Proper nutrition and healthy eating habits are essential for students to perform better, both academically and outside of school. When you eat a nutritious diet, your body gets the right amount of nutrients that are essential for growth. These nutrients help you to develop strong bones, muscles and joints. A healthy diet also keeps the brain alert and responsive, so that you can learn new things every day.
Students who combine healthy eating habits with participation in physical activities are able to concentrate better in class. They have better problem solving skills and can make more informed decisions. Processing information in the brain takes up a lot of energy (that’s why studying makes you feel hungry). And this energy comes from the food which you eat.
By learning how to make healthier choices at the earliest opportunity, you can develop habits that would benefit you for a lifetime. Your overall health would improve, allowing you to perform well in many aspects of life.
Healthy Eating Tweaks
Here are 7 healthy eating habits which you can incorporate into your daily routine:
- Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water every day
- Replace unhealthy snacks with healthier alternatives
- Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- Ensure that you get sufficient proteins in your diet
- Prepare your own meals and choose the right ingredients
- Have a proper breakfast every morning
- Get the recommended amount of sleep each night
1. Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water every day
We’ll start you off with the easiest one. Keep your body hydrated at all times by drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of water. Just to avoid any ambiguity, one glass is equivalent to 250 ml.
The ideal amount of water you need depends on your body weight, level of physical activity and other health conditions. But the general rule is that if you are feeling thirsty, your body is telling you that it is in need of more water.
Your body uses water for various functions, from regulating body temperature to processing information in the brain. Drinking water also helps you to improve your physical performance. If you are participating in high-intensity or endurance sports, you should drink additional glasses of water. This helps to replenish the fluids which are lost during physical activity.
Water also plays an important role in the digestion of food. It serves as a medium for transporting digested food to the different parts of the body. Vitamins and minerals are also dissolved in water before it is absorbed by the body.
Drink a glass of water right after you get out of bed. After sleeping for the whole night, your body would become dehydrated. Aim to consume half the desired water intake by early afternoon, so that your body gets enough water for the rest of the day.
Get into the habit of bringing a bottle of water with you wherever you go. Refill your bottle whenever there is a chance to do so. This helps to quench your thirst for soft drinks, especially when you are eating out.
If plain water is a little too bland for you, try adding some flavour to your water by infusing it with fruits such as lemons or melons. And if you’re feeling healthy, treat yourself to fruit juice every now and then.
Tip: Don’t drink large amounts of water in short bursts. It’s better to drink smaller amounts at regular intervals throughout the day.
2. Replace unhealthy snacks with healthier alternatives
Do you find yourself feasting on unhealthy snacks such as salted egg fish skin or potato chips all the time? The first step you should take is to keep these snacks far away from you. That’s right, the butter cookies on your table have to out of sight, so you would not be tempted to get just a small bite. Followed by another small bite.
One way to help you cut down your intake of unhealthy snacks is to find a suitable replacement that is healthier. After all, keeping unhealthy snacks out of reach does not make you feel less hungry. You’ll still find yourself gravitating towards sources of food, such as the school canteen or your home refrigerator. That’s why it’s always a good idea to keep some healthier bites on hand.
An apple a day. Fruits are one of the best alternatives to unhealthy snacks. Oranges have high vitamin and water content. Bananas are filled with lots of carbohydrates which can give you a quick energy boost.
If that’s too much of a change for you, dried fruits can be a viable option to fill your stomach. Although dried fruits are often high in sugar, it does not contain the oils and fats found in typical snacks.
Go nuts. Nuts are also a good substitute for unhealthy snacks. With so many different kinds of nuts to choose from, you would not be eating the same thing over and over again. When shopping for nuts, buy them raw or dry roasted (instead of oil roasted) and choose the unsalted version which is equally flavourful.
Almonds have a high amount of vitamin E and fibre compared to other nuts. Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Pistachios can improve memory and learning, although it’s a little more expensive. Don’t forget to drink some water after eating those nuts.
Distract yourself. Whenever a craving strikes, you can have a change of activity or move to a different environment. Make yourself a hot drink (which contributes to your daily fluid intake) to shift your mind away from eating. When you start to feel hungry, take a shower or go outdoors for a walk.
Tip: Make sure that your walk doesn’t take you near a supermarket or a convenience store, where unhealthy snacks occupy the best shelf positions at eye-level. That’s the last place you should be when you are craving.
3. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables have always been regarded as one of the healthiest things you can eat. As a student, you should actively include fruits and vegetables as part of your meals to help you learn better.
According to nutritionists, you should be eating a total of 5 portions of fruits and vegetables per day. Go for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables so that your body can get the different types of nutrients.
Fruits are natural sources of essential nutrients, including potassium and vitamin C. They are also low in calories, sodium and fat. Certain fruits such as mangoes, cherries and grapes have naturally high sugar contents. On the other hand, avocados, kiwifruit and guavas are fruits that are low in sugar.
Melons are sweet and juicy, making it a perfect dessert to wrap up a meal while adding minimal calories. Berries are bite-sized fruits with a high antioxidant content that can boost your memory during the examination season.
When eating out, meals may not come with a serving of fruit. In that case, consider sharing a fruit platter with your family and friends, or opt for a cup of freshly squeezed fruit juice. If you cannot incorporate fruits into your meal for that day, make it a point to consume some fruits when you get home.
Vegetables are typically high in fibre. As a result, you would feel full for an extended period of time after eating vegetables. Salads have become a popular food in recent years, especially among the health conscious. You can even add vegetables to sandwiches and soups.
Broccoli and cauliflower are loaded with vitamin C, calcium and fibre. Carrots contain the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A to keep your skin and eyesight healthy.
You can reduce the bitterness of vegetables by adding a small pinch of sugar or salt. Braising or sautéing vegetables can also help to minimise the bitter taste, while locking in the vitamins and nutrients.
Tip: Not a fan of fruits? There are many ways to incorporate fruits into your diet. Place a bunch of ripe bananas and berries in the freezer the night before. Blend these together to get a low-calorie and high-fibre alternative to ice cream.
4. Ensure that you get sufficient proteins in your diet
In many parts of the world, carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and bread form a staple part of people’s diets. Carbohydrates provide us with energy for our daily activities. However, too much carbohydrates can lead to weight gain when the energy is not expended completely.
Students should also ensure that they are getting enough proteins in their diet. Proteins help our body to repair and regenerate new tissues and muscles. Our body also uses proteins to produce enzymes and hormones. Proteins can provide our body with energy, but our body would make use of carbohydrates and fats first. That’s why proteins are generally considered a slow but long-lasting energy source.
Protein can be found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, soy-based products, as well as nuts and grains. But when we dine out, portions of protein can be rather small. Use the following formula to calculate the amount of proteins you need each day to help you maintain your muscle mass.
|Level of Physical Activity||Amount of Proteins (in grams)|
|Sedentary||Weight (kg) x 0.8|
|Moderate||Weight (kg) x 1.0|
|High||Weight (kg) x 1.2|
Track your protein intake over a few days to get a better estimate of how much protein you should add to or cut from your diet. Your protein consumption should be spaced evenly throughout the day. This ensures that your body gets sufficient protein at all times.
One thing to take note of – our body does not store proteins. Excess proteins would be digested into amino acids. These amino acids are then converted to glucose (which becomes glycogen when the body is running low on carbohydrates), or converted into fatty acids and stored as fat. In other words, you should stick to the recommended amounts and avoid taking in more proteins than what your body needs.
Tip: Choosing the right carbohydrates will also contribute to your protein requirement. For example, wholemeal bread (3 grams of proteins per slice) has complex carbohydrates that digest more slowly than the simple carbohydrates found in refined white bread. Complex carbohydrates are packed with minerals, vitamins and fibre that contribute to your overall health.
5. Prepare your own meals and choose the right ingredients
When you eat outside, chances are that your food comes with loads of oil and salt. It also comes with an unhealthy dose of seasoning which gives outside food its flavour. Always ask if it is possible to use less oil and salt when you order your food.
When you cook at home, you get to decide the amount of oil and salt which goes into your meal. For those who are really health conscious, you can opt to leave out these unhealthy condiments completely. The minor drawback is that your food would taste a bit less flavourful. But hey, you get to enjoy the natural taste of the underlying ingredients.
Whenever you prepare your own food at home, you have the choice of using healthier ingredients in place of those specified on the recipe. For instance, you could use olive oil or canola oil instead of vegetable oil. You can also switch to brown rice when the recipe calls for white rice.
