Think of nutrition when donating food

LAREDO (Nov. 15, 2010) — With the holidays coming, there are often many more requests for food donations to help needy families at this time of the year.

“We all have to watch what we eat over the holidays and exercise more so that we don’t gain weight. Donating food over the holidays gives us the chance to offer healthier foods to those who cannot buy them on a regular basis,” explained Carmen Roman-Shriver, Ph.D., associate professor and director of The UT Health Science Center San Antonio’s Dietetics and Nutrition Program. She leads the program from the UT Health Science Center’s Regional Campus in Laredo.

A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2000 noted that while most people gained only about a pound over the holidays, that pound often does not come off during the rest of the year, contributing to lifelong weight gain. A smaller study published in 2006 in the journal Nutrition involving college students’ weight over the holidays, showed that students who were already obese tended to gain more weight than students who were not.

“Obesity is a major health problem in South Texas, contributing to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many other chronic health problems. Providing healthier foods is important not only for our own families, but also for those who receive donated foods over the holidays,” added Sue Cunningham, Ph.D., RD, LD, assistant professor and program coordinator of the Dietetics and Nutrition Program at the Health Science Center’s San Antonio campus.

The two faculty members offer the following tips for holiday food donations:

  • Consider foods that are dense in nutrients, such as canned or dry beans (red, navy, black, pinto) or lentils, whole-grain pasta, rice, and cereals.
  • Look for good sources of protein, such as canned tuna or chicken; low-fat or fat-free milk in a can, dry or ultra-pasteurized; peanut butter and unsalted nuts.
  • Good sources of vitamin C and A, such as 100 percent juices, canned fruits in light syrup or packed in natural juices, canned vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots, tomatoes and green leafy vegetables.
  • Look for heart healthy choices that include canned items with lower sodium content including a variety of vegetables and soup.
  • Turn away from foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt such as fruit-flavored drinks, dried seasoned packages with rice, pastas or soups

“Families facing food insecurity struggle to stretch their dollar by increasing their purchasing power with foods of lower nutrient content, but that tend to be higher in calories,” Dr. Roman-Shriver said. “While this approach may increase the quantity of food purchased, it limits the overall quality of the diet. These factors fuel the obesity epidemic and related health-risk factors.”

Please view this list of suggested food items, compiled by UT Health Science Center dietetics students and Mercy Ministries of Laredo, to consider for healthier holiday donations.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled a record $259 million in fiscal year 2009. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 26,000 graduates. The $739 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit

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