No need to live the “starving student” stereotype

There are varying opinions on whether buying healthy food is less affordable than quick and processed alternatives but studies suggest that choosing nutritious options benefits productivity for the striving student. The reality is that some students aren’t striving, rather starving.

Food Banks Canada said close to a million Canadians use a food bank every month.

Deborah Lay, a nutritionist for the Durham Region Health Department said over the past few years in the Durham Region the cost of food has increased by 11 per cent, which can greatly affect an individual or family. As a result, Durham Region’s food banks are getting busier with their largest growing group of users being post-secondary students.

“That’s really a very jarring thing to find out simply because just like students in elementary and high school university students need good nutrition to maximize their ability to learn,” Lay said.

In the beginning of the semester, the Region of Durham introduced an initiative which educates students in food budgeting to help bring the number of students needing to turn to food banks to a minimal.

“The whole purpose of the Discover Your Inner Chef (DYIC) food budgeting program is to support individuals and families in eating well on a limited income, budget or limited financial resources,” Lay said. “Everything we’ve prepared in this program has that in center view.”

The Region of Durham website has links to the DYIC online learning program. The program is a video series with five sessions that cover topics such as Canada’s Food Guide and eating affordably using it, menu planning, shopping smart and navigating the grocery store with budgeting in mind as well as basic cooking techniques.

“It’s a very supportive environment for learning what to do with food on a limited budget,” she said.

Durham College nutritionist, Sylvia Emmorey, stressed the importance of eating well for a learning brain.

“Lack of energy. That’s probably the biggest one. If you’re not feeding your brain properly you’re not going to be able to think clearly or concentrate,” Emmorey said. “They’ve proven that lack of food leads to decreased concentration. For learning it’s really important to fuel your body optimally.”

Kristie Nobert, a joint Durham College and Brock University student studying psychology, is a self-proclaimed fitness fanatic. She said she feels great benefits from managing her diet.

Although she is a full-time student juggling a full-time management job, she still struggles to eat nutritiously.

“If you make eating well a priority in your life, it will happen,” Nobert said. “It can be more expensive but it’s something that’s important to me so I make it work.”

She said now that her body is used to eating nutrient-rich foods, she feels negative side effects when she strays away from her diet.

To maintain optimal energy levels, Emmorey said that students eat every 2 to 3 hours. Although it doesn’t have to be a large meal, it should be something packed with nutrients. Depending on a refined carbohydrate or sugary product to fill your hunger will cause blood sugars to go up and then fall back down again which can result in feeling lethargic and affect cognitive skills, Emmorey explained.

Canada’s Food Guide suggests that adult women should consume seven to eight servings of fruit and vegetables, six to seven grain products, two each of milk and alternatives and meat and two to three tablespoons of unsaturated oils and fat. For men, this number is increased by about one to two servings.

Health Canada recommends that of those fruit and vegetable servings, one should be dark green and one should be orange. Fruit and vegetables should be consumed in their original form more frequently than juiced.

According to Health Canada, at least half of the grain products eaten in a day should be whole grains that are low in fat, sugar and salt. Milk and alternatives should be as low fat as possible, preferably skim. Although meat is important in any diet, alternative protein sources like tofu, beans and lentils are also beneficial.

To ensure that options are always readily available, it’s beneficial to grocery shop regularly.

“When you’re on campus, you’re in the Marketplace, at Tim Hortons or E.P. Taylor’s, food can be a little bit more pricey than if you were to just go out to a grocery store and have something on hand,” Emmorey said.

She recommended stocking your backpack, locker or dorm room with some staples like fruits and vegetables, tuna, eggs, nut butter and healthy bread.

“You can buy carrots, bags of apples and oranges and bunches of bananas that are nutritious and they last. You can keep them in your room and not necessarily refrigerated,” Emmorey said.

She said that nuts are also a great snack as they are a source of healthy fats, fiber and protein. Pairing a handful of nuts with a piece of fruit and bottle of water makes a complete snack on the go.

Teresa Giusti, a Durham College Fitness and Health Promotion alumnus and current health educator at the YMCA, said she understands that school can be a busy time when students often gain weight.

“The best two tips for time and money management are to shop the perimeter of the grocery store and prepackage,” Giusti said.

Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store keeps you in the produce, dairy and meat departments.

Giusti said when she comes home from the grocery store she divides her food into individual packages to suit her on-the-go lifestyle.

“Getting it over with at once will save you time during the week and have meals ready to go. This will help your wallet too,” she said.

Some students’ budgets are so tight they don’t allow for a car.

Emmorey said that not having a car and living distantly from a grocery store isn’t an excuse to avoid grocery shopping.

Full-time students have access to the UPass which offers unlimited access to the Durham Region Transit system. Students can hop on the Simcoe bus a few times an hour and ride it directly to many different grocery stores.

Students who wish to speak to a registered dietitian to seek advice can call EatRight Ontario’s hotline at 1-877-510-5102.