College life can be stressful. A poor diet complicates matters, impairing a student’s ability to study and succeed.

“Too many college students fall into the trap of late-night convenience foods that tend to be filled with fat, sodium, sugar and calories, and not many nutrients,” says registered dietitian Nettie Freshour, an adjunct professor of human nutrition & foods at West Virginia University. “When people follow this pattern for an extended period of time, they lose out on many important nutrients that fuel their metabolism. When these are missing in the diet, it can lead to feeling tired all the time and weight gain.

“When you feel better, you do better,” she adds. “Eating healthy foods and exercising have been shown to increase mood and self-esteem. This can lead to increased productivity and better grades—plus, you will stay more alert in class.”

Freshour offers the following tips for healthy eating:

  1. Consume a variety of foods that provide all of the nutrients needed to stay alert, feel great and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Fresh fruits and vegetables; whole-wheat and multigrain bread; lean sources of protein like grilled chicken and turkey, fish, beans, nuts and skim milk; and low- to non-fat dairy are good choices.
  2. Pack a lunch. It’s healthier and cheaper than eating out. Prepping lunch the night before class saves time and reduces stress. A homemade turkey sandwich, baby carrots and a banana are better than standing in line for a hamburger, fries and soda.
  3. Reduce fat intake. Avoid or limit deep-fried items, whole milk, high-sugar desserts and high-fat salad dressings. Try a quick, easy alternative: a whole-wheat bagel sandwich with 2 oz. turkey, lettuce, tomato and mustard.
  4. Avoid alcohol. In addition to decreased physical activity, alcohol is the other major factor in weight gain during college. Consuming two regular beers weekly will add 1 pound per semester. Consuming a 12-oz. strawberry daiquiri weekly will add 6 pounds per semester.
  5. Reduce caffeine intake. Consuming caffeinated beverages can cause dehydration, fatigue and headaches.
  6. Eat low-calorie foods. Consumption of high-fat, high-calorie foods leaves you tired and less motivated to exercise or study. Foods that are nutrient-dense, high in antioxidants, and low in fat and calories can help improve productivity, enhance mood, and help maintain or lose weight.

Editor’s note: We encourage you to choose organic foods, whenever possible, to avoid exposure to pesticides, preservatives and other chemicals.

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