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Healthy Lifestyle Tips | Tips to Eat Healthy at College
Female college students eating in cafeteria

College students can improve their brain function in by choosing foods that are high in fiber in protein.

Tips to Eat Healthy at College

Freedom is one of the first things college students are eager to embrace when they finally head off to live on their own. For possibly the first time in your life, you get to choose when to go to bed, where to study and what you’re eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Maybe you haven’t given as much thought to that last freedom. Sure, it’s fun to finally be in charge of your meals after spending 18 years eating what Mom and Dad put in front of you. But are you ready to make the right food choices for your physical and mental health?

“You Are What You Eat”

We’ve all heard the old saying, “You are what you eat.” It can get in the way when you’re trying to enjoy a fluffy, sugary doughnut, then make you feel tall and lean when you’re eating a tangy green salad. But there’s room for both in a balanced diet, says Kelly Morrow, MS, RD, CD, who supervises nutrition appointments in Team Care at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.

“I don’t think you have to eat 100 percent healthy food to be healthy,” she says. “What determines your health is what you’re eating on a regular basis.”

An important part of the college experience is to have fun, which can include eating the junk foods that Morrow refers to as “recreational foods.”

“But if you’re regularly eating those recreational foods, you’re not going to be able to focus and it could affect your weight, mood and immune system,” she says. Remember that the “sugar rush” you get from such snacks is short-lived, and actually can slow your brain function.

Morrow recommends you counteract those sugary treats with foods that are high in fiber and protein, which can help balance your blood sugar and give your brain the fuel it needs to function properly. Good examples include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanut butter on whole grain bread
  • String cheese
  • Fruit
  • Whole grain crackers with hummus or bean dip

What to Choose at the Cereal Bar

One of the places that decision can be the hardest to make is at your cafeteria’s cereal bar, where options abound that are high in sugar and artificial colors and flavors.

“If it looks like it’s coated in sugar, it’s probably not the best choice unless you’re only doing it once in a while,” Morrow says. “Cereals that are more natural-colored are a better choice.”

She says an ideal breakfast cereal is made with whole grains, and contains at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 10 grams of sugar per serving. “It’s not hard to find cereals like that,” Morrow adds. “It’s going to help you with digestion, and help you feel full longer.”

Whole grains are more than just a good way to start your day. If your cafeteria has a sandwich bar, choosing whole-grain breads over white breads also will better the better choice for your physical and mental health.

“We recommend that people eat foods as close to nature as possible,” Morrow says, adding that if you’re unsure, to check out as a resource.

Healthier On-the-Go Snacks

It’s also easy to fall back onto those recreational foods between mealtimes. Although it’s OK to have a bag of Doritos every now and again, there are plenty of high-fiber, high-protein snacks that are healthier choices to stock up on.

For instance, whole-grain crackers topped with a natural nut butter gives you protein and healthy carbs for lasting brain power, as does trail mix with high-protein nuts and seeds.

If you have access to an electric tea kettle, there are a variety of dried healthy soups that need only hot water to give you plenty of fiber, protein and energy. The frozen food aisle even has some healthy options for a quick bite, including microwavable burritos and meals from brands like Kashi and Amy’s.

And when it comes to care packages, parents might have some balancing to do, too. Although it can be tempting to send your student’s favorite comfort foods, just remember that junk foods are easy to find around college campuses. Instead, consider sending their favorite cookies or other homemade treats, which have fewer artificial ingredients than store-bought sweets.

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