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Fries in a basket with ketchup

Fries with that? by klynslis via Creative Commons

One of my proudest health related moments came during my second year of college.

When I first moved into Jester my freshman year, I, like many others, went through that culture shock of immediate freedom.  I could order pizza whenever I wanted!  Sleeping in was no longer considered a bad thing (everyone was doing it)!  And thanks to my dining plan in the dorm, food was constantly available as long as I could find a merchant that would accept the card.

But I was already in bad shape. When I walked across the stage at my school graduation, I weighed 210 pounds, and not much of that was what I would call “muscle.”  Diabetes runs in the family on my dad’s side, and high blood pressure on my mom’s.  I came to the realization that something needed to change, and quick.  So I started being more structured with my meals. I hired one of the personal trainers in training at the Gregory Gym (conveniently located across the street) to get me started, and once that ended I kept going.  To make a long story short, I ended up getting down to 150 lbs by the beginning of my second UT fall, became a lot happier with myself, and felt a lot more secure about my future.

It is safe to say that almost all of us could do for a little more respect for our bodies, but when you are taking that leap of faith into the “real” world of a college student, sometimes that is one of the last things on your mind.  And even if you do decide to take control, where do you even begin?  Who can you talk to?

Brandy Shih’s job, as Dietitian for the University of Texas’ Department of Housing & Food Service, is to do just that.  I spoke with her to ask about common concerns and sources of confusion for beginners, and to find out just what it is that pushes so many students to succumb to the “Freshman 15.”

Austin Appetite: Many people have heard the advice that you are supposed to get 2000 calories in a day, but is that true, and where does it come from?

Brandy Shih: Basically, the nutrition fact label says that the daily intake is roughly 2000 calories, but that is really not the best. Everybody is different. When I do calculations for figuring out how many calories you need, I need to take in account your age, your weight, your height, your activity and everything, so that is a little bit better of a ballpark number. Just saying 2000 calories, that’s just really general. Looking at my consulations I do with the students here, it basically ranges from 1500 calories up to maybe even 2800 calories, depending on how active the person is.

If someone recognizes they are having issues with being over or under nourished, what are some of the things that you would recommend for them to rectify that?

[With students I advise] I always go through the different food groups and what recommendations of how many servings they need of each one. So, how many servings of the green group, how many servings of fruits and vegetables, and the dairy, and the proteins. I just kind of go from there, and having those amount of servings generally add up to the amount of calories they should have.

If there were three things you wish everyone was more aware of (in particular, the student population), what would they be?

1. Portion control. I always tell people about portion control. People go way overboard all the time. They don’t realize what an actual “portion” is. If you go Romano’s Macaroni Grill you are going to get a plate of pasta that is probably like 4-5 servings. There is no reason why we need to be eating all of that in one sitting.

2. Having a variety. Variety is such a huge and broad term, but it really is [important]. I mean, one of my good friends, he just eats fast food every single day, and basically it is a burger, fries and a drink. And it is like, there is a lot more foods out there that can meet your needs that are tasty. So having a variety of food is always good and something I suggest to students. Maybe at home they only had a set amount of things they were exposed to, but there are so many types of foods out there you may like. You should always try new things.

3. Physical activity. I get a lot of people in here that want to lose weight, but they kind of don’t want to go move. It is a pretty big part. You know, studies have shown you can diet [and get results], but it is not going to do as much good as doing diet and exercise, changing your lifestyle. So that’s what I tell students, it is not a diet, it is basically a behavior change, that you are going to eat these foods, and then incorporate the healthier physical activity by getting out there and moving. We lead such sedentary lives, and you have to get out and move at some point! People kind of forget that they need to do that.

In your opinion, what is the biggest problem you see students having?

When I go upstairs to eat during my lunch time, I see a lot of food, piles on people’s plate, and I’m just impressed with how much they are eating. I know that they are moving around a lot, they are active and things like that, but sometimes it is such a huge amount I can’t help thinking if they keep that habit up, and never slow down, it’s just going to get bad. I think part of the issue is a lot of people don’t know how to eat healthy now, and you are setting in your habits now, so once you get out into the “real world” with office work and doing things on your own and are not having mom and dad to help you cook foods, you are not going to incorporate those physical activities in order to have a healthy life. Keeping up the healthier behaviors throughout the college years and into the 20s, it makes it a lot easier later.

