Despite the significant implications of healthy eating on overall long-term health, many college students engage in poor dietary habits, such as high intake of fast foods and other foods high in fat, low intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy, and erratic eating behaviors such as meal skipping. A balanced diet can help students increase energy levels, promote a functioning immune system, improve their ability to cope with stress, and increase concentration and performance in school. Healthy eating is influenced by a variety of factors. For students in particular, factors influencing dietary habits include time, availability of healthy options, friends’ eating habits and nutritional knowledge.
Recommendations for Improvement
There are many actions that college students can take to eat in a nutritious way and enjoy their college years without jeopardizing their health. Some recommendations to improve mental and physical wellbeing include:
- Get at least eight hours of sleep a night. Some students may need more than eight hours to feel well-rested, so monitor yourself to see how many hours of sleep leads to you feeling the most rested. Lack of sleeps affects one’s ability to concentrate and makes one feel tired, negatively impacting academic performance and mood.
- Avoid skipping meals. When a meal is skipped, the subsequent hunger may cause one to overeat at their next meal and negatively impact concentration.
- Avoid dieting and food restriction, as it has been found to increase stress. Long-term distress (bad stress) can cause serious health problems such as bone loss, decreased fertility, or heart disease. Focus on body awareness to learn to eat when your body signals hunger and stop eating when your body signals signs of satiety. Eating slower, rather than quickly, can also help one notice these signals.
- Eat breakfast, which helps concentration and increases the likelihood of consuming calcium, folic acid, and vitamin C. These nutrients are often low in the diet of college students, and are vital for healthy red blood cells.
- Manage portion sizes. If portion sizes are underestimated, one may eat more than needed. Also, the availability of a wide variety and mass quantities of “dorm” food (pizza, soda, etc.) may promote overeating that is low in nutrients your body needs.
- Drink water throughout the day. Even mild dehydration negatively impacts mental functioning by resulting in headaches, working memory issues, feelings of fatigue, and mood. Consistent water intake will help one feel better mentally and physically!
- Eat fruits consistently throughout the day to consume adequate fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Fruits may reduce risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. Furthermore, fruits contain healthy sugars (carbohydrates) that boost energy.
- Only consume sweetened beverages such as soda, caffeine beverages, fruit drinks, sweetened teas in moderation. These beverages provide few essential nutrients to a student’s overall diet, and have been linked with long-term negative health outcomes if over-consumed.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps manage stress, while improving physical stamina and mental wellbeing.
- Become familiar with the campus environment and the foods that are available. If you have questions about making healthier choices within Ramapo Dining and/or navigating dining services with a food allergy, medical condition, or nutritional concern, reach out to Anne Sugrue, Registered Dietitian, by email at email@example.com.
Remember, there are no “bad” foods. Foods that you eat should be varied and, ideally, each meal should contain fruits, vegetables, healthy oils, whole grains, and protein. Eating a food high in sugar or fat will not negatively affect one’s health long-term if eaten in moderation (not as the bulk of a student’s diet).
Nutrition Tips specifically geared towards college students: