Eating Well in the New Year: Advice from Professor Teresa Fung
Don’t use food as a stress reliever — that’s not what food is for. Stress is unavoidable, and one way to relieve stress is to move around.
You were quoted in a recent interview that rated the Mediterranean diet as the best option. Any staples from this diet you would recommend?
The Mediterranean diet is ranked number one U.S. News & World Report because it has the most scientific data to support it. That doesn't necessarily mean that it’s the one and only ideal diet. There may be another combination of foods that are as good or better, but we don’t know the science yet.
Also, this diet isn’t regional. It’s more of a style of eating that can be adapted and still contain health benefits. If you live outside the region, getting some of the foods they eat may be difficult, but you can eat in a way that follows the same principles. The data shows that this diet is high in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. There is not a lot of animal protein, though there is protein from plants, such as beans and nuts. It’s also a minimally processed diet, focused on whole foods, low in sodium and added sugar. It relies on foods that don’t come out of a box, and the data supports this as being the healthiest way to eat.
For busy students and faculty, convenience is key. Are there any canned or frozen foods you would recommend?
Canned beans take less time and planning! Dry beans need to be boiled for quite a while before you eat them, but canned beans don’t require the extra step. However, canned beans tend to have more sodium, so I recommend rinsing them a few times to lower the sodium and make them more healthy. That said, if you have more time, cooking dried beans is cheaper.
Plain frozen vegetables, without any added sauces, are also a healthy choice. Same with fruit.
Do you have any tricks for eating healthy while living on campus?
If you are dependent on the dining hall for each meal, make sure to prioritize your nutrition. Eat the most important things first: fruit and vegetables. Start with vegetables, then protein. That doesn’t mean to avoid pasta — it’s so tempting! — but be sure to prioritize other sources of nutrition alongside it.
Particular foods to avoid during stressful times?
Don’t use food as a stress reliever — that’s not what food is for. Stress is unavoidable, and one way to relieve stress is to move around. Do some stretches in your dorm room. Go online and find exercise routines you can do standing or sitting on a chair. This will actually help you manage stress in ways that eating cannot.
In general, we should avoid refined and highly processed foods. And beware of foods that seem healthy, like flavored yogurt and some granola/cereal bars, which both have quite an amount of added sugar. One good trick is this: one teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams. Look at the label and visualize the amount of added sugar. Also watch out for sugary drinks, like soda or any bottled beverages, or fancy coffee with extra sugar and flavors added.
Create a self care plan for dealing with stress, in advance:
- Take three deep breaths and pay attention to your feelings. Are you really hungry, or is there nervous energy you need to expend?
- Find a 5-10 minute exercise routine that you can easily do wherever you are. Download an online workout in advance, so you won’t have to search for it.
- Prepare some healthy snacks to eat for when you are truly hungry: a handful of nuts, veggies, a piece of fruit.
- When stressed, people tend to eat quickly and mindlessly. Pause and try to eat mindfully, paying attention to the taste of the food.