Too many snacks, large meal portions, decreased activity—these poor habits are not only unhealthy, they may affect academic performance. A study from the National Institutes of Health found a correlation between eating regular meals, including breakfast and a higher consumption of fruit, with higher academic achievement. Another study from the Journal of American College Health found that students' current GPA increased significantly with the number of days that they reported eating breakfast.
Healthy food is an important factor in academic success. The challenge ahead is how to make sure you’re eating well while you may be balancing work and school life. Find out more about brain food for students.
Challenges of Eating Well
Eating well is a strong strategy for success in your classes. However, there can be difficulties in coming up with an up-to-date plan for healthy nutrition. What is taught about nutrition has changed over time.
Here’s what you need to know about healthy nutrition now.
Poor Eating Affects Your Education
Poor eating is often associated with anxiety, difficulty concentrating, a higher risk of depression, increased fatigue, irritability, menstrual problems, sleep disturbances, and a susceptibility to illness.
Conversely, three meals per day, starting with breakfast and including fruits, vegetables and milk, is linked to good academic performance, according to the NIH.
As you start an academic program, these statistics should encourage you to remember to eat well to give yourself the best chance at success. As a busy working person, it’s a bigger challenge, but can be accomplished by following a few helpful tips.
Nutrition Tips for Busy College Students
Busy people, especially those who are jumping from task to task, don’t have a lot of time to prepare and eat healthy meals. That’s why it’s helpful to have a quick list of ideas to maintain healthy eating.
Here are a few ideas to keep you going.
- Balance your meals: Eat from at least three different food groups to help ensure proper nutrition. Be sure to eat different combinations of dairy, fruits, grains, healthy fats, meat, and vegetables throughout the day. Also, cut down sharply on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt. This includes cakes, candies, cookies, ice cream, pizza, and sweetened drinks, and fatty meats like bacon, hot dogs, ribs, and sausages.
- Drink water: Proper hydration is important for your body’s health. Drink water even if you’re not thirsty. If you wait for thirst, you are already partially dehydrated.
- Don’t forget dairy: Calcium and other nutrients in dairy are essential. Add a cup of fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt to your meal. If you don’t drink milk, try soy milk with your meal.
- Keep a regular schedule: Eating three meals per day plus snacks will give you energy that will last all day and keep your metabolism active. Scheduling meal times will help you remember to eat—especially breakfast. For healthy portable snacks, pack fruit, nuts, or granola bars.
- Read the Nutrition Facts label: Compare calories, fats, sodium, and sugars in your foods using the Nutrition Facts label. This information will help you balance your intake to acceptable levels, and might provide some insight into just how much fat and salt you’re consuming.
- Use smaller plates: This tip will help you with portion control. You may not realize how much food you’re actually eating on larger plates. By staying away from oversized bowls, glasses, plates, and mugs, you’re better able to avoid excess calories.
Smart Foods for Quick Nutrition
Some foods will give you a brain or health boost, so you should weave them into your day, beginning with a good breakfast of oatmeal with blueberries, and ending with a dinner of salmon and vegetables.
Here is a list of foods to add to your diet:
- Beans: Beans supply high-quality protein, magnesium, and B vitamins, all of which help your brain work. Because beans also have lots of fiber and complex carbohydrates, you'll digest them slowly and benefit from them over the course of the day.
- Blueberries: A raft of nutrients gives these berries their deep-blue color. An NIH study links blueberries to improved learning and memory.
- Chocolate: Chocolate increases blood flow to the brain. Best for you is dark, bittersweet chocolate, but no more than a few squares a day. Or add cocoa powder to yogurt. Milk chocolate has very little beneficial cocoa, and white chocolate has no cocoa at all.
- Coffee: Caffeinated coffee gives you some energy, and in small doses, it can help you concentrate. But be careful. Don’t drink too much, and don’t load up your coffee with calories, extra fat, and sugars. If you don’t like coffee, you could choose green tea.
- Dark green vegetables: Asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach all provide folate, which, according to the NIH, appears crucial to brain function. A good mix of veggies will give you a variety of nutrients.
- Oats: Oatmeal is a whole grain, which will give your brain and body steady energy because it is digested slowly. It also contains B vitamins, potassium, zinc, vitamin E, and fiber.
- Salmon: This oily fish is one of the best sources of brain-enriching omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends two 3.5-ounce servings of fish per week.
- Walnuts: While all nuts provide brain fuel in the form of protein and both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, walnuts are best. Stick to a daily 1-ounce serving, enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Another tactic is to substitute one food with another, healthier food. That way, you won’t go without, but you will have something that will give you a better brain boost.
|Instead of This
|Refined grains (white bread, white rice)
||Whole grains (whole grain bread, brown rice)
|Fried food (french fries, fried chicken)
||Grilled or baked foods (baked potato, grilled chicken)
|Baked goods, sweets, specialty desserts
||Low-fat or skim milk, soy milk
||Water or seltzer
Find Out More About Health and Wellness
Good nutrition is only part of the health picture when you’re pursuing a degree. Be sure you’re exercising and getting enough sleep, too. Explore Purdue University Global’s Student Life blog for more health and wellness tips. Together, these ideas can help you on the road to success. To learn more about our online programs, reach out today.