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Back to university essentials: Support your health and wellbeing

You’ve set up the student bank account. You’ve bought new headphones, hugged the dog and you’re finally packed and ready for uni. Your parents have probably talked to you about keeping safe in a new town, but has anyone spoken to you about looking after your health and nutrition?

Essentials for university students

How you look after yourself at university can dramatically affect how you perform physically and intellectually as well as how good you feel mentally. Only eating what’s easy and available when you’re hungry could soon leave you with lower energy levels, poorer cognitive function and more likely to feel depressed. Health and good nutrition are more than just calories. It’s about balancing your macro and micronutrients to give your body and mind the protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre they need to keep you functioning optimally in your new, independent life. 

First year problems & the Freshers’ ten

Many students move into catered halls in their first year and although that can be useful, the canteen timetables and choices are not always ideal. A large proportion of students will miss either breakfast or evening meals because the timings just don’t work with their schedules, or they’re just not hungry when the canteen is open. Toast in your room may well be a large part of your first year. 

Food choices in the canteen aren’t always ideal either. Providing for hundreds of students on a limited budget often means loads of rice, potatoes and pasta to bulk out the meals and not much in the way of good quality protein and fresh vegetables. The university restaurants and cafes often provide cheap and popular ‘fast food’ options of pizzas and burgers rather than hearty, nutritious meals. And even if the option is there, opting for the nutritious choice on the student meal card may not fall into your budget!

Losing control of what you eat like this, late night takeaways, snacking to supplement the provided meals - as well as drinking more alcohol than usual - will all contribute to the ‘Freshers’ 10’; the 10 pounds or so of weight that many first year students gain.

Away from the catered halls, many first year students are attempting to cook for the first time in their lives. A lack of confidence or knowledge in the kitchen may mean you stick to the ingredients you know.

So what are the essentials that you need to know to survive and even thrive at uni?

Nutrition for uni students

Diet is a huge factor in overall health, and probably one of the most typically neglected things as a university student! Eating healthily doesn't have to be hard, there are lots of simple ways to get your nutrients in. It just takes a little planning, but once you get the hang of it you'll feel better mentally and physically (and save money!)

Cheap nutritious food essentials

The best thing you can do when you first start looking after yourself food-wise is to keep a broad eye over what you are eating each week. If you have a nutritionally poor day of fast foods and sugary snacks, make sure the next day you concentrate on veggies and fruit. Find your local food market or visit the supermarket at the end of the day when they have the reduced prices on food near its sell by date. 

Learn to cook a few basics and if you feel like you can't manage, try some healthy recipe boxes that'll at least encourage you to cook with fresh ingredients, like Gousto, Hello Fresh, Mindful Chef and AllPlants if you're vegan. Recipe books are also always handy to have around the house!

Easy foods to always have on hand are:

  • Eggs: Eggs are an almost perfect food, either as a main ingredient or as a snack. They're a complete protein, contain some fats and a large number of vitamins and minerals. They're also versatile and easy to add to so many other dishes. ‘Everything rice’ is one of the dishes all of my kids learned to cook early - preparing some rice and they frying it up with a load of chopped up veg, spices and an egg is delicious and incredibly easy to make

  • Nut butters: Nut butters have a long shelf life, are full of healthy essential fats and can be added to fruit bowls, porridge, smoothies or even toast

  • Tinned fish: Another great one to have stocked up as a source of protein, essential fats and even calcium if you eat the bones

  • Tinned beans and lentils: A tasty source of carbs, fibre and protein and an easy addition to salads, soups or curries

Snack essentials 

Every student needs good snack suggestions. But whilst a sugary snack like a chocolate bar may stave off immediate hunger, if it causes your blood sugar to soar and then crash, you’ll only end up hungry and tired 30 minutes later. So carrying the right snack that fills you up and keeps blood sugar levels stable is definitely an essential skill to learn. Some of our suggestions to fill you up and keep energy levels on an even keel include:

  • Nuts and seeds - with or without a piece of fruit
  • Wholegrain oatcakes or crackers with cheese, tomatoes or veggie sticks Houmous with raw vegetable sticks
  • Avocado - either with a vinaigrette dressing, or made into guacamole to have with veggie sticks or crackers
  • Olives - bit of a Mediterranean theme here, but if you like them, they’re a great snack
  • Falafel 
  • Hard boiled egg (as long as your friends don’t mind!)
  • Green smoothies

Supplements for uni students

Vitamin D

Low vitamin D levels are linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. If you’re not getting much sunlight, then your vitamin D levels are more than likely depleted.

