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Ask a dietetics expert: Eating healthy on a dime

Debra Barone Sheats ’75
Debra Barone Sheats ’75
St. Catherine University Photo Bureau

When seeking advice on diet as it relates to health and well-being, it’s important that you receive the very best information.

Throughout the rest of March, which is National Nutrition Month, we’ll run a series of Q & A stories with esteemed dietetics alumnae, addressing a variety of food and nutrition topics.

The first topic, “Eating healthy on a dime” is tackled by Debra Barone Sheats ’75, director of the dietetics program and assistant professor in the Nutrition and Exercise Science Department at St. Catherine University. 

What are your top tips for eating healthy on a tight budget?

  • To get started, determine your food budget for the month and then divide it by four to determine a weekly food budget. Develop a weekly menu before you go to the store; use foods you already have on hand first.
  • Create a shopping list and shop only from the list. Never go to the grocery store when hungry; go after you have eaten and are full.
  • Shop the perimeter of the store for the basics of a healthy diet, nutrient-rich foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products and whole grains.
  • Always shop for produce in season, or on special. Select the most colorful produce — it has the highest amounts of nutrients and phytochemicals (naturally occurring compounds in foods that have health promoting properties) like lutein, lycopene and B-carotene.
  • Stock up on non-perishable whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta and oatmeal, when they are on sale. Save big on day old bread.
  • Choose generics instead of name brands when it won’t affect the quality of the product — such as cream of mushroom soup in a casserole.
  • Because protein rich foods are often the most expensive: eat more mixed dishes (soups, stews, and casseroles), use inexpensive protein sources such as eggs, canned fish, or tuna, and eat 1–2 meatless meals per week, with combinations such as: rice and beans, hummus and pita bread, or split pea soup and crackers.
  • When eating out, consider that what we are usually served is really 2–3 servings. Take leftovers home, refrigerate promptly and reheat thoroughly within 1–2 days. Enjoy another meal, without spending any more money!

Are there cheap foods that we should stay away from when shopping?

Buy less chips, candy, cookies, doughnuts, coffee with whipped cream and syrups, pop and other sugary drinks, including energy drinks. These foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. We often get a quick burst of energy from them, but it doesn’t last long and then we are eating more. Focus instead on healthy foods like a clementine, some blueberries or raspberries, baby carrots, yogurt, cheese and whole grain crackers, and nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans.

Buy less packaged items, like ramen noodles, cup-a-soup, instant mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, frozen pizzas, potpies and TV-dinner type meals. These items are high in sodium, which can increase blood pressure and the risk for heart disease. These items are often high in saturated and trans fats, which can raise blood cholesterol levels, and also increase the risk of heart disease.

Many of St. Kate's students are commuters. Any ideas for healthy foods that travel well and/or stay fresh?

Foods that are portable and easy to have on the go include: fruit such as a banana, apple, orange or berries; baby carrots, sugar snap peas, and other cut-up vegetables like peppers, broccoli or cauliflower; yogurt, cheddar, Swiss or provolone cheese and whole grain crackers; nuts such as almonds, walnuts and pecans; seeds such as sunflower seeds and nut butters such as peanut butter; lean luncheon meats such as turkey, ham or roast beef and whole grain bread; to-go containers of skim or low-fat milk. Use an icepack — a frozen juice box works well — for items that need refrigeration.

What's your advice for eating affordably when you have a food intolerance like gluten or dairy?

Foods for a gluten-free diet are often more expensive. Before you go on this diet, make sure you have had your condition diagnosed by a medical doctor, as blood tests are needed. Many people are going gluten free thinking it is a healthy way to lose weight. It is not! Gluten-free diets are often low in dietary fiber, B-vitamins, and trace minerals like copper, iron and zinc. If you truly need a gluten-free diet, you must avoid wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats that are processed in the same plant as the other grains. Stick to more fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean meats, low-fat dairy products including skim milk, yogurt and cheese. Avoid processed foods, as gluten is found in many foods.

If you have lactose intolerance, you may still be able to eat some regular dairy products, so don’t eliminate all dairy which is our best source of calcium and vitamin D. Try yogurt with active bacterial cultures like Yoplait or Activia which is often easier to digest. Aged cheeses like cheddar, mozzarella and Swiss are often easier to digest. If milk causes problems, substitute calcium and vitamin D fortified soymilk. You can also take over-the-counter pills like Lactaid to help digest dairy products.

A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can also help you learn more about a gluten-free or lactose-free diet.

More about Assistant Professor Debra Sheats '75

Sheats is an active member of several national, state and local professional organizations. Appointed by Governor Mark Dayton in 2011, she currently serves as chair of theMinnesota Board of Dietetics and Nutrition Practice. Sheats has won numerous professional awards, including the Medallion Award from the Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


Other "Ask a dietetics expert" articles:

Eating to shake winter's grip featuring Christine Palumbo '75

Maintaining energy during midterms featuring Brooke Schneider Dorma '08

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March 12, 2014 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Alumnae/i, Faculty, Healthcare, Leadership