Mini Medical School: Food Choices And Nutrition

November 3, 2021

Pay attention to portion size, read food labels, count carbohydrates and learn where sugars are hiding. This is advice Suzanne Henson, a registered dietitian at University Medical Center, provided during an October Mini Medical School presentation titled, “Let’s Eat: A Guide to Food Choices.”

“We need to learn about food,” Henson said. “So much is sheer advertising. Read labels so you know what you are buying. Learn to be a smart shopper.”

Mini Medical School is a collaboration of The University of Alabama’s OLLI program and UA’s College of Community Health Sciences, which operates UMC.

Henson began with an explanation of what she refers to as the Super 6 – carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water.

She said while carbohydrates have gotten “a bad rap, you can have bread and pasta. Portion sizes are key.”

The recommended amount of carbohydrates per day is 130 grams, which is why reading food labels is important, Henson said, and she explained how do to that: Find the serving size, find the number of servings in the package, find the number of grams of carbohydrates and be aware of how many carbohydrates one serving represents.

She cautioned that sugar often hides in carbohydrates. “We find sugar lurking in things, like relish and fat-free Ranch dressing. We have to figure out where the sugar is hiding.”

Fats are no longer the bad guys either, Henson said, adding that butter and whole milk are fine to consume, as well as olive oil, avocados and nuts. Again, portion size is important, she said. Henson recommended eating from a nine-inch plate, rather than the larger dinner plates that are more common today. Half of the plate should be vegetables, and the other half protein and starch. “Unfortunately, we tend to supersize everything,” she said.

Protein is essential and builds muscle mass, which in the elderly can help prevent falls, and protein can help blood sugar remain steady. Protein sources include eggs, chicken, steak and milk. “Protein provides the greatest satisfaction,” Henson said. “You will stay full longer.

She said it’s preferable to get vitamins and minerals from food, and that water – “the forgotten nutrient” – is vitally important but often overlooked. A good benchmark is to drink fluids equivalent to half of your body weight in ounces. For example, a 170-pound person should get at least 85 ounces of water from beverages and foods each day, and possibly more if very active or when the weather is hot.

“The ultimate goal is to develop good habits that are sustainable,” Henson said.

The Mini Medical School program has been presented by CCHS faculty since 2016. It provides an opportunity for community learners to explore trends in medicine and health, and the lectures offer important information about issues and advances in medicine and research.