Skip to Content

The Guide to Healthy Eating

You’re busy, you’re hungry, but you don’t have to kill yourself with bad food.

By Mary Ellen Flannery

Your New Year’s resolution calls for two inches from the waist, 10 pounds dropped, and a 180-degree turnaround in your eating habits. Buh-bye, Frito-Lay. Sayonara, Snickers. Sniff, we’ll miss you. But, oh, hey, Pumpkin! (Pumpkin seeds, that is.) The best way to meet your goals is to make wise choices when you belly up to the cafeteria counter or open that refrigerator door.

All teachers love Starbucks. (Okay, maybe not all…but an awful lot of you greet the barista before you turn on that classroom smile.) Is the daily latte a good way to start the day? It has 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 17 grams of sugar. If you order it “skinny,” you lose the fat, but the sugar remains at 18 grams. (Test your knowledge of daily drinks at Starbucks' website.)

Drink this instead: A green tea. It has as many antioxidants as your lesson plans have standards. And, although many claims about its health benefits are unsubstantiated, a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests the tea may help you live longer. (Make the most of that defined-benefit pension plan!) Still, if you simply insist on a full dose of caffeinated coffee beans before facing your lovelies, try the cappuccino. It has about half the fat and sugar.

Elevenses… You’ve dropped the kids off at music, or you’re seizing the two minutes between classes. Now is that sweet time of the morning that Winnie the Pooh marked with honey on bread: snack time! Honey on bread isn’t the worst. (Whole grain, right?) It’s better than the elevenses celebrated in a certain Herman Wouk novel, which consisted solely of Scottish whiskey.

Eat this instead: When the munchies strike, grab a handful of almonds. In addition to the e-ssential Vitamin E, almonds are packed with cholesterol-reducing attributes, found Cyril Kendall, a University of Toronto scientist. In his study, published in the American Heart Association Journal, people who ate almonds daily saw significant improvements in cholesterol levels. “One ounce gives you a good effect. Two ounces gives you a better one,” he says. (Kendall also found a diet including oats, beans, and almonds can reduce cholesterol as effectively as medication.)

How I Lost 120 lbs.
After nearly reaching the 300-lb. mark, West Virginia middle school teacher Tracey Wygal has lost an amazing 120 pounds and seven dress sizes through a conscientious diet-and-exercise plan. Here’s her advice on getting started: First, keep a food diary. When you write down everything you eat, you might be surprised at what you see. Second, “be consistent in your exercise,” she says. Create a workout schedule and vary only when “abso-lutely necessary.” Third, change the way you think—don’t equate food with happiness, do set reasonable weight-loss goals, and “stop making excuses and make it happen!” she urges. “Make your health a priority in your life!” Also, be sure to read nutritional labels and avoid refined sugars.

When the lunch bell rings: The worst thing you can opt for is nothing at all. While skipping meals might save you calories, this strategy could backfire, suggests Alexandria, Virginia-based nutritionist Elizabeth M. Holm, DrPH, RD. Without food, you set yourself up for overeating or even bingeing later in the day. Plus, when your brain is deprived of glucose, you’re likely to feel irritable or dizzy. Try teaching algebra like that....

Do this instead: Get thee to the cafeteria, where your colleagues work hard to provide healthy choices. In Sayreville, New Jersey, where Pat Lieberman is cafeteria manager, the daily sandwich special is tops. (Make sure to stop by on a Thursday: grilled chicken on a honey-wheat wrap with your choice of fat-free or light dressing.) “Sandwiches and salads are made fresh daily!” she promises.

When you pack your own, you want the same convenience. So, like your students, those handy little Lunchables tempt you. It’s grab and go! Well, here’s the thing: Even though Kraft has made them healthier over the years, most of the meat and cracker combos, as well as the “Wrapz,” still have close to 1,000 milli-grams of sodium—and too much sodium is a sure-fire way to crank up your blood pressure and leave yourself vulnerable to a buildup of plaque in your arteries.

Eat this instead: An Amy’s Southwestern Burrito. No effort—and a lot less sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. Compared to the Lunchables Beef Taco Wrapz, which has 960 mg of sodium, the burrito has 680 mg. And, instead of 34 grams of sugar, the burrito has just 2.

How to rock your lunch box

There’s nothing wrong with PB&J. But every day? Try tossing some of these so-called “super foods” in your lunch box as well. They promise good health and long life, and better salaries and well-behaved students…

Pumpkin seeds: Nutritionist Jonny Bowden, author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, told New York Times readers that the seeds are the best part of the pumpkin. Packed with magnesium, a mineral associated with lower risk for early death, they’re like something that Ponce de Leon might have packed. Throw them on top of your cafeteria salad or eat them out of a handy Ziploc.

Sardines: Sardines are not gross! Bowden calls them “health food in a can,” because they’re loaded with omega-3s (good for your heart!) and calcium (good for your bones!). Here’s our advice: Don’t go cheap if you don’t want to see any heads. Spread on toast with a little mustard and tell your colleagues in the faculty lounge to hold their noses.

Apples : You might be sick of those apple-themed gifts on your bookshelves, but you should still keep a few real ones in your produce drawer. Perhaps not surprisingly, the old saw, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” has more truth than not. An apple is the ideal snack—it’s portable, it’s tasty, and it’s full of Vitamin C and pectin. Those last qualities put it on a top ten foods list published by the Mayo Clinic.

What’s hiding in your health food?

We asked Jayne Hurley, a senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), how these claims hold up.

Progresso Light Chicken Noodle Soup

What the label says: At least 33 percent fewer calories than regular ready-to-serve soup.

What it doesn’t put on display: It’s not low-sodium; eat the whole can and you’re at 1,360 milligrams.

The Expert says, “Most people aren’t zeroing in on the sodium line on the food label. A large part of the population shouldn’t be getting more than 1,500 milligrams daily.”


Dannon Light & Fit yogurt

What the label says: A 3-carb cup (4 oz.) has 60 calories and 85% less sugar than regular low fat yogurt.

What it doesn’t put on display: One of its sweeteners, acesulfame potassium, has not been thoroughly tested, and was linked to cancer in animals in a recent study.

The Expert says, “If you’re watching calories, Dannon Active Light or Activia Light are better choices.” They contain Splenda, or sucralose, the only artificial sweetener CSPI calls safe.


Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain cereal bar

What the label says: Made with real fruit, and more of the whole grains your body needs.

What it doesn’t put on display: High fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils play more of a role than fruit and fiber.

The Expert says, “These bars have very little fruit, and the fiber comes from processed fiber, which isn’t shown to be as good for us as whole grains. Better to think of these as a cookie.” Her pick? “Kellogg’s All Bran Fiber Bar—at least it actually has some whole grains.”

Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta

What the label says: Delicious white pasta plus 3x the fiber.

What it doesn’t put on display: All fiber is not created equal: Isolated or functional fiber hasn’t proven its worth.

The Expert says, “Fiber used to be an indicator of whole grain—that’s not the case any more. Taking a food that’s marginal and adding isolated fiber doesn’t make it a health food. Bottom line, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables beat these added fiber foods every time.”

Photo: Meiko arquillos

Photos: Seeds: Tamara_k; Sardines: Jabiru; Apple: Xxmmxx; Woman: rubberball

Photos: Fork and tape: Carlos Caetano; Scale: Haywiremedia; Product shots: Groff Creative, inc.

Published in:

Published In


  • anc_dyn_linksOctober | November 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksAugust | September 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksMay 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksMarch | April 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksJanuary | February 2009