Proper nutrition is important for living a healthy life. Creating healthy nutrition habits can greatly impact your daily wellbeing in terms of feeling your best physically and mentally. With proper nutrition, your body runs efficiently and avoids feeling lethargic or depressed and even avoid becoming physically ill.
Nutritional awareness is especially important for college students given the prevalence of vegetarian/vegan diets and diets with special restrictions (ie. considering athletic needs, food allergies, etc.). It can be tricky to navigate the dining hall while accommodating for your needs and getting all of your essential nutrients. In order to stay healthy throughout college, it’s important that you are armed with knowledge on how to use the dining hall as a tool to meet your nutritional needs.
It is vital to get the right amount of food from each food group as you go through each day. The specific amount depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity. According to choosemyplate.gov, for the average person eating a simple diet of 1800 calories per day a daily food breakdown to effectively achieve a balanced diet is as follows:
- Grains: 6 ounces
- Vegetables: 2 ½ cups
- Fruits: 1 ½ cups
- Milk: 3 cups
- Meats & Beans: 5 ounces
A healthy eating plan emphasizes fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free milk products. It includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. Above all it keeps a low intake of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars. Everything you eat and drink matters. Learning to implement the right mix into your diet can help you be healthier now and in the future.
- Proteins are complex molecules and the body needs time to break them down. This is why they are known to be a longer-lasting source of energy. All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the Protein Foods Group.
- Carbohydrates have two major roles: they are the primary energy source for the brain and they are a source of calories to maintain body weight. A diet containing an optimum level of carbohydrates may help prevent body fat accumulation. They are also involved in the construction of the body organs and nerve cells, and in the definition of a person’s biological identity such as their blood group.
- Simple Carbohydrates are digested and used quickly by the body. These are found in foods such as milk, sodas, cakes, and other sweets. These sugars provide energy to the body, but often lack vitamins and fiber.
- Complex Carbohydrates are made of longer strands of sugars. This means that they take the body longer to digest. They often include other vitamins and minerals and provide the body with a source of fiber.
- Fats are both provide a source of energy for the body and protect the internal organs of the body. Some essential fats are also required for the formation of hormones. Fats are the slowest source of energy but the most energy-efficient form of food. Each gram of fat supplies the body with about 9 calories, more than twice that supplies by the two other macronutrients.
Special Nutrient Needs
- Calcium and Vitamin D : Adults need vitamin D and calcium to help build and maintain bone health. It is important to include 3 servings of vitamin D-fortified, low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt each day. Other calcium-rich foods are fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables and canned fish with soft bones. If you take a calcium supplement or multivitamin, choose one that contains vitamin D.
- Vitamin B12 : Vitamin B12 plays an important role in how your body creates energy. Fortified cereals, lean meat and some fish and seafood are sources of vitamin B12. Ask your doctor or dietitian about your B12 needs.
- Fiber : Eat more fiber-rich foods to help keep a regular digestive system. Fiber also can help lower your risk for heart disease, control your weight and prevent type 2 diabetes. Choose whole grain breads and cereals and include more beans and peas. Fruits and vegetables also provide fiber.
- Potassium : Increasing your intake of potassium along with reducing sodium (salt), may lower your risk of high blood pressure. Fruits, vegetables and low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt are good sources of potassium. Choosing to prepare foods with little or no added salt is another great way to lower your risk of high blood pressure.
Healthy Eating Tips:
- Plan Your Meals: Plan to eat at least three meals a day. Whether you’re eating at home, packing a lunch, or eating out, an overall eating plan for the day will help keep you on track.
- Balance Your Plate: Aim for half your plate to be filled with vegetables, one fourth with lean meat, poultry or fish, and one fourth with grains.
- Size of Plate Matters: Try changing from a large dinner plate to a smaller one. It may help you feel satisfied with reduced portions.
- Start Healthy: Start your meal with low calorie foods like fruits, vegetables and salads. Then move on to the main course and side dishes.
- Know When to Stop: It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your body is getting food. So, fast eaters – slow down and give your brain a chance to get the word. Know when you have had enough to eat.
- Snack Smart. Choose snacks by the calories and nutrients they provide. Include snacks as part of your daily calorie allowance and limit portions to one serving. Keep portable, healthy snacks in your desk, backpack or car.
- Don’t Drink Your Calories: Many drinks, including sodas and iced coffee beverages, supply the body with empty calories that your body cannot process. Mostly, these calories get stored as fat in your body. Make your calories count by choosing nutrient rich foods of high-calorie high-sugar drinks like alcoholic beverages and sodas.
- Split Your Order. While eating out at your favorite restaurant, share an extra-large sandwich or main course with a friend or take half home for another meal.