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TIna TiernanCampus Dining’s Dietitian Has a Full Plate

Whether they are student athletes searching for ways to add muscle to their frames, students with food allergies looking for special diets, or health-conscious scholars simply looking for an alternative to pizza at one of Stony Brook University’s dining services, they all seek out the services of Campus Dining’s registered dietitian Kristina (Tina) Tiernan.

Since her arrival on campus in February, Tiernan has been consulting with as many as five students a day, trying to help them develop health-conscious menu choices based on their individual needs. When she is not meeting with students, the high-energy health advocate is hosting Cooking 101 sessions at H Quad, handing out free samples of superfoods on a rotating basis at the SAC, Union, West Side Dining and Roth Café every Tuesday from 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm, posting food tips and trivia questions online at SBUEats' Facebook and Twitter pages, and on the Seawolves Food Show; making presentations for Resident Assistants and various classes, and giving out samples at the Campus Recreation Center.

The best news about Tiernan’s services is that her advice is free for students. A similar session with a private dietitian would be out of most students’ price range. And although a major component of her job involves making sure that all items sold on campus accurately list nutritional information, she means it when she says, “Students are my first priority.”

She makes herself available to students well outside of the normal workday. “I don’t really have office hours,” she said. Because every student’s schedule is different, she doesn’t ever want a student to think that she can’t find time in her schedule. Tiernan requests that students email her to set up an appointment to meet at her office, located in the Melville Library. “I try to allot at least 75 minutes for an appointment so students don’t feel as if I’m cutting them short. If students want to continue to meet with me, especially for those who have weight-loss or weight-gain goals, I encourage them to schedule follow-up appointments.”

Although many people refer to Tiernan as a nutritionist, she points out that she is a registered dietitian and there is a difference. “To become a registered dietitian you have to have a degree in nutrition accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,” she said. Earning that degree requires an extensive science background including such core courses as nutritional biochemistry, microbiology, chemistry, organic chemistry, food science, anatomy and physiology.

A registered dietitian must also serve a yearlong internship prior to accreditation. Tiernan fulfilled that requirement at Stony Brook University’s Clinical Nutrition Program in the School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine from 2011 to 2012. She was hired here as the Campus Dining dietitian in 2013.

The New Hampshire native was interested in fitness during her days playing softball and cheerleading in high school, but she attributes her specific interest in nutrition and special-needs diets to her brother, who suffers from severe food allergies.

Tina TiernanTiernan serves on several committees, including Healthier U., and heads up the Vegetarian/Vegan Taskforce, which is where she met freshman biology major Rebecca Monastero. Rebecca’s food allergies require a specialized diet. Tiernan credits Monastero for helping her make rapid headway on addressing students’ special dietary needs across the board. She explained that the student-run Resolutions Committee, which meets weekly during Campus Life Time, must approve all dietary changes on campus, aside from allergy-free items. For example, before a grab-and-go sweet potato salad could be introduced at one of the campus dining venues last semester, packaging specifications and cost had to be considered and voted on by the committee.

Although Tiernan views her progress on implementing change as “a work in progress,” the SAC and Stony Brook Union now feature almond milk yogurt, the SAC has soy- and gluten-free vegetarian pizza, and all campus locations offer vegetarian burgers — the result of her efforts.

Monastero gives Tiernan high marks because many students suffer from celiac disease and various allergies. “I was very demanding of her,” said Monastero. “I asked for a lot and she delivered on all of it. It’s hard. There’s just so much change you can bring about in the first few weeks of a semester. But now there are a lot of healthful alternatives with all of the nutrients you need — interesting foods so you can vary your diet.”

Monastero cited the salad bar as a prime example of this. “There are so many options such as sunflower seeds, different proteins, fruits and vegetables that it’s not even a salad by the time you’re done making it,” she said.

For more information or for students to set up a free consultation, email Kristina.Tiernan@stonybrook.edu or call her at (631) 632-9979.

By Glenn Jochum; photos by John Griffin


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