, clay, chalk, or laundry detergent; most often seen in pregnant women or people with iron-deficiency anemia
  • Purging Disorder: Compensatory purging behaviors without binge eating
  • Rumination Disorder: Regurgitating food, then re-chewing, re-swallowing or spitting it out; may be present with anorexia or bulimia

Eating disorders VS Disordered eating

Eating disorders:

  • Eating disorder refers to a serious psychiatric illness involving intrusive thoughts and actions related to food and weight that interfere with physical, social, and emotional health. “People don’t realize how disturbing [eating disorders] can be until there are dire consequences,” says Jen Rego, a licensed psychotherapist in Marlborough, Massachusetts, who specializes in eating disorders. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any emotional illness, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry (2009). Causes of death include heart failure and suicide.

Eating disorders vary; they tend to involve behaviors like these:

  • Restricting food intake
  • Binge-eating: consuming large amounts of food in a relatively short time frame, to the point of feeling out of control and uncomfortably full
  • Purging: self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, or diuretics
  • Use and abuse of diet pills
  • Compulsive exercise with the goal of burning calories: More info

Engaging in multiple methods of compensatory behaviors (efforts to purge or offset calories from food) is associated with more severely disordered eating.

Disordered eating:

  • Disordered eating is a broader term that describes an unhealthy relationship with food. All eating disorders involve disordered eating. But someone with disordered eating does not necessarily have a full-blown eating disorder.

Signs of disordered eating include:

  • Abnormal, quirky behaviors and patterns related to food and eating
  • Changes in eating patterns due to temporary stressors, high-pressure events, or an injury or illness
  • Obsession and extreme rigidity around food choices
  • Anxiety related to eating certain foods or eating in certain situations, e.g., with a large group of people
  • Attempts to offset the calories from alcohol consumption (e.g., avoiding food or exercising obsessively)

Screen yourself

What are “orthorexia,” “drunkorexia,” and other unofficial eating disorders?

Restricting the type (but not the amount) of food to the point that it negatively affects quality of life: “healthy eating” taken to an extreme. Research suggests “orthorexia” may be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder and may be more prevalent in men than women.

Student story  
“I have seen a lot of people become ‘gluten-sensitive’ as a reason to remove grains from their diet. Many people see food as an enemy and focus on removing it from their life instead of focusing on making good choices that help energize their body.”
—Jessica T., first-year graduate student, Emory University, Georgia

Restricting food or exercising obsessively to compensate for calories from alcohol. Research shows a strong association between heavy drinking, high levels of physical activity, and disordered eating in college students, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of American College Health. “Drunkorexia” is more prevalent among women than men and is motivated by concerns about body weight, according to a 2014 study in the same journal.

Pregnorexia refers to a resistance to gaining weight during pregnancy.

Diabulimia refers to behaviors in people with insulin-dependent (Type 1) diabetes who restrict their insulin to manipulate their weight.

What contributes to disordered eating?

Disordered eating likely reflects a combination of risk factors. Researchers are exploring many of these influences:

  • Genetics
  • Certain personality traits; e.g., anxiety, perfectionism, competitiveness, hyperactivity, and compulsiveness
  • Emotional health issues; e.g., traumatic experiences, addiction, depression, and stress
  • Environmental influences:
    • Idealized media images reinforce
      a narrow definition of attractiveness
    • Dieting in early life is related to eating disorders and obesity later
    • Social pressure and judgment (“body shaming”) contribute to eating disorders and obesity
    • Life transitions can increase exposure to possible triggers
    • Performance pressure—e.g., among athletes—can contribute to stress relating to body weight and shape

Helpline, treatment referrals, support groups, and tool kits

How common is this among students?

How to get along better with your body & your food

Here’s how Marci Anderson, MS, CEDRD (Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, breaks it down:

  • Mindful eating: using the five senses to fully experience foods
  • Self-care: nourishing the body and mind with a range of nutrients
  • Self-worth: feeling worthy of food, health, and happiness
  • Intuitive eating: being in touch with our hunger and fullness cues
  • Flexibility and variety: choosing different foods and meals from day to day, without stress or anxiety

Why body shaming fails and how you can counteract it

Body shaming (criticizing your own looks or someone else’s) can reinforce destructive self-beliefs and drive disordered eating behaviors, according to research. “Body shaming is a huge issue right now. Instead of encouraging people to have the ideal body, we need to encourage the ideal of loving the body you have,” says Sara A., a first-year graduate student at the University of North Texas.

