What is nutrition?

Nutrition is your daily intake of food relative to your body’s dietary needs. Good nutrition is essential for sustaining a healthy lifestyle.  

Eating Right 101

Eating right means not just eating well, but eating smart. You may have heard people say that effectively managing a healthy weight is just a matter of “calories in, calories out.” That’s certainly part, but definitely not all, of the equation.

To effectively maintain a healthy weight, you need to figure out how many calories you need on a daily basis, and make sure you don’t consistently over or undereat your caloric limit. But you also need to figure out how to ensure that the kinds and amounts of calories you’re eating fulfill your daily nutritional needs.

For tips for improving and maintaining a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet, read on. 

Eating a balanced diet

Eating a balanced diet means eating the right amounts of the food groups your body needs to function optimally. To get the right amount of each food group, you need to know how a food’s serving size, or portion size, relates to the amount of calories and nutrition it’s providing you.

1) What’s a serving?

A serving size is a standardized amount of food, such as a cup or an ounce. Typically, the food’s nutrition label (link) will tell you what’s considered a single serving. Please note that a serving size doesn’t tell you how much you should be eating, it’s a guide telling you the nutritional and calorie breakdown for a specific quantity of the food.
Serving sizes also help people regulate how much of a specific type of food they are consuming, relative to other foods and in the context of their overall nutritional needs.

2) How do I read a nutritional label?

a. Nutrition labels are your friend: check on this FDA link for more on how to read a nutrition label: 

3) How do I estimate portion size?

There are a few different ways to estimate portion size. The most accurate is, of course, to measure your food – either with measuring cups, fluid measuring devices, or a food scale. But a lot of times, you won’t have access, time, or perhaps even want to measure out your food.
In that case, using one of the methods below can be helpful in figuring out how much you’re eating:
Comparing your food to another object. Check out the link below to see a serving size in each food group compared to a common household object.

Tips for Eating Well

Eating well means eating smart – paying attention not only to what and how much you eat, but how you approach eating. Check out some tips for getting the most out of what you eat: 

1) Adjust your portions.

 Eating right means eating the right foods, not just the right amount of calories; 100 calories worth of potato chips is not the same as 100 calories worth of grapes. Adjust your portions so that you’re getting the right amounts and variety of nutrients that your body needs to function optimally on a daily basis. Below are some suggestions for making sure you get enough out of each food group:  

  • Milk: switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. They have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but fewer calories and less saturated fat. Don’t drink milk? Try other calcium-rich sources like soymilk, fat-free or low-fat yogurt, cheese, beans, vegetables and greens. 
  • Protein: Eat a variety of different lean proteins. Remember that lean proteins come from sources other than meats, such as eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and tofu. 
  • Sodium: Cut down on your sodium intake. Check the nutrition labels to choose lower sodium versions of foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals. Select canned foods labeled “low sodium,” ”reduced sodium,” or “no salt added.” 
  • Grains: Try to make at least half your grains whole grains. Substitute wheat for white grain options on things like cereals and breads, and look for the words “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutrients
  • Fruits and veggies: look for lots of colors. The antioxidants and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables help protect against certain types of cancer and other diseases. 
  • Sugary stuff: Cut down on it. Foods and drinks high in sugar and fat content contribute to fluctuating energy levels and are low in nutritional value. This includes things like candy, sodas, and even sports drinks. Reduce your intake by focusing on foods and snacks from other food groups, and try to drink water instead of soda.  

2) Moderation is key. 

Maintaining a balance and variety in what you eat will keep you from becoming bored and ensure that you’re getting the nutrients you need. Here are some ways to keep your eating in balance:  

  • No “off limits”: don’t designate certain foods as “bad” or “dangerous.” Doing so increases your temptation to indulge in them, and unnecessarily restricts you from enjoying them occasionally. Just eat them on occasion, and keep yourself within the recommended serving size when you do. 
  • Don’t eliminate, substitute: look for different ways to replace and improve the nutritional content of your original indulgence, like a lower-calorie version of the same thing. Or, figure out what flavors spur your craving for that particular food – sweet, savory, salty? – And look for lighter snack options that allow you to indulge in similar flavors for fewer calories. 
  • Eliminate oversize portions: Pay attention to visual cues and try to reduce your portion sizes, especially when eating out. People tend to fill their plate with food regardless of plate size, so grab a smaller plate to fill up at the servery. Use visual cues (see link), like household objects or your hand, to make sure your food amounts are in check. 
  • Listen to your body: Take the time to enjoy eating. Eating too quickly may cause your body to bypass fullness triggers, making it more likely for you to accidentally overeat. Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and respond accordingly.  

