A student lifestyle can be hectic, and creating healthy food is often the last thing on a student’s mind when they come back from a long day spent in lectures. I spoke to nutritionist Naomi Mead to discuss the importance of healthy food to your overall wellbeing and get her tips on what foods to include as part of a healthy and balanced diet.
Hi Naomi! Thank you for agreeing to talk with Wessex Scene. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you began your journey as a nutritionist?
Hi there! Yes of course. First and foremost, I love food, and every job I have had (from managing a restaurant, to working for a food sustainability charity) has involved food in some shape or form! I retrained as a Nutritional Therapist 6 years ago, inspired largely by my personal experience of the power of good, nutritious food on my own health and wellbeing. Nutrition perfectly combines my interests in food and human science, and I love helping people to realise that what they eat can profoundly affect how they feel.
A student lifestyle can be very busy, and often students don’t think they have the time to produce healthy meals. What advice would you give to students who want to cook healthily but don’t feel they have time?
Most importantly- it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive! These are two very common misconceptions about healthy eating. My top pieces of advice for a student trying to make their diet healthier would be this:
- Make small, gradual changes that you are able to maintain e.g. make sure each meal includes at least one green vegetable, swap white pasta for brown pasta etc.
- Focus less on the foods you are trying to give up, and more on getting healthier foods into your diet. Making a spag bol? Add a tin of lentils into it for extra protein, fibre and B vitamins (and it will also go much further!)
- If you have a few days of not eating well, don’t feel bad or guilty, just get back on track at your next meal!
If you had to recommend five foods that you would consider to be brain food, what would they be?
1) Salmon is rich in omega-3 “good” fats which provide many benefits to the brain, including enhanced learning and memory.
2) Egg yolks are rich with choline, a B vitamin which aids memory and brain function.
3) Walnuts resembles a small brain, have you ever noticed? Walnuts contain an antioxidant called ellagic acid, which helps to protect the brain from ageing.
4) Water, if you’re feeling foggy headed, it may be that a glass of water is what you need! Dehydration is one of the leading causes of fatigue, and water is a hugely underestimated brain booster.
5 ) And finally, bananas. The combination of carbohydrate, tryptophan and vitamin B6 found in bananas are required for the production of the mood-boosting, “happy hormone” in the brain, serotonin.
The day of a big exam arrives. What would be the best breakfast for optimum concentration during the day?
What you eat for brekkie is important for setting your blood-sugar pattern and energy levels for the rest of the day. Don’t be tempted to just grab a coffee and a croissant on the way to your exam, you need to opt for a breakfast that combines some complex carbs with a good source of protein, for a steady and sustained energy release. Options include: porridge topped with nuts and fruit, wholegrain toast with eggs, or a protein-rich breakfast smoothie.
What is your go-to quick, easy, healthy dish?
I’ve got lots! What I always try to do when I cook is to make extra, and then freeze the leftovers…that way I always have a healthy meal, even on the days I don’t feel like cooking. If I’ve got a bit of time, I will make a big batch of spinach, chickpea and sweet potato curry which I serve with brown rice, or stuffed into wholemeal pittas. If I’ve only got 10 minutes, smashed avocado and scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast is my go-to!
What is a great healthy snack that can act as a replacement for a bar of chocolate or slice of cake?
For a healthy and delicious sweet treat, blend 4 very ripe bananas that have been peeled, sliced and frozen for at least 2 hours, with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. It makes the most delicious banana and peanut butter ice cream- with no added sugar needed!
How important do you consider food to be to your overall wellbeing? There’s been a lot of focus in the media at the moment on ‘super foods’ and the power that certain foods have on certain parts of the body. Is this an idea that you follow and work with?
I believe that a healthy and balanced diet is absolutely essential for good health. But this isn’t about eating certain “superfoods’, it’s about eating lots of variety- plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, heathy fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, fish), beans, pulses, lean meat and fish and dairy. And keeping junk food, processed meals and sugary snacks to a minimum. Being healthy is also about enjoying food, and enjoying cooking!
There we have it. 6 simple and easy ways to improve your diet, without having to spend hours in the kitchen. Thank you Naomi, it was a pleasure speaking with you!
Naomi Mead is a recognised nutritionist, has contributed recently to a food info graphic, and regularly writes nutrition articles for Cosmopolitan.