By Analeigh Hughes

On the news and online, new studies constantly claim people should consume more or less of something, like wine, which is so frequently contested that it’s hard to figure out the bottom line.

Even though it seems like nutritional guidelines are always changing, that’s not the reality.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans is regarded as the best source for how Americans should make decisions about their diet, said Dr. Margaret Udahogora, the dietetics program director at this university.

These guidelines are updated every five years, and are created based on research and studies by Department of Agriculture employees and Department of Health and Human Services experts in nutrition and related fields, she said.

“They get a number of the best articles and look at their summary and make a specific recommendation,” Udahogora said.

New research, technologies and understanding of what is in our food provide us with information that alters what the guidelines should be — and as long as we continue to make new breakthroughs, dietary recommendations will continue to evolve and change, she said.

When coming across articles that declare eating a certain food increases the risk of developing a disease or that less of one food will increase life expectancy, it is important to approach them with skepticism, Udahogora said.

“People are not really aware of what is a good study. That’s why people can’t just read a study and decide to change what to eat,” she said.

When a story says that studies recommend something, it is important to check the references, Udahogora said. Often the studies listed are outdated or disproven, or there is not even a study listed.

Many times, the story is just trying to promote a product, she said.

“You have to be an educated consumer, and decide ‘How will I know if the evidence they are giving me is reliable?’” she said.

Udahogora said that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the best source, because it is created by using reputable research. The USDA has materials about nutrition, including their MyPlate guide, and there are many extension programs that provide nutritional education.

However, an individual’s dietary guidelines may be slightly different based on age, lifestyle and health conditions, so meeting with a registered dietitian may be a good way to gage individual dietary needs, Udahogora said.

Students at this university can take advantage of dietitians on staff at the Health Center and Dining Services and nutrition courses.

Ensuring a healthy, balanced diet may be challenging for college students, who face challenges such as busy schedules, limited access to food and navigating freedom for the first time. However, some students are finding their own ways to manage these barriers.

Sophomore marketing major Lucy Bedewi said that she actively uses the MyPlate guide because it is the easiest to implement every night.

“I always try and make half my plate vegetables and go for lean meats and whole grains whenever possible,” she said.

Although it can be challenging to eat a varied, healthy diet in College Park without access to a car, Bedewi finds that buying products such as chicken, fish and bread in bulk and freezing them helps ensure that she has access to these foods, even when she doesn’t have time to go to a store further away.

“I love to read articles on nutrition and I definitely like to try new things and switch up my diet because of it,” said Emma Peterson, a sophomore hearing and speech sciences major.

Peterson said she tries to consume all the food groups everyday and avoid excess intake, but she does not prescribe to a certain guideline for her diet.

“I don’t count calories or anything but I usually base it off of my workouts,” she said. “If I know I have a big one coming up I’ll eat a few more carbs than usual.”

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of MyPlate’s Facebook page.

Analeigh Hughes is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at analeigh@terpmail.umd.edu.

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