Do you have any resources you would recommend to anyone who wants to get serious about monitoring their own nutrition?

Lance Armstrong has a website called The Daily Plate, and you can put in what you eat during the day, what you exercise during the day, and you can enter your height, your weight, and if you want to lose weight or maintain or gain muscle, those kinds of things, and it will help you see what you need to do. For example, you have your breakfast, you had this many calories, and then maybe during the day, you went to run for 30 minutes, so it will now say you have a negative amount of this because you only had this much to eat. So it kind of helps the person track down what exactly they are doing. That’s what I tell people; if you keep a food journal, it helps you keep track of things, because you have to write down everything. You can’t just skip the part where you ate a piece of candy or [drank the] soda, you have to write everything down. It is just keeping log and seeing the calories in verus the calories out, and seeing where exercise comes into play.

There is even, that’s where the food guide pyramid is, and they also have their own program where you can track different foods. It shows you what servings you should have, so that is also a great resource to have.

Brandy Shih is available to talk by appointment to all students living in on-campus through the Division of Housing & Food Services. Her contact information (along with more helpful advice from Nutrition Services) can be found here.


Photo by Omar Omar via Flickr Creative Commons.

College students are always looking for cheap, good-tasting food. To those who think it’s impossible to combine the two, I suggest you check out a couple of the numerous taco stands around Austin.

To provide some advice on the best taco stands in town, I sat down with my friend Andrew Kreighbaum, who writes about taco stands for The Daily Texan.

Austin Appetite: So how do you pick the taco stands that you write about?

Andrew Kreighbaum: I usually spin a wheel like in The Price is Right. Actually I do most of my research online or just talk to people. When people found out I was writing about tacos, a lot of people got really excited. They all have their personal favorites or have heard of places they suggest I check out.

AA: What do you look for in a good taco stand?

AK: There are several criteria. Any taco stands that I’m going to suggest to my friends have got to be cheap, No. 1. If they’re not cheap, then I’m not going to waste my time; I could just go to a brick-and-mortar establishment. There also has to be something unique about it. They have to have character in some way. That could be because of the location or a theme on the menu or a particular item they’re well-known for.

AA: So what is your favorite taco stand and why is it your favorite?

AK: It’s tough to choose just one. It’s like choosing a favorite child, really. I feel like each taco stand says something about the particular region of Austin it’s in, whether it’s the East side or Riverside Drive or South First or North Lamar. It’s tough to decide, but if someone put a gun to my head, I’d say take me to Piedras Negras. There’s a lot of emotional attachment there and that can be more powerful than an original menu item that someone had wracked their brain over. Those traditional flavors and recipes that you can come back to, it’s not that it’s something that goes out of season, it’s something that will always be there and people appreciate that.

AA: OK, you mentioned youre emotional attachment to Piedras, other than that, where can I get a great, cheap taco?

AK: You could just drive for 10 minutes on Riverside.

AA: So you’re saying you’re a fan of all of those places?

AK: Not of all those places, but if you want to get a taco for cheap. I write about tacos but I’m not going to tell people what’s right for them all the time. Some people love a good breakfast taco. That’s not my thing. I prefer a good carne guisada or maybe a crispy torta if I don’t feel like a taco. Everyone just has to find their thing, you know, that one thing they can go back to and rely on in their lives. I don’t want to be the person to tell them what that one thing is, I want to help them find it. I’m like, you know, I want to be the Virgil to their Dante.

photo by

Honestly, I’m not a vegetarian but I like vegetarian eating. There is a controversial issue whether vegetarian diets are always healthful. However, many studies found that vegetarians have much lower cholesterol levels than meat eaters, and heart disease is less commnon in vegetarians.

Vegetarian meals are typically low in saturated fat and usually contain little or no cholesterol. Since cholesterol is found only in animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs, vegans consume a cholesterol-free diet.

Also, vegetarians have lower blood pressure than nonvegetarians and vegetarian diet helps prevent cancer.

