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COLUMN: Choosing their own food: Help for college students

By Alice Nickelson

Davison/Hanson 4-H Youth Program Advisor

For many college freshmen, the first day of college is the first time in their lives they choose when, where and what they eat. Suddenly, the high school routine of breakfast, lunch, occasional snacks and home-cooked meals changes into daily visits to the burger or chicken sandwich emporiums and midnight pizza runs. The daily workout routine of track, basketball, softball and cheerleading practice is replaced with daily walks to various dining halls and late-night meals while studying.

The "freshman 15" is a commonly used nickname for weight gained during a first semester in college. Not all college freshmen gain weight, and some studies indicate that the average weight gain may be less than 15 pounds, but any unwanted extra weight is difficult to shed once it is added. The college environment makes gaining extra weight easy to do, and the weight gain may slip up on new students before they realize it. Not only do new freshmen have the opportunity to eat whatever they want without parental guidance, they also have the opportunity to try the "forbidden fruit" of beer and liquor, which can also contribute to unwanted pounds.

Here are a few simple tips for college freshmen:

• Monitor the food you eat. Portion sizes have become larger to accommodate bigger appetites, and campus dining is no exception. Make sure you eat five-a-day of fruits and vegetables. They are full of vitamins and minerals, and if you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, you will be more likely to stay away from foods that are high in fat and empty calories.

• You can be more aware of the food you are eating by reading nutrition labels. Make sure the foods you select have plenty of nutrients such as vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and dietary fiber. Eating these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risks of some diseases and conditions. Nutrients that should be limited are total fat (both saturated and trans fat), cholesterol and sodium. These are the gateway nutrients to being overweight and obese. Reading nutrition labels can be very helpful in selecting healthy food alternatives.

• Eat breakfast. Breakfast is a great time to get the whole grains, fruit, and low-fat dairy foods that people who maintain a healthy weight tend to eat.

• Stay active by getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day of the week. It will help you look better, feel better and sleep better.

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