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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Experts warn: Neglecting nutrition, exercise can impact college students’ health, social life and academic performance

Three experts discuss the different ways that students can incorporate healthy food and exercise conveniently and cost-effectively.
Interior of the Atlantic Dining Hall.
Courtesy of FAU’s Dine On Campus website.
Interior of the Atlantic Dining Hall.

Amid lectures, exams and social events, many college students often sideline nutrition and exercise. According to three experts, Michael Zourdos, Tina Penhollow and Rebecca Snyder, this oversight can affect not only our mental/physical health but also our social life and academic performance. They highlight that, although nutrition and exercise might seem inaccessible or less important than other priorities, there are convenient and cost-effective strategies to overcome this. 

Student perspectives 

Jada Bowers and Sada Rice, psychology graduate students at FAU, say finding the time and money to eat healthily is difficult. 

“Dining on campus is expensive, and depending on your definition of eating healthily, options are kind of limited. This probably goes double for folks with dietary restrictions like veganism, food allergies, etc.,” Bowers said. 

Rice, a vegan, agreed that dining on campus is expensive. “Moaz in the food court isn’t very affordable, but they have the most healthy options.” 

“Pollo Tropical has healthy/affordable options, as well as the Jamba across the street,” Maria Shipe, a communications studies major, said. 

Some students said they utilize coupons and sales to get affordable meals. 

“Subway is your best bet at the stadium, as you can use coupons on online orders. Cutting the price of the sandwich to $5.99 for any whole sub,” Reese Handley, a multimedia journalism major, said. 

Multiple students suggested that Aldi, a supermarket only eight minutes away from campus, is the best place to grocery shop as a money-conscious student. While it typically offers less brand diversity than other popular chains like Publix and Trader Joe’s, it provides affordable options for products of similar health value. 

How to construct a meal: Macro and micro-nutrients 

Understanding nutrition often begins with learning about macronutrients and micronutrients. 

Tina Penhollow, an exercise science and health promotion professor at FAU, wrote that macronutrients — consisting of carbohydrates, proteins and fats — are essential in everyone’s diet, not just an athlete’s. They “are the components of food the body needs for energy to maintain the body’s vital organs, systems and structure. No healthy diet should exclude or restrict any macronutrient.” 

Healthline explains that while most foods contain a combination of all three macronutrients, there is usually a predominance of one. 

Carbs primarily include grains, fruits, beans and starchy vegetables. Protein-rich foods include eggs, meat, fish and soy products, while high-fat foods include avocados, nuts, seeds, cooking oils and fatty fish. 

According to Penhollow, vitamins and minerals are also necessary for bodies to function properly. “All students should take a daily multivitamin,” she wrote. “Multivitamins should contain calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, sulfur, cobalt, copper, fluoride, manganese and selenium.” 

Rebecca Snyder, who earned a Master of Public Health in nutrition at Tulane University, stated that multivitamins can be helpful in supplementing unmet nutrient requirements. “Supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA,” she said. “One way to ensure that the supplement you’re buying is reliable is if it is certified by the National Supplement Foundation.”  

Nutrition on a budget

“Luckily, some of the most nutrient-dense foods are also some of the most affordable,” Snyder wrote. 

Healthline explains that nutrient density refers to the amount of nutrients in a food to the calories it provides. Foods with low nutrient density, like candy bars or a box of mac and cheese are high in calories but lack vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. Meanwhile, foods with high nutrient density have a more balanced calorie/nutrient ratio. 

Pizza, a famously cheap and popular food among university students, can be used to meet nutritional needs. While not lauded as the ideal choice for many dieticians, students can make healthy adjustments. “If you add chicken as a pizza topping, you’ll add in some protein, and if you eat a side salad, that covers the vegetable component,” Snyder wrote. 

Here’s a list of 28 nutrient-dense foods students can purchase on a budget. 

Harm of hunger

Snyder emphasized that healthy eating is not about restriction. Hunger negatively impacts mood and focus, so “make sure you’re eating something before class and not skipping meals! Your body functions best when it’s well-nourished, and that includes your brain.” 

While nutrient-dense foods are great for meeting macro, micro and caloric requirements, they don’t always keep you full. Experts use the satiety index to measure how long certain foods keep people satiated. 

Healthline reports that filling foods tend to be high in protein and fiber. They also tend to be high in volume (meaning they contain a lot of water and air) and low in energy density (meaning the food is low in calories for its weight). Examples include boiled potatoes, eggs, oatmeal, fish, greek yogurt, legumes, quinoa and popcorn. 

Exercise: Not just for athletes 

Michael Zourdos, chair of the Exercise Science and Health Promotion department at FAU, wants to dispel the notion that exercise is only for athletes. He explained that if people aren’t interested in improving muscle strength, body composition and endurance performance, they typically assume exercise isn’t a worthwhile use of their time, but this is a mistake.

“As we age, cognition declines, and exercise can help preserve neurons and delay the rate of cognitive decline,” he wrote. “Sarcopenia (the loss of type II muscle fibers) occurs with age, which can result in difficulty maintaining balance and diminished ability to accomplish daily tasks, such as carrying groceries to the car.” Zourdos specified resistance training as a preventative measure. 

He also stated aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of the number one cause of death in the United States, heart disease. It can also improve mental health and help patients with depressive symptoms. 

Penhollow has conducted much research on college students and older adults. She concludes the scope of exercise’s benefits is incredibly broad. “Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress, strengthen an individual’s immune system, boost self-esteem, and enhance overall quality of life.” 

Accessible exercise 

Penhollow has taught at Florida Atlantic University for over 17 years, so she knows of many local spots to exercise. This includes the El Rio Trail Head, which is 2.5 miles long and contains beautiful scenery. FAU also has a 30-foot rock climbing wall, a challenge course, an outdoor track, a gym, and an outdoor pool. 

She wants students to know that exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. “A lesser-known form of exercise is simply brisk walking. In fact, walking is the most underrated, fat-burning mind-body exercise, which is available at any time and any place to anyone.” 

Students interested in exercise can visit the campus Recreation Center and the Climbing Center, or join a club like Running Owls. Alternatively, students can simply go on a walk around campus.

Exterior of FAU’s Recreation and Fitness Center. (Picture from Apple Maps)

Misconceptions of nutrition and exercise

“The number one myth is that exercise can make up for a bad diet,” Penhollow wrote. “The second popular myth, particularly among women, is that heavy weights will bulk you up. Women do not have enough testosterone to bulk up the way men do.” 

“There is a trend in the fad diets right now that carbohydrates are bad for you, and restricting carbohydrates will help you be healthier,” Snyder said. “Carbs are your body’s preferred source of energy and are an important part of a balanced diet. In general, a diet telling you to restrict a whole food group is a major red flag!” 

FAU’s nutrition services 

Snyder emphasized the importance of talking to registered dieticians due to the amount of nutrition misinformation online and the fact most doctors don’t receive enough nutrition education.

FAU Student Health Services has a nutrition services program available to all students. Students can see a registered dietitian for individual consultations for various nutrition needs.

To schedule an appointment with the registered dietitian, call 561-297-3512.

Kayla Barnes is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or directly message her @kayvenb on Instagram. 

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