Focus less on weight and body shape in your conversations. You may think you’re complimenting someone by saying, “Have you lost weight?” or “You look like you’ve been working out.” But you’re actually reinforcing the stereotype that thin means beautiful or that muscular means good looking.

Discuss the health and emotional benefits of healthy eating and physical activity, rather than their impact on appearance. For example, ask your friend whether the dance classes are helping him feel stronger or sleep better.

  • Resist criticizing your own body. If your friend or family member criticizes theirs, say, “You know I love you, and it hurts me to hear you say that about yourself.”
  • Worried about your friend’s disordered eating? Here’s how to talk to them about it.

How and why to tune out some of that media stuff

In a recent CampusWell survey, nearly 70 percent of respondents said the media’s portrayal of unrealistic body images affects the way they feel about their own body. Research has shown benefits from interventions that help people become more aware of the influence of the media on their body image, according to an analysis published in BMC Psychiatry (2013).

  • Photoshop® and lighting are extensively used to make actors and models appear thin, chiseled, and flawless. Sometimes, they take things too far. For examples, search online for “Photoshop mistakes.”
  • Many actors dedicate considerable time and energy to diet and exercise, especially if their roles require a certain body type. That’s their job. It’s probably not yours.
  • The media play to our insecurities in order to sell us something—like miracle creams and get-buff-quick products (which don’t work).

“The thing that we have to understand and accept is that those images are unobtainable. Guys will not have flawless bodies with perfect abs, pecs, arms, etc. Similarly, girls will not have thin waists, large busts, larger butts, etc. Eating disorders can happen to anyone… boys too.”
—Michael D., first-year undergraduate, Southwest Minnesota State University

Hang out with people who nourish your self-belief

  • If a friend or family member comments on your weight (positive or negative): “Thank you, I care about my health, but I try not to let my weight be a focus.”
  • When you’re tempted to compare your own looks to someone else’s, try to think about their—and your—positive traits that aren’t related to appearance. What do you admire about their personality? What might they admire about you?

Student story
“Being a black woman in a predominately white culture has taken a toll on my self-image. I still have my struggles about how I look, but having friends who do not emphasize highly unrealistic standards of beauty, and who embrace themselves, has really helped.”
—Third-year undergraduate, Rollins College, Florida

Student story
“The way to overcome a negative body image is to be around people who support you and make you feel good about your body. Once you are around people who love you no matter what you look like, you can really start to love yourself and love your body.”
—Chaminie D., fourth-year undergraduate, San Diego State University, California

How to disempower your inner critic

  • “I like that I can dunk a basketball.” 
  • “I’m really good with kids and can’t wait to finish my degree in elementary education.” 
  • “I’m a pretty darned good computer programmer, if I do say so myself!” 
  • “I’m a supportive and loyal friend.”

“Silencing the inner critic is a key step in the process [of accepting your body]. But it also involves being willing to let go of that critic.”
—Dr. Megan Jones, chief science officer at Lantern, a program for improving body image and eating behaviors

“Make a list of things you like about yourself that aren’t related to what you look like. Everyone has strengths; what are yours?”
—Dr. Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and professor at the University of Connecticut

“Whenever possible, challenge yourself to think about your body in terms of what it can do instead of in terms of how it looks. For example, if you find yourself feeling bad about how your legs look, remind yourself of all the things those legs do for you. They move you around in the world. They let you dance. Focusing on the functions of your body is a great way to treat your body with more kindness and respect.”
—Dr. Engeln, psychology professor, Northwestern University, Illinois

Get active to help your body and mind support each other

Almost any type of regular physical activity can help people feel better about their bodies, regardless of the effects on their fitness and body shape, according to a 2009 meta-analysis of studies by researchers at the University of Florida.

