Spotlight on: College Students’ Eating and Dental Hygiene Habits

Cheese quesadilla“I have six tests this week so I’ve combined all my meals into a massive one around lunchtime called ‘Linnerfast.’”

“Instead of brushing I take my gum with my finger and rub it across my teeth.” “YOLO.”

If you’ve found yourself saying any of these things lately, it might be time to adjust your eating health habits. In college, we tend to shift our attention toward book work and red cups, leaving our eating schedule out to dry. Yet to ace those finals (or come close) and stay up till dawn partying with a toga and laurels, you have to maintain long-lasting energy. Junk food is actually counterproductive. It gives you short-term energy from simple carbohydrates that leave you feeling sluggish and hungry. Notice the marinara sauce congealed on your chin come dawn – those late-night pizza deliveries are a great way to tack on the freshman fifteen in no time. In fact, one might say, the freshman fifteen is for underachievers. Why not go thirty? Wrong, Sir. Sugary foods don’t make the grade.

Since oral health and overall wellbeing are like the overlapping center of a Venn diagram, it’s important to look at how eating habits affect both our mouth and body. You don’t have to be perfect, but take a mental note about what you’re ingesting. This stuff directly affects you and your ability to perform. Indeed, it can be tricky with a floor full of friends and a limiting meal plan, but it can be done.

Here’s a cheat sheet of healthy alternatives to replace your rigid microwaveable mac ‘n’ cheese and cereal diet:

Breakfast
Many undergrads skip the most important meal of the day. But even if you’re running out the door to your first class, there are some good options. A toasted English muffin with peanut butter is cheap, easy and packed with protein to help you power through the day. A piece of fresh fruit such as an apple or banana means no fuss, no muss. They’re healthy and transportable – great for walking to class. Plus, apples are beyond good for your oral health. The fiber-rich skin and crunch effect help remove dental plaque and stains from the teeth. Another tasty meal is scrambled eggs, which are nutrient-dense – vitamins and minerals including choline and selenium are found in them – and protein-laden.

Lunch
For lunch, salads make a knockout alternative. Throw a handful of sliced tomatoes, red peppers, grated cheese – which protects teeth enamel – and chicken. If you’re aiming to stay slim, these crunchy greens are perfect. Believe it or not, quesadillas can be healthy as well. Make sure you use whole grain pita, and preserve the authentic Mexican flavor by lowering the amount of cheese and adding vegetables, including peppers, tomatoes, onions and lettuce, to the recipe. Try to limit extras – we’re looking at you, sour cream. A tasty turkey sandwich will also do the trick if it’s brimming with fresh greens and tomatoes.

Dinner
Ah, it’s hard to go wrong with old-fashioned spaghetti. Use whole wheat pasta, a leaner cut of ground beef, mushrooms and low-fat cheese to optimize nutritional value. If the third day of spaghetti leftovers isn’t floating your boat, switch to some grilled chicken, which is a good source of protein, carbohydrates and vitamins. Add a little flare in your evening routine with a stir-fry that includes red bell peppers and black beans.

Often, dorms have community kitchens either for each hall or for the building to share. Make cooking a communal experience by bringing a few friends to cook dinner together. If no one knows how to cook, spend 2.5 seconds looking up an easy recipe online. Distancing yourself from your textbooks for an hour will also help your brain refuel and recharge.

Oral Hygiene
No one wants to kiss a smelly mouth. Brush your teeth following the “two and two” rule: twice a day for two minutes each time. If that seems like an eternity during which you could be advancing your rank in Halo, hum your favorite song while you brush. Flossing once a day is important. It shouldn’t be an adjunct to your routine; it should be part of your routine. To get ready to paint the town, swish around some alcohol-free mouthwash to rinse out dental plaque and bacteria.

Exercise
Exercise frequently. Not only will it clear your mind and shave off that beer belly, it actually cuts down on stress and gives you more energy! Many people believe stress is a key trigger of canker sores, the little non-contagious ulcers in your mouth, so reducing your anxiety can help eliminate canker sores. Keep in mind, exercise makes you feel physically better. That means that working out the day before a test will likely give you a great night’s sleep and leave you feeling recharged and ready to go. You don’t have to look like the bicep-bigger-than-your-head football players who lift next to you in the gym to stay fit. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that college students get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week.

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