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What You Eat Matters

If you saw the movie Super Size Me you were probably stunned by the impact of junk food on the body. The filmmaker Morgan Spurlock decided to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonald’s for thirty days to challenge the idea that fast food doesn’t affect a person’s health. The movie is a shocking testament to the health effects of fat-laden, calorie-dense and processed foods. In 30 days Morgan not only developed high blood pressure, sky-high cholesterol and a fatty liver bordering on cirrhosis, but he also gained 25 pounds, became depressed, moody, lethargic and completely lost his sex drive.

These health effects should make you wonder: Is there really a difference between eating a turkey sandwich on whole grain and a burger with fries? Does drinking water instead of soda change anything? The straight answer is yes. What you eat directly affects how you feel and look and definitely your academic performance. Check out how you can utilize food to work for you:

Diet Check: Before you make any drastic changes, identify the problem. Keep a food log for at least three days and analyze what you’re eating and when. Is your diet loaded with empty calories? Do you drink enough water? Do you have sugar cravings? How much fresh food do you eat? Here is a great tracking sheet.

De-Junk: Most junk food is filled with salt, preservatives, saturated and trans-fats. Salt promotes water retention, so don’t be surprised if you wake up with a puffy face and a few extra pounds on the scale the morning after eating Chinese take-out. Trans-fats, such as hydrogenated oils, have no nutritional value and may over the long-term cause chronic health complications. An article in the April 2006 New England Journal of Medicine stated that “the consumption of trans fatty acids results in considerable potential harm, but no apparent benefit.” Make sure that at least 50 percent of your daily chow comes from vegetables, fruit and whole grains—and not from a box.

Twinkie Experiment

Fries, chips, packaged cookies, candy bars and most anything heavily processed is stabilized with preservatives. These add flavor and give products a shelf life of several years. If you want proof, buy a Twinkie and reserve a special spot in your dorm room. It will outlive your college education and perhaps even your grandchildren.

And when you eat these types of foods, your body has no idea what to do with the empty calories—it will simply store it as fat.

What’s in this junk? Get a reality check by looking up calorie and nutrient contents of popular fast foods:

Happy Meals: If you’re feeling blue or too groggy to study for the next exam, maybe your diet’s to blame. Studies have shown that high calorie meals loaded with simple carbohydrates, such as pasta, potatoes and white bread, can leave you feeling sluggish. Eating protein-rich omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts, flax seed oil and pumpkin seeds can boost your mood and energy. Create your own happy meal in the cafeteria by choosing fish with veggies instead of the burger special. Your brain will thank you for it. Put together a nutrition plan based on your individual requirements:

What do I choose at the cafeteria to keep my weight down, my energy up, my mood happy and my skin clear?
Eat 3 small meals and 2 snacks, consisting of protein, complex carbohydrates and a little bit of unsaturated fat. Stay clear of sugary and processed foods. Drink water all day. Check out the list below for some examples of healthy options:


  • A scrambled egg on whole grain bread
  • Oatmeal with berries and plain yogurt
  • Low-sugar cereal with skim milk

Lunch and Dinner

  • Salad with chicken or turkey and Italian dressing (go easy on the dressing!)
  • Turkey/Chicken/Fish with veggies (grilled, steamed) and brown rice or sweet potatoes
  • Turkey/Chicken/Tuna sandwich on whole grain bread, lettuce, tomato


  • Handful of unsalted nuts
  • 2 cheese sticks with an apple
  • Plain yogurt with fruit
  • 2 Tsp. Peanut butter
  • Fruit

Brain Food: It’s a late-night study cram session and you just can’t focus on the calculus. Some lean protein might just do the trick. Neurotransmitters that can enhance your alertness are released during the digestive process. A low-fat yogurt, a protein shake, or cheese sticks are ideal snacks to keep in your fridge. Forget about candy bars. The effects are short lived and soon you will be sleepy and craving two more of those king-sized monsters.

Get quenched: Your body needs water for all its functions. Carry around a water bottle and make sure you down eight to 12 cups daily, more if you exercise. A dehydrated body can leave you sluggish with a slowed-down metabolism. Your skin may also look dull and dry. Why drink water and not fruit juices or soda? Fruit juices contain lots of sugar, which spikes insulin levels and then causes a drop in blood sugar levels. Opt for fruit instead of juice. Soda zaps your bones of calcium and is more acidic than your own stomach acid. For proof put a baby tooth in a glass of Coke and see it dissolve in a matter of 3 days. Even better: did you know that Coke was used as a rust remover before it was a soft drink?

Spare tire: Every sixth college student today is overweight and the rate is increasing. Twenty years ago the obesity rate was a third of what it is today, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Long-term obesity can result in Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and sleep apnea, to name only a few. Just how many calories do you need daily? Learn more.

Glowing skin: Do you tend to break out during exam time or after eating sugar or greasy foods? Many people are sensitive to hormonal changes brought on by stress or poor diet. Make your skin glow in a matter of two weeks by cutting out sugar. Sugar will promote insulin production, a hormone, which promotes fat storage and inflammation. Once your insulin is under control, you can pack away the pimple cream and have clear glowing skin.

Power Up: Whether you’re on the varsity sports team or a regular at the gym, your body needs energy to work out. Eat easily digested carbs, such as a banana or an orange before a workout or training session to provide immediate energy. Within an hour of finishing your workout eat protein, such as tuna, turkey, plain yogurt or a protein shake to help your muscles repair and refuel.

Approach dietary changes with an open mind. It takes weeks to establish a routine and new beginnings may be challenging, but the results you get by making small adjustments will be worth every effort. Aim at eating right 85 percent of the time, with occasional guilt-free indulgences and you’re on your way to a new lifestyle.

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