There is good nutrition out there, expert tells students

Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:40 p.m.

Janis Mena, a nutritionist with GatorWell at the University of Florida, believes college students are capable of achieving a balanced diet. She also is fully aware of the challenges they face in doing so.

"I think that for college students, time is a big issue, along with economics. Most of them are used to mom shopping and cooking for them, and when they have to it, it is hard for them to set their priorities," she said.

Mena led Wednesday's forum "Eat This, Not That," designed to give UF students tips on how to eat better.

Speaking to students gathered at the Graham Gallery, Mena said she believes that students face challenges in their diets as they absorb conflicting messages from the masses -- messages that tell them to eat certain foods and avoid others. Mena said she disapproves of this ideal, which even extended to the forum's title.

"If it were up to me, I wouldn't have chosen the title ‘Eat This, Not That,' because there are no foods that I would tell people not to eat," she said.

"Saying ‘eat this, not that' makes you feel guilty. I want people to eat like they were in kindergarten; don't feel like you are a fish in the sea, as there is good nutrition out there, if you know where to look."

Mena used her time at the forum, which was organized by the Health Affairs Cabinet of the Student Government, to discuss nutrition-related issues, such as obesity and dieting, and then moved on to brief synopses of such food building blocks as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, along with vitamins.

In discussing obesity, Mena dismissed the popular "Freshman 15" myth, saying that the weight gain is far less significant than reported.

"Only 5 percent of students gain weight during their first year of college, and that weight is more like 5 pounds," she said.

Mena also pointed out that, although many Americans diet, the average diet does not have a long duration, only lasting about 42 days.

Through her analysis of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, Mena emphasized a central message: Always trust your body from the inside out. It was an idea that was reinforced during the final aspect of her presentation, intuitive eating, which emphasized that people should eat when they are hungry, and stop when they are full.

The idea of intuitive eating proved to be a suitable answer to one student's question of whether one should eat a lot if he or she exercises, and it was an aspect of the presentation that impressed Herisa Stanislaus, director of the Health Affairs Cabinet of Student Government.

"I enjoyed the intuitive eating section, because your body does know best," she said.

Emily Basford, a first-year UF student, enjoyed the presentation as well. To her, it served as a means to reinforce her healthy eating habits.

"While I have always been a healthy eater, seeing presentations and reading information about it reminds me that healthy habits are important," she said.

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