Food for Thought – Healthy Eating for Students

Scot Tanner

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Fruit and Veg at a local farmers market. [Flickr/William Murphy]
Fruit and Veg at a local farmers market. [Photo Credit: Flickr/William Murphy]
Balancing college life with exams and essays as well as a social life can be stressful for students.

Ensuring that one is eating right is the last thing on any students mind.  Pizza, fast food, and energy drinks are what normally gives you food for thought, yet feeding the mind is exactly what students should be doing when eating.

So what foods are good for a college student’s brain?

Simon Seifer, a third year Griffith College Dublin exchange student from Germany, checks to see if his food in his kitchen cabinet is healthy. [photo credit: Scot Tanner]
Simon Seifer, a third year Griffith College Dublin exchange student from Germany studying International Business, checks to see if his food in his kitchen cabinet is healthy. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
“The big food is carbohydrates, which are one of the main sources for the brain,” Dietician Richelle Flanagan from Nutritionwise.ie and Healthy Ireland Council member

Oatmeal or Porridge, depending on where you live is a great way to start your day. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
Oatmeal or Porridge, depending on where you live is a great way to start your day. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
“Whole grains are slow to break down and give you energy during the day,” she said.  Students can have whole grain pasta, bread, brown rice and breakfast cereals to keep your mind focused and energy up to work on the big project.

Flanagan says protein is another good way to keep your brain going.  “Meat or vegetarian proteins are also good for the brain,” she said.

 

Brown, wholemeal, multi grain, batched high fiber breads are good carbs for students. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
Brown, wholemeal, multi grain, batched high fiber breads are good carbs for students. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
 Protein shakes are marketed as a great source of protein however Flanagan is not an advocate of shakes. “Protein shakes are more for athletes who are looking to build muscle mass,” she said.

She suggests students go back to the basics. “Apple a day is a good message. You should have five fruits and veg a day,” she said. “Students probably get two a day.”

 

Some of the top fruit snacks are apples, bananas, avocados and berries.  You can even do dried fruit just avoid the ones with sugar.  Dried fruits are a great snack that releases slow burning energy and allows students to keep their mind on college.

Apples, avocados, bananas, blueberries, carrots, and tomatoes. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
Apples, avocados, bananas, blueberries, carrots, and tomatoes. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
For meals students should think dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, bok choy, asparagus, and Brussel sprouts.

A long-term study conducted by Harvard Medical School revealed that these type vegetables had the most positive effect on memory retention.  Vegetables could give you the extra help students need to make the grades.

“There are a wide range of benefits from eating fruits and veg, not only to keep you healthy, but also they are a good source of vitamins,” she says.

Vegetables also make great snacks, like broccoli, carrots, celery, snap peas, and cauliflower.  To get the most nutrients out of them, Flanagan says eat them raw. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
Vegetables also make great snacks, like broccoli, carrots, celery, snap peas, and cauliflower.  To get the most nutrients out of them, Flanagan says eat them raw. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
Nuts and seeds are another great source of protein and Omega 3 fatty acids for a quick pick me up during a long day of classes and studying. You can add them to salads, stir fries, dessert and breakfast cereal.

“Some of the best sources are almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, and chia seeds,” said nutritionist Aine Waldron with nutrimission.ie.  Just 30 grams is enough to make a healthy snack either in class or while studying.

Both nutritionists say oily fish is another way to boost your concentration.

Salmon and tuna fish are two great sources fish oils, which are good for the heart and brain. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
Salmon and tuna fish are two great sources fish oils, which are good for the heart and brain. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
“Oily fish such as Salmon, mackeral, sardines, herring and trout contain the best food sources of Omega 3,” Waldron said.

According to Waldron having fish twice a week is enough to boost your concentration level and may help improve memory.

Students this means less time dozing off in class and actually remembering what was said during a lecture, not to mention the overall health benefits for you.

Other of the key aspects to maintaining your concentration during classes or while working on assignments is to keep your blood sugar steady and have 3 regular meals a day and snacks adds Waldron.

Eating seeds, like pumpkin or sunflower, or nuts are also a great snack for students. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
Eating seeds, like pumpkin or sunflower, or nuts are also a great snack for students. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
“The best snacks to choose from are unsweetened popcorn, a trail mix of dried fruit, nuts and seeds, an oat based cereal bar and fruit,” said Waldron.

Some other great brain foods and source of protein are eggs and beans (legumes).

“Beans and [whole grain] toast is a relatively cheap and a complete meal,” Flanagan said. “The big problem is students don’t know how to cook for themselves.”

Cooking from scratch is actually cheaper for students, according to Flanagan, even if time is not always on your side taking time out to make a balanced meal can give you that mental break your brain needs.

Grocery stores are now offering pre cut mix vegetables either in bags or aluminum cooking tins which makes cooking and eating your vegetables easier. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
Grocery stores are now offering pre cut mix vegetables either in bags or aluminum cooking tins which makes cooking and eating your vegetables easier. [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
“If you’re studying batch up food like spaghetti and bolognaise or stews, or have tin or frozen vegetables and healthy food that is easy to grab,” Flanagan said. “Stir fries are a great way to get your vegetables.”

One of the other important things is to stay hydrated throughout the day drinking 1 ½ to 2 liters of water and tea, says Flanagan. “You can have coffee however 3 cups or 400 mg of coffee is enough.”

“Watch your caffeine intake as too much coffee and caffeine containing drinks will make you more dehydrated,” said Waldron.

Avoid fizzy drinks and energy drinks as both nutritionists state they are not healthy for students when they need to have their brains actively concentrating and can make you more dehydrated resulting in your concentration levels dropping.

“Have a mixture of fluids a day,” Flanagan says.

When it comes to alcohol which is as much as part of the college experience as studying Flanagan says it is deadly thing for students.

“Alcohol knocks the immune system out especially under stress,” said Flanagan. “If stressed, I advise cut the alcohol.” [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
“Alcohol knocks the immune system out especially under stress,” said Flanagan. “If stressed, I advise cut the alcohol.” [Photo Credit: Scot Tanner]
However Flanagan does offer up a compromise if you feel you need a drink to take the edge off the stressing of college.

“Moderate it if going through a stressful time, 100 mils of wine, or a ½ pint or 35 mils of a shot instead of a standard drink,” Flanagan said.

Another Harvard study suggests eating dark chocolate as it helps with blood flow to the brain increasing alertness and clarity.  The darker the chocolate, the more benefits your brain will receive.

“Don’t wait until exams to stock up on healthy foods for the brain,” Flanagan said. “Be prepared.”

For more information you can go to nutrimission.ie or nutritionwise.ie or healthyireland.ie for more nutritional information.

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Scot Tanner

I have worked in news since earning my FCC commercial broadcasting license whilst in secondary school (high school). I have been a radio presenter (on-air talent) whilst in college, during both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I have worked as a reporter for newspaper, radio, TV and online mediums. I firmly believe that everyone has a story to tell. The question is when are you ready to tell me your story?