4 Food Groups You Should Be Eating Every Day & Where to Find Them on Campus

When you’re in high school, most of your meals and snacks tend to come from your house. Your parents’ home-cooked or store-bought meals tend to have a balanced dynamic of all the nutrients your body needs. However, most of us don’t know exactly what the right balance is—that’s what we have our parents for. But, once you’re in college, the transition can be rough if you’re not prepared. Here’s a quick guide to how you can make the best decisions for your body with the foods available on campus.

1. Fats

Believe it or not, fats are an integral part of your diet. They’re healthy too, especially if you choose the right sources. Rather than donuts and other sweets, try nuts, nut butters and oils.

“Extra virgin olive oil, used in food preparation, is an excellent source of monounsaturated fat,” says Allison Arnett, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Yale University. “Olive oil is also offered daily as a salad dressing in addition to a variety of whole nuts, seeds and nut butter. A small portion of healthy fat such as olive oil, nuts and seeds can help our body absorb the vitamins and minerals in fruit and vegetables.”

Oils, nuts and seeds can also supply one of the most important types of fat you should be eating: omega 3 fatty acids. “Omega 3 fatty acids help support cognitive functioning while unsaturated fats play a role in supporting heart health,” says Jennifer Barnoud, M.S., R.D.N, L.D., at University Health Services (UHS) at The University of Texas at Austin. “You can add flax seed, chia seeds, or walnuts to yogurt, granola, oatmeal, or salads or use small amounts of olive oil based dressings for a daily dose of omega 3s.”

By adding these options to your meal, you’ll not only feel more satisfied, but healthier as well.

2. Protein

Some of the foods we’ve just suggested—nuts and oils—are sources of protein as well (how versatile!).

Arnett recommends that you eat a variety of proteins. “We encourage students to choose primarily vegetables, legumes, whole grains seeds, nuts and natural nut butter which are offered at all meals.” Additional specific options include:

  • Unsweetened Greek yogurt

  • Eggs (two whole eggs daily provide 12g of protein!)

  • Grilled or baked fish, skinless poultry and lean pork (healthier animal protein sources)

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, not to fret. “Omnivores and vegetarians alike can also get protein from beans, lentils, peas, and nut butters,” says Barnoud. “Choosing a variety of protein sources is even more important for vegetarians and vegans since plant-based sources tend not to have all the amino acids our bodies require.”

Students agree that protein is key to a healthy, happy life, such as Jasmine Cui, a sophomore at SUNY Geneseo. "Something I do is I'll take the bun off a burger and just eat the meat. My skin has cleared up and my hair has gotten so strong.”

Related: The Only Dorm Grocery List You’ll Ever Need 

3. Carbohydrates

It may seem as though most foods provide carbohydrates, but just like fats and proteins, some sources are better than others.

“The best sources of carbohydrates include fruit, vegetables and whole grains,” says Arnett. “Foods such as oats, quinoa, brown rice and whole beans are nutritional powerhouses, offering complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fat with a rich mineral and vitamin profile.”

Carbohydrates are one of the most important food groups, and they’re more varied than you might think, even in college.

“Choose high fiber complex carbohydrates for heart healthy and long-lasting energy for your brain and muscles,” says Barnoud. “Great examples include oats, whole grain breads and cereals, brown or wild rice, beans, lentils, peas, corn, and potatoes with skin.”

Don't be afraid to try new things and vary your source of carbohydrates! 

4. Fruits and veggies

Fruits and veggies are a classic. There’s a reason why you’re told to fill up half your plate with them.

“According to the American College Health Association’s 2017 National College Health Assessment, only 30.5 percent of undergraduate students and 40 percent of graduate students are consuming three or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day,” says Barnoud. “Health experts recommend consuming at least five half-cup servings per day or even more if you have health concerns. Include a 1-cup serving of fruits and vegetables to every meal to regularly consume six servings/day.”

Danie Roberts, a senior at Lasell College, frequently eats fruits and vegetables. "My dining hall allows me to take fruit out, so I always grab a few bananas every time so I don't have to buy any at the grocery store. Perfect for breakfast on the go!”

In addition, eating veggies isn’t so difficult. “Try and eat a veggie with every meal, even if it's just some cucumbers from the salad bar,” Danie suggests.

We’re all busy college students, but we need to prioritize our health just as much as we do our academics, extracurriculars, and social life.

“Often students get too busy juggling multiple responsibilities,” Barnoud says. “This is when nutrition can take a back seat leading to picking up whatever is the most convenient option or even skipping meals. When this becomes a consistent pattern, this can negatively affect your health and your academic performance. Developing good time management skills and getting to knowing the quick and easy healthy options while stress levels are low is key to your health and academic success.”

Hopefully, this guide sets you in the right direction!

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Rachna Shah is a first year student at Dartmouth College, where she is interested in health economics and healthcare reform. As part of the Board at Bridge the Divide, she uses her words as a platform for change and responsibility, encouraging and enabling youth to stay informed and active in the political arena. Rachna is also a writer and editor for several literary and political magazines, including Young Minds, The Weekly Buzz, and Her Campus. When she is not writing, she can be found munching on almonds and listening to the news in French.

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