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June 28, 2001

On the run? Nutritionist says a healthy diet is still possible

In today's fast-paced world, many individuals cannot find the time to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Eating healthy while on the run is not easy for everyone, yet there are simple changes one can make to provide for a healthier eating lifestyle, according to a UPMC nutritionist.

A common problem for individuals on the go is that they have no set mealtime. They may find it hard to keep foods with them, especially in the warm, summer months. Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, offers help to those who can't find the time to make a drastic change in their diet.

"Make a valiant effort to have one decent meal a day," says Bonci. "This includes some kind of protein with a vegetable or fruit and a starchy food." The protein Bonci suggests can be chicken, lean red meat, fish or eggs, while the starch can be provided by rice, potatoes, pastas, cereals or breads.

Small and frequent meals are more beneficial than large sporadic meals, Bonci says. Healthy snack items include:

* Small boxes of dried fruit;

* Trail mix of cereal, nuts and dried fruit;

* Sports bars that provide a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat, putting greater emphasis on the carbohydrates;

* Peanut butter crackers;

* Yogurt with cereal added;

* Cheese sticks and fruit;

* Raw vegetables such as baby carrots, radishes, grape tomatoes and celery sticks.

For maximum energy, Bonci recommends eating something every three to four hours and keeping well hydrated. The number of ounces of fluid a person needs every day is half of the person's weight in pounds.

"Keep a water bottle and a packet of powdered fruit drink or lemonade with you, and adding water will provide you with a thirst quenching drink," she suggests. "It is cost efficient and has fewer calories than bottled beverages."

When dealing with fast foods Bonci says to always avoid super-sizing meals. "A Big Mac is well suited with a small order of French fries, while a hamburger gives you more leeway to have a medium order of French fries. Milkshakes from McDonald's are a low-fat and tasty alternative for a snack," she says.

"Subway sandwiches are great choices when you go light on the cheese and mayonnaise. Remember that eating a hamburger is ALWAYS healthier than a fried fish sandwich.

"To make the adjustment in your diet easier, make changes gradually," adds Bonci. "One change at a time works better, such as adding one more meal a day, or one more glass of fluid. It is essential to fuel your body to provide the energy for physical and mental well-being. Ideally, try to consume three-fourths of your daily calorie intake before the end of the working day. This will make it easier on your body from a health and weight perspective.

"If you try something different with food choices or eating habits, note how it makes you feel," encourages Bonci. "Remember to be patient, as it takes three months of trying a new eating habit or lifestyle change before it becomes routine." She also encourages individuals to remember that food should taste good. If it doesn't, Bonci says, then don't eat it.  

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