Photo: Lisa Shoreland

By Tom Smith

Pizza deals, ready meals and oven chips. These are easy alternatives to home cooking and are a common mainstay of the student diet.

Combined with fast food, weekly binges and caffeine powered study marathons, it’s not surprising several studies have concluded undergrads are ‘not as healthy as they think they are.’

Factors in our western diet are contributing to a global deterioration in health. Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease are becoming more and more prevalent, but 95% of these cases are ‘completely preventable’.

So when studies reveal a staggering 60% of male students between the ages of 18 and 24 have high blood pressure, or that over 60% of female students are undernourished on key nutrients such as folate, iron or calcium, then we have to ask if we as a student population are taking our health seriously enough when choosing our food.

High throughput manufactured foods don’t have the composition of a more natural diet. Our food is high in saturated fats and sugar and our physiology does not cope well with this.

A recent study documented student’s weight for 3 months during the first semester at university. A quarter of those studied had a weight gain of greater than 2.3 kg.

Weight gains like this correlate with a high fat/sugar diet, and these types of diet cause increases in the student’s cholesterol.

Cholesterol lines your blood vessels and is a factor in arterial plaque formation which raises your blood pressure. Having high cholesterol increases your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke.

Over time increased cholesterol blocks the blood vessels which supply the heart, leading to coronary heart disease which can be fatal.

As well as developing cardiovascular problems, students may also be on the path to diabetes, according to a 2009 study published in The Lancet that found fatty food eaters developed insulin resistance, a precursor to type II diabetes at a significantly greater rate than those who avoided fatty foods.

Research on the risks of meat consumption abundant. Some studies have stated that frequently eating skinless chicken increases your risk of developing bladder cancer by 52%, and others claimed a 40% increase in bladder cancer risk when fried meat is regularly eaten. Bacon is particularly pathological.

Foods that contain saturated fats include red meat, poultry, dairy products and some cooking oils.

Leading nutritionists recommend we cut down on the meat, and eat more wholemeal cereal crops, fruit and vegetables.

When drunk responsibly, many enjoy alcohol as a fun part of the university experience.

However, in 2001, the Centre for Disease Control stated that 4554 people under the age of 21 died in America as a direct result of excessive drinking,

Alcohol overconsumption is ‘the third leading preventable cause of death.’

The number of conditions that arise from overconsumption of alcohol is shocking. To name a few alongside liver disease, multiple cancers and cardiovascular disease, conditions include infertility, impotence, anaemia, and leukopenia (a reduced ability to fight infections.)

Studies with rats have shown that alcohol consumed after learning inhibited information recall once the rats were sober again.

Alongside the risk of developing serious diseases, overconsumption alcohol may also limit what you are academically capable of when you are sober.

There have been studies that suggest light to moderate consumption protects you from Coronary Heart Disease. While this has been supported experimentally, other studies show how most of the 18% protection you get from such drinking is lost due to the 17% increased risk of CHD caused by the rising in systolic blood pressure associated with routine drinking. Increased blood pressure is a risk factor for other chronic diseases, therefore avoidance of CHD is not a good excuse to have a drink!

We are avoiding amazing foods, that aren’t just healthier. They are tasty, easy, and some have unbelievable medicinal properties.

If you are craving caffeine fix drink green tea as an alternative to standard tea or coffee.

Drugs made from green tea have been shown to make 40% of skin cancer tumours disappear, and may also protect against neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Cook with garlic. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition describes how garlic endows your food with a ‘broad antibiotic spectrum’ which kills different superfamilies of bacteria, even those that have developed resistance to synthetic antibiotics such as the notorious MRSA superbug.

When eaten daily, garlic has been reported to lower cholesterol, and also protects against colon cancer.

Blending citrus fruits into smoothies tops up your daily fibre and vitamin C intake.

John Hopkins hospital in the USA has shown that the antioxidants in these fruits help mop up free radicals that are implicated in cancer development and tissue aging.

After a heavy night on the town, adding ginger to smoothies calms the stomach and reduces vomiting, while also imparting anti-inflammatory properties.

Have your wholemeal cereals for breakfast. Musli is loaded with dietary fibre and other essential nutrients.

Chick peas are also high in fibre, lower blood pressure, ‘bad’ cholesterol and the insoluble fibre found in chickpeas make them excellent support for your digestive system.

Look up a falafel recipe, it’s easy as anything and with a bit of salad and some hummus you’ll wonder why you ever settled for a takeout kebab.

Meat alternatives, like Quorn are packed with protein and have lower concentrations of saturated fat, and are easily combined with your existing meals in place of beef, chicken and other meats.