Creating the Extraordinary Student Experience

What is "Healthy Eating?" Your Student Life for the week of 11/24/19 (Undergrad)

As the Senior Director of Student Life Dining Services here at Ohio State, I have made it a priority to elevate the conversation surrounding “healthy” foods. You, our students, are much more aware of their health and wellness needs and more comfortable talking about dietary preferences. In fact, students are much more open to sharing their thoughts regarding food than they were just a decade ago.

Staff dieticians, chefs and I engage in discussions with students to make the conversation around “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods more sophisticated. As a society, we have a bad habit of labeling certain foods unhealthy. Take pizza or fried chicken for example. There is a stigma surrounding these foods, however, calling pizza and fried chicken unhealthy is factually incorrect. The foods themselves are not unhealthy; I think what we mean to say is overconsumption of some foods have a higher risk than other foods. Calling one food unhealthy is not the best way to describe what a healthy food is. In order for one food to win, another food does not have to lose.

Nutrition is not as simple as most people think. It is a complex topic with many dimensions, which is why this conversation is so important. Everyone is different; we consume food differently and our bodies absorb food differently.

The university views food as an important component when looking at the holistic view of a student. Student Life Dining Services does not focus solely on nutrition; we also address mental health. Food is personal and emotional and therefore, it should make you happy.

I believe mental well-being should seriously be considered when choosing what foods to eat. I have a strong belief that if a food is unhealthy, it should be illegal to serve. If Ohio State is serving a food, it is because it brings some sort of health and wellness benefit to the student or anyone consuming that food. The benefit could be nutritional or mental and will vary from student to student.

The types of foods students eat may be dependent on dietary, lifestyle and/or religious needs. Here at Ohio State, we celebrate inclusive excellence, meaning our success is dependent on the rich diversity of our students, staff, faculty, administrators and alumni constituents. We all come from different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities and religions so Dining Services must be aware and sensitive to family and religious traditions. In many cultures, foods such as pizza and fried chicken are celebrated and are a part of the tradition. It is important for everyone to consider this before speaking about specific foods to avoid offending people.

Over the last five years, dieticians have become more aware of the holistic view of nutrition, going out of their way to tell people you should not label foods “healthy” and “unhealthy.” You should be talking about what your goals are and what type of nutrition balance you are looking for in your life.

Labeling foods good or bad is a distraction from the real conversation of what kind of nutritional balance do you need to thrive as a human being. Culture change at Ohio State requires patience and hard work. It does not happen overnight, but I believe having these sophisticated conversations surrounding food and nutrition are leading us in the right direction.

Food for thought.


Zia Ahmed

Senior Director
Student Life Dining Services














Dave Isaacs