Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain and Body
By Hannela Matthews
It was recently reported in the Daily Mail that more than a quarter of students at university put on up to 2st (28lb) in ‘fleshers' flab’ by the end of their university career. Nearly two-thirds of students that gained weight had put on between 1st and 5st (14-70lb). A culture of stress, drinking, and unhealthy eating habits were the main culprits in putting on weight, according to a recent survey. Students reported relying heavily on convenience foods, takeaways and fast food, with almost half of those questioned admitting eating convenience foods including ready meals and pre-prepared sauces up to five times a week. Six in 10 said they had takeaways or fast food meals between three and five times each week. Only a third ate fruit or vegetables once a week or even less.
I can’t count the number of times that people have said to me, “I don’t understand how you manage to, and can afford to, eat so healthily at University.” I want to disprove the misconception that eating healthily is time-consuming and expensive, instead exemplifying just how affordable, delicious and easily sustainable it is. With a little extra time and effort, you can easily afford to meet your nutritional needs whilst living away from home, and feel strong, energized and healthy simply by altering your diet. The problem is, when you eat or drink processed foods, alcohol, bad fats and refined sugar, your body becomes overloaded with toxins, which it rejects as it is unnatural for the human body to consume such chemicals. Due to these toxins, your body clings on to fat, hence the ’Freshers 15.’ Furthermore, all of these foods are stress-inducing.
Nowadays, people think it is normal to wake up feeling tired and grumpy; it’s not. It may be common, but it certainly isn’t normal. Normal is waking up feeling rested, energized and ready to take on the day. You won’t need sugar or caffeine to help you function in the morning and you won’t get that afternoon slump of crashing tiredness that only coffee or a chocolate bar can (briefly) keep at bay.
In addition, adequate and healthy intake of food is essential to healthy brain function. If you are truly going to take up and maintain a healthy way of eating, you need to remember that nutrition is not low-fat, low calorie, or feeling hungry and deprived. It’s nourishing your body with real, whole foods, so that you are consistently satisfied and energized, able to live life to the fullest, and excel in your studies to the best of your ability.
My Fast-Track tips to help improving your healthy eating habits today!
1). DRINK MORE WATER!
Water is so important because every chemical reaction in the body involves it. Staying hydrated not only helps with your alertness, controlling appetite, and improving activity and exam performance, but it also helps every day symptoms like fatigue and headaches! Aim for 2-3L per day. Keep a 1L water bottle with you at all times. There are plenty of places on campus where you can top up on filtered water, such as in the library or in the union. Try lemon to your water to naturally flavour it. Plus, adding lemon to your water has further benefits such as aiding digestion, boosting your immune system and increasing concentration. If you are drinking alcohol regularly it is particularly important to stay hydrated, as alcohol is very dehydrating, and this intake of water will help to flush out the toxins from your system. Try to sip throughout the day rather than chug a load in one go.
2). Sunday night—make a big salad you can eat throughout the week, If you need some inspiration, try looking at www.deliciouslyella.co.uk. Her carrot, lentil and raisin salad of is my personal favourite. You should also cook up a batch of protein which will keep you fuller for longer and prevent cravings as well as helping to maintain lean muscle mass—you could bake some chicken or salmon. Alternatively, I sometimes buy a readily roast chicken from Morrison's (£5), which I can just add to salads and meals throughout the week. If you don’t manage to do this, you could simply add tinned tuna to your salads, which is available for £1/tin in poundland. You could also boil a load of eggs—you can buy organic eggs from outside the union on a Monday at the marketplace for an affordable price. It will help you a great deal to prepare like this before the week has started so that you can quickly grab nutritious food out the fridge to take with you to lectures. Trust me, you will seriously thank yourself for it. It takes 20 minutes tops, and will save you money as you won’t have to pay an extra £5 to pick up a meal on campus when you had food at home you could have used.
3). If you want to try and ease into a more healthy way of eating, and believe me, I appreciate how much of a challenging transition it is particularly when everyone around you is eating poorly, then you should try and at least get in a good breakfast. Breakfast is so important as it provides you with the nutrients that are essential to your body throughout the morning and mid-day. This can lead to increased energy and concentration.
A great way to get in a load of nutrients is to make a smoothie. Try to make one with a handful of leafy greens (such as spinach or kale) blended with banana and an assortment of different fruits, such as mango or strawberries. Don’t worry—the flavours from the fruit will overpower that of the greens. Adding avocado is also good to give your smoothie a lovely creamy texture. You could also add dried dates or natural peanut butter (which you can buy cheaply from the Green Action food Co-Op in the union) to make your smoothie extra delicious. I also like to add protein powder and chia seeds (available from Holland & Barrett for £9). Getting these raw ingredients into your system is absolutely essential as when you heat food above 46°C you lose at least 30% of the nutrients and 100% of the natural enzymes. Cooking food can change the molecular structure creating toxins and free radicals, so this is a great way to easily get some raw food into your diet daily.
Now how can you implement this information into your daily life? Here is my affordable and health enhancing student grocery list
· Purchase a fruit and vegetable box from the Green Action Food Co-op in the Student Union. You can order this at any time, I do it on a Monday, and they arrive on a Thursday. I tend to get the £10 vegetable box which includes a variety of seasonal mixed produce in smallish quantities of around 9-11 items, and always includes Potato, Carrots, Onions where possible. I also purchase their fruit box which is only £3 and includes around 8-9 pieces of easy eating lunch box type fruit, always Apples and Bananas where possible plus one or two other types of fruits like Pears, Clementine, Apricots, Peaches, Plums. These boxes are sourced from Goosemoor Organics, and will last you at least 7 days. You could even buy one with a flat mate and split the price—there would be plenty for both of you.
· Eating organically wherever possible is important. Here are a few reasons why:
· organic food is higher in nutrients
· They’re free of neurotoxins–toxins that are damaging to brain and nerve cells.
· Organic food is not exposed to gas-ripening like some non-organic fruits and vegetables (like bananas).
· Organic produce is free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Even if you wash your produce, you cannot remove all these harmful chemicals that can affect your nervous system, cause cancer and more.
· In the Green Action Food Co-op you can also stock up on some important diet staples such as:
· Oats £1.10/1 kg
· Quinoa 81p/100g
· Pumpkin seeds 63p/100g.
· A great place to stock up on your protein sources for the week is Morrison's.
· My personal favourites are:
· 2 Salmon fillets (£2 each) from the fishmonger
· Ready-to-eat-prawns (£3)
· Free range chicken fillets (£3)
Weekly Total food cost: £16.81
FYI—Including these foods in particular will boost your brain function:
· Blueberries (“brainberries”) - in one study, they significantly improved both the learning capacity of aging rats, making them mentally equivalent to younger rats.
· Wild Salmon—rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids; essential for brain function.
· Nuts and seeds—good source of vitamin E—higher levels of vitamin E corresponds with less cognitive decline as you get older.
· Avocados—a monounsaturated fat, which contributes to a healthy blood flow—resulting in a healthy brain.
· Whole Grains--every organ in the body is dependent on blood flow—if you promote cardiovascular health, you’re promoting good flow to the organ system, which includes the brain.