3) Be smart when eating out.

 Don’t throw your eating habits out the window just because you’re in nutritionally unfamiliar territory when you enter a restaurant. Restaurant portion sizes, along with caloric content of even seemingly healthy-sounding dishes, have ballooned (different word) over the years, and it’s easy to overeat without realizing it. Be aware of different ways to adjust options for eating healthfully while you’re eating out:   

  • Opt for steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes instead of those that are fried or sautéed. 
  • Take half of it home. Doggie bag it right away so you won’t be tempted to eat it later on during the meal. 
  • Share with a friend.
  •  Drink a glass of water or have a small snack before the meal.
  •  Avoid heavy extras: Gravy, cheeses, and sauces will greatly add to the fat and caloric content of a dish. Ask for sauces or dressings on the side, so that you have control over how much you use. Better yet, see if they can bring you lighter options.  

4) Keep a food journal.

 logging what you eat is an easy way to figure out your eating patterns, pinpoint unhealthy habits, and better understand why you eat what and when you eat. Some of the things you should consider putting in your entries include: the time, how the food was prepared, what you ate/drank, how you felt, and the setting.  

Your nutrition needs

Nutritional needs are complex and depend largely on the person. However, there are a few basic jumping off points for figuring out how to personalize a plan to your specific nutritional needs:  

1) Figure out how many calories your body needs on a daily basis.

 This number will be your baseline for adjustment according to your daily activity. To gain, maintain, or lose weight, you will have to adjust the number of calories you’re consuming up or down, depending on your goals.
To figure out how many calories you need:
Your BMI – BMI, or basal metabolic index, is a measurement of your body fat percentage based on a calculation of your weight and height. Although BMI is not a direct measure of body fatness, and is only one factor to consider when gauging your physical health, it’s a helpful comparison/marker of where you fall on the chart of standard weight status categories. 
Your BMR – your basal metabolic rate is an estimate of how many calories you need on a daily basis, based on a calculation which includes your BMI and your physical activity.  

2) Adjust your caloric needs according to your lifestyle. 

Exercise – your amount, type, and frequency of physical activity affects how many calories you need to fuel your body. For help figuring out how your particular type of exercise affects how many calories you burn, check on the BMR links (links to exercise). For more information on fitness (link to fitness page), check out the links.
Your eating habits and resources – where you get your food from, how often you eat out, and your daily lifestyle will affect your nutritional needs and what you need to do to fulfill them. Check out the tips on “eating out” for more.
Allergies/Disorders – having a food allergy, or a disorder whose regulation affects your eating habits, like diabetes or celiac disease, means you have to not only be aware of what you’re eating, but any nutritional sources that you’re not getting as a result of dealing with your allergy/disorder. For more info about how to address your special food needs at Rice, talk to our registered dietician at the wellness center:  

3) Adjust your caloric needs according to your nutritional needs.

 Check out the “Eating Right at Rice” page to figure out what proportions and types of food your body needs.
Still unsure about navigating the process of improving your nutritional needs? The Rice Wellness Center offers services to students to help them explore nutritional plan options optimized and personalized to fit their lifestyles. 

The plate method

The Plate Method is the newly revised, newly issued visual representation of the FDA’s recommendations for the amounts and types of food groups you need on a daily basis to be healthy.Check out for more information.

The biggest takeaways from using the Plate Method are being aware of your portion sizes, and knowing how much you need of each food group. For more information on the takeaways, check out the website or our tips. 

Eating right at Rice

 What common nutritional challenges do people have when they get to college?
College ushers in a new era of freedom, from setting your own class schedule to unlimited servery buffet options, access to alcohol, and Houston’s delicious, diverse spectrum of restaurants, ripe for exploration.

