We all know the feeling. You’ve just finished up a particularly exhausting midterm. You stumble into the closest dining hall, barely register the description on the menu of the day, shovel as much food on your plate as you can, and collapse onto a chair in a quiet corner. You eat, you rest and you celebrate. But as important as it is to make sure you refuel after a grueling test – mental or physical – it is also critical to make careful choices about the kinds of foods you’re eating. I don’t mean in terms of portion sizes or calorie counting; this kind of advice should only be sought from a nutritionist if one is so inclined. I mean in terms of the long-term effects the food you consume today could have on your body, tomorrow, next week and in the future.
There are many, many different kinds of foods available in the many, many dining halls on campus, but not all are created equal. Consuming excessive quantities of certain foods could potentially place you at risk for age-related diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s down the line. It is of course critical to take into account one’s family history when making choices about one’s health; after all, there are a whole host of environmental factors that could increase the risk of disease, but all are dwarfed by the risk posed by genetics. Still, making the decision to moderate now could potentially be a life-changing one.
The most easily accessible and potentially toxic food in our dining halls is the refined sugar. These sugars have been associated with everything from Type 2 diabetes to heart failure. The easiest way to cut refined sugars out, of course, is to limit the number of times you pick soda and juice over water. However, it’s not always that easy in a dining hall. Sugars can, and do, hide in soups and sauces in quantities we cannot easily determine. For that reason, it is important to remain careful.
Red meats have also been tied to type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. The dining halls don’t provide red meat very frequently, so it can be tempting to take a bunch of those thin, delicious slices of roast beef (I know I give into the urge). However, in an age when being environmentally conscious is increasingly important, even a “flexitarian” diet, or a diet where one eats meat sparingly, can have significant beneficial consequences for both your health and the planet’s health.
For more information about the ways in which food can affect our bodies long-term, please contact the on-campus nutritionists Barbara Southcoate or Brittany Moriarty.