Nutrition Peer's Blog

Nutrition Coach's Corner

Our Peer Nutrition Coaches are asked a variety of nutrition related questions everyday. Here is a sample of the most popular topics and the advice they give to students. Check out the blogs they have written to see!

Nutrition Peer's Blogs

A Closer Look at the 4 Most Popular Dairy Substitutes


Written by Julia Latoff, Dietetic Major ‘22

University Health Center Peer Nutrition Coach

If you choose to avoid dairy because of personal preference, dietary restrictions, or allergies, you might be wondering what the best milk substitute is. In today’s, market there are a variety of choices that can be difficult to navigate if you don’t know what to look for. 

Cow’s milk is a quality source of carbohydrates, fats, protein, and vitamins. One cup of low-fat (1%) milk offers about 110 calories,7-8 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates, and 3-2 grams of fat. It is also packed with nutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium, phosphorus, and often fortified with vitamin D. When shopping for dairy substitutes, it is important to find options that offer similar nutrient profiles.

Here’s a quick breakdown of 4 common substitutes: 

Soy milk

  • Soy milk is made from soybeans or soy protein isolate
  • 1 cup offers 80-90 calories, 7-9 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbs, 4-4.5 grams of fat
  • It is a “complete” protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids humans need to obtain from dietary intake
  • It has the closest nutrient profile to cow’s milk 
  • Soy milk is served at UMD dining halls

Almond milk

  • Almond milk is made from almonds and water
  • 1 cup provides 30-35 calories, 1 g of protein, 1-2 g of carbohydrates, and 2.5 g of fat. 
  • It is a good source of vitamin E which helps the body fight disease-causing free radicals
  • Mostly water and therefore lower in calories than cow’s milk, but also less vitamins and minerals
  • Offered at various café locations on campus, such as Footnotes café in McKeldin Library and The Coffee Bar in Stamp Student Union.

Oat milk

  • Oat milk is made from oats and water
  • 1 cup offers 140-170 calories, 2.5-5 grams of protein, 19-29 grams of carbohydrates, and 4.5-5 grams of fat
  • It is high in fiber which can aid digestion and can help lower cholesterol levels
  • Offered at various café locations on campus, such as Footnotes café in McKeldin Library and The Coffee Bar in Stamp Student Union.

Coconut milk

  • Coconut milk is made from coconut flesh and water
  • 1 cup has 45 calories, 4 g of fat, no protein, and no carbs
  • This substitute is the lowest in protein and carbohydrate content of nondairy substitutes
  • High in saturated fat which should be kept to a minimum when considering heart health 
  • Offered at various café locations on campus, such as Footnotes café in McKeldin Library and The Coffee Bar in Stamp Student Union.

Each substitute offers a unique taste and nutrient profile, so individual needs should be considered when picking the best option for you. However, it is important to note when shopping, look for a brand that is fortified with vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin E to help you meet daily recommended intakes. 

To learn more about dairy substitutes, reserve your free session with a Nutrition Coach today by calling 301-314-5664 or email or to learn more information visit

5 Tips Every College Student Should Know About Buying Fresh Produce

Casey McAlpine, Dietetics Major ‘22, University Health Center Peer Nutrition Coach


Picture by Casey McAlpine 

Being a college student means always having a busy schedule, which can make finding time to grocery shop difficult. Shopping for fresh produce can be an overwhelming experience. How do I know what fruit is ripe? What if it goes bad before I eat all of it? We’ve all been there, standing, staring at the produce section. So, next time you’re in the grocery store, remember these tips to make shopping for fruits and veggies a breeze. 