It is important to choose what you eat wisely. Convenience food such as instant noodles and microwave ready meals are low in nutrients and are peppered with preservatives. Processed food such as sausage, ham and cheese contain high levels of unhealthy fats. The most nutritious ingredients are those which are fresh and natural.
Cooking at home also means that you can prepare the right portions. This leaves you with no chance of eating too much, or with a hungry stomach. The only tradeoff is that you’ll have to spend time preparing your meal and washing up the food containers. That’s something which you would eventually get used to.
Start by packing your lunch once a week, and slowly increase the frequency along the way. Encourage everyone in your family to pack their lunches to school or to the office. You can even consider taking turns to prepare the meals.
Tip: Depending on where you shop for ingredients, you may find yourself saving quite a bit of money by preparing your meals at home. Wake up a few minutes earlier to pack your own salad instead of paying a few dollars for a bowl of greens.
6. Have a proper breakfast every morning
Breakfast is the most important meal of our day. It gives us enough fuel to keep us going for the rest of the morning. That is why you should always make time to eat a proper breakfast.
A single banana or a slice of bread may not be enough to tide you through the whole morning. Neither is simply drinking a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of orange juice before heading to school.
When you do so, you would not have enough energy to sustain the activities in the morning. Studying is a brain-intensive activity, and your body needs lots of energy to help you concentrate and pay attention in class.
As you are still developing and growing, you will need a more nutritious start to the day. Take a little protein in the morning, rather than having a carbohydrate-heavy meal that makes you feel sleepy.
Make sure that you do not get bored of eating the same food every morning. You would also be less likely to skip breakfast, knowing that you will wake up to something different each day.
Eggs are a good source of proteins that can be prepared in many different ways, from scrambled egg to sunny side up. Switch between full cream milk and low-fat milk from time to time. Round up your meal with a serving of cereal, oatmeal or granola.
When you do not feel hungry in the morning, you may be tempted to skip breakfast to squeeze out a few extra minutes in bed. However, these extended bursts of sleep do not count towards your recommended number of hours of sleep. Having a light dinner the night before would make you feel hungry the next morning.
Tip: Sit down with your family to have breakfast together, even if it is only for a few minutes each day. It is easier to prepare a more wholesome breakfast for more people.
7. Get the recommended amount of sleep each night
We have previously highlighted the importance of getting enough sleep. Having a good night’s rest allows your body to restore its energy supplies for the next morning. It allows the tissues and muscles in your body to recover after a long day of activities.
The lack of sleep is often linked to irregular appetites. This may mean a sudden craving for food at random times of the day. Students who stay up late at night tend to consume more snacks, leading to a higher calorie intake.
When you are short on sleep, the body produces more of the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin, and less of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin. In other words, a sleep-deprived person tends to consume more food and snacks throughout the day.
At the same time, sleep deprivation reduces your reasoning abilities, which in turn affects your choice of food. Your brain does not have the energy to process information about what you are about to eat. When you do not get enough sleep, you would start to crave for specific kinds of food, such as unhealthy junk food. You become more interested in food which contains high amounts of sugars and fats.
When you feel tired and lethargic, you are less active and may not participate in physical activities and sports. Excess calories remain in your body as fat, which leads to an increase in weight. This can cause further health issues down the road.
Getting the recommended amount of sleep is important for maintaining a healthy diet. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. It also helps you to establish a proper morning routine and eat breakfast at the same time every morning.
Keep a glass of water within reach from your bed so that you can stay hydrated when you wake up in the middle of the night. You should also avoid using mobile phones and computers before going to bed. These are some steps which you can take to improve the quality of your sleep.
Tip: Conversely, maintaining a healthy diet also leads to higher quality sleep. It is important for us to eat healthily during the day, so that we can get a good night’s sleep.
The Bottom Line
By adopting these slight tweaks, you can move towards a healthier lifestyle and perform better as a student. Changing your habits requires effort and patience, so don’t give up too soon if something does not seem to be working for you. Always remember that good nutrition helps our body to perform at its best.
If this sounds like too much of a change for you, consider setting short term goals to keep yourself motivated. Develop these healthy eating habits one at a time by making small but incremental changes. It is important that you keep these habits consistent, and don’t lose the momentum which you have built.