A diet that consists in approximately one meal a day. This meal is often of little or no nutritional value, and may be fast food or even a bag of chips from a vending machine, eaten while sitting in class waiting for the prof to arrive.
The college diet can be employed for a number of reasons, chief among these are a lack of funds with which to purchase food, or a lack of time in which to prepare and eat a balanced meal.
The Urban Dictionary
You wake up to the sound of the alarm going off and your neighbor banging on the wall, and notice you’re late for class. You dress without thinking about what you’re doing, and hoof it across campus wearing mismatched socks, shouldering a backpack containing fifty pounds of books, to take a chemistry test you didn’t study enough for. You look in your wallet and wonder if the local hospital needs any test subjects. You try valiantly to stay awake all day, finally limping back home (after a detour to try and work up the courage to talk to that cute girl in English class) and collapsing into bed- only to realize you’ve got another test to study for, and three papers to write.
Is it a wonder that being a college student and eating well are often seen as two mutually exclusive goals?
“I’ll worry about it when I’m older. They make drugs like Lipitor, which are supposed to clean your cholesterol if you eat too much instant food.”
Starbucks Frappacino (13.7 ounces) has 290 calories, almost five grams of fat (half saturated), and 46 grams of sugar. That’s the nutritional equivalent of almost four scoops of chocolate ice cream!
Attending college is about more than just going to class; it’s about growing up, meeting new friends, and making new life experiences- but most importantly, it’s about ramen noodles. Ramen noodles have become synonymous with indebted and financially worn-down college students, and if there is another food stuff that objectifies a college student’s need for thrifty spending more than ramen noodles, I haven’t heard of it. A packet of instant ramen in a Kroger might run you as little as 20 cents, if it’s on sale, and Sam’s Club has been known to sell bulk cases for as little as eight cents a package. Ramen is also incredibly convenient, as it can be stored indefinitely at room temperature, and only takes a little water and about sixty seconds in a microwave to cook.
But there is a downside to this convenience and thriftiness; namely, the nutritional value of ramen is practically nil. Indeed, anything that lists it’s second biggest ingredient as “vegetable oil” probably isn’t going to turn out to be all that good for you.
Maruchan Ramen Beef
1 block (88 grams)
16 grams of fat (8 grams saturated)
1560 milligrams sodium
If you want to keep the convenience and thriftiness of ramen, and eliminate some of the nutritional defecit you get from the traditional package of ramen, try Nissin Choice Ramen Slow Stewed Beef. Available at Kroger and Harris Teeter, a single package will run you less than fifty cents; and since it’s not fried during preparation, there is drastically less fat than in the Maruchan Beef package. And while it’s still relatively high in sodium, it’s still half that of the Maruchan Ramen Beef.
Nissin Choice Ramen Slow Stewed Beef
1 block (80 grams)
2 grams fat (0 grams saturated)
800 miligrams sodium
Cereal is a breakfast staple, and is great for snacking on, since it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to keep, or throw into a Ziploc bag and take to class. But cereals can oftentimes take up an entire aisle at the average supermarket- so, how do you know the right one to get?
An obvious choice is Cheerios, probably one of the best-known cereals in existence. It’s well known as a started food for babies, and a heart-healthy food for adults; Cheerios advertising proudly displays the American Heart Association’s seal of approval, and claim that Cheerios can help lower your cholesterol. While the AHA’s seal of approval is more contingent on a sizable fee paid to them, this claim is generally supported by empirical research and the FDA. Unlike refined and enriched corn or rice cereals, whole grain cereals are not as rapidly digested and absorbed (as well as having a lower glycemic index level)- so besides their healthiness, they help keep you from snacking or feeling hungry all day.
Now, this is all good and well, but I’ve yet to meet a college student who went to the grocery store and eagerly bought Cheerios. No, the cereals college students are more likely to buy include at least two of the following in their title: “Extra Frosted”, “Chocolate”, “Sugar”, “Marshmellows”, or the name of one or more types of candy bars. Cheerios are for “old people”- right?
Let’s compare some cereals more likely to be enjoyed by the average college student.
General Mills’ Apple Cinnamon Cheerios versus Kellogg’s Apple Jacks
We’ve established that Cheerios are great for you, but probably a little bland. So why not try Apple Cinnamon Cheerios? The healthiness of Cheerios with a nice apple/cinnamon taste, right? Wrong.
