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Health Matters: Eating Right

As diligent college students, healthful eating is not always something that seems important to us. School work, sleep and our social lives concern us more than the food we put into our bodies. We know eating is a key component to living healthy and active lives — after all, it’s a necessity. However, there are times we don’t eat enough of the right food and other times we get an excess of the wrong food. A nutritional diet can be defined as consuming the right quantities of foods from the various food groups. Eating a healthy diet is often something we phase into and out of, but the reality is that it should be a life-long habit. Forming the right habits early on is imperative to a high quality of our life, both in youth and in later years. Eating the right foods and avoiding more heavily processed and fast foods will help you reap the benefits that come from supporting your body with the essential nutrients you need to grow and be strong.

To add more healthy items to one's diet, more servings of fruits and vegetables is recommended for a good balance. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
To add more healthy items to one’s diet, more servings of fruits and vegetables is recommended for a good balance. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Healthy eating starts with practicing new ways to eat — like adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet. It is also important to eat whole grains and cut back on foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. Moderation is a key component to maintaining a healthy way of life. Eating in moderation means eating only as much food as your body needs. A balanced diet is important as well. Aim to incorporate a colorful variety of food on your plate —  think of red tomatoes, dark green kale and  broccoli, orange bell peppers, purple eggplants — and fruits, like yellow bananas.

This kind of balanced, nutritional diet can prevent diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. It can also prevent against iron deficiency, which is the most common nutrient deficiency in young people, according to Dr. Donald Crampton, director of nursing at Mills, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture. Dr. Crampton, however, believes that the average person will not suffer from a lack of iron in their diet. According to the USDA, women ages 19 to 50 should intake at least 18 mg a day of iron in their diets, and even more if they are pregnant. Vegetarians and vegans also have a higher risk of iron deficiency, which can be lessened by proper diet.

Paying attention to what you put into your body can increase your overall energy and make you look and feel healthier. And when your eating habits are grounded in health, you can indulge in fast food or a brownie now and then.

But developing a healthy eating plan or routine can be more complicated than it seems. For busy college students it is not always easy to eat healthy; there are so many things to juggle day to day. According to Natalie Spangler, a P.E. instructor and the head athletic trainer at Mills, the main problem in students’ diets is not making the time to eat full meals regularly. “Students are busy with too much going on and have very little time, [so] they tend to skip meals,” Spangler said.

Some suggestions for squeezing in the time to eat: plan and set aside time to grab a bite or go up to Founders between classes. For an “on-the-go” snack, pack a bag of sugar snap peas or carrots from your dorm, or go to the Tea Shop and grab a piece of fruit. Luckily, Bon Appetit, which serves the Mills campus, provides us with a large variety of food to support us with healthy food options. And don’t forget to drink water!

In addition to healthy eating, physical activity is important — the two go hand in hand. The Athletics Physical Education and Recreation (APER) Department at Mills offers free fitness classes for all students. These are great opportunities for personal and physical growth that students should take advantage of, even if you just want to try something new! Upcoming events include fitness workshops, yoga and boot camp classes — all of which are free.

We must fuel our bodies with nutritious food to maintain good health, and great options are available on campus. In improving your lifestyle habits, don’t change everything at once — set small goals and work to accomplish them. At lunch, try choosing the salad with chicken or the vegetarian black bean burger instead of the double, ground beef cheeseburger. Getting adequate physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day is recommended in order to boost your energy level, control weight, and improve your mood and sleep. As long as you’re up and moving, all forms of physical activity are good for you! Choosing to eat well and engaging in physical activity can provide our bodies with many benefits that support us to be stronger, healthier and smarter, not only today but on into the future.