Being a student can be very demanding on our bodies. Often we might find it difficult to get our balance right, especially during exam time. We know that there is nutrition insecurity amongst our student populations at university. Why is nutrition important in this critical time of learning? Let’s get the full picture.
We know that many students don’t have enough food to eat. This means that they are not getting enough of the nutrients that their body needs to be in peak performance. Students from the University of Zululand tend to choose convenience foods above healthy balanced meals. Less than half the students were eating indigenous and traditional foods but consumed calorie dense foods on a more consistent basis due to accessibility. Students also tend to have unhealthy eating practices such as skipping of meals and eating disorders have been found to be very prevalent within this population group.
What students might not know is that nutritional status plays a vital role in the cognitive development of young females and the timing of nutritional deficiencies can have a huge impact on overall brain development.
This places a great significance in ensuring optimal nutrition at this stage of life as it provides the opportunity to improve health, academic performance and economic opportunities which will ensure a brighter future not only for the girl but for her future generations also.
With facing challenges such as limited time and a very restrictive budget, what measures can be put in place to help improve the overall nutritional status of young students in South Africa?
Young girls have increased requirements for carbohydrate, fat and protein in addition to increased vitamin and mineral intake.
These nutrients can be increased through making good food choices, by including fortified foods in the diet such as various cereals, bread and maize or by taking an appropriate supplement which includes folic acid and iron. It would be advisable to include nutrient dense foods.
- Iron rich foods: Such as meat, liver and egg
- Lots of green leafy vegetables, dark green vegetables such as broccoli and brussel sprouts, orange juice, beans, and other legumes that have a high Folic Acid Content
- Dairy products which are good source of Zinc
- Calcium, phosphorus & vitamin D – kale, mustard leaves, broccoli leaves, turnip leaves, sardines, pilchards, bivalve mollusks, oysters, salmon, pulses such as soy, milk, meat, beans and other legumes, nuts, butter, liver, tuna, mushrooms
- Vitamin A and beta-carotene– carrots, broccoli, spinach, kale, sweet potato, eggs, liver, mangoes
- B vitamins– fish, beef liver, kidney and other organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, fruit (other than citrus), fish, shellfish, dairy products, eggs, beef and pork
- Vitamin C– fruits, particularly citrus, tomatoes and strawberries, and vegetables including peppers, broccoli and spinach. Vitamin C is destroyed by heat and light
- Iodine– milk and dairy, seafood and eggs.
Students working on a limited budget that makes it difficult getting all the nutrients that they need from food, can consider including a multivitamin to close the nutrient gap.
In short by ensuring optimal nutrition in the adolescent female is a great propellant to a brighter future extending its positive effects through generations. So Next time you reach for food choose the food that will help you to reach your body’s need for growth and brain power. Remember we have the power to change our futures and the futures of our children.
- Invest in a Girl & You Invest in a nation: Adolescents as Mothers Part 1. Jane Baham & Carey Haupt. September 2017
- Invest in a Girl & You invest in a nation: Nutrition & the adolescent Girl Part 2. Jane Baham & Carey Haupt. September 2017.
- Food consumption patterns & lifestyle of students at University if Zululand. Mosa Selepe & Nokuthula Shongwe.
- Prevalence of eating disorders among dietetic versus non dietetic students at UKZN. Suna Kassier, Jandri bardman, Frederick Veldman.
- Assessing food & Nutrition security of Stellenbosch University main campus undergraduate students. Liesbet (HE) Koornhof, Lisanne M Du Plessis, Marinha L Marais, Lynette C Daniels.