Eat smart - be smart
Heading off to university is an exciting time and it is easy to overlook some more practical aspects of leaving home; namely your diet and eating sensibly. The food you eat can have a massive impact on how your mind and body works, so a basic knowledge of how to eat healthy will not only make sure you get the most out of your university experience but also help you to create healthy lifetime eating habits.
A healthy diet is a diet based on breads, potatoes, and other cereals and is rich in fruits and vegetables. It will include moderate amounts of dairy products, moderate amounts of meat and fish and other non-dairy protein sources and limited amounts of foods containing fat or sugar. No single food can provide you with all the essential nutrients the body needs. Therefore, it is important that you eat a wide variety of foods which will provide you with adequate amounts of essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals and dietary fibre, which are all important for your physical health and well-being.
Also try to include at least one portion (80g) of fruit or vegetables with each meal to make sure you eat the recommended 5 A DAY. As money may be tight, buying fruit and vegetables that are in season is usually cheaper, as is buying loose produce – money will stretch further. You can also save money by peeling and chopping vegetables yourself rather than buying ready prepared produce. Frozen and canned fruit and vegetables are also good options. These contain all the vitamins and minerals that the fresh versions do, so still count as one of your 5 A DAY and can be stored until needed. If choosing canned fruit or vegetables, try to go for versions without added salt or sugar.
For more on healthy diets, click here
Some practical tips
It is very important to make time to eat breakfast. Numerous studies have shown that eating breakfast may improve cognitive function, memory, concentration levels and creative thinking. Breakfast is also important as it provides you with energy after the night’s fast. It fills you up and prevents you from snacking on high fat, high sugar foods mid-morning. An ideal breakfast would include sources of starchy carbohydrates such as wholegrains as these are broken down slowly throughout the morning so energy levels are kept up until lunch time; some protein which helps keep you full; a piece of fruit or some fruit juice and a dairy product such as a glass of milk, milk added to cereal or a yogurt to provide you with plenty of essential vitamins and minerals.
Healthy breakfast ideas…
- Wholegrain cereals such as muesli or porridge with low fat milk or yogurt. Try adding a handful of dried fruit to sweeten.
- Wholegrain toast with peanut butter
- Wholewheat pancakes with sliced fruit and honey
- Baked beans on wholegrain toast with tomato and mushroom
- Fruit with yogurt - bananas are great as they provide potassium and starchy carbohydrates
- Fruit smoothie made with semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk, a plain low fat yogurt and fruit such as bananas or berries
Lunches are cheaper if you prepare something at home to take to classes with you. An ideal lunch would include some protein and a serving of starchy carbohydrate with some fruit or vegetables.
Healthy lunch ideas…
- Sandwiches make a quick, easy lunch. To vary them you could try a wholemeal wrap or a bagel instead of the bread. For ideal fillings try tuna (drained well if canned in oil), chicken, turkey or cottage cheese with some salad or pickle. Avoid or go easy on the mayonnaise.
- Try and include some fruit and vegetables at lunchtime. This could be a glass of orange juice, a salad, a piece of fruit or some carrot sticks.
If you are eating out then try these healthy options…
- Baked potatoes with cheese, beans, tuna or chilli are filling and often relatively cheap. Why not ask for a salad on the side?
- A bowl of soup and a crusty wholemeal roll.A pasta or rice dish with plenty of vegetables
Try to prepare something for dinner yourself rather than resorting to expensive ready made food which may be high in fat and salt. Cooking for more than one is also cheaper, so why not get together with some friends to share the cost. The ideal dinner would include high fibre starchy carbohydrates (such as wholegrain bread, cereals including brown rice or potatoes) and plenty of vegetables and fruits. Eat these with a serving of protein such as lean cuts of grilled meat, grilled or baked fish, pulses, beans or tofu. If you have catering facilities then try and choose meals that are well-balanced and include all the food groups in the right proportions. Try to eat a few hours before bedtime to ensure your body has time to digest your food before you sleep.
Healthy dinner ideas…
- Pasta and sauce has become a staple for students. You can boost the nutrient content by adding tuna and some vegetables to the sauce.
- Couscous makes a good base to dishes and is really quick and easy to prepare.
- Chips do not have to be avoided completely. Try oven baking some chunky potato wedges instead of eating skinny French fries. Wedges contain less fat and will fill you up more. If you keep the skin on the potatoes this will provide you with extra fibre.
When you’re heading to the library or need a quick energy fix, take along items like apples, bananas, clementines, carrot sticks, dried apricots or a handful of unsalted nuts. This will prevent you grabbing a high fat or high sugar snack.
Having enough fluid is also essential. Without adequate water our bodies cannot function properly. You should aim to drink about 1.5 to 2 litres (about 6 - 8 glasses) of non-alcoholic fluids each day. The best choice to keep hydrated is water but milk, squash, fruit juices, tea or coffee are also good.
Drink sensibly! This means a maximum of 3-4 units per day for men and 2-3 units per day for women. A unit is 25ml of spirits (standard pub measure), 125ml (small glass) of 9% ABV wine or half a pint of standard strength lager, beer or cider. Nowadays, drinks tend to be much stronger. For example, a pint of premium lager contains 2.8 units. Drinking more than the recommended amount can have adverse effects on your health. And remember that alcohol causes your body to lose water so you should replace lost fluid by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic drinks throughout the evening. This will help you feel less dehydrated.
During the stress of exam time it is easy to let your healthy eating habits slip. You may feel that preparing food is a waste of valuable revising time and grabbing a coffee and a slice of pizza is an easier option. But, good nutrition is even more vital at times of stress when you may be run down, and eating healthily should be an important part of your study plan.
Top tips for clever eating during exams
- Remember to eat a healthy breakfast! (see healthy breakfast ideas)
- Eat at regular intervals. This will help keep your energy levels more stable, curbing the temptation to grab a high fat or high sugar snack.
- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. A variety is best as different fruits and vegetables give you different vitamins and minerals.
- Stay hydrated. (see drinking)
- Meet all your daily nutrient requirements. This will help optimise your mental energy for peak performance.
- Do not rely on dietary supplements. They can help when vitamins and minerals are lacking in your diet but it is important to obtain all your requirements from your food and drink. Oranges not only contain vitamin C but also fibre, phytochemicals, beta-carotene and other essential nutrients that you can not get packaged together in a tablet.
- Drink responsibly.