Good Nutrition makes a Happy College Student
Mental Health disorders affect 26.3% of the Worldwide young adult population (nominally 18-25 years), the highest prevalence of any age group.
Two common disorders of young adults are major depression and anxiety. Depression is a major depressive disorder that is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. Anxiety is a little different than depression. It can be described as a sense of uneasiness, nervousness, worry, fear, or dread of what’s about to happen or what might happen. While fear is the emotion we feel in the presence of a threat, anxiety is a sense of anticipated danger, trouble, or threat.
Sadly, in a college student’s life, nutrition has been overlooked as a contributor to poor mental health, but thankfully people are starting to understand the scientific fact that the central nervous system’s need for nutrition to maintain an optimal function. A person’s nutritional status is influenced by factors such as the environment, food access, socioeconomic status, and in turn, each of these factors impacts mental health.
Generalized anxiety disorder, also known as GAD, is one of the two disorders affecting college students through 18-25. It is marked by excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events for no apparent reason. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend always to expect disorders, and they can’t help but worry about health, money, family, work, or school. Some physical and psychological symptoms of people who experience generalized anxiety disorders are fear, tension, excessive worry about everyday events/ problems, irritability, difficulty concentrating, heart palpitations/ elevated heart rate, issues with their personal/social/ work relationships.
Some foods that can help improve symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are:
- Brazil nuts have a high amount of selenium. Selenium may improve mood, reduce inflammation, and a powerful antioxidant, which helps prevent cell damage.
- They are anti-carcinogenic, which helps prevent cancer from developing.
- An excellent source of vitamin E
A great source of vitamin D and protein. It is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids the body needs for growth and development. Eggs also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps regulate mood, sleep, memory, and behavior.
Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure.
Also a great source of key minerals zinc, magnesium. Which are vital for good mental health.
A active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin. Curcumin may help lower anxiety by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress that often increases in people experiencing mood disorders, such as anxiety.
Many people worldwide use chamomile tea as a herbal remedy because of its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, and relaxant properties.
Chamomile tea may be helpful in managing anxiety.
Green tea contains an amino acid called theanine, receiving increasing scrutiny due to its potential effects on mood disorders. Theanine has anti-anxiety and calming effects and may increase the production of serotonin and dopamine.
A 2017 study found that 200 mg of theanine improved self-reported relaxation and calmness while reducing tension in human trials.
Depression is the other of the two disorders that mostly affect college students through the ages of 18-25 years. Depression often plays a hand in a person’s mental and physical state, and its treatment is important not only for improving a person’s mood but also uplifts their quality of life and helps them heal physically and mentally.
Foods that can help improve symptoms of depression:
Dark Leafy Greens
These foods help prevent the cancerous transformation of normal cells and keep the body armed and ready to attack any precancerous or cancerous cells that may arise,” he writes. Leafy greens fight against all kinds of inflammation, and according to a study published in March 2015 in JAMA Psychiatry, severe depression has been linked with brain inflammation. Leafy greens are especially important because they contain oodles of vitamins A, C, E, and K, minerals, and phytochemicals.
Walnuts are one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and numerous studies have demonstrated how omega-3 fatty acids support brain function and reduce depression symptoms.
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries are some of the highest antioxidant foods available. Antioxidants are like DNA repairmen. They go around fixing your cells and preventing them from getting cancer and other illnesses.
Their chemical properties oppose insulin, which helps lower blood sugar levels, evening out your mood. They also are like a probiotic in that they promote healthy gut bacteria. And since the nerve cells in our gut manufacture 80 to 90 percent of our body’s serotonin — the critical neurotransmitter that keeps us sane — we can’t afford to pay attention to our intestinal health.
Eating onions and garlic frequently is associated with a reduced risk of cancers of the digestive tract.
These vegetables also contain high anti-inflammatory flavonoid antioxidants that contribute to their anticancer properties.
Flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds are especially good for your mood because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Apples are high in antioxidants, which can help to prevent and repair oxidation damage and inflammation on the cellular level. They are also full of soluble fiber, which balances blood sugar swings.
There is a very strong relationship between mental health and nutrition, specifically in young adults aged 18-25. Young adults face many factors because of their poor nutrition status and mental health. There are high rates of food insecurity and overall low access to healthy foods, high stress, and pressure to adapt and succeed in college. As a College student, this is something that I struggle with, and I know many people who struggle with it as well. These factors increase when looking at more competitive schools, whether online, in-person, private, public, or community. Students struggle with mental health and nutrition, and it is something that is not talked about often, and that is wrong. The first step we should take is normalizing these discussions and asking for help.
College is a stressful time for students, and they constantly have to change schedules and juggle classes, research papers, work-study programs, and personal lives. I understand that maintaining mental wellness and nutrition during chaos can be difficult. If there is one thing I learned in college, what we eat and put in our bodies will either help or hurt us. Our food choices and our relationship with food can have a massive impact on our ability to manage stress.
