College freedom takes a toll on nutrition

By Harsha Bellamkonda

College students are busy people. Maintaining a healthy balance between our classes and social life isn’t easy, but for the most part we accomplish it all the same. However, most of us frequently ignore a crucial aspect of our lives — our diet.

I know I have, and I admit I’m not the healthiest eater out there, but I used to have a few good habits when it came to nutrition. Drinking two full glasses of milk a day and eating a piece of fruit during every meal were only a few of the many ways I enriched my diet. That completely halted once college began – I simply made no time for making sure I was eating healthily.

The magnitude of this problem escapes most people. For example, it seems there are many students who just skip breakfast or lunch. Even I still do that sometimes. It’s not beneficial, but frequently, eating a well-rounded meal takes a back seat to the work we have to do or the classes we have to attend…or we’re just too lazy to leave our dorm rooms.

It seems as soon as we leave home, our food choices take a turn for the worse. Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University agrees. Cardinal is one of the authors of a study by OSU researchers, in which the eating habits of 582 students were surveyed.

Prior studies have shown that when people prepare food at home they tend to eat better and consume fewer calories. However, regarding the OSU students he said, “We found that students skipped meals fairly frequently, which could account for some of the lack of fruits and veggies.” (http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2011/aug/study-college-students-not-eating-enough-fruits-and-veggies)

Robert Sniezko, a freshman in DGS, has attested to this as well. When asked if he was eating differently now that he was in college and if he thought other students ate unhealthier, he replied, “I ate healthier at home…Although most people have time to focus on eating right, they ignore it at this point. Most students believe that they’ll just have time later in their lives to learn how to cook for themselves and eat healthier.”

But one thing for sure is that skipping meals is a terrible idea. If you skip just one meal it causes your blood sugar levels to fall, and if you’re skipping breakfast they’ll never rise at all.

If your blood sugar drops too low, you can have a low blood sugar reaction, called hypoglycemia, and your body cannot perform its normal functions. Also, your metabolism slows down, as your body tries to conserve energy. This means that the food you do eventually take in isn’t burned off very efficiently. (http://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/effects-of-skipping-meals)

Adults are supposed to have more than six servings of breads, cereals, and rice, at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, and two servings of milk, yogurt or cheese per day. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_pyramid_(nutrition)#/media/File:USDA_Food_Pyramid.gif) If we don’t, we’ll be low on vital nutrients such as Vitamin C, potassium, iron, calcium, etc. (http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/consequences-not-eating-fruits-vegetables-6202.html) (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/09/AR2011010903921.html)

We can’t keep up with these minimum requirements if we skip breakfast or lunch. If you’re running low on time, cereal or bananas are amazing energy boosts that work well in short spans of time, while providing energy and nutrients. In fact, research has proven that just two bananas provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout, and cereal similarly provides nutrients in the form of both dairy and carbohydrates. (http://rense.com/general85/bananas.htm)

There are many healthy options at the University Housing dining halls, as long as students know how to find them. They even provide nutrition information for everything they serve to ensure we have the ability to make informed eating decisions. (http://www.housing.illinois.edu/dining/menus/dining-halls) This is a great incentive for students to monitor their food intake.

We might not have the time to go to deep into how much nutrients each item is providing, but we can use nutrition information to make sure we’re eating the right amount of the right types of food every day. Keeping track doesn’t take long, and it helps so much.

Nowadays, I now make sure I eat enough, instead of going hungry just because I have homework. Easy solutions are readily available to keep up on our nutrition, both with how often we eat and what we’re consuming. I for one, am going to take advantage of them and everybody else should, too.