It’s hard in the UK during the winter to get enough sunlight to generate the amounts of vitamin D that we need; and the darker your skin, the less sunlight you convert. That's why the NHS recommends everyone in the UK supplements with vitamin D3 during winter, especially when you’re inside most of the time and it’s dark outside anyway.

Vitamin D Zooki is perfect for students in on the go, easy to take sachets, a delicious berry flavour and containing a whopping 3000IU of vitamin D3 and 100mg of supportive sidekick vitamin K2. 

Probiotics

It may seem bizarre, but your gut and your brain affect each other a lot more than you know. If the collection of microorganisms in your intestines (the microbiome) are upset or disrupted, it can result in an upset mind as much as an upset stomach.

You need to eat a varied diet with plenty of fibre and vegetables to feed your gut bacteria and ensure your gut has enough beneficial bacteria by supplementing with probiotics or eating probiotic-rich foods. Several observational studies have shown that it is possible to treat the symptoms of anxiety by improving gut health and the intestinal environment.

Gut Biome Zooki comes in handy dispensers, each serving packed with 35 billion multi-strain live bacteria, flavoured with natural blueberry lemon extracts and wrapped in lipids to ensure they get straight to your system. Enjoy off a spoon or combined with your breakfast!

Omega 3

60% of the weight of your brain is made up of essential fatty acids, so it makes sense that essential fatty acids are essential for brain health and development. When you've got exams and you're churning out essays left, right and centre, you'll want to give your brain all the fuel it can get (preferably in the form of omega 3 fatty acids!) 

Omega 3 Zooki comes in 2 fruity flavours (Peach Mango and Lime) and packs the same amount of omega 3 that's in roughly three hard-to-swallow capsules into one delicious teaspoon. With added vitamin D3, it also supports your immune system.

Vitamin C

What with covid on top of fresher's flu flying around, you'll want to make sure your immune system is in tip top shape so your uni experience isn't disrupted by constant illness! Vitamin C supplements are an absolute essential for your uni supplement stack, especially Vitamin C Zooki which taste great and can easily fit in your bag to keep you going for the day. Not only do these trusty sachets support your immunity, but also your energy levels (which is super helpful when you're hungover or have had a late study sesh) and skin glow

Exercise & get out in nature

You may or may not have enjoyed it at school, but taking part in some kind of recreational sport can lead to higher grades. Even simple, aerobic exercise may improve your thinking skills. That means walking (outside if possible!), cycling, running or climbing stairs. If it’s conducted regularly, aerobic exercise may lead to higher executive function scores compared to those people who do only stretching exercises.

Don’t forget the power of getting outside and connecting with nature. According to a report from the University of Exeter, people who spend only 2 hours a week outside in nature are significantly more likely to report good health and better psychological well being; even if it's only in short breaks during the week. 

Don't forget to digital detox

It may seem counterintuitive when our lives are dominated by screens, but checking your phone when you take a break from work can lead to poorer problem solving and productivity. The study from Rutgers Business School found that participants who used their phones during breaks from a task took 19% longer to complete the task and solved 22% fewer problems than participants who took breaks with computers, books or even took no break at all. It’s thought that checking your phone prompts thoughts of messages, connecting with people and access to information that stimulates the brain in different directions from the task at hand which is different to using laptop or computer screens. So try putting the phone away while you’re concentrating on writing that essay or learning that topic. 

Get enough sleep

There’s no way you’re going to university without changing your normal sleep patterns. At this age, you can survive some late nights and sleep less than you’re used to. But sleep deprivation over time causes stress on the body, so try to allow at least 3 or 4 evenings a week without alcohol when you get a good 8 hours rest.

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