Eating Healthy at SMC: Plausible or Impossible?

When students don't have enough time to pack their own lunch and vending machine snacks just won't suffice, they head to the cafeteria for a quick, or sometimes slow, bite to eat. With so many options everyday from Fresh and Natural and the Campus Kitchen, it can be hard to make a decision, but when students have health on their minds it can be even harder. So, what healthy options does the cafeteria offer? To answer that question, we must first discuss what "healthy" means. Assistant director of UCLA's Center for Human Nutrition and registered Dietitian, Susan Bowerman, was kind enough to give a few pointers describing what a healthy diet means.

For starters, there is a big difference between a serving and a portion. According to Bowerman, a serving is the government-defined amount of food recommended daily for each food group. A portion, on the other hand, is the amount of food people actually eat in a meal, which can be much more than necessary.

When it comes to campus cafeteria food, Campus Kitchen has great quality as well as a wide variety of options. You can build your own breakfast sandwich with egg, ham, and cheese, great sources of protein, get your vitamins from the lettuce and tomato (hold the mayonnaise), and finally pick from the multiple types of bread they offer. In one meal, you get a serving of every food group.

For fruits and vegetables, Bowerman recommends 5-7 servings combined. "Try to pick things of different colors to get variety," she suggests. The salad bar at Fresh & Natural has healthy veggie options such as carrots, celery, artichoke hearts, and cucumbers, which are all low calorie and low-sodium foods.

Watch out for the marinated vegetable options though. They tend to be higher in calories and sodium. The USDA recommends a diet consisting of 2000-2400 calories and about 2400 grams of sodium for 19-30 year olds. A healthy breakfast from Fresh and Natural's options would include the egg and cheese sandwiches on wheat or white bread, or on an English muffin. Try to avoid the croissants because they are baked with a lot of butter and can rack up calories quickly. A healthy serving of protein would consist of 2-3 servings per day, or about 50 grams. Bowerman recommends fish, lean meats, poultry or soy. "Protein helps to build muscles and fills you up quickly so you won't eat too much," said Bowerman.

Having a sandwich for lunch from the deli bar at Fresh & Natural can be a great way to include a serving or two of most food group items. Of the cheese choices, mozzarella and Cheddar have the lowest calories, making them a great source of calcium and fulfilling one of the 2-3 recommended daily servings; add some lettuce and maybe tomato for fruits and veggies, or maybe grab an orange for some much-needed vitamin C.

The healthiest choices for break are pumpernickel, rye, seven grain, and wheat. The suggested number of servings for breads and grains, according to the USDA, is about 6-11. The deli bar also has healthy meat choices like roast beef, ham and salami.

As for what you put on your bread, did you know that just one tablespoon of mayonnaise contains 100 calories? Mustard and relish, on the other hand, have a lot less calories; mustard only has four and relish has about 21.

Some of the healthier lunch and dinner options at Fresh and Natural are the Mediterranean chicken with yellow rice, which has only 530 calories, 7.2 grams of fat and about 500 milligrams of sodium. The grilled tilapia with pineapple salsa, barley and veggies has about 510 calories, 7.7 g of fat and 351 mg of sodium, the lowest amount of sodium out of any of the entrees Fresh and Natural has to offer.

Bowerman also gave me an explanation of the different types of fats. She explained that saturated fats are more natural fats, but they can raise cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats are the more "healthy" version of fats, which can be found in avocados, fish and nuts like almonds.

"Trans fats don't exist naturally in nature. They are oil that is converted into a harder fat, like margarine, so you should limit your intake," said Bowerman. She also explained that food labels don't have to list trans fats if there is less than half a gram per serving, so you should try to limit your portions. Commercially baked goods, like the cookies at Campus Kitchen, are high in trans fats, which has specific properties that raise cholesterol.

If you want to look up the proper serving sizes of each food group, Bowerman recommended, the US Department of Agriculture's website.