The ability to cope with transitions and change is an important skill in college and the future. We go through changes every day, and we might not even realize it. When you get up in the morning to go to class, you transition, and when you go through this transition, you need energy. 74% of college students worldwide don’t eat breakfast. Honestly, I used to be a part of that percentile, and I am proud to say I have been practicing better eating habits recently. That’s also a transition, and if that’s something you’re doing or even thinking about, you should be proud of yourselves too. As I said before, students need energy in the morning to do their assignments, interact with; professors, fellow students and engage in class. You need food; inadequate nutrition can take over one’s focus.
Breakfast may help maintain blood sugar levels. A 2013 study found those who skipped the meal had as much as a 20% increase in risk for type 2 diabetes as irregular blood sugar spikes that occur after breaking a 16- hour (or longer) fast can inevitably train the body to develop insulin resistance over time. Another study has revealed that skipping breakfast or eating a low-quality breakfast has a negative effect on cognitive function, thus resulting in a decline in brain excitability, the emergence of slow response, and a reduction in attention. This is why having breakfast is so important.
Some foods that support good general mental health are:
It contains high amounts of omega- 3 fatty acids, which have been linked to reducing mental disorders such as depression.
Omega 3’s have been shown to boost learning and memory as well.
It also has a naturally high-occurring amount of vitamin D, which is often added to foods and has been linked to lower rates of depression.
Other fishes with high Omega-3 counts are Tuna, Mackerel, Herring.
Chicken is a very delicious lean protein containing the amino acid tryptophan.
It also helps the body produce serotonin which is vital in helping your brain manage your mood, fight depression, and help maintain strong memory.
Some tasty whole grains that college often provides us with are beans, oats, and wild rice.
Foods classified as whole grains contain complex carbohydrates, which leads to glucose being produced more slowly as an even more consistent source of energy.
Whole grains also help the brain absorb tryptophan. Tryptophan is important for producing and maintaining the body’s proteins, muscles, enzymes, and neurotransmitters.
Whole grains also help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety while boosting brain function.
Full of vitamin K (fat-soluble vitamers) and folate, which helps protect the brain against strokes.
Provides a boost to your memory and concentration
It has a high dosage of lutein, which studies have been linked to improving brain function.
Provides your brain with solid amounts of folic acid, which has been shown to be a great deterrent to depression.
It also helps fight off insomnia, which is heavily linked to mental impairments, and can help reduce dementia in older adults.
Excellent source of probiotics, probiotics have been shown to play a role in reducing stress and anxiety.
Provides you with potassium and magnesium, which helps oxygen reach the brain, further improving its ability to function.
Also, another excellent source of omega- 3 fatty acids, as stated before, helps fight off depression.
Cashews, for example, provide oxygen to the brain with a high dose of magnesium.
Almonds contain a compound containing phenylalanine which is shown to help the brain produce dopamine and other neurotransmitters to boost your mood.
This type of oil contains polyphenols, which help remove these effects of the protein linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. It can also help improve learning and memory.
The source of tomato’s red hue, lycopene, is classified as an all-around beneficial phytonutrient. It also helps fight brain diseases. There was also a study that tomatoes are shown to help delay the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, fighting cell damage. Lycopene has been shown to help with memory, attention, logic, and concentration.
Dark chocolate contains high levels of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. It has been shown to boost attention and memory, enhance mood and help fight the cognitive decline in older adults.
The relationship between our diet and our mental health is complex. However, research shows a link between what we eat and how we feel. Eating well can help you feel better. You don’t have to make big changes to your diet, but see if you can try some of these tips.
- Eat regularly. This can stop your blood sugar level from dropping, which can make you feel tired and bad-tempered.
- Stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, energy level, and concentration ability.
- Eat the right balance of fats. Your brain needs healthy fats to keep working well. They’re found in olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, milk, and eggs. Avoid trans fats – often found in processed or packaged foods – as they can be bad for your mood and heart health.
- Include more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. They contain the vitamins and minerals your brain and body need to stay well.
- Include protein with every meal. It contains an amino acid that your brain uses to help regulate your mood.
- Look after your gut health. Your gut can reflect how you’re feeling: if you’re stressed, it can speed up or slow down. Healthy food for your gut includes fruit, vegetables, beans, and probiotics.
- Be aware of how caffeine can affect your mood. It can cause sleep problems, especially if you drink it close to bedtime, and some people find it makes them irritable and anxious too. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, and chocolate.
To improve our mental health, we must improve our nutrition, and I know that it can be a hard thing, so here are some tips from one college student to another:
Learn about nutrition.
Some schools have dietitians in their wellness centers. The transition from high school to college is hard, and it’s more than okay to ask for help! If your school does not contact me&my wellness.
Be mindful of your schedule.
If you have a long day ahead of you, prepare healthy snacks to take with you.
It’s okay to have things that we like, but sometimes we must be careful when we have them. Take coffee, for example; avoid drinking coffee at night as it is harder to fall asleep with elevated levels of caffeine.
Let’s all make it our goal to improve our mental health and nutrition as our college years continue. We can all do it!
Written by Baky Othman (intern at me&my wellness)
Graphic design by Palmira Ruiz
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- “Anxiety Disorders (for Teens) – Nemours Kidshealth.” Edited by D’Arcy Lyness, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Mar. 2014, https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/anxiety.html.
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