Pizza, burgers, ramen, burritos and pretty much anything that can be made instantly are part of many college students’ diets. Although these choices might not have immediate health impacts for students beside weight gain, they can lead to a wide variety of problems later in life.
“Many students don’t prepare foods for themselves. They get things on what looks and smells good,” said Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at UC Davis.
Applegate said that the reliance students have on eating heavily prepared foods is one of the biggest problems with their diets. She said that people can barely get by on their nutritional needs with the food they are eating.
“Sometimes students are really busy, so they skip breakfast,” Applegate said. “What students need to realize is that this affects how you think and how you perform.”
According to Applegate, one of the greatest problems with students’ diets is they do not consume enough fruits and vegetables and don’t select whole grains, along with the fact that fiber intake is commonly low. Fiber is important to keeping the lower digestive system regular, while whole grains are important to cardiovascular health and maintaining cholesterol levels.
“Older age groups’ nutritional habits are motivated by health. You try telling that to a 20-year old, and it sounds irrelevant,” Applegate said. “I try to relate it to performance issues, such as students’ performance on tests.”
Not consuming enough fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fiber can have more detrimental effects than just a poor performance on a test, though.
“Heart disease and erectile dysfunction can be caused by nutritional problems,” Applegate said.
Applegate does not believe the argument that students cannot eat more healthfully as a result of being on a budget.
“No, it doesn’t cost more to eat healthfully. I don’t buy that; you can buy beans and whole grains,” Applegate said. “It can be done; it just takes time and motivation, since we’ve fallen into a lifestyle of eating away from home.”
Applegate recommends that people make their own meals and incorporate as many fruits and vegetables into their diet as they can.
“Don’t skip meals, and don’t shift calories all to one time of the day,” Applegate said.
According to Applegate, students will be more tired from not eating well and not eating well enough.
“Food is very powerful. Never underestimate the power of the food you’re eating,” Applegate said.
Lucia Kaiser, specialist in the cooperative extension of the department of nutrition at UC Davis, believes that the nutritional problems are not just limited to students; according to Kaiser, only 5 to 7 percent of the U.S. population eats enough fruits and vegetables.
“We need to get doctors communicating well to people, and we need to get parents role-modeling good nutritional habits in the home,” Kaiser said. “There’s a social influence with the family.”
According to Kaiser, many children don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables either, something she believes is worsened by the prevalence of fast foods and sweetened beverages.
“[Sweetened drinks are] a factor influencing obesity in children,” Kaiser said. “Consuming calories and sugar in that form causes over-consumption.”
Kaiser believes that students should reduce the amount of sweetened drinks consumed, and notes that people would be surprised to find out how many calories are actually in their drinks. For instance, 16 ounces of a Starbucks Blended Frappuccino Coffee contains 240 calories and 49 grams of sugar.
“Maybe 35 percent of the [U.S.] population is on the way to diabetes,” Kaiser said. “One thing that can help is to have a balanced diet.”
According to choosemyplate.gov, an updated government resource aimed at helping people with their nutritional needs, people should have half their plates made up of fruits and vegetables. The government resource also recommends that people make at least half of the daily grains consumed whole grains and choose lean or low-fat meat and poultry.
ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.