Nicole Ardila/Staff Writer
College students’ eyes light up when they see cheap and quick meals, but they don’t put in effort to learn about their ingredients and what they’re actually feeding their bodies.
There are several factors that cause many college students to have poor diets. With all the classes, assignments, and possible side jobs, there’s barely any time to prepare an actual meal. Another thing is with the tuition, housing, and other financial debts students may have, it calls for more affordable food options like fast-food or dining hall.
The same goes for the instant ramen noodle cups that everyone loves. Yes it’s delicious, and all you have to do is pop it into the microwave, but do you ever wonder why these foods are super affordable and last long on the shelves?
Ramen noodles are a typical college student meal, they’re easy for those who are on a budget, or constantly in a hurry. But the reality is that they can increase the risk of heart disease, stomach cancer, and metabolic syndrome. Ramen noodle cups lack nutrients such as fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Not only do they lack nutrients, but they consist of MSG, TBHQ and high sodium contents.
Sodium is an essential nutrient, but when it comes to the excess amount that these packaged foods come with, they can raise blood pressure and be harmful to the heart and kidneys.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an intake of two grams of sodium per day, while one cup of instant ramen noodles is already 1,760 mg of sodium. Consuming just one cup of ramen noodles is already 88% of the recommended daily intake, keeping it difficult to maintain a balanced diet.
MSG is what makes these foods taste addictingly good and TBHQ helps them last longer on the shelves.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer and is often found in fast foods, chips and snacks, frozen meals, canned soups, condiments, processed meats, and instant noodle products. Some studies have shown that it has been linked to some weight gain, asthma, and neurotoxicity.
Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) is a preservative that extends food shelf life and prevents the spoilage of processed foods. It is often used in fats like vegetable oils and animal fats, which snacks, crackers, noodles, fast, frozen and processed foods contain.
Large quantities of TBHQ are dangerous, where vision disturbances and effects in human behavior have been reported. It’s been recommended that those who have ADHD should avoid consuming TBHQ. Liver enlargement, neurotoxic effects, convulsions, and paralysis have been reported in studied cases with laboratory animals.
Frozen foods are another favorite for college students, but they have little to no nutritional value, and also carry their risks. Meals like Lean Cuisine, Stouffer’s, Marie Callender’s, or DiGiorno, are very high in calories, sodium, fat, and even sugar (yes, in a salty meal).
Just like instant meals, frozen foods are also a risk for heart problems since they are rich in trans fats and cholesterol. They can also cause diabetes because of the high amount of starch they contain. Cancer is another risk, especially pancreatic cancer for those who consume a lot of frozen hot dogs, salamis, processed meats and corn syrup, another dangerous ingredient. High blood pressure is another potential risk caused by the high amount of preservatives frozen foods have, which are concentrated in salt and sugar.
FIU’s 8th Street Campus Kitchen has a variety of meals for students, but they don’t provide the best nutrition as a lot of them contain frozen foods.
The online menu lists their meals’ ingredients, and some examples are: scrambled eggs (from liquid egg whites carton), french toast sticks “0.9 oz Rich’s Frozen”, skinless pork sausage link “Jimmy Dean FC 1 oz Frozen”, “Sweet Potato Mini Tater Puffs Frozen”, vegan meatless meatballs “FC 1 oz Frozen”, potato french fries “Frozen”, tri-color cheese “GoodSource Frozen”, beef empanadas “1 oz GoodSource Frozen”.
Fast food is also common in students’ diets. They are affordable and require no preparation, but they are high in calories, saturated fats, sodium, and sugar. Something as innocent as drinking Dunkin’ coffee every morning before class can increase your risk for Type 2 diabetes.
Because many college students don’t exercise as much as they should, they are susceptible to weight gain and depression due to their poor eating habits. Therefore, eating just one meal from McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, or Taco Bell a day, is a risk for your health.
After a long night of studying or partying, college students typically resort to energy drinks to fuel their day. Little do they know the real effects these drinks have on their bodies.
Popular drinks like Red Bull, Bang and Monster Energy, are overloaded with sugar, citric acid and caffeine which can lead to dehydration, liver damage, increased heart rate (potentially causing a heart attack or stroke), damaged teeth, high blood pressure, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and mood swings.
These drinks are promoted to enhance mental and physical performances yet they lead to sugar crashes and caffeine withdrawals, making you feel tired and low in energy.
The WHO recommends no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day, while one typical energy drink alone has at least 13 teaspoons of sugar.
Imagine feeding yourself that many spoonfuls of sugar, it’s disgusting. So why make it a habit and let yourself drink it?
If you find yourself lacking energy, the best thing to do is to lay off the caffeine, which means no coffee and definitely no energy drinks.
It has been found that drinking a glass of cold water can improve your energy in a matter of minutes, which can simply mean you’re dehydrated. Sleep is another obvious remedy for fatigue. As a student, you may not be sleeping at least eight hours, which is crucial for your performance and health.
There are many healthier alternatives that are not as expensive as you may think. Going organic can provide you better-quality ingredients and beneficial nutrients, without any chemicals, preservatives, added hormones or antibiotics.
There’s the myth that organic food is more expensive, but not more than the price of cancer and other illnesses produced by low-quality “food”.
Cheaper food means cheaper ingredients made by companies that have no interest in healthy and wholesome foods. Organic food is not cheaper than conventional food, that is true, but it all comes to balancing your needs and what’s essential. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s provide more natural and organic alternatives for anything you can possibly need.
Eating quick-and-easy to prepare meals isn’t healthy, so try preparing meals beforehand or at night so that way all you have to do is heat it up. If you need something to boost your energy, drink a smoothie, take your vitamins, eat fruit, nuts, or yogurt.
A nutritious meal doesn’t require anything expensive or fancy, it can be as simple as a smoothie or serving an egg, with a side of peanut butter toast and fruit, with juice, coffee or tea.
Stay away from any foods that have a long list of ingredients that you can’t even pronounce. The healthiest foods should have five or less familiar ingredients on their label.
Your body deserves the best nutrition and food quality, so it’s better to start changing your diet now before you start seeing a deterioration in your health.
The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community