The Student’s Guide to Nutrition

Many students find that they gain weight when they first start at university, and that’s no surprise. You’re suddenly given access to an unbelievable number of campus sundae bars, instant noodles, late-night food deliveries and buffet-style dining halls. One nutritional study of university freshers found that in their first year of studies, 25% of students gained 10 pounds or more. But what are you meant to do, miss out on social events to stay at home with a salad?

Unsurprisingly, the study mentioned above found that the students who gained weight were sleeping less, eating fewer vegetables and fruits and more fatty foods than their peers who managed to stay at their original weight. But weight gain isn’t the only issue: tiredness, lower grades and susceptibility to illness can all come as a result of a steady diet of cheeseburgers and oven pizzas.

Sleep disturbances, depression, irritability, menstrual problems, difficulty concentrating and anxiety can all occur as a result of (or be made worse by) a poor diet.

At the end of the day, if you want to perform well in university and in life, unhealthy snacks and junk food just won’t give you the nutrients you need. Your best plan is to prepare yourself for a lifetime of healthy eating and enhance your academic performance by developing a nutritional, healthy diet as early as you can.

It’s recommended by the government that we all eat diets based on starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes with their skin (the skins will give the dish extra fibre), cereals (ideally whole grain varieties), and bread. We should also try to limit any food that’s high in sugar or fat, eat moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products, lean meats and fish, and get a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

It’s not possible to get all the nutrients that your body needs from a single food source. Your physical health and well being rely on you getting plenty of vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre, protein and other nutrients, so it’s important that you eat a wide variety of foods.

Try to make sure you’re eating the recommended minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day – you can do this by including them with each meal and eating some as snacks.

Fruit Portions

  • 3 apricots, 6 lychees or 14 cherries.
  • 1 nectarine or peach.
  • One slice of papaya, one large slice of pineapple or two 5 cm slices of mango.
  • Fruit canned in natural juice (avoid syrup!) can be eaten in the same quantity as fresh fruit.
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of dried fruit e.g. raisins, sultanas.
  • Half a grapefruit.
  • 1 apple/banana/pear/orange.

Vegetable Portions

  • 4 heaped tablespoons of spring greens.
  • 8 cauliflower florets.
  • 1.5 full-length celery sticks.
  • 7 cherry tomatoes.
  • 4 heaped tablespoons of cooked kale/spinach/green beans.

Pulses and Beans

Aim to have no more than one portion (3 heaped tablespoons) of beans or pulses per day.

Never Skip Breakfast!

If there’s just one piece of nutritional advice you remember, make it this one: Eat your breakfast. You miss the day’s most important meal if you skip it because you don’t feel hungry or don’t have time.

Breakfast is a meal you simply can’t afford to miss, no matter how tempting an extra 10 minutes in bed may be. According to some studies, you’ll be getting less fibre and other vital nutrients if you don’t eat breakfast, and this can lead to more fatigue, unhealthy weight gain or loss, and poorer concentration.

If you’re in need of fuel to help you through a busy day, be sure to eat within an hour of waking up. This will jumpstart your metabolism and get your body up and running.

Healthy Eating Quick Tips

Here are a few more tips that are worth keeping in mind:

  • Be prepared. Try to make sure you always have healthy snacks and meals ready to go for when you don’t have time to cook something from scratch.
  • Stay hydrated. Try to drink at least 12 cups of water every day.
  • Nutrients not calories. If you’re looking for an energy boost, look for something that’s full of things like minerals, protein, fibre and vitamins and has a healthy amount of calories. Think whole wheat sandwich, not chocolate bar.
  • Dairy and dairy alternatives should be eaten at least 3 times per day. These will promote a healthy weight and act as a vital source for calcium, Vitamin D and protein.

For more information about the food you need to eat as a student, check out Need2Know’s Essential Student Cookbook, which will help you prepare and cook healthy meals and snacks, proving that quick and easy healthy food doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming, and can be done on a student budget. Need2Know also have some great books about vegan cooking, cholesterol and weight loss. Whether you’re a budding gourmet chef or a pot noodle fanatic, we’ll have the recipe that’s right for you!

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