Buy produce when it’s in-season

When fresh fruits and vegetables are ‘in-season’ it means that they are sold, purchased, and consumed close to the time that it is harvested. Fresh produce costs less when it is in-season. The USDA Seasonal Produce Guide organizes a variety of fruits and vegetables into lists for the season they are in-season. The guide is interactive and provides nutrition information, delicious recipes, and educational articles about each fruit or veggie. Here is a sample list of produce in-season:

  • Spring: apples, avocados, bananas, carrots, lettuce, pineapple, strawberries
  • Summer: bell peppers, blueberries, cucumbers, peaches, watermelon, summer squash
  • Fall: broccoli, green beans, pears, pumpkin, potatoes, radishes, turnips
  • Winter: brussel sprouts, cabbage, celery, oranges, winter squash


Find a local farmers’ market

One of the best ways to get fresh, in-season produce is to shop at a local farmers’ market. In the fall and spring, the University of Maryland has its very own farmer’ market right here on campus starting on April 6, 2022.  Every Wednesday, outside Tawes Hall, the UMD farmers’ market has a group of vendors who offer a wide selection of locally grown produce and locally made products. There are other farmers’ markets in the area in the Riverdale Park neighborhood and the Hollywood neighborhood. The USDA shares that farmers’ markets offer fresh foods at reasonable prices, support local agriculture, and are often sustainable shopping experiences. Find a farmers’ market near you to enjoy the rewarding experience of supporting the local economy while also eating farm to table!

Find friends to buy produce together

Shopping for one person is difficult. Many college students struggle to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for themselves because of the risk that if they buy too much, it will go bad and go to waste. Finding friends who would want to shop together and share produce is a great way to be able to buy a variety of fresh foods without the risk of waste. Cutting up fruits and veggies takes time so sharing that responsibility with friends helps to accommodate the busy student schedule. 

Additionally, Safeway in Hyattsville typically has a member deal on pre-cut fruit bowls where you can get two for a cheaper price. Pre-cut fruits are convenient and also a great option for individual shoppers. 


Organic does not always mean better for you

Organic farming is when crops are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic is often associated with being healthier, but that is not the case. Non-organic produce has all of the same nutrients as organic produce but is sold at a lower cost. Organic produce and non-organic produce look and taste nearly the same and have all of the same health benefits. Choose the options that fit within your budget. 

Try something new

Variety is key to ensuring that you are enjoying a nutritious diet and are getting all of your essential nutrients. Are there any fruits or vegetables that you’ve never tried before? Encourage yourself to grab something new off the shelves next time you are at the store; you never know, you may find your new favorite food!

Including fresh produce in your diet gives you the opportunity to enjoy different flavors and textures, in addition to all of the vitamins and minerals they offer. Fruits and vegetables are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, so keep these 5 tips in mind the next time you are planning a trip to the grocery store. 

To learn more about fresh fruits and vegetables, reserve your free session with a nutrition coach today by emailing or by calling (301) 314-5664 or to learn more information visit 

Wait! Don’t Skip the Carbs! Here’s Why…

                Photo credit to Pixabay

Wait! Don’t Skip the Carbs! Here’s Why…

Written by Jenna Tognola, Dietetics Major ‘22, University Health Center Peer Nutrition Coach

Terps, carbohydrates are NOT the enemy! From my time at UMD as a Health Center Peer Nutrition Coach, I’ve heard it all: “I am not eating carbohydrates,” “carbohydrates are bad,” … and the list goes on.

These are all myths, Terps! Your body needs them to survive and function properly in all that you do every day as a busy college student.

Why do I need carbohydrates?

1. Carbohydrates are the gold standard of energy to the body. The cells in your body function best when they receive a certain level of carbohydrates, in the form of glucose. The brain, nervous system, and red blood cells rely exclusively on glucose for fuel!

2. If we are not eating carbohydrates, the body will start to look for other places to find fuel, and without glucose from carbohydrates, the body will first start to break down the protein in your body. The Intuitive Eating book by two Registered Dietitians explain it like this: “it’s like taking wood from the framework structure in your house to use as fuel in your fireplace. The wood will burn and provide necessary fuel, but it does so at a high price. You will begin to lose the integrity of your structure!”