  • With new freedoms come many changes. Sometimes, feeling unfamiliar or overwhelmed with the changes of college can manifest in unhealthy eating habits, such as the dreaded “freshman 15”.
  • Throughout college, weight fluctuations happen to nearly everyone, and can be onset by a variety of factors. Some of these factors include anxiety, homesickness, sadness, or stress.
  • How can I avoid them or deal with them? 
  • A better awareness of nutritional needs and body cues, as well as avoiding food triggers and temptations, will help you better maintain a healthy body weight. Check out the "Your Nutrition,” “Nutrition 101,” and “Tips for Managing Your Weight” sections on this page for more information about how to better effectively customize your nutritional needs and manage your weight.  

Tips for smart, savvy eating OC

Living off campus? Check out these grocery shopping tips for better, cheaper ways to eat healthy:

  • Sign up for the store card– many grocery stores offer store card signups to customers for free. These cards allows you to utilize special deals and price offerings at the grocery store, and also may link you through your card to more coupons and deals on their website.
  •  Use coupons – plenty of sites, most likely including the grocery store’s own, feature oodles of potentially useful coupons to print, clip, and use, in addition to ads in your local newspaper. Make sure that you’re using coupons only for things you genuinely can use, not just because you like the deal.
  • Make a list before you go – make a list of the items you need before you hit the grocery store, and stick to your list.
  • Don’t go grocery shopping hungry – you’re more likely to splurge on unnecessary food items if you’re surrounded by things you crave while you’re stomach’s rumbling.
  • Buy the generic brand – the generic, or store brands, of many common food items are typically much cheaper than brand names. Some people may insist upon brand names for quality or taste, but oftentimes there isn’t a difference between the two. If you’re unsure, compare the generic brand to the brand name.
  • Buy in-season – buy in-season produce to cut down on the amount of money you spend on things like fruit and vegetables.
  • Eat less meat - Get your protein from other sources instead, like beans, nuts, tofu, eggs, etc.
  • Check the unit price before you buy –break out the eyeglasses and that cellphone calculator and check the unit price on an item. The unit price is the small number in the bottom lefthand corner of the food item’s price tag that tells you how much money you’re actually paying for the product per ounce, pound, pint, etc. You may think you’re getting a great deal on a seemingly cheap item, when in fact the real reason is because they’re not giving you a lot for your money’s worth. Compare the unit prices of similar items to each other to gauge which one’s the better deal before you buy.
  • Brown bag it – bring your lunch instead of buying. 
  • Use leftovers– Get creative! Thing of ways to re-incorporate your leftovers into your lunches and dinners.
  • Cook when you can – it may seem time-consuming when you’re running full steam ahead, but cooking instead of buying prepackaged meals is not only cheaper, but probably more nutritious, and you may get some tasty leftovers out of it. If you’re living with roommates or suitemates, consider rotating a cooking schedule, and sharing what you make. You could even occasionally collaborate on a full meal together for a delicious potluck.
  • Rethink what you drink – and what you’re paying for it. Buying supplementary drinks, such as sodas, energy drinks, or fruit drinks can put a dent in your food budget while not providing you with much in the way of nutritional value. Can’t bring yourself to give it up entirely? Try buying a cheaper version, like the generic brand of soda, or another, equally quenching but much cheaper substitute, like powdered drink mixes.  
  • Check out our food blog for more tips on savvy ways to adapt a healthy, cheap eating lifestyle:       

Tips for managing your weight

Here are some tips for adapting a healthier food attitude:

  • Avoid eating when stressed, while studying, or while watching TV
  • Eat at regular times and try not to skip meals
  • Keep between-meal and late-night snacking to a minimum
  • Resist going back for additional servings
  • Steer clear of vending machines and fast food
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand in your room
  • Check out our tips on eating right, nutrition, etc. 
  •  Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption.  Not only can excess drinking lead to health problems, but beer and alcohol are high in calories and can cause weight gain.
  • Get enough exercise - Try to work 30 minutes of moderate exercise into your schedule each day (like walking, jogging, swimming, or working out at the gym) and you'll feel and see the results.
  • Get enough sleep - Recent studies have linked getting enough sleep to maintaining a healthy weight. Sleep is also a great way to manage the stress that can prompt overeating.         

