Eating Healthy in College
When I was home in Minnesota recently, both of my younger brothers expressed to me how hard it is for them to eat healthy in their college-stages of life. They’ve both dealt with sugar and carb cravings, fatigue in the afternoon, and some digestive issues (all things I think a lot of college kids can relate too). So, I've been motivated to give them, and anyone else in search of simple ways to improve their diet, some practical tips to improve overall health. The steps listed below should, overtime, reduce cravings and support lasting energy throughout the day. If you want to work on these things in your life, make sure to be realistic with what you can realistically act on. Over-burdening yourself by working on too many of these things at once is not the way to go. Slow and steady friends!
Tips for improving overall health:
1) Chew food slowly. Practice putting your utensil down between bites and try to chew for 20-30 seconds. This simple habit significantly improves digestion!
2) Relax when you eat. Being in a parasympathetic state allows your brain to have the time to signal the digestive organs of your body to do their jobs and start producing enzymes to break down your food. Find a relaxing setting to eat in, whether that's outside in the fresh air, or at a table full of chatty friends - whatever puts you at ease. Try to relax for 10-15 minutes after each meal as well. Taking a short nap after each meal is awesome too if you have the time!
3) Avoid drinking water during meals. Slowly sip water throughout the day to stay hydrated instead of chugging water at meals – this dilutes your stomach acid that is necessary to breakdown proteins, fats, and carbs.
4) Eat breakfast! Your body needs fuel from food to start the day. Emphasize protein and fat instead of carbs for breakfast. Example: Eggs cooked in coconut oil and/or some toast with nut butter or avocado on top.
5) Eat whole fruits and vegetables (emphasis on vegetables). As hard as it can be in college, reach for whole fruits and vegetables like bananas, apples, carrots…anything that you are willing to eat as a part of your meal. If having a side salad is all you can do, that is great too. Take small steps. Try eating a new fruit or vegetable once a week. Especially if you don’t like taking vitamins – eating whole fruits and vegetables provides the necessary vitamins you need instead of taking artificial ones.
6) Satisfy your sweet tooth with natural sugars like fruit, honey, maple syrup, date honey (one of my favorites), and coconut sugar. Refined sugar is an extremely addictive substance (obviously), and your overall health will increase significantly if you avoid it. Another practical way to lower your refined sugar intake is to switch out pop for kombucha, LaCroix, tea, etc.
8) Avoid processed food. The resounding message throughout my nutrition therapy training is how detrimental a diet heavy in processed food is. Snack on things like mixed nuts, carrots dipped in almond butter, and whole fruits instead of chips and other packaged snacks. Make sure to have healthy snacks available to yourself so that you can grab them when you’re hungry and in a rush.
9) Avoid all hydrogenated oils and margarine (see my post titled Eat More Fat on what oils to use and avoid). I know your school cafeteria likely uses these, but if you have a choice and can cook your own meals once in awhile, it is important to have nutritious oils on hand. Try using a variety of oils, like avocado oil for high heat cooking, olive oil for medium heat, and coconut oil for baking and high heat. To make things easy, I suggest sticking with just one of these three oils to use for the majority of your cooking. Polyunsaturated oils (like hemp and flaxseed) can be very nutritious, but they should never be heated. Keep those oils for drizzling on salads or adding to smoothies if you want the nutritional benefits.
8) Try to balance your meals at 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. This will regulate your blood sugar and a host of other things. You can get an app that calculates this for you, or just guess. This will keep you fuller longer and you won’t need to snack as often throughout the day.
Focus on whole fruits and vegatables, and occasionally use whole grains like oats for oatmeal, whole grain, sprouted bread (I suggest sticking with the Ezekial brand – a lot easier to digest than other brands of bread, or gluten free bread which is best for digestion), and rice.
Proteins: Eating free-range, organic chicken, beef, bacon, eggs etc. is best for the majority of your protein. You can get protein from plant-sources, but they are not ideal and are often not forms of complete protein. I highly recommend bone broth protein powder for those of you who don’t get enough animal protein (something I have struggled with for a long time since I don’t eat much meat).
Eat a variety of mixed nuts, avocados, oils, and grass-fed butter or ghee for energizing, filling sources of fat. Fat is crucial for so many different functions of the body and will keep you fuller longer. If you want more information on why fat is so important, see my Eat More Fat post :)
Like I said above, pick a few (or less) of these steps to act on; Don't take them all on right away. Change only lasts when small, realistic steps turn into natural habits. Crazy diets and food restrictions that seem painful don't work for most people. Healthy habits take time and intentional effort, but they don't have to be agonizing. If you have any questions or want more of an explanation on any of these suggestions, please feel free to contact me :)