Making healthy food choices is difficult when you spend endless hours in front of a computer screen or jumping from the lecture hall to the science lab. While it may seem easy to just go the fast food route and grab something easy, the truth is that healthy food is a major key to your academic success as a student. The best way to make healthy eating easier for you is by developing simple habits and routines. Once something is second nature, your body will crave the healthiest options without you even having to think about it. Follow this guide to find out why eating healthy will help you succeed in school and how to go about doing it.
Why healthy eating matters for students
Several studies show that college students with healthier eating habits perform better academically. This is because unhealthy foods—especially fried, pre-packaged, or fast foods—slow down your brain functions. A study in the Journal of American College Health revealed that students who ate fast food seven times a week or more had considerably lower GPAs than those who only ate fast food four times a week or less. Foods high in saturated fat, hydrogenated oil, sugar, and salt cause the body to slow down while being processed because they’re not giving any healthy energy in return. If you’ve ever experienced brain fog after a heavy meal, then you know exactly what this feels like.
Foods that power your body and your brain
The key to eating healthy and optimizing your brain and body functions is to consume nutrient-dense foods. These contain high amounts of minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients that feed your body what it needs to run efficiently. Check nutrition labels and look for:
- Healthy fats: Unsaturated, healthy fats found in olive oil, avocados, fish, nuts, and seeds act as a natural lubricant to keep the body running smoothly.
- Fiber: Foods high in fiber feed the healthy bacteria living in your stomach. They also take longer for the body to break down, so they don’t cause rapid spikes in your blood sugar. Apples, carrots, oats, lentils, beans, citrus fruits, sunflower seeds, and sweet potatoes all contain lots of fiber and keep you fuller longer.
- Protein: Your body needs protein to build new cells and repair old ones. Protein doesn’t have to mean meat though; beans, quinoa, edamame, tofu, nuts, and dairy are all excellent sources of protein.
You should aim to eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods every day and avoid mono-diets, where you eat the same few things day in and day out. Remember, variety is the spice of life!
Set up your living space for success
Whether you live in a dorm room or a shared house, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on expensive appliances to eat healthily. The basics every college student should have are a mini-fridge, electric kettle, blender, and hot plate. With these four simple items, you can turn out healthy meals and snacks all semester that will keep you alert and hitting the books.
Stock your fridge with sugar-free flavored sparkling waters and fresh fruit purees for smoothies. Keep containers of nut milk, jars of nut butter, yogurt, and lean cheeses for healthy snacks. Your electric kettle can be used to make instant oatmeal and whole-grain cereals. Or try all-natural miso soup packets loaded with dried tofu and seaweed for a brain-boosting dinner. A hot plate and a few quality serving bowls open up an entire world of cooking, from simple scrambled eggs to quick veggie stir-fries to hearty soups.
Don’t skip breakfast
The same study mentioned above also reported that students who consistently ate breakfast showed a significant increase in their GPAs. Other studies have shown that skipping breakfast can lead to poor mental health as well as poor academic performance. A good breakfast is the clean fuel that your body needs to start the day. Even just blending up a quick smoothie or having some yogurt and granola gives your body a stimulating boost of energy. Eating your own breakfast at home (or in a dorm) also saves you money in the long run.
Establish a meal schedule
One of the biggest obstacles to healthy eating is time management. It may seem like nothing is more important than your next paper—but your health is more important than anything. Stopping for 15–20 minutes to eat will save you more time in the long run. The same idea applies to scheduling a few minutes each day to exercise and move your body. Consider adding a short walk outside after a meal or doing five minutes of stretching before dinner. Keep it simple so it’ll be easier to develop this habit. Savor your food while you eat, especially if it’s something you made. Thank yourself for taking this time to care for yourself, and when you return to the task at hand, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to focus.
Join an activity-based community
Being part of a community of like-minded people who share your goals and interests is one of the best ways to guarantee a newly formed routine sticks. Look for campus clubs, student organizations, and extracurricular activities that will help you stay healthy. Join a community farming co-op to stay in shape while you work or organize a weekly healthy dish potluck in your dorm. Find something that keeps you and your peers engaged!
Avoid dining hall pitfalls
There’s nothing harder to resist than warm plates of comfort foods ready for the taking. The buffet style of the school cafeteria doesn’t have to be your worst enemy. Reach for grilled items over fried. Embrace the rainbow at the salad bar and load your plate up with different veggies—this will make it look more appealing and exciting. Look for whole-grain bread, pasta, and rice. Also, try reducing your portion sizes if you tend to heap your plate and overeat. If you eat on a regular schedule, you won’t need to gorge yourself on one or two giant meals a day.
It’s easy when you’re young to forget that your body is precious. By treating your body right now, you’ll make it easier for you to succeed long-term. Give your body what it needs to thrive and watch how your academic career soars.
If you’re looking for more tips to improve your day-to-day campus life, try implementing these 10 Daily Actions to Foster a Healthy Lifestyle in College.