Cara Cunningham, Community Dietitian
The first time away from home for many students is now well underway. This can be a challenging time in many ways eating healthily can be one such challenge. Dietary surveys show that young adults and especially young women often have low intakes of nutrients such as calcium and iron and higher intakes of salt and fat. Calcium is very important for bone health while iron is needed for healthy blood and making sure your organs (including the brain ) gets enough oxygen. Eating well can help you to concentrate better and will give you plenty of energy to study and maintain a healthy social life.
Keys to a healthy diet
• Energy and fibre - bread, cereals, potato, rice and pasta are a source of energy, fibre and B vitamins. It is recommended to have 6 portions a day. Choose breakfast cereal, sandwiches and including some potato, rice or pasta at your main meal. By choosing wholegrain/ wholemeal varieties of these foods you will also boost your fibre intake – keeping you regular!
• Fruit and vegetables - all fruit and vegetables are a great source of fibre, folate and vitamin C which are necessary for preventing constipation, having healthy blood and a strong immune system. Bright red, yellow and orange varieties are a good source of vitamin A which is needed for healthy skin and vision. Include five portions a day by chopping up some fruit over your cereal or try fruit and yoghurt as dessert. Salad or vegetables can brighten up your plate while snacking on fruit is also a great low fat option to keep hunger pangs at bay between lectures! Frozen fruits and vegetables are as nutritious as fresh varieties and can be a good option to reduce wastage.
• Calcium and vitamin D - dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are the best source of calcium. Although the main source of vitamin D is sunlight good dietary sources include oily fish, eggs and fortified milks and breakfast cereals. Including low fat yoghurt at lunch / dinner most days and a glass of low fat milk is a great calcium boost to your meals. Oily fish is not only a good source of vitamin D but also contains Omega 3 fats which are said to boost brain power and help concentration.- so don’t forget to have some oily fish like salmon, sardines, trout, herring, mackerel and fresh tuna at least once a week
• Iron - red meat is the best source of iron. Although other foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, green vegetables, eggs do contain iron, your body can’t easily absorb this type of iron; so it is good to have some red meat. Think Spaghetti Bolognese, Shepherd’s pie, grilled chops and burgers these are all tasty and good sources of iron. If you are vegetarian remember that vitamin C boosts iron absorption so make sure to include some brightly coloured fruit with your meals or a glass of fruit juice as this will boost your iron absorption.
• Alcohol - is synonymous with university social life, but alcohol contains almost as much calories as fat! The guidelines are that adult women should drink less than 11 standard drinks per week and adult men should drink less than 17 standard drinks a week. See www.askaboutalcohol.ie for further information.
• Fat - all kinds of fat contain the same calories, but try not to rely on saturated fat too much. This is found in butter, fatty and processed meats, takeaways, manufactured cakes and biscuits. These are not good for weight control and are not heart healthy choices! Reduce the total amount of fat that you eat and include unsaturated fat in your diet instead. Get this from vegetable oils, oily fish, low fat spreads and unsalted varieties of nuts.
So this autumn, get your housemates in on the act, why not have a college cookery night with your friends, sharing meals is both economical, fun and could be delicious!
See https://www.safefood.eu/recipes/101-Square-Meals-(PDF ).aspx for useful recipes, budget conscious meal planners and the all important shopping list!
For more information on any of the issues discussed above or for more information on diet and nutrition, please contact Maria at the Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster by telephone on (044 ) 9395518 or email [email protected].