Many college students attended classes remotely at the beginning of the pandemic but are now going back in person. For some, they’re setting foot on campus for the first time ever. But as many seasoned college students know, a big part of campus life is eating cafeteria food. That means trying to avoid the “Freshman 15,” which refers to the weight many people gain when they enter college.
Even though the “Freshman 15” is the holy grail of health fears for many new college students, weight changes are normal with aging and lifestyle changes. They also vary for each person. With the new freedom to make one’s meals and access to an entire buffet of food every day, young adults suddenly need to pay attention to their nutrition.
The Cafeteria Conundrum
You walk into the bustling school cafeteria, a place you recognize from photos, and grab a tray with your school’s logo printed on it. You gaze around and notice that no one else took a tray. So you put yours down and walk away without it. As you inhale the scent of all the buffet items combined, you realize that you’ll be offered burgers, pizza and soda for the rest of the semester. How do you build healthy habits when these are your choices?
One thing to remember is that “healthy” does not mean “fat-free,” “low-carb” or “low calorie.” Certain nutrients are important for college students, and because of intense studying, their brains will burn more calories. There are other aspects of health to focus on, though. Instead of fixating only on weight stability, choose foods full of vitamins that’ll fuel your late-night study sessions.
With that said, here are five more tips for college students on maintaining overall health.
Tip 1: Hydrate or Die-drate
Around every corner, in every dorm and outside every classroom you will probably find at least one vending machine. It may seem obvious to buy a caffeinated soda for a boost of energy but, ultimately, the sugar and chemicals in soft drinks will cause an energy crash.
Water, on the other hand, offers long-term vitality. Keep your sticker-coated Hydro Flask filled and carry it with you to class and around campus. Plain, old-fashioned water is the best source of hydration and provides more energy than sugary, preservative-filled drinks.
Tip 2: Fill Up With Fiber
The clock on the wall ticks at a pace that must be in slow motion. You’re sitting in the front row, only one hour into your three-hour seminar when the rumbling of your stomach echoes through the lecture hall. The cereal you ate for lunch is just not cutting it.
There’s a quick fix to the issue: You need more fiber. High-fiber foods keep you full longer because they take longer for your body to digest. A few sources of fiber that are easy to access as a college student are oatmeal, berries, apples and, if you spend your free time shopping at Trader Joe’s, avocados. These foods can sustain you during a long class period or late study session.
In addition to their nutritional benefit, they are also quiet foods. Perhaps you could convince your professor to let you eat them during class.
Tip 3: Relieve Stress With Magnesium
Stress is easily one of the most common side effects of being a college student. Whether the stress derives from homework, work, relationships or family pressures, you’re unlikely to escape college without experiencing stress at some point. You can alleviate some stress with a proper diet, however.
Cortisol is the hormone associated with stress; it impacts one’s sleep quality, the digestion of macronutrients and blood sugar. Fortunately, certain vitamins can help to manage cortisol levels in the body, and they’re easily accessible in a school cafeteria.
Foods with the power to adjust cortisol are almonds, yogurt, brown rice, peanut butter, soy milk, spinach and whole-grain bread. These items are commonly found in buffet lines at universities, and most of them yield many other benefits besides controlling cortisol. Depending on what your school offers, incorporating some of these foods into your regular diet may help to make your college experience a less stressful one.
Tip 4: Avoid Sickness With Vitamin C
Let’s face it: College living conditions are less than glamorous most of the time. It’s likely that you’re getting less sleep than your body is used to, and you experience stress from your workload. Both factors can lead to a weakened immune system. On top of that, you live in close quarters with other students who also have weakened immune systems. This is not the ideal environment for those who are attempting to make it through the year without getting sick.
Foods that can help to boost one’s immune system and keep students from getting sick are packed with vitamin C. Vitamin C works its magic by growing the number of white blood cells in a person’s body, which help them to fight sickness.
Aside from obvious sources of vitamin C like oranges, other foods like red bell peppers, uncooked broccoli and spinach, papaya, kiwi and strawberries all provide the vital vitamin.
Tip 5: Antioxidants for Brain Function
Now that you have energy, a strong immune system and are satiated, it’s time to get to work. Essays, projects and discussion posts won’t write themselves, so you’ll need a boost of alertness to help you function. And a Red Bull is definitely not the best option.
Antioxidants play a role in one’s alertness, and mixing those antioxidants with natural caffeine may significantly increase alertness. You read that right: You do not need to give up coffee.
Foods that offer the nutrients we need in order to focus are broccoli, blueberries, dark chocolate and coffee. The reason these foods work is because the antioxidants that they pack improve brain health.
To go from snacking while on a Zoom call to suddenly becoming responsible for your nutrition is a major change. With proper nutrition and quality rest, however, it’s possible to walk across the stage at your college graduation and know that you maintained your health throughout college, despite eating in a cafeteria.
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