General Mills’ Apple Cinnamon Cheerios
1 cup (40g)
2 grams fat (0 grams saturated)
16 grams sugar
Instead, try Kellog’s Apple Jacks. It’s certainly not as good as regular Cheerios, but if you want to have something with a little more taste, this is a better choice.
Kellogg’s Apple Jacks
1 cup (28 grams)
0.5 grams fat (0 grams saturated)
12 grams sugar
Kellogg’s Raisin Bran versus Whole Foods Market 365-brand Raisin Bran
A handful of raisins and whole-grain wheat sounds healthy and delicious, right? Maybe if two of the top five ingredients weren’t sugar and high fructose corn syrup. This jacks the sugar content up to 19 grams per cup, which puts it into the same category as Lucky Charms, or Resses Peanut Butter Cup cereal. And the 350 milligrams of sodium sure don’t help, either.
Kellogg’s Raisin Bran
1 cup (40 grams)
1.5 grams fat (0 grams saturated)
19 grams sugar
350 milligrams sodium
Instead, try Whole Foods Market 365 Everyday Value Raisin Bran. It’s got significantly less calories, sugar, and sodium, but plenty of protein and fiber- and it’s decently priced, to boot, which can be hard to find at a Whole Foods Market store, running you about $2.29 on sale ($2.69 full price) for a box, compared to $2.79 for a box of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran at Kroger.
Whole Foods Market 365-brand Raisin Bran
xx serving, xxx calories
How about sugary cereal? No sugary cereal is going to be great for you, but some are certainly better than others. I know you love to buy Lucky Charms and eat all the marshmallows before unceremoniously dumping the rest of the box into the trash, but trust me- there IS a better way. Skip anything that shares the name with junk food- like “Reese’s Puffs”, “Oreo Os”, “Smore’s Grahms”, et cetera- or features marshmallows or candy mixed in with the cereal- like “Lucky Charms”. Heck, a cup of “Reese’s Puffs” cereal has 20% more sugar than an actual Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup! Instead, stick with cereals with some redeeming nutritional value. Examples of this are Kellog’s Frosted Flakes (12 grams of sugar, but no fat, and chock full of vitamins and minerals), or General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios (the same high fiber and whole-grain oat benefit of regular Cheerios; in fact, you can blend ’em with regular Cheerios to save on some of the sugar).
What can I say about pizza? One of the quintessential American foods, beloved by all- and for good reason, too. It’s relatively cheap, quick to either cook or order, easy to eat, and- to top it all off- is incredibly delicious. Thus, it’s easily become a favorite for college students everywhere- the nutritional perils of a pizza-centric diet nonetheless.
So, what’s a pizza-craving college student to do?
Weighing in at the caloric and fat equivialent of seventeen Chicken McNuggets, or almost twenty Krispy Kreme Glazed Donut Holes, is the DiGiorno For One Traditional Crust Pepperoni Pizza. For that nutritional price, I would definitely suggest delivery over DiGiorno- especially considering the whopping 3 grams of trans fat found per serving, and almost 60% of your daily sodium intake. It’s also a fairly expensive pizza; when I went to Kroger, I found them on sale at 4 for $10, from a normal retail of $3.99 a shot.
DiGiorno For One Traditional Crust Pepperoni Pizza
1 pizza (263 grams)
35 grams fat (14 grams saturated, 3 grams trans fat)
1430 milligrams sodium
Instead, try the South Beach Diet Pepperoni Pizza. For the same serving size as the DiGiorno, you get half the calories and only a third of the fat- and it tastes pretty good, to boot.
South Beach Diet Pepperoni Pizza
1 pizza (xxx grams)
12 grams fat (4 grams saturated)
Kroger also offers a couple other choices for the more budget-minded. They sacrifice some of the quality of the above two pizzas for price point. The Kroger Pizza Pals Individual Pepperoni Pizza retails for about $0.79 a pizza (less when it’s on sale)- but this value comes at a serious nutritional price.
