Right food choices help you feel best

While some students stock up on fruits and vegetables in the dining hall, sometimes it’s hard to resist the less-healthy options. The foods you choose affect your energy, concentration, and memory, because your body and brain need the right nutrition to function properly. So before you reach for a cup of coffee or another slice of pizza, remember that the right choices from the different food groups will help you feel your best.

Each person’s nutritional requirements can vary, but your diet should provide you with a balance of protein, dairy products, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits. For specific recommendations suited to your needs, talk to a doctor, registered dietitian, your student health office or your school’s nutritional counselor.

Many nutritional experts recommend that the majority of a person’s diet come from grains, vegetables and whole fruit. Whole-grain carbohydrates, like brown rice and whole-grain breads, cereals and pasta retain more vitamins, minerals and fiber than their more processed counterparts (like white bread and regular pasta).

It’s better to eat fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits, because those that come in cans sometimes contain lots of added salt or sugar. Also, try not to skip your vegetables in favor of fruit. (You should actually eat more vegetables than fruit for an ideal balance.)

Protein is another essential part of any diet. It’s found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs or nonanimal sources such as beans and nuts. Dairy products like cheese, yogurt and milk also provide protein (and calcium). Eating a few servings of low-fat dairy (like yogurt) and 2 to 3 servings of lean protein-rich foods every day will give you nutritional benefits without too much fat and cholesterol. There’s no need to completely eliminate snack foods high in sugar, oils and other fats, but they should only play a small role in your overall diet.

When you’ve been up for hours studying, you might look to something sugary or caffeinated for a boost. But there are healthier alternatives that can give you more energy with fewer negative consequences:

Drink plenty of water rather than caffeinated beverages. Caffeine may provide a short-term fix, but the more you consume, the more you’ll grow to depend on it. Staying hydrated can generally give you more energy than quick caffeine fixes.