Student story
“As someone who has struggled with disordered eating and body image since my early teens, I understand the temptation to punish my body. It is very easy to hate yourself in a world that trains you to critique and loathe your body for what it isn’t instead of appreciate it for what it is. Physical exercise forces you to come to terms with the fact that your body is a miracle, and can lead to positive body image and an increased sense of accomplishment and self-worth.”
—Second-year undergraduate, Mount Allison University, New Brunswick

When exercise isn’t working
If you find yourself exercising compulsively or punitively to compensate for what you’ve eaten or drunk, this may be a symptom of disordered eating.

Try a self-guided online intervention

Some internet-based interventions appear successful in preventing and/or treating eating disorders, according to studies. For example, Student Bodies™, an eight-session program developed for college students at risk of eating disorders, is based on cognitive-behavioral therapeutic techniques. Inquire at your campus counseling center about accessing an online (or other) intervention.

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Grocery store hacks: How to shop like a boss

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Do you wander the aisles of the grocery store hoping for a nutritional breakthrough? Ever read a food label or price sticker and find yourself groaning out loud? The obstacles to efficient grocery shopping include confusing nutrition info, busy schedules, limited transportation, and low budgets.

The most common challenges for students are related to reading food labels and budgeting, says Meghan Windham, a dietitian who provides guided student tours of grocery stores at Texas A&M University in College Station: “There are many important things to look for, including, from a budget standpoint, knowing when to choose a name brand versus a store brand.” These tips and tricks will help you navigate your local grocery store and get the most nutritious bang for your buck.

QUIZ: Can you identify these mysterious shelf items?

Where do students get lost in the grocery store?
In a recent Student Health 101 survey, students reported which food items from our list they could find easily in the grocery store, and which would be more difficult.

Students could find these easily:
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Cornflakes
  • Salsa
  • Low-pesticide conventional fruit
  • Nuts
These could be hard to find:
  • Sugar-free peanut butter
  • Gluten-free cookies
  • Dairy-free “butter”
  • Condoms
  • Ramen noodles (surprise!)

Fresh fruits and veggies

Usually at the entrance

  • Great nutrient source: choose a mix of colors
  • Filling: good for appetite control
  • Anti-aging

For best pricing and quality
Think local, seasonal, whole (versus pre-cut)

Does organic matter? 
It depends. Organic produce can be considerably more expensive than conventional produce, so pick your battles. Some types of produce (especially the “dirty dozen”) are more prone to retaining pesticide residues.

Frozen fruits and veggies

In an aisle

  • Berries, mangoes, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, corn
  • Antioxidants, immune boosters
  • Look for the frozen veggies without added sauces or creams.
  • Flash-frozen fruits and veggies are picked fresh and frozen immediately, to retain their nutrients

How to cook frozen veggies
Boil or sauté, and add butter and salt to taste (moderation is key). You can also add your veggies to a stir-fry or pasta dish for extra fiber.

Grains and gluten-free alternatives

In an aisle

  • Bread, pasta, rice, oatmeal, quinoa
  • Long-term energy boosters
  • Buy store brand, minimally processed, in bulk

Does whole grain matter?
Whole grains (such as whole wheat bread or brown rice) have similar calorie and carbohydrate content to their refined (white) alternatives, but they are higher in fiber, which tends to make them more filling and satisfying.

Which conventional fruits and veggies are most pesticide-prone?

Meats and fish

Usually along the perimeter of the market

Red meat: beef and lamb

  • Builds strength (protein, iron, B vitamins)

To minimize cost and maximize health:

  • “Frozen is easier and a bit more economical—an excellent option if you don’t want it to go to waste or find yourself throwing anything away,” says Windham.
  • Consume red meat in moderation: one or two servings per week.

Does “grass-fed” matter?  
Grass-fed beef is higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fats, and lower in overall fat content. Opt for grass-fed if you can. The average cost of grass-fed beef is about $2–3 higher than its conventional counterpart.

Poultry: chicken and turkey

  • Low-fat, stress-relieving (protein, tryptophan, B vitamins)
  • Buy raw; fresh or frozen. “Pre-cooked and ready-prepared chicken tends to be more expensive and higher in salt and preservatives,” says Windham.

White meat: Pork

  • Lower fat, and high in thiamine (Vitamin B1) for energy metabolism.
  • Buy raw; fresh or frozen.


