Healthy Eating

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Smart Food

If you’ve just arrived at university for a new academic year, you may have a freezer full of Mum’s cottage pies at the moment but in a few weeks you’re going to have to fend for yourself.  But don’t despair!  If you follow these top tips from the Food Standards Agency then you can make sure you stay well fed, have money left over for nights out and avoid the ever-so-sexy spewing and diarrhoea that a bout of food poisoning brings.

Keeping Costs Low

Image of moneyIt’s a myth that eating healthily has to use up most of your student loan.  Processed food is an expensive option because you are paying for the processing. It’s much cheaper and often more nutritious to buy basic ingredients and make your own meals, especially if you look for special offers of things you actually want and will use (no, 3 for 2 on taramasalata which expires tomorrow is not a bargain).  Buy own brand products at supermarkets and shop around at local grocers and markets.  Your pennies will go even further if you avoid wastage by planning your meals so you eat ingredients before they go off and freeze leftovers rather than chucking them.

Keeping Nutrition Up

To make sure you’ve got enough energy to get up before midday, enough vitamins to ward off the dreaded freshers’ flu and generally enough nutrients to be a picture of health, you need to have a balanced diet.  Balancing your pizza intake with kebabs and beer does not count.  A third of your diet should be starchy carbs likeImage of fruit and veg porridge, bread, potatoes, pasta and rice – these are your best source of energy and will make you feel fuller for longer, as well as having less calories gram for gram than fat and protein.  Another third of your diet should be fruit and veg – at least 5 portions a day and a glass of pure fruit or veg juice or baked beans can count as one of these.  They are packed with vitamins and fibre.  It doesn’t matter if your fruit and veg are fresh, frozen, tinned or dried but aim for a variety and avoid adding too much salt or over-cooking or you will lose the nutrients.  Your final third should be split between two food groups.  Half should be meat and fish or other sources of protein like beans, lentils and eggs.  Some of this group are also excellent sources of iron.  The other half should be dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt to give you plenty of calcium.  Go for healthier options by cutting fat off meat and choosing lower fat dairy options.  There’s still space to have a little of what you fancy – high fat and sugar munchies – but these should be kept to a minimum and will generally cost you more than healthier alternatives.  In everything you eat, look out for the salt content.  6g a day should be your maximum and you will get most, if not all, of this from processed food such as pizza, soup, sauces and biscuits before you even think about getting your salt shaker out.    

Imaeg of a studentCheck the labels on food – you’ll be surprised at the difference between brands in fat, salt and sugar content.  Some food manufacturers have started using the Food Standards Agency traffic light labels which show you at a quick glance whether food is high (red light), medium (amber light) or low (green light) in salt, fat, saturated fat and sugar.  Try not to skip breakfast – it helps give us the energy we need to face the day, vitamins and minerals for good health and research shows that eating breakfast can help people control their weight.  If the thought of losing a precious 10 minutes in bed really seems a good enough reason to skip breakfast, consider making yourself a cheese sandwich the night before or having fresh or dried fruit ready to grab on the way out so you can eat on the way to lectures, without losing any sleep.

Killing Bugs Off

Of course, the healthiest diet in the world is still not going to protect you from food poisoning if your kitchen would make Kim and Aggie blush.  The key to staying safe is covered by the 4 Cs (if only your tutors made things this easy to remember):

Image of students washing upCleaning – It may sound obvious but make sure you wash your hands properly with soap and hot water after going to the toilet or before touching food.  Germs spread and a splash of cold water doesn’t scare them.

Chilling – Keep food that belongs in the fridge, in the fridge to stop bugs multiplying!  That includes salads, dips, milk, cream cakes, sandwiches, cooked meats and cooked rice.  Leftover pizza and curry can be recycled for breakfast, but only if you’ve left it in the fridge overnight.  When you are stocking your fridge, keep raw meats on a lower shelf than cooked meats to stop them touching and to prevent blood dripping from the raw meats onto other food, which brings us on to our next C…

Cross-contamination – Mixing a hangover with a 9 o’clock lecture is never a good idea.  The same is true about bringing raw meat, poultry and unwashed raw vegetables into contact with each other.  Cross contamination is one of the most common causes of food poisoning so keep raw and cooked foods separate and remember that germs can spread if you use the same knives or chopping boards even if there is no direct contact.  Keeping surfaces clean and disinfecting them with hot soapy water will also help.

Cooking – Cooking your food properly so it’s piping hot all the way through will not only make it taste better but, more importantly, will kill any germs.  This is true for re-heating leftovers as well as cooking things for the first time.

In other advice which doesn’t start with a C (we are completely cognisant of the curtailment of convenience and confess to our crime):

  • The ‘Use by date’ tells you what date you should use something by (no, really?).  It is much more accurate than ‘the sniff test’ for avoiding food poisoning. 
  • The best before date is more flexible and although the food probably won’t taste as good after the date it is unlikely to make you ill.
  • Furry food.  Don’t eat it.  Even if you have chopped the furry bit off.  Moulds and other fungi produce invisible toxins, which can penetrate the rest of the food and make you ill.
  • There are many things you can eat off (use your imagination) but the floor is not one of them.  If you drop your food on the floor, even just for a fraction of a second, it could be covered in invisible bacteria when you pick it up and you don’t want to be putting that in your mouth.  

What Next?

Are you hungry for more recipes and advice?  Here’s where to go for seconds.

Extra Links

Food Standards Agency publications

More publications such as these can be found on the;

Useful websites

  • Eatwell
    Eatwell is the Food Standards Agency's consumer advice and information site. It is packed with reliable and practical advice about healthy eating, understanding food labels and how what we eat can affect our health. The aim of the site is to help you make healthier choices, whether you are choosing what to eat or shopping for food.
  • FSA - Traffic Light labelling
    You're standing in a supermarket aisle looking at two similar products, trying to decide which to choose. You want to make the healthier choice but, as usual, you're in a hurry. Well, help is at hand.
  • FSA - Salt
    Is your food full of it? Find out here.
  • NHS 5-a-day
    Everywhere we look, there’s an expert ready to tell us what we can and can’t eat, how we should lead our lifestyles, what’s good for us and what isn’t. Sometimes it can all seem a bit too much. But there is one message that remains consistent – eating more fruit and vegetables is essential for good health. The 5 A DAY programme and website aims to change the way people think, and highlight the healthier benefits of eating more fruit and vegetables. Read on to find out how easy it can be to get into the habit of eating 5 A DAY.