3. If the above points did not convince you, another reason carbohydrates are important is our body is *literally* biologically designed to crave, consume, and process them. Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a chemical produced by the brain to trigger us to eat carbohydrates as the body’s primary and preferred source of energy. Food deprivation or under eating drives NPY into action, causing the body to seek more carbohydrates. When the next time to eat rolls around, your body will be super charged to crave carbohydrates which can lead to overeating or bingeing. Some might mistake this as a lack of willpower, but in fact it is your biology. Your body is telling you so clearly that you need carbohydrates for fuel. Your body is screaming: “Feed me!” Food is indeed fuel!

Sources of carbohydrates:

  • Whole grains or foods made from whole grains (like rice, quinoa, oats, breads, cereals, pasta, crackers, etc.)
  • Fruits and Starchy Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Dairy products

Although most food groups provide some carbohydrates, consuming grains is essential for meeting one’s carbohydrate and energy needs.

Weekly Tip/How to incorporate carbs into each meal:

  • Try adding a grain (rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, potatoes, barley, farro, etc.) to a basic garden salad or stir-fry.
  • For at least half of the grain foods you eat, choose whole grains, which are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals as well
  • Experiment with whole grain pasta, bread, brown rice noodles, etc. in the dining hall or in your cooking rhythms
  • Try this week to incorporate a carbohydrate source in each meal!

Next time you are making or purchasing a meal, make sure you are getting carbohydrates in the form of something from the grain group! It is an essential part of a healthy diet!

To learn more about the importance of carbohydrates in each meal for optimal nutrition and health, reserve your free session with a nutrition coach today by calling 301-314-5664 or email or to learn more information visit:

What is Practical Hunger and How Can it Benefit College Students?

Written by Sally Hannigan, Dietetics Major ‘23
University Health Center Peer Nutrition Coach

What is Practical Hunger and How Can it Benefit College Students?

*The following information is not intended to replace healthcare advice from licensed professionals.

An important part of healthful eating is learning how to listen and respond to inner hunger and fullness signals when it comes to figuring out when and how much to eat. However, there are reasons to eat when we don’t feel our usual hunger cues. Practical hunger is part of the second principle of Intuitive Eating, “Honor Your Hunger”. While the foundation of this principle involves learning how to distinguish biological hunger from external reasons to eat (or not eat), Intuitive Eating is meant to be flexible and sensible. Responding to practical hunger means eating when you might not be biologically hungry, but it’s the most health-promoting decision at the time.

What does Practical Hunger Mean?

There are three principles that help break down the big picture of a health-promoting eating pattern: consistent eating, conscious food choices, and mindful portions. Let’s take a look at how practical hunger fits into each principle:

Consistent Eating

Learning to honor practical hunger cues is essential for maintaining a consistent eating pattern so that we are evenly fueled throughout the day. The purpose of being evenly fueled throughout the day is to avoid becoming overly hungry (i.e., deprived of energy) so that our minds can focus on what matters most while our bodies carry out a multitude of functions. In terms of practical hunger, this might look like heading to the dining hall for lunch at 11:00am before back-to-back classes from 12:00-5:00pm. You might not be hungry at 11:00am but you know you would be starving and out of energy in the middle of your 2:00pm class, right when you need your mind fueled. 

Conscious Food Choices

Let’s say the student who had a meal at 11:00am finishes class at 5:00pm and comes home to a batch of cupcakes baked by their roommate. They think, “Chocolate cake is my favorite! I’ll enjoy one and move on”. Their other roommate thought 11:00am was too early for lunch and now hasn’t eaten for hours. They get home and quickly eat three despite the fact that they don’t even like chocolate cake much. Responding to practical hunger to maintain consistent fueling sets us up to make conscious food choices. All of our favorite foods can and should be part of a nourishing diet, but it is much more satisfying to be able to mindfully choose what we want to eat. 

Mindful Portions

The third component of our health-promoting eating pattern is enjoying comfortable and satisfying portions. The student who honored practical hunger earlier in the day chose to eat a cupcake, fully enjoyed it, and found that one was satisfying. They feel comfortable and move on with their day. The student who did not honor practical hunger had three cupcakes that they didn’t enjoy, then felt too full, but unsatisfied. 