  • Brain food (omega-3’s, Vitamin D).
  • Frozen is usually fresher, and doesn’t need to be cooked right away.

Does “wild” matter?
Wild fish is lower in harmful pollutants and significantly higher in Vitamin A than farm-raised fish.

Try this easy chicken dish
Need a healthy reason to hit the store?

Honey Dijon Chicken


  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. butter (preferably organic), melted; plus more
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 boneless chicken breasts, butterflied (carefully slice the chicken breast in half widthwise, almost to the other edge)


In a small bowl, mix the honey, mustard, 1 Tbsp. of melted butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Put the mixture into a large plastic resealable bag. Add the chicken, seal the bag, and shake. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Set a burner to medium heat and lightly butter a frying pan.

Remove the chicken from the bag and arrange it on the frying pan. Cook over medium heat, about 5–7 minutes per side, until cooked through the middle. Enjoy with veggies of your choice.

Modified by Jenna Volpe from

Beans and nuts

In an aisle

  • Beans, peas, lentils, nuts/nut butter, peanuts/peanut butter
  • Fiber, folate, minerals
  • Buy in bulk, e.g., large cans, packed in water with no added salt

Does low-fat matter in peanut butter?
Low-fat alternatives to peanut butter are higher in salt and refined sugars. Opt for natural, full-fat peanut butter.

Canned, jarred, and other preserved items

In an aisle

  • Applesauce, canned pineapple/peaches, green beans, tomato sauce, soups, tuna
  • Easy and portable

Are canned foods nutritious?
It’s better to eat canned produce than no produce. That said, canned and other preserved foods can be high in sodium or sugar, and are lower in vital enzymes than fresh produce. Use sparingly and opt for alternatives labeled “low sodium,” “packed in water,” or “packed in 100% fruit juice.”

What about the chemicals in the packaging?
Metal and plastic packaging is a source of Bisphenol A (BPA) contamination, which has been linked to several diseases. More acidic foods are especially prone to this. Opt for tomatoes and other acidic foods in jars.

Milk, cheese, yogurt, dairy alternatives

Fresh—along the perimeter of the market

  • Bone-building (calcium, Vitamin D, phosphorous)
  • Buy in bulk—e.g., large tubs of yogurt or cottage cheese versus individual serving sizes; whole blocks of cheese versus pre-shredded.

Does “grass-fed” matter?
Grass-fed dairy is higher in heart-healthy fats, comparable to the types of fats found in walnuts and fish. It is pricey (almost double the cost per half-gallon). The nutritional superiority may justify the splurge.

User-friendly grocery store guide

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Season’s eatings: Healthy twists on holiday dishes

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What is December about? For many of us: candle lighting, religious services, and gift giving. Also: pinatas, plates, and parties loaded with sweet treats and indulgences. “Small tweaks in your diet (and exercise routine) can make a huge impact this holiday season,” says Alexandra Pitkin, a clinical research dietitian in Boston, Massachusetts. “I do not promote restriction; the trick is not over-indulging,” says Brian Miller, a nutrition consultant in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Although the average US adult gains only 2 pounds a year between November and January, most of us don’t lose that weight and it accumulates over time, reports the New England Journal of Medicine (2000). Here’s how to avoid gaining it in the first place.

Our experts

  • Alexandra Pitkin, RD, LDN, clinical research dietitian in Boston, Massachusetts
  • Brian Miller, MS, RD, nutrition consultant in Fort Collins, Colorado
  • Jenna Volpe, RD, registered dietitian specializing in weight management and eating disorders, in Quincy, Massachusetts

Festive dinner


  • ½ cup mashed potatoes
  • 8 oz. eggnog
  • 1 slice pecan pie
  • 4 oz. roast beef or ham
  • ½ cup stuffing
  • ½ cup
  • green bean casserole

Estimated nutrition facts

  • Calories 1,400–1,550
  • Fat 80–95g
  • Carbs  125g (50g from refined sugars)
  • Sodium  1,745 mg


  • ½ cup roasted veggies
  • 1 cup salad
  • 4 oz. baked fish
  • ½ cup mashed sweet potatoes
  • ¾ cup apple crisp
  • 8 oz.homemade eggnog

Estimated nutrition facts

  • Calories  650
  • Fat 35–45g
  • Carbs  45–60g (little or none from refined sugars)
  • Sodium 500–750mg

Appetizers & snacks

Go light on these

  • Pigs in a blanket
  • Chicken wings
  • Fried anything

Here’s why
“Traditional holiday dips, buffalo chicken, etc. contain a lot of saturated fat and calories, and are typically paired with bread or chips. This can add up to more calories than a full meal, with little nutrition.”—A.P.