Before you diet

  •  Ask yourself ‘why’? –Why do you think you need to gain/lose weight? Remember that drastically changing your body weight isn’t an automatic guarantee for happiness. For more on re-thinking your body image, click here. Consider whether or not your weight change is affected by some external factor, such as stress, relationship problems, adjustments to a new environment, etc. Are there ways to minimize or eliminate any external triggers influencing your weight change? If so, think about ways to proactively reduce or get rid of them.
  • Assess your eating habits – Think about what you’re consuming, or not consuming, that’s significantly affecting your weight. Consider writing down everything you eat on a typical day. Look at your daily diet from a nutritional standpoint – are you eating enough or too much of a particular food group? Don’t forget to factor in any calories you get from drinking alcohol. 
  • Be realistic – when you set a goal for gaining or losing weight, don’t set out to do it overnight – or even in one week. Trying to achieve a drastic weight change in a short amount of time not only sets you up for failure, but can potentially wreck your metabolism. Also, it’s not sustainable in the long-run. Set realistic exercise and eating goals – making minor adjustments adds up!
  • Weigh yourself regularly – Be consistent. Weigh yourself at the same time on a regular basis, and not right after a big meal, which may make you retain excess water weight. This number will help you gauge your progress.
  • Make sure you’re taking care of yourself – other aspects of your wellbeing can affect your ability to manage your weight. Make sure that you’re getting 8 hours of sleep consistently, exercising regularly, and take time to do something you enjoy on a regular basis.
  • Don’t try to do a “quick fix” – taking some aspect of your diet and/or lifestyle to an extreme is counterproductive to achieving long-lasting results.In fact, not only are these practices unsustainable in the long run, they’re also potentially damaging to your body and metabolism. Some counterproductive “quick fixes” include severely limiting your calorie intake, exercising excessively, or restricting yourself only to certain food groups.  For an effective weight change, make adjustments to your eating habits and lifestyle in moderation, so that you’re still able to perform and function optimally and healthfully.
    • If you’re trying to lose weight, Eat less than you expend. Tweak your eating habits in ways that reduce your caloric intake. Not eating that cookie for dessert every night, for instance, is a small change that may help you lose up to half a pound in a week – and that’s just one minor adjustment! Drink diet instead of regular soda. Or, substitute fruit and veggies for a heavier side dish. These are just a few of the ways that minor substitutions and adjustments can add up to effective weight loss.  For faster weight loss, incorporate or intensify your exercise routine to burn more calories.   
    • If you’re trying to gain weight, eat more than you expend. But don’t just pile on the fast food. Try to gain healthy weight, not just fat, through a combination of increasing the amount and variety of protein sources and “healthy” calories you consume. Consider varying your exercise routine to incorporate more muscle-building exercises. Consult a trainer or expert from the Rice Recreation Center for more advice on how to build muscle.   


 1) What if I do gain weight?

o It’s not uncommon for your weight to occasionally fluctuate, especially if you’re adjusting to a new environment or eating resources. If you’ve gained weight, take a look at your eating and exercise habits. Figure out ways to cut down nutritional bad habits and incorporate exercise – or, intensified exercise – into your lifestyle. Make sure to weigh yourself to track your progress and make sure that you don’t lose too much weight.  

 2) What if I’m concerned about my eating habits? 

o If you’re concerned that your eating habits are disordered, or are in some way interfering with your everyday life, then consider talking to someone to figure out what’s wrong and where you need to go next.  

3) If you have questions or concerns regarding any of the following nutritional issues or beyond, please contact the Student Wellbeing Office for more information, direction, and resources. Some of the questions they can help you answer include:   

  • What are options for students with special food needs (i.e., celiac disease, vegetarians, food allergies, diabetes, etc. )?
  • My religion practices some certain food restriction (s). How do I navigate that at Rice? 
  • What other resources do I have to figure out and improve my nutrition at Rice? 
  • What off campus resources can I explore to improve, expand, and enhance my nutrition?          


“Nutrition: The Basics.”

“Food Pyramid – How Much is a serving?”

“Handy Portion Control.”

“Serving Size- definition.”

“Healthy Eating Tips: Easy Tips for Planning a Diet and Sticking To It.”

“Build a Healthy Meal.” USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

“Healthy Eating.” CDC.

“How Much Should I Eat?”
“Beating the Freshman 15.”

"Nutrition." Stephanie Vangsness, R.D., L.D.N., C.N.S.D.
Brigham and Women's Hospital Previously published on, April 22, 2005
Reviewed October 2009 - top