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Food for thought: why students should feed their brain


Quality of life Observer

- Education

- Nov 15 2013

While the first year of college is generally equated with long-awaited freedom, it also brings with it new pressures. This combination of newfound autonomy and stress can manifest itself in several ways, notably through a marked change in eating habits. What many students don’t realize is the reduction in nutrients may decrease their overall productivity as well.


The balancing act

Studies show that students develop unhealthy habits in their new environment. Dr. Catriona Davis-McCabe, a chartered counseling psychologist at Teesside University in the United Kingdom, highlights eating as a common way of coping with stress and anxiety. And without the guidance of their parents, skipping meals (especially breakfast), late night eating and unbalanced nutrition become commonplace.

These factors contribute to the fact that the greatest increase in overweight and obese adults occurs during college years (between the ages of 18-29). This phenomenon is so common that the United States has coined the phrase, “The Freshman15,” in reference to the 15-pound average weight gain that freshman experience.

Boost your brainpower

While the most visible result of poor eating habits is weight gain, the impact on the learning process must also be taken into account. A recent study in Advances in Nutrition suggests that the most important factor is not the total food intake but the “nutrition pattern”; meaning a balanced diet is generally linked with improved academic performance, while diets loaded with fat or sugar have a negative impact.

Simply put, when students maintain erratic schedules, eat high fat meals and fail to consume nutrient-rich food, they are starving their body - and subsequently their brain - of the energy it needs to be productive.

And it’s not only about meals: in times of stress or during all-night study sessions, some students turn to supplements that claim to boost energy. While this temporary fix creates a false sense of energy, it does not actually boost brainpower. Neuroscientist Matthew Stanford professor of psychology, neuroscience and biomedical studies at Baylor University in the U.S.confirms: “deficiencies in vital nutrients can lead to cognitive confusion, forgetfulness, lack of attention and mood swings”.

Universities put their best foot forward

Unfortunately, many students don’t know how to create a balanced diet, says Roxanne Moore, National Director of Wellness for Sodexo U.S. “As students begin to establish a life of their own,” says Moore,“It’s our duty to help them establish life skills and show them how these skills can have an impact on theirfuture.”

Balanced, affordable meal options and an emphasis on nutritional education are among the main solutions being implemented by universities to improve the quality of life on campuses. These services contribute to the overall attractiveness of the university environment, a key criterion for choice of university by more than one-third of UK students, according to a recent survey.

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Food for thought: why students should feed their brain

While the first year of college is generally equated with long-awaited freedom, it also brings with it new pressures. This combination of newfound autonomy and stress can manifest itself in several ways, notably through a marked change in eating habits. What many students don’t realize is the reduction in nutrients may decrease their overall productivity as well.

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