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Eating Healthy in College: Start Good Dietary Habits Today

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It’s easy for college freshmen to develop unhealthy eating habits thanks to unlimited access to high-fat, high-calorie foods, but those double helpings and late-night pizza runs may cause more problems than a bigger jeans size.

In 2007, University of New Hampshire researchers found that weight issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a lack of exercise are affecting college students between the ages of 18 and 24 in more ways than one—students may be headed toward a future of chronic conditions.

College Students Struggling with Weight and Nutrition

Data collected from more than 800 undergraduates enrolled in a nutrition course found that more than two-thirds of women weren’t meeting nutritional needs for iron, calcium or folate. Sixty percent of men had high blood pressure and 8% of men had metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that predict future development of heart disease and diabetes. One-third of the students involved in the study were overweight or obese, reports Forbes.

“All indicators are that this population will most likely [show signs of] more chronic disease at earlier ages.” says Joanne Burke, director of the University of New Hampshire dietetic internship program.

Today’s college students may not have the same history of eating meals with their busy families as previous generations. If they regularly ate fast food for dinner growing up, it’s unlikely that they will choose healthy options in the college cafeterias. Students can also establish bad dietary habits, like not eating enough fruit and vegetables, in the first year of college. The habits will most likely stay with them for a long time.

The Dorm Room Diet

It’s also possible to develop healthy eating habits that can stick with you for a long time, even if you weren’t accustomed to them at home.

“When a child is in grade school or high school and a parent decides not to buy healthy foods, we can’t do a lot,” Burke tells Forbes. “But in college, we can reach them.”

Daphne Oz, the daughter of Oprah star and best-selling author Dr. Mehmet Oz, struggled with her weight during high school but managed to lose 10 pounds as a freshman at Princeton. She is the author of The Dorm Room Diet, described as a “10 step program for creating a healthy lifestyle plan that really works.”

Among Oz’s suggestions for eating healthy in college:

  • Stock your dorm room with healthy snacks like almonds, protein bars, fresh fruits, hummus and carrots.
  • Eat fruit for dessert and splurge only on special occasions.
  • Take time to eat breakfast, particularly one with an element of filling protein.
  • Stop eating out of emotional need.
  • Get the exercise you need, even in your dorm room.
  • Choose vitamins and supplements wisely.

America’s Healthiest College Cafeterias

Today’s college students may have unhealthy eating habits, but they also have much higher expectations than previous generations when it comes to food. The days of drab, tasteless college cafeterias are nearing their end. Many big-name colleges and universities are overhauling their campus food services by purchasing local and organic ingredients; offering vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free fare; and even composting waste and saving energy.

Hearst Communications’ The Daily Green researched campus dining services and sustainability at schools to come up with 12 of the Most Healthy and Sustainable College Cafeterias. The top five colleges are profiled below.

  • Yale. Yale’s Sustainable Food Project involves a sustainable dining program at Yale, an organic farm on campus, and diverse programs that support exploration and academic inquiry related to food and agriculture. The university’s Berkeley College dining hall became a test kitchen for local, organic and vegetarian food. It has grown so popular that the number of non-residents admitted for meals must be limited.
  • Duke. All new construction at Duke University’s Durham, North Carolina campus must be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council and the school purchases a lot of green power and encourages biking. Not only do campus dorms buy local and organic foods, compost and promote recycling, they use biodegradable and minimal packaging. The Refectory cafeteria at Duke’s law school serves veggie burgers and organic burgers crafted from local, grass-fed beef; all natural grilled chicken; fresh cut local fries and a bountiful vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu.
  • University of California, Berkeley. America’s first certified organic college dining hall calls University of California, Berkeley home. The university’s Crossroads cafeteria offers nine distinct stations: world cuisine, Mexican, made-to-order deli, 100% organic salad bar, comfort foods, vegetarian/vegan, grilled entrées, bakery and dessert selections and a variety of soups, cereals and beverages. It also boasts a number of green features including natural lighting, energy-efficient fixtures and low-flow water faucets. Excess food is donated and food scraps are composted locally.
  • College of the Atlantic. In 2007, Bar Harbor, Maine’s College of the Atlantic was the first college to go carbon-neutral. College of the Atlantic’s kitchen emphasizes the use of local, organic ingredients including humanely-raised meat and seafood from sustainable sources. Baked goods are made from scratch and cuisines from around the world are incorporated into the weekly menu. Special dietary needs are accommodated on an individual basis. The school’s Sea Urchin Café even offers a fresh food 24-hour vending machine with sandwiches, salads, fresh spring rolls and more.
  • Evergreen State College. The goal of dining services at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington is to provide quality food presented in an attractive manner to the diverse range of individuals and groups that utilize the campus. The college is home to a 13-acre organic farm which is certified “salmon-safe” because its practices are shown to protect water quality and native biodiversity.

Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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