Bits and Bites: Serve yourself – for your heart

Wednesday, February 1, 2023 Bits and Bites: Serve yourself – for your heart

A student scoops some cut strawberries from the serving line

written by Ellyn McCarter, Dining Services registered dietitian and nutrition manager.

Serve Yourself is a program through Dining Services to teach you how to use food to your advantage. Nutrition is a tool to help you achieve a variety of goals. For example, you can utilize food to give you the energy to carry you through long study sessions, achieve your fitness goals, or prevent chronic disease. Serve Yourself provides general nutrition advice on a variety of topics. Every month we explore different ways to utilize nutrition to initiate a healthful dietary pattern. This month we will discuss the various ways to use food to help you achieve your fitness goals.

The Serve Yourself topic of the month was an easy pick because February is American Heart Month. Did you know that what you eat can affect the development of conditions that increase your likelihood of heart attack and stroke? Conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are risk factors for heart disease. Your diet and nutrition can affect the development of these risk factors.

Studies show that a dietary pattern incorporating these two practices can prevent the onset of certain chronic diseases, including heart disease.

Add vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, lean animal proteins, fish, and seafood to your regular eating pattern

Limit added sugar, refined grains*, and saturated fats**.

Little choices every day can help you work towards a healthy eating pattern. For example, add a piece of fruit or vegetable to your meals or swap your regular soda for its zero-sugar version. You can start a healthy eating pattern at any time in your life.

I know the old joke is that heart disease runs in your family because no one runs in your family, but that’s often not the case. There are uncontrollable risk factors that make you more likely to develop heart disease. Genetics is one example. Black individuals disproportionately develop severe high blood pressure earlier in life. Mexican-American, American-Indian, Native-Hawaiian, and some Asian-American people are at a higher risk for developing heart disease. Heart disease is an important topic to me. Both of my parents had major cardiac events in their 50s. My family history is one of the reasons I chose to pursue an education in dietetics. Nutrition is just one thing we can do to control our risk for heart disease, but there are others.

Your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI) are significant numbers in determining your heart's health. Did you know that the University Health Center (UHC) can help you figure out your numbers? UHC is an excellent resource, with many services covered by student fees or as an employment benefit if you work for the University. I encourage you to follow a healthy eating pattern and have yearly check-ups with your primary care physician.

Healthful eating is about balance. The focus should be on broad eating habits without focusing on specific foods. If you have questions about healthful eating habits through Dining Services, contact Ellyn McCarter, registered dietitian, at

* Refined grains are grains that have been milled. This process removes essential nutrients like B Vitamins and fiber from the grain. The vitamins are often added back, but the fiber will still be missing.

** Saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperature—for example, butter, coconut oil, or the fat on bacon.

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