Benefits of Eating Healthy
Cristina Caro, MBA, RD, LD
Licensed Nutrition Specialist, Health Promotion, Stamps Health Services
Every fall, colleges and universities such as Georgia Tech welcome both new and returning college students to their campuses. For many, this is the first time that theyâll be expected to make conscious decisions that impact their health, well-being, and academic success. By now, most of us have heard that we can lower our risk of illness by eating a healthy diet and can better manage a healthier weight. But did you know that healthy eating can also improve mood, sleep and mental performance?
Parents of college students are encouraged to take an active role in helping their students understand the benefits associated with healthy eating.
Mood. Eating starchy, sugary foods at meals or snacks can make your blood sugar spike too high and skipping meals can make your blood sugar dip too low. Highs and lows in blood sugar can alter mood, making you grumpy, foggy, forgetful, or even sad. Avoid these pitfalls by eating regularly scheduled meals and snacks with a variety of high fiber foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. High fiber foods will provide your body with the fuel it needs to regulate blood sugar and mood. Itâs best to eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. Aim for a mini-meal or snack every three hours.
Sleep. Eating starchy sugary foods can also disrupt sleep. The spike in blood sugar mentioned earlier will give the body a boost of energy rather than prepare the body for sleep. The same holds true for caffeine, which can hinder sleep. High intakes of protein can also disrupt sleep by hindering the regulation of sleep hormones such as serotonin. So avoid late dinners or late night eating and limit sweets and other refined carbohydrates, particularly in the evening meal. Eat more complex carbohydrates that are higher in fiber and boost serotonin to promote better sleep. Lastly, moderate your protein intake - 10-20 percent of calorie intake, this could be 50 to 100 grams of protein each day, depending on your age, size, health, and activity level.
Mental performance. Your brain needs a constant supply of vitamins, minerals and energy for memory, concentration, thinking, and learning. Therefore the foods you eat directly affect your mental performance. The best brain fuel is good quality carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Your brain also needs essential fatty acids and lean protein. The healthy fats come from fish, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. Lean protein includes beans/legumes, chicken/turkey breast, eggs, low-fat dairy, flank, loin and round cuts of beef.
The key to healthy eating is a balanced diet consisting of food from all food groups and a variety of color. Each meal should have at least 3 food groups and each snack should have at least 2 food groups. Vary your color among fruits and vegetables by eating green every day, eating red/orange/yellow at least three times per week and eating blue/purple at least once per week. This will help you get balanced nutrition and reap the benefits of eating healthy. Here are some helpful websites for buying and preparing fruits and vegetables: www.harvesteating.com and www.localharvest.org.
Anyway you slice it, healthy eating is worth the time and effort. Parents looking to support their studentsâ academic endeavors can do so by talking to them on a regular basis about the benefits of healthy eating - feeling better, sleeping better, and thinking better.