Put leafy greens on top of everything
One of my favorite ways to eat healthy when I am at college, especially when no prepared meal at the dining hall is piquing my interest, is to make a salad with lots of toppings. I start with a mesclun mix and add warm brown rice, sliced almonds, kidney and black beans, black olives, artichokes, and a big dash of balsamic dressing.
Even on days when I’ve opted for a dish the dining hall is serving, or I’ve placed a chunk of cornbread (my personal kryptonite) on my plate, I add leafy greens as a topper. By doing this, I am eating my vegetables first, getting some iron and other essential nutrients (leafy greens are king when it comes to nutrition), and I feel better about eating the not-quite-nutritious items underneath. I recommend finding a green that suits your fancy (iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value) and sticking to it. Add toppings that excite your palette, and spice it up with jackfruit, olives, chickpeas, seitan, or cashews.
Make sure your non-dairy m*lk is fortified
It is so important that the non-dairy m*lk we drink is calcium fortified, especially when we are young. Most people are not getting nearly as much calcium as they need in their diet, so it is imperative to have at least one to two servings of fortified m*lk each day.
Take a blood test to see where you are lacking
I was terrified of getting my blood drawn after a bad experience at age seven. This winter I was able to muster up the courage to have it re-tested, as I had been dealing with stomach problems of an unknown origin for many years. Thankfully I was not deficient in anything, although I fully expected the lab to shoot off a lengthy list. It is important to get a baseline blood test every once in a while, especially if you have dietary restrictions. Being deficient in a nutrient can have serious consequences later in life.
Add a small amount of fresh pressed juice or fruit to your water
This tip is featured in my blog post “Three Easy Ways to Drink More Water.” I add a bit of pure lemon juice to my water, which helps me drink more H2O than I would otherwise. We all know how we feel when we’re dehydrated. I, for one, act sluggish and get dizzy when I stand quickly.
Drinking water helps to fill you up as well if you are aiming to lose a few pounds. A suggestion I read (I forget where) is to drink a glass of water before every meal.
Add nuts, fruit, and more to your meals
When I have oatmeal in the morning, I add pumpkin seeds, cashews, sliced almonds, strawberries or bananas, and hemp and flax seeds. The possibilities are endless. Whenever I eat salad, which I aim to have at least once a day (again, leafy greens are king), I love to add sliced almonds, hemp seeds, and any fruits or veggies in the kitchen that need eating. These extra items add good fats and nutrients to your dish above and beyond what lettuce and oats provide.
Substitute refined carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates (that are just as easy to make!)
Refined carbohydrates, such as rice and white bread, are linked to heart disease. Complex carbohydrates (like freekeh, millet, brown and wild rice, quinoa, and oats) contain higher levels of nutrients and fiber which eases and slows digestion, keeping us fuller for longer, and thus avoiding the weight gain associated with refined carbs.
A side note about bread: PAY ATTENTION to what makes up every loaf of bread you plan to buy. What are the ingredients? How many are there? Where are you buying it? My favorite is Dave’s Killer Bread (any multigrain variety), although I much prefer supporting local businesses like the vendor at our farmer’s market and nearby bakeries. Ezekiel and Dave’s Killer Bread are the two healthiest grocery store options, and quite frankly the only two I eat.
Essential components of every meal: protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruit
This easy rule has dramatically changed how I eat. Although I cannot remember where I learned this, it may be the best advice I have ever received. The idea is to add these four food types into every meal to get the vitamins and nutrients we need. A typical lunch for me is rice, chickpeas, spinach from the farmer’s market, avocado, and a homemade salad dressing. Although, I’m not picky!
Take a supplement!
I genuinely believe this is the sole reason I passed my recent blood test without any noted deficiencies. In Michael Pollan’s, “In Defense of Food,” he states that it’s unclear if adding supplements improve our health, as those who consume vitamins daily probably lead healthier lifestyles anyway (by eating better, exercising more, etc.) than the overall population. I’m not sure which to believe, but I love my multivitamin.
Try different types of diets
The most important thing I did for my diet was to change from being a strict vegan to including eggs and fish (sustainably and ethically sourced, of course) in my now mostly plant-based diet. I have a steady amount of energy that gets me through the day. And I finally reached and maintained the weight I’ve been aiming for since I hit puberty (without really trying, I might add). I am very open to talking about diet and food preferences, so please if you have thoughts to share, send me a direct message on Instagram or an email.
I think it is great, assuming it does not conflict with dietary restrictions, to try different types of diets. I have only tried the vegan diet, and although it didn’t entirely work for me, I remain a passionate advocate for the vegan lifestyle. Besides which, its added sustainability for the planet, trying a vegan diet helped me to find what ultimately works best for me.
Stop eating non-perishable foods
This should be pretty self-explanatory. I refuse to eat nonperishable foods (in fact, I cannot remember the last time I did so) so I can avoid the chemicals and preservatives associated with these foods. Check out the ingredients of packaged processed food and you’ll see for yourself.
Since the industrialization of agriculture, our soil has begun to lose its natural nutrients. Chemicals and pesticides used in conventionally grown food remove nutrients from the soil, leading to the addition of more and more synthetic fertilizers to compensate for the soil’s losses. Organic produce, on the other hand, does not involve the use of chemical sprays, leading to higher nutrient levels than their conventional counterparts while avoiding harmful pesticides.
In his book, “In Defense of Food,” author Michael Pollan notes “[…] you now have to eat three apples to get the same amount of iron as you would have gotten from a single 1940 apple, and you’d have to eat several more slices of bread to get your recommended daily allowance of zinc than you would have a century ago” (Pollan, 118). Isn’t that crazy?