Kroger Pizza Pals Pepperoni Pizza
1 Pizza (184 grams)
17 grams fat (4.5 grams saturated)
770 miligrams sodium
Now, get this- if you cooked about a third of a pound of cured pork bacon, you’d have the nutritional equivalent of this pizza. Sounds pretty unappealing, huh? Instead, try the Kroger 3-Minute Microwave cheese Pizza; they retail for about a dollar each, are significantly bigger pizzas, and yet still manage to have less fat than the Pizza Pals pizza. Of course, that’s all relative; it’s still full of sodium, and the saturated fat levels are on the high side, but for those on a budget, the extra 21 cents a pizza you’ll spend is well worth it.
Kroger 3-Minute Microwave Cheese Pizza
1 Pizza (226 grams)
16 grams fat (3 grams saturated)
950 miligrams sodium
FULL SIZE PIZZAS
What do you want on your Tombstone? Not Pepperoni, hopefully, unless you enjoy arteries thick with cholesterol. Yes, sadly, the delicious Tombstone Original Pepperoni Frozen Pizza weighs in at an astounding 10% of you daily caloric intake per slice.
Tombstone Original Pepperoni Pizza
1/8 Pizza (One Slice, 77 grams)
10 grams fat (4 grams saturated)
440 milligrams sodium
Instead, go with the Whole Foods Market Uncured Pepperoni Pizza. It’s the same price as the Tombstone, and it’s somewhat healthier (though this is a bit relative, as both are high in fat) and contains more natural ingredients.
Whole Foods Market Uncured Pepperoni Pizza
1/8th Pizza (One Slice, 47 grams)
7.5 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated)
330 milligrams sodium
At about eight bucks a package (or about $2.66 a pound), you can pick up a package of three pounds of frozen hamburger patties at Krogers. This is about as good a deal as it gets on hamburger; but, as we’ve discovered, that thriftiness comes at a serious price.
Beef, Ground, Normal (70/30)
1 Burger (4 ounces, cooked)
34 grams fat (14 grams saturated)
If you’re really looking for a treat, head to Krogers or Whole Foods and grab some ground Bison meat. At $3.99 a pound, it’s about the same price as ground beef of comprable fat content, but has the added nutritional benefits of having high levels of niacin, selenium, Vitamin B12, and zinc, while containing less sodium than ground beef.
Bison, Ground, Extra Lean (90/10)
1 Burger (3 ounces cooked)
10 grams fat (5 grams saturated)
85 milligrams sodium
MACARONI AND CHEESE
Macaroni and cheese has been a favorite among American comfort foods since it’s introduction to the United States at a White House Dinner hosted by University founder Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Heck, these days hungry college students everywhere can skip the usual pot of boiling water and colander in favor of the microwave, and presto! A couple minutes later, you have a bowl of cheesy pasta, delicious pasta. But no matter the preparation method, beware! Beneath the cheesy deliciousness lurks nutritional danger!
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner
1/3rd box (1 cup prepared)
19 grams fat (5 grams saturated, 4 grams trans fat)
710 milligrams fiber
1 gram fiber
Holy trans fat, Batman! And that’s in one cup! That’s what happens when margarine is an integral part of the preparation process. Instead, try this:
Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and 2% Milk Cheese Dinner
1/4 box (1 cup prepared)
4.5 grams fat (2 grams saturated)
880 milligrams sodium
2 grams fiber
A little more sodium, but that’s negligible compared to the total lack of trans fats (and fat in general) versus the regular Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and only a few cents more expensive. An easy rule of thumb is that if the ingredient list looks more like macaroni and cheese made from scratch- ie, minus the artificial additives- it’s probably a better choice nutritionally.
The world’s oldest manufactured beverage, beer dates back almost 9,000 years, to the beginning of recorded human history. It’s evolution to becoming a staple part of college diets, however, is a little more murky. Yet, rightly or wrongly, it remains an irrevocable part of the American collegiate landscape. First and foremost, please remember that drinking alcohol is something to be done in moderation. That being said, also remember why they call that unsightly roll of fat around the midsection a “beer gut”. Beer has no nutritionally redeeming value whatsoever, and there is no such thing as a “diet” beer- but, if you’re going to responsibly enjoy a beer, you can pick up a “Light” version to save a few calories.
