With finals upon us and summer within reach, this can be one of the most difficult times of the year to eat healthy. On one hand, you want to start building your beach body by eating nutritious food and exercising whenever possible. However, with the pressure of studying for finals and cranking out term papers, many students tend to crave salt. So they take the easy way out and grab salty, fried snacks, like chips, Fritos, Cheetos, pizza, Halal and other fast food or pull up to a satisfying but often unhealthy comfort food meal at home.
Julissa Ortiz, a 22-year-old CCNY English major, has dealt with this problem throughout her academic career. “I eat when I’m stressed,” she says. “When I come home after a day of studying, there’s nothing I look forward to more than sitting down at the table with my family and having dinner. It’s comforting and for those couple hours I forget about all those exams and papers that are making me crazy.”
So what’s wrong with this? Many of the foods we love may satisfy in the moment, but they can be extremely high in sodium. This can lead to health problems for students right now and also later in life. African Americans and Hispanics face the highest risk of serious health problems such as hypertension, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. According to the American Heart Association, “Excessive sodium (salt) consumption caused nearly 2.3 million heart-related deaths in the world in 2010.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends consuming no more than between 1500 and 2300 mg of sodium per day depending on your risk factors, but most Americans consume much more. Besides heart problems, eating food high in sodium can give you a tired, bloated feeling afterwards. Why: because sodium is an electrolyte that attracts water, which can lead to water retention. This problem can affect your bloodstream and the interstitial tissues of your lungs making it harder to breathe, creating that heavy, fatigued feeling.
It’s that feeling that keeps some students away from sodium. “My family and I try to stay away from salt as much as we can,” says Bradley Perez, a 21-year-old psychology major. “It over powers the flavor of most dishes and always leaves you feeling all bloated and tired.”
What about the rest of us? Here are some tips on how you can eat on the run, keep your brain powered up, and not break the bank.
Understand the facts. When it comes to preparing your meals, according to Health.com, the perfect formula for a healthy balanced and energizing meal is: fruit or veggie + a whole grain + lean protein + plant based fat + herb/spice. Follow this formula and you’ll be eating healthy in no time.
Make conscious food choices. The only way to truly make a difference in your eating habits is by being aware of what goes into your body. As busy college students we tend to overlook the importance of eating right because we don’t have time. What exactly does eating healthy even mean? It starts with making the right food choices. For instance, it can be simple as choosing a fresh tomato instead of canned ones. It may seem like a tedious process at first, but all it takes is one step in the right direction.
Take control of what you eat. Prepare your own food, especially for lunch. It can be time consuming, but “brown-bagging” saves money and allows you to make healthy choices.
Read labels and menus. Most of the sodium we eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurants foods. Start looking for low sodium or salt free options when food shopping, and if you have to buy canned food, choose ones packed in water instead of broth or salt. And most restaurants post nutritional information on menus, so pay attention to sodium content when you eat out.
Know your temptations. Yes, unhealthy, salty, fried foods are everywhere and cheaper. The Halal food cart may be inexpensive and right outside of campus, but think about the toll the food takes. The food may taste good, but the excess salt in the seasonings is not doing your body any favors. Make another selection.
Substitute fruit and salads for unhealthy options. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables which contain low levels of natural sodium and give you what your body needs, to take with you on the go. Fruit salads are a great energy booster not to mention a delicious snack. You’ll save money and your heart will thank you later, too.
Make a difference in your family’s heart health at home. A recent survey by Ignite Media, a student-run communications group, revealed that over half of the CCNY Hispanic student population eats mostly at home. Family is a big part of Hispanic culture, and the dinner table signifies a special time of togetherness and cherishing each other’s company. But in many Hispanic meals, the amount of sodium in the seasonings is significantly higher than any other ingredient. You can help your family lower their sodium in home cooked meals by showing your mom how to replace salt with other ingredients like herbs and spices.
Use herbs and spices in place of salt. Reducing sodium doesn’t doesn’t mean that food has to taste bland. By replacing salt with herbs and spices, you’re adding a special kick to your meal while keeping your sodium level manageable and keeping your body from retaining water. So instead of salt, season food with pepper, sage, cumin, thyme, onions, garlic, oregano, paprika, rosemary, ginger, tarragon, just to name a few.
Good luck on your finals! And for more information on sodium awareness:
1. Visit the American Heart Association website and follow the organization on social media for more tips on how to lower your sodium intake.
2. Like the Ignite Media Facebook page and follow Us on Instagram and Twitter! @imignitemedia
3. Click on these healthy, delicious Latin American recipes from eatingwell.com and try them at home: