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Nutrition tips for university students

October 4, 2017

Heading off to uni? Or maybe you are already a uni student and have been for awhile now but you are struggling to eat well. If that’s the case, this post will certainly be of interest to you!

It’s common for uni students to pile on the weight especially during the first year at uni. A combination of stress, drinking, poor eating patterns and cooking skills are typically to blame.

We all know those people who have left highschool who were string beans throughout primary and high school and then we see them a few years later as a uni student and somehow they have managed to pack on the weight. The reason for that is not usually that they have suddenly developed a problem with overeating, but more likely that their physical activity and NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) levels went down as they became less active than they were at high school, but continued to eat the same amount. This results in weight gain (energy in becomes greater than the energy expended).

You may think it’s difficult to keep eat well on a budget but with some savvy swaps and habits it is possible to keep healthy without blowing your student loan. Whether you’re watching your weight or wanting to keep energised through the day (and keep your mind sharp for your sutides), it’s important to get the balance right on your plate. Here are some tips I have put together.

Tip 1: Get your portions right and go easy on the carbs

It can be tempting to load up on carbs as they are usually considered the cheaper option, but this will simply cause your blood sugar levels to spike, affecting focus, concentration and energy as well as contributing to excess fat gain.  Instead fill half your plate with veggies first – cooked or raw and plenty of variety. Add protein to fill 1/4 of the plate and slower releasing carbohydrates in the remaining 1/4.

Use your fist as a portion-size guide for protein and carbs. Aim for roughly a palm size portion of protein at each meal with several handfuls of veggies and a small fist of whole grains only.

Tip 2: Learn to love the freezer

If you worry about buying produce that will go bad, keep bags of frozen fruits and veggies instead. Not only are they cheap but they are super healthy and have the added bonus of no preparation. Frozen fruits are perfect in a breakfast smoothie or topped on porridge and you only need to take out as much as you need.

Tip 3: Add veggies to everything

Fresh or frozen bulk up all your meals and snacks with vegetables. They will add plenty of nutrients and fibre to your meals and keep you feeling fuller for longer without loads of calories.

Tip 4: Don’t forget protein! It will keep you fuller for longer

Sneak protein into every meal or snack to balance blood sugar and keep hunger away. This does not have to an expensive steak – try eggs, cottage cheese, beans, bags of frozen fish and chicken, lean mince or canned fish for cheaper options.

Tip 5: Include plant based meals each week

Budget friendly and healthy – simply including a couple of healthy vegetarian meals each week can save you money. Beans, lentis and peas for example are super cheap and packed with fibre and protein making them really satisfying. Use canned beans for speed or red split lentils to make a tasty dhal.  Frozen edamame beans or tofu chunks are delicious added to ramen soups and stews too.

Tip 6: Preparation is key

No time for breakfast? Prepare the night before. Overnight oats are one of the simplest of options but you could also make a big batch of homemade granola which can double up as a snack later in the day.

Tip 7: Cook once and freeze

Cook one giant meal like a casserole, curry or filling soup, and freeze separate portions for a number of dinners.  Cooking and shopping in bulk is an easy way to save time and money.  Try hard boiling half a dozen eggs in one go and then storing them in the fridge to use for breakfast, lunch or snack options.

Tip 8: Invest in containers

Store your leftovers in containers for lunch or breakfast the next day. Use them for packed lunches and meals for one in the freezer. This will keep food from going bad and help you control portions too.

Tip 9: Pack, don’t buy:

You may feel under pressure to buy lunch at the canteen but by packing your own lunch you can keep it healthy and save money.

Tip 10: Stock up with healthy snacks:

Whether in your bag or student room keeping a range of healthy snacks will stop you from reaching for sugary junk food.  Hanger is the ultimate downfall when you’re trying to stick to a healthy diet.  When you’re starving it is tempting to grab any quick snack to hand which are typically sugary/empty calorie options.

If you are buying a snack always check the nutrition label & look for one with less than 5g sugar per 100g and aim to get between 6-10g protein. Try and stick to less processed foods to save money. Good options include homemade energy or protein balls, bars or muffins, nuts, fresh fruit, olives, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, slices of ham or deli roast beef, chicken or cooked prawns, hummus and oat cakes, rice cakes with nut butter or cottage cheese.

Tip 11: Don’t drink your calories

A downfall for many students – alcohol is packed with calories. A can of beer has over 150 calories, a pint of cider around 210cal and glass of wine 85 calories.  A night at the bar could seriously dent your wallet and impact your waistline. Don’t switch to fruit juice either, which is high in sugar.  Try alternating alcoholic drinks with soda water and lime when at the bar.

Ditch the fizzy drinks and energy drinks which are loaded in calories and sugars. Remember too that a night of drinking will also make you feel rubbish the next day, disrupt sleep patterns and often result in excess snacking too.

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