Try these instead

Here’s how
“Try some of the healthier items first. Remember to leave room for the main course and a maybe a little dessert later.”—B.M

Nutritious selections at buffets

Nutritious selections at buffets
“When attending a party, think about some healthy options to bring. It’s amazing that the healthier options out there can be just as (if not more) tasty than their less healthy counterparts.” —Brian Miller, MS, RD

  • Stuffed mushrooms (Italian) or champinones al ajillo (Spanish)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Cheese, up to 2 oz. (1 oz. of cheese = size of four dice)
  • Mixed nuts (handful)
  • Fresh veggies
  • Hummus
  • Shrimp cocktail

Side dishes

Plan ahead, eat mindfully, and limit your indulgences to the foods you really enjoy.
“If you’re hosting, send people home with leftovers.”—B.M.

Go light on these

  • Dinner rolls
  • Stuffing
  • Mashed white potatoes
  • Casseroles made with canned soups, refined crackers, or butter/margarine, or high  sodium

Here’s why
High saturated fat and sodium,  low nutrition. “Green bean casseroles can be high in saturated fat and sodium if not prepared properly.”—B.M.

Try these instead

Here’s why
“For example, sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamins and minerals, and can help regulate blood sugar levels. Choose baked or roasted sweet potatoes over candied or sweet potato casserole.” —A.P.


“Eat your calories: Don’t drink them.” —A.P.

Go light on these

  • Store-bought eggnog
  • Hot chocolate
  • Sodas (regular and diet)
  • Special holiday drinks at coffee shops

Here’s why
“Eggnog is high in fat and calories. One of these drinks provides more calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger.” —A.P.

Regular sodas are likely to send our blood sugar through the roof. Diet sodas contain carcinogenic preservatives such as sodium benzoate. This can sometimes convert to benzene, a cancer-causing agent.

Try these instead

  • Homemade eggnog
  • Coffee or tea with milk and/or raw honey
  • Fruit-flavored seltzer water with fresh lemon/lime
  • Pomegranate juice with ginger ale and lime

Here’s how
“Choose sparkling cider instead of store-bought eggnog and slash half the fat and calories.” —A.P.


Don’t forbid yourself. Try to limit to one serving and balance with something nutritious. “Limit, not eliminate, traditional holiday desserts like cookies and candies.”—B.M.

Go light on these

  • Traditional holiday baked goods made with lots of
    white sugar and refined flour

Here’s why
“Pecan pie is loaded with calories and sugar, as much as a can of regular soda. If you eat pie, leave some of the crust behind.” —A.P.

Try these instead

  • Cookie with a glass of milk for calcium and protein
  • Dark chocolate-covered strawberries
  • Simple apple crisp
  • Avocado mousse (with cocoa powder & agave nectar)

Here’s why
“Angel food cake is a great choice because it contains minimal fat and is lower in calories than regular cake. Or choose a piece of dark chocolate to satisfy sweet cravings.”  —A.P.
“When we’re allowed to celebrate, we tend to eat less.”—B.M.


Self-monitoring helps people feel good about their food choices, research shows. Record your food intake. Try one of the many free apps and websites, such as MyFitnessPal.

Go light on these

  • Red meats
  • Pork
  • Stews cooked in fat

Try these instead

Students share their strategies

“I love eggnog, so I allow myself to buy one quart a year and when it’s gone, that’s it.”
—Dejah W., student at Cape Cod Community College, West Barnstable, Massachusetts

“I drink a lot of water to try to fill up in between meals.”
—Brogan P., second-year graduate student, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“I try for the 80/20 principle. If I eat healthy 80 percent of the time, then I can enjoy unhealthy foods 20 percent of the time.”
 —Daniel A., student at Wake Technical Community College, Raleigh, North Carolina

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