You would likely rather feel like the student who fully enjoyed their cupcake and continued with their day. Consistent eating allows us to make conscious food choices and enjoy mindful, satisfying portions of food- which will often depend on honoring practical hunger cues. 

Practical Hunger is an Essential Tool for College Students

College students have some of the busiest schedules imaginable. We demand so much of ourselves to achieve our goals, yet schedules often conflict with being able to eat exactly when we are comfortably hungry, and therefore maintain a consistent eating pattern, make conscious food choices, and enjoy mindful portions. Listening and responding to practical hunger cues is an essential tool for keeping our minds and bodies fueled for success. 

Next time you feel like you might be receiving a practical hunger signal from your brain and body- trust that feeling! Practice listening to these cues and notice how responding to them benefits your overall eating pattern, energy, and well-being. 

To learn more about practical hunger, reserve your free session with a University Health Center Peer Nutrition Coach today by calling 301-314-5664 or by emailing To learn more information visit

Grocery Store Game Plan

Grocery Store Game Plan

By Christina Galanis, Nutrition Science Major ‘23
University Health Center Peer Nutrition Coach

two young people standing in a grocery store

Grocery shopping often starts before you even enter the store. For many, college is the first-time students have the opportunity to grocery shop and prepare food for themselves, which can often feel overwhelming or intimidating. As a Peer Nutrition Coach, I have found that developing a game plan beforehand can help ease the worry and stress of grocery shopping. Here are some tips to help you plan for your next grocery store trip:


Eat a snack beforehand

You have probably heard the saying “don’t go to the grocery store hungry.” When we are in a starved state, our bodies tend to reach for the quickest and most efficient sources of energy that are necessary to survive. In this starved state, it is very difficult to make conscious food choices that honor our health and taste buds. When we go to the grocery store, we are making choices that will dictate our nutrition in the near future. To set ourselves up well in the future, it is important to fuel ourselves properly before shopping.


Plan a menu for the week with ideas for meals and snacks

As a student, our schedules can get very busy with extracurriculars, club meetings, work, and class. Keeping in mind your schedule, what meals and snacks can you see yourself realistically having this week? Write down some ideas and take note of the foods that you would need to grab from the grocery store. MyPlate has generated a grocery store game plan with a calendar format that may be helpful to plan out some ideas for meals and snacks.


Make a list

Having a list on hand while navigating the grocery store can help us save money and time. Students who have a list are less likely to buy extra food and non-food related items at the grocery store. In addition, a list reminds us of what food we need for the near future to nourish our bodies. The time spent developing a list takes less time than returning to the store for a forgotten item. There are many ways to structure your grocery list. Some students prefer to order their list based on where the items will be found in the grocery store. For others, it may be helpful putting items within categories according to the food groups.


Plan how to get to the grocery store

There are a few grocery stores that are near campus including Trader Joe’s, Target, Whole Foods, Safeway, and Lidl. The UM shuttle service provides a bus route that stops at many of these grocery stores, and it runs on Saturdays from 10 AM to 10 PM. This bus is #133 and is free to ride for students with a campus ID. To learn more about this bus route and others offered by UMD, visit the UM shuttle website.


Know how to navigate the grocery store

Grocery stores can change their design from store to store, but there are some commonalities. Usually, grocery stores keep whole, fresh fruits near the front of the store and along the perimeter of the store. Along the perimeter, you are also likely to find the dairy, meat, and seafood sections. Within the isles in the middle of the store, you are likely to find the frozen and bread sections. In addition, grocery stores tend to place more processed snack items in the middle of the store and bakery section along the perimeter.

To learn more about developing a grocery store game plan, reserve a free session with a Peer Nutrition Coach today by emailing or by calling (301) 314-5664. To learn more information about Nutrition Services at the University Health Center visit our Nutrition Services Page.