By LIZ MACLEAN
Going on a college meal plan can be akin to a pirate going out to sea: the food is minimal, kitchens are scarce, and scurvy is a strong possibility. Okay, this may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the lack of essential vitamins and nutrients among college students can be a real problem.
“College students who eat a varied diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy will get most of the essential nutrients. However, if students miss certain food groups, or eat a lot of processed foods, they are probably not getting enough vitamins and minerals for health,” said Melissa Morris, assistant professor of health science and human performance.
At home, many students have a wide range of food possibilities: farmers markets every weekend, parents who keep the fridge stocked, and their own cars to take them to restaurants. Once they get to school, however, many students live on campus and have meal plans or are operating on a low budget and have to prioritize their grocery lists.
“As a student at UT, I spend hardly any money on groceries, probably less than $50 a semester, because my meal plan gives me everything I need,” said Jodi Hansen, a junior marketing major.
Between stressing over exams, committing to events with social groups and campus organizations, and applying for summer jobs and internships, students may not have a healthy diet on their mind 24/7. And because they’re operating on minimal sleep and Salsa Rico burritos, their immune systems may not be of the highest caliber. This is why it’s crucial for students to make sure they get the vitamins and nutrients their bodies need in order to do well on exams, accomplish career goals, and thrive during their time at college.
“All the vitamins and minerals are important for health, but some are vital for college students,” Morris said. “Vitamin D and calcium are two [of them]. Other important vitamins and minerals for college students includes vitamin C and iron.”
Here are four vitamins and minerals that will keep you performing to the highest caliber at school (because we all know the melon from the cafe and iceberg lettuce from Pandini’s isn’t going to cut it):
Vitamin C: Vitamin C helps strengthen the immune system and a lack of it can lead to fatigue. It also helps repair and grow the tissues in your body, which is especially important for avid gym-goers. Not only does vitamin C keep your bones strong, it also acts as an antioxidant, which can reduce the aging process and stop the development of illnesses like arthritis and cancer.
“College students seem to get sick often and are often tired,” Morris said. “Vitamin C plays a role in immunity and iron is needed for the body for circulate oxygen throughout, which having low iron can cause fatigue and tiredness.”
If you’re looking for some foods with high amounts of vitamin C, try blackberries, brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, lemon, onion, raspberries, tangerines, sweet potato, tomato or watermelon.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D can help regulate the immune system, which comes in handy when you’re an exhausted college student exposed to hundreds of germs in class every day.
“College students are in their peak bone building years, so getting enough calcium and vitamin D is vital in your late teens and twenties,” Morris said. “There is some research linking [a lack of] vitamin D to depression, osteoporosis, cancer, type 2 diabetes, immunity, muscle strength, and autoimmune disorders.”
The body can create vitamin D, but only after being exposed to sunlight — so take your laptop outside and study in Plant Park for a bit during the day to increase the amount of vitamin D in your body.
“Generally speaking, about 15 minutes of sunlight (without sunscreen) on any part of our skin just a few times a week gives us the vitamin D we need here in Florida,” Morris said.
If you’re at home during the winter and aren’t getting adequate vitamin D from sunlight, you can eat salmon, tuna, cheese, egg yolks and fortified milk, which all have high amounts of vitamin D.
Iron: Iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the U.S, according to WebMD. Iron transports oxygen throughout the body, and without it, many people feel fatigued and can have trouble with brain function and immune system function. Iron is also important in maintaining healthy hair, nails, and skin. Vegetarians and vegans often have to make an effort to intake more iron because humans’ bodies don’t absorb iron from plants as well as they absorb iron from animals. Some foods with high amounts of iron include red meat, beans, dried fruit, peas, seafood, poultry, spinach and chickpeas.
Vitamin B: Vitamin B is great for strengthening the immune system and helping your body produce energy, both of which are key for college students. Vitamin B can be found in bananas, chili peppers, whole grains, beef, yogurt and beans. Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animals, so vegetarians or vegans might find themselves with a lack of B12. People with digestive issues may also have a lack of B12, which can lead to fatigue and dizziness. Many seafoods, including clams, oysters, mussels, trout and crab, have high amounts of B12.
While all these foods are a great addition to any diet, sometimes it’s just not possible for college students to consume enough. Taking vitamin supplements is an easy substitution for anyone looking to increase their vitamin and mineral intake during the school year. Just make sure not to eat them on an empty stomach, as this can sometimes lead to nausea.
Liz MacLean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.