People might think being a vegetarian is hard because of diet limitations. However, it is easier than you might think. Vegetarian Times and the physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine suggest the 3-step way to be a vegetarian.

  1. First, think of three vegetarian meals that you already enjoy. Common ones are tofu and vegetable stir-fries, vegetable stew, or pasta primavera.
  2. Second, think of three recipes you prepare regularly that can easily be adapted to a vegetarian menu.
  3. Third, check out some vegetarian cookbooks from the library and experiment with the recipes for a week or so until you find three new recipes that are delicious and easy to make.

One of the big issue regarding vegetarianism is protein. People are concerned that vegetarian diet never get too much protein. However, many nutrition authorities, including American Dietetic Association, believe protein needs can easily be met by consuming a variety of plant protein sources over an entire day. Orr, a professor of nutritional science in University of Texas at Austin, said,

“Most vegetarians have to use complimentary meal plans, mixing different types of plant-based protein together to make centric amino-acid. For example, corn and beans. Those have differnet amino-acid but you put them together and then make centric amino-acid.”

If you make your own dishes at home, it would be fine. But if you plan to eat out, you definitely want to find a restaurant serving vegetarian dishes. Vegetarian eating is on the rise nationwide, so it should come as no surprise that many Austin restaurants are catering to this increasing demand. I know Veggie Heaven and Kerbey Lane cafe offer vegetarian menus. But there are many vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Austin. Check the list :)

But keep in mind that anything done in extreme is things to avoid. Professor Orr said,

“Meat, eggs, and milk have lots of good nutrition. So avoid any extremes, and middle of the road.”

Photo by shewatchedthesky via Flickr Creative Commons.

Earlier this week, rumors floating around the internet drew speculation that Starbucks was considering adding a larger, 31-ounce cup to its current tiered scale of Talls, Grandes and Ventes. UT students who heard the news were surely on the edge of their seats, contemplating toting around the two-pound drink from class to class.

Starbucks confirmed the rumors to be true Tuesday, telling Reuters that they were testing their new “Trenta” cups in Tampa and Phoenix. Of all places, Tampa and Phoenix.

As of now, you can’t order a “Trenta White Chocolate Mocha” at your local lurk (there are two on or near campus, two in the Hyde Park area and six more downtown), but you can pick up a 31-ounce iced coffee or iced tea for $3.30 and $2.60, respectively if you head out to the two testing cities.

I’m not real sure why someone would choose a more expensive iced coffee or tea from Starbucks over the cheap, cool drinks you can get at the 7-Eleven on the Drag. I’m always going to be a Big Gulp Slurpee fan, myself, and there are plenty of coffee shops in Austin selling cheaper iced tea or coffee for students to sip on. But to each their own.

Since the testing has just begun, we have a little while before we’ll see the Trenta make an appearance in Austin. But if you’re curious as to what it looks like, here’s a Twitpic of it and for fun, some other names customers have suggested for it.

Photo by oskay via Flickr Creative Commons.

For carnivorous – or even omnivorous – Catholics during Lent, one of the hardest observances is abstaining from meat every Friday. This can be a rough time for college students who rely on burgers from Wendy’s after they get out of class. However, it is customary for some parishes to host non-meat meals during the season as a way of bringing Catholics together.

For most of my college life, during Lent I would stock up on gross, pre-packaged microwavable fish that either smelled horrible once cooked, or had a tendency to have a consistency like rubber. Some would suggest frying your own fish, but that can be time-consuming for the unseasoned pro, and more expensive than some of the meals offered around the diocese. One way of diversifying your eating is to put down that microwavable Gorton’s salmon, and head to one of these parishes.

This week I put together a list of parishes that are hosting meals. Most of the information was available through the Diocese of Austin Web site, but I also added the meals hosted by St. Austin’s (the one on the Drag), which were not included on the list. Most of these parishes will continue to host meals every Friday, but call in advance in case there’s a change in plans. Also, St. Austin’s will be hosting their meal at the University Catholic Center this week, but the location will vary throughout the season. Check their Web site for the full schedule.

Click here for a map of the locations.

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