Studies show that good nutrition and regular exercise is linked to high academic performance. Students live busy lives so it is often difficult to take time and make sure we are taking care of our bodies. According to our school’s nutritionist, eating healthy can enhance performance and can help students have more energy to pay attention during lectures. </p>
Sandra Ace is our school’s registered dietitian. Her role with Health Services at the university is to make sure students are aware and informed of the importance of nutrition. She meets with some students on a one-on-one basis by referral only and maintains the Health Services website to make sure that it contains helpful information for all students. Ace also runs seminars that are free and open to any student who wants to learn more about nutrition.
How can students stay healthy while in school? Ace sat down with Imprint and had some insightful recommendations.
On the topic of finding a healthy meal on campus, Ace recommends exploring Brubaker’s in the SLC or the Fresh-to-Go options in the various cafés across campus. Recently, she tried to visit almost every location on campus to learn about the menus available. She was very impressed with the healthy Fresh-to-Go meals that offer brown-rice sushi, sandwiches on whole grain breads, and salads that contain some form of protein. Ace was particularly pleased with Brubaker’s in the SLC because of the meals available from Pita Pit, Teriyaki Experience, and Wild Olive, the make your own pasta station. She said, “Pitas are great because you can stuff them with as many vegetables as you want.”
Ace wants students to be aware that when it comes to choosing a meal, having a combination of complex carbohydrates, protein ,and fibre is really important. A lot of students think that Booster Juice is the best option at Brubaker’s, but this isn’t true according to Ace. Booster Juice might seem really healthy, but the juices are high in sugar and you aren’t getting a well-balanced meal for the amount of calories you are consuming. If you are going to get a juice, consider the snack-sized options.
When asked about how to stay healthy on a student budget, Ace very passionately insisted that the best way is to cook your own meals in advance. In general, Ace advises not to eat out too often because you can’t control what ingredients are going into the food and the meals are going to be a lot more expensive than making them yourself. So, not only are they less healthy, you’re actually spending more when you eat out. Ace recommends preparing meals for the next four days all at the same time.
Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. Ace tells us that we can still, “have Kraft dinner, but throw in a can of tuna and some broccoli.”
And on the topic of time, Ace tells us this: “If you go to Tim Hortons to get a breakfast sandwich in the morning, you’re going to be waiting in line for at least five minutes. That’s exactly how long it would take you to make it yourself.” But, if you are going to eat out, most restaurants offer healthy choices. Her advice is to seek out the best options, wherever you are. Ace also wants students to be mindful that the portion sizes that are served in restaurants are typically bigger than what we would normally cook for ourselves.
We asked Ace what she thinks about some of the typical student habits including excessive coffee drinking, eating only ramen noodles, and drinking alcohol. She told us that coffee in and of itself isn’t necessarily unhealthy — coffee becomes unhealthy when we start adding milk and sugar to it and turning it into a latte. Ace said that we don’t usually realize that the latte we’re drinking has the same amount of calories as a typical meal. Also, she warns about the potential harm of caffeine to anxiety levels. She said that every term, at least one person will come in to the clinic from overdosing on caffeine and is shaking too much to write their final. Ace said that if you’re having more than two large coffees per day, that’s too much.
When it comes to ramen noodles, Ace said that she doesn’t like them. But, if you absolutely love ramen noodles, you can still eat them, but consider adding in some vegetables and protein. Regarding the amount of alcohol that students drink, Ace explained that’s a whole different article altogether. For now, her message is that having more than three drinks in an evening constitutes binge drinking.
Finally, Ace told Imprint what, in her opinion, is the most important thing that students should be doing to stay healthy. Sleeping well is the most overlooked healthy habit but can be one of the most important. Students should be sleeping an average of seven to nine hours a night, according to the Canadian Sleep Society.
Sleep is really important because it impacts how we learn, our energy levels, and our food intake. “People who stay up really late are usually snacking on foods,” said Ace. A shortened night of sleep can impact our appetite because it affects the hormones that are responsible for regulating it. Circling back to what Ace told us about coffee, if we’re using coffee to boost our energy levels instead of sleeping properly, it is going to have negative effects. We need to get our energy from sleeping properly and eating a nutrient rich diet otherwise we aren’t going to be achieving the level of academic performance that we are actually capable of.