But since alcohol isn’t required to have it’s nutritional facts listed, how do you know which beer is better than others? Here’s a quick guide:
Miller Genuine Draft 64– 64 Calories/12 ounce bottle, compared to Michelob Ultra– 95 Calories/12 ounce bottle
Beck Light– 64 Calories/12 ounce bottle, compared to Bud Light– 110 Calories/12 ounce bottle
Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss– 149 Calories/12 ounce bottle, compared to Michelob Honey Lager– 178 Calories/12 ounce bottle
Miller Genuine Draft– 110 Calories/12 ounce bottle, compared to Budwesier– 143 Calories/12 ounce botle
Mike’s Hard Lemonade Light– 110 Calories/12 ounce bottle, compared to Mike’s Hard Lemonade– 220 Calories/12 ounce bottle
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (or PBJs) were the ultimate fall-back food when you were a kid- if all else failed, slap a little peanut butter and jelly between a couple slabs of bread, and viola! Now here you are, years later, and it’s moved from fall-back food to diet staple. Neither peanut butter or jelly contain any perishable ingredients, so they don’t require refrigeration (though jelly lasts longer if refrigerated after opening), making a PBJ an easy meal to throw into a lunch bag and go.
However, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with two slices of Kroger White Sandwich Bread, two tablespoons of Skippy Creamy peanut butter, and two tablespoons of Smuckers Grape Jelly, comes up with the following nutritional stats:
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
19 grams fat (3 grams saturated)
500 milligrams sodium
12 grams protein
3 grams fiber
Yikes! Pretty hefty for a sandwich; that’s almost 25% of a daily 2,000 calorie diet. And while the peanut butter has good sources of essential vitamins and minerals (including mono and polyunsaturated fats, dietary fiber, protein, and a variety of other macronutrients like Vitamin E and Niacin), this sandwich is otherwise almost entirely void of nutritional value.
How can we fix this? Well, there’s easy ways. Use a whole-grain wheat bread instead of a white bread. You can use a reduced sugar jelly (such as Welch’s Reduced Sugar Grape Jelly, with half the sugar of regular jelly), or an all-fruit spread (such as Polaner All-Fruit), which uses pear and grape juice concentrate for sweetening instead of high-fructose corn syrup. And some will suggest you can use a reduced-fat peanut butter… but should you?
Skippy Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter has about 25% less fat than regular peanut butter, it’s true. However, it’s been replaced by malodextrin, which is a carbo
hydrate that’s often used as a filler in cheap, processed foods. The worst part is that the caloric difference only amounts to about ten calories a serving. So, you’re trading that healthy, mono and polyunsaturated fats for nutritionally-void carbohydrates instead. Besides, regular peanut butter tastes better. So, while changing the bread and jelly will help you build a better sandwich, changing the peanut butter won’t.
Have you ever had a glass of vegetable oil, and thought to yourself, gee, I’d love to pour this vegetable oil over my food, but there’s something missing… what could that be? If you answer to that question was “egg yolks”, congratulations, you love mayonnaise! Mayonnaise is one of the most fattening and nutritionally deficient condiments in existence today, weighing in at an average of 105 calories per tablespoon, which includes a whopping 11 grams of fat- or almost 20% of your recommended daily intake. And that’s per tablespoon, folks, tablespoon– or, in other words, about half an ounce.
Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon (12.5 grams)
10 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated)
Now, there are nine calories in every gram of fat… which means that 100% of the calories in this mayonnaise come from fat. Let me say that again- mayonnaise is a hundred percent fat. Indeed, let me make a comparison here:
1 Tablespoon (12.8 grams)
13 grams fat (5 grams saturated, 1.5 grams polunsaturated, 6 grams monounsaturated)
I’ll bet the thought of smearing lard all over your turkey sandwich isn’t so appealing. Yet, defying better judgement, the lard appears to be almost “better” for you (inasmuch as anything that’s 100% fat can be “good”), as it contains high levels of poly and monounsaturated fats that the mayonnaise doesn’t have. But if you’d like to avoid the nutritional defecit of either lard and full-fleged mayonnaise, try mayonnaise blended with olive oil.
Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise with Bertoli Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon (15 grams)
5 grams fat (0.5 grams saturated, 2.5 grams polyunsaturated, 1.5 grams monounsaturated)
Blending the mayonnaise with olive oil helps add “good” unsaturated fats to it, and significantly lowers caloric punch to about half of regular mayonnaise- from a slightly-larger serving size!