Remember when your fourth grade gym teacher lectured about the food pyramid? And how your dad hassles you about drinking a Pepsi at dinner? Every collegiette has rolled her eyes at pesky health advice, but the older we get the more we listen. We’ve consulted Alicia Kendig, a Sports Dietitian & Athlete Performance Lab Coordinator for the United States Olympic Committee on her biggest nutrition tips for young women—and found some obvious and not-so-obvious things we should definitely do in our collegiette years that our bodies will thank us for later.
1. Be a Picky Eater
Collegiette budgets can mean dollar menu dinners and candy during study sessions. But according to Kendig, it’s time to be selective about your diet again. “One health tip that I recommend for younger, energetic populations, who often think they are invincible, is to choose foods that have purpose,” says Kendig. “What I mean by that is to be proactive with your nutrition, as opposed to reactive.” Choose foods that contain high vitamins and minerals and good dietary fats, as opposed to saturated fats. “Scientific research suggests that vitamins and minerals boost immune system functioning, prevent and decrease the severity of illness and infections, and are used in many structural and functional metabolisms in the body,” says Kendig. The “good kinds of fat” are found in olive oil, avocados, almonds, and fish—and are linked to better heart, eye, joint, and skin health later in life.
2. Build Your Bone Strength
Think bone density is something you won’t have to worry about ‘til your sixties? Think again. “Building bone strength throughout the college years is vital for setting the base for good bone health later in life,” says Kendig. “Women in their teens and early twenties are still in the bone building phase of growth, and once they hit their thirties, that bone building tapers off.” Unbalanced diets with inadequate calcium and Vitamin D, low energy balance, and low weight bearing activity, like cardio and stretching can all contribute to low bone density. Develop a regular workout and weight bearing activity routine each week–and stick with it.
3. Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
Put those chips back on the grocery shelf, and listen to what mom always said: eat a variety of fruits and vegetables frequently throughout the day. “A constant supply of produce will help the body prepare to fight off infections and support everyday bodily processes,” Kendig says. “Always provide a constant supply for the demand.”
4. Avoid Soft Drinks
Pop, soda, coke, whatever you might call it, shouldn’t be an everyday indulgence. Loaded with sweeteners, soft drinks can increase a woman’s chance of getting Type 2 Diabetes, according to a Nurse Health Study. If you’re a stickler about maintaining your weight, the American Diabetes Association also confirms that diet soda consumption is linked to wider waists. Kendig warns that soft drinks are linked to low bone density, too. “It does not provide any beneficial nutrients and it is packed full of processed sugars,” she said. So trade your Diet Coke addiction for a healthier alternative—carbonated water mixed with juice provides a similar fizzy sweetness.
5. Decrease Your Caffeine
Those four cups of coffee you downed this morning won’t just cause the jitters—high caffeine in any form is once again linked to low bone density and poor sleep quality. According to Kendig, high caffeine draws calcium away from the bones. Gradually decreasing your caffeine consumption each day will wean you off the habit.
6. Eat Protein
A collegiette’s favorite carbs, like that quick cereal dinner or sandwich from the cafeteria, aren’t as filling and beneficial as an adequate protein intake. Kendig suggests you consume protein throughout the day. “Servings as small as 10-20g at a time are enough to be beneficial to support muscle growth and repair, and to fill you up enough for a few hours,” she said. Protein from meat, nuts, eggs, rice, and beans are some examples.
The next time you make your grocery list, keep these tips in mind—and we promise your body will thank you later.