Campus Dietitian Teaches Students How to Make Healthier Choices

Sara Asberry

Sara Asberry, UT Dallas' registered dietitian, answers questions after a recent presentation on healthy eating.

College students often make healthy eating more complicated than it needs to be, says Sara Asberry, UT Dallas’ new registered dietitian in the Student Wellness Center.

Students are willing to try the latest trends, from using protein shakes to grow muscle, to avoiding dairy or soy products out of concern they may be harmful. It all ends up being more expensive than regular food items, and can even be unhealthy, Asberry said.

“Students are so plugged in technologically, yet they have a lot of misinformation about trendy diets and foods. They overcomplicate eating well. It’s all about moderation,” she said.

Since arriving on campus last fall, Asberry has been on a mission to educate students about developing good nutritional habits. That includes helping them avoid accumulating “the freshman 15,” a weight gain often associated with the first year of college.

She said it’s not surprising that college students often pick up bad eating habits: It’s their first opportunity to feed themselves, their schedules are erratic, they spend more time sitting and studying, and their physical activity is less structured than it was in high school.

Throw in an all-you-can-eat meal plan and it’s not uncommon for extra pounds to creep up.

“Research shows an average of 2,500 calories are consumed every time someone goes to a buffet,” Asberry said. “The nice thing about the UT Dallas dining hall is they prepare a lot from scratch. That doesn’t happen everywhere.”

Body image is so important, even for the guys. They want that great physique with lots of muscle, and it’s amazing the extent they’ll go to do that. I want to empower them with tools to increase their longevity and improve their quality of life.

Sara Asberry,
UT Dallas’ registered dietitian

Even students who are health-conscious can overdo it, she said.

“Body image is so important, even for the guys. They want that great physique with lots of muscle, and it’s amazing the extent they’ll go to do that,” Asberry said. “I want to empower them with tools to increase their longevity and improve their quality of life.”

Asberry’s passion for nutrition began during her senior year of high school, when her sister asked her to be one of her bridesmaids. She restricted her food and worked out, but learned to do it in a healthy way.

Nutrition courses at Texas A&M University taught her further, and she realized she wanted to share what she was learning.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from A&M, Asberry completed an internship at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. She then worked with kindergarten through 12th-grade students in the Denton Independent School District before coming to UT Dallas.

Asberry is working on two master’s degrees at Texas Woman’s University: in food systems administration and an MBA.

Besides counseling individual students on nutrition, body image issues and weight loss, Asberry also does presentations for campus groups such as the athletics program, the International Center and Greek organizations.

She’s also developed campuswide initiatives to help Comets make healthy nutritional choices.

Asberry reviews the menu in Dining Hall West each week and recommends food items with the best nutritional value in five categories: proteins, fruit, vegetables, starches and dairy. She works with UT Dallas’ Dining Services to color-code healthy Comet Choice items.

“It’s important to put things in the right categories. Beans are actually a protein, and some veggies are more of a starch. I want students to understand how their plate should look,” she said.

In January, she launched “Slimdown Showdown” with the Activity Center, a six-week program of cooking demonstrations and weekly challenges she describes as “New Year’s resolutions-meet-friendly competition.”

Asberry also takes students on grocery store tours to help them make wise food purchases. She tells them: Stay on the perimeter of the store for the healthiest choices. Always read labels and check the serving size. Compare prices. Avoid trans fat and added sugar and salt.

“The longer the list on labels, the more you don’t know what you’re eating. Your body is a machine, and you need to fuel it properly,” Asberry said.

While healthy nutrition may not be as exciting as the latest workout regimen, Asberry said it’s more important in the long run. Weight loss, for instance, is only 20 percent about exercise and 80 percent dependent on diet, she said. 

“Nutrition doesn’t get the respect it deserves, but it can affect 95 percent of all our diseases: diabetes, heart disease, cancer. Food is very powerful,” Asberry said.  

“If you don’t take time for nutrition now, later in life you will have to make time for illness. Improving your nutrition won’t give you immediate gratification, but someday you’ll see major benefits.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].