Column: Why good nutrition should be more of a priority for college students

College students’ constant consumption of processed foods is worse for their health than they realize.

Kyleigh Polston is a freshman journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life for The Maneater.

College students are busy. If you have any doubt this is true, just take a stroll through MU’s campus and see for yourself the many sleep deprived students that are thoroughly stressed out by the last few weeks of classes.

As a result, instant ramen and meal-replacement bars have become a constant in the typical diet of most college students.

Students are more likely to shy away from cooking or making a trip to the grocery store because making food takes time and not only to just prepare. It is even more difficult and time consuming to sort out the healthy stuff from the not so healthy stuff.

As technology advances, our goal seems to be to search for the next way to make life just a little more convenient. Unsurprisingly, food has been one of the things at the center of this movement.

Processed food is considered to be any food that is altered in some way during preparation to make them more convenient, shelf-stable and/or more tasty for consumers.

From canned foods in the 1920s to frozen pizzas in the 1980s, processed foods have become a regular and all too convenient part of our diets. In fact, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, more than half of the diet of an average American consists of processed foods.

Along with saving a bit of time and money from the convenience of processed foods, it has also contributed to the development of many health issues, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease due to a few different reasons.

The fact that heavily processed foods are often loaded with added sugar, sodium and fat is one of the big reasons consuming processed foods is so bad for you.

Sugar or high fructose corn syrup is known to have horrible effects on your metabolism and can lead to a plethora of harmful effects. Its consumption is often associated with heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.

More often than not people aren’t loading their coffee with sugar, but are actually getting it from processed foods.

In fact, a recent study done by researchers at the University of São Paulo found that processed foods were responsible for nearly 90 percent of the added sugars in an average American diet.

Sodium is also another problem-causer. Our bodies need a certain amount of salt to function properly, but consuming too much salt and increasing your sodium levels can raise your risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Many processed foods contain an abundance of salt, often to improve their taste, increase their shelf-life or for texture purposes.

Fat, or more specifically dangerous trans fats are also common in processed foods. Manufacturers use a process called hydrogenation on seed or vegetable oil, which then turns into trans fats. This process is what makes many processed foods cheap and long-lasting.

Consuming trans fats is extremely bad for your body, can lead to many different health issues and can cause inflammation and oxidation in your body.

Studies have shown that the reason many manufacturers purposely include harmful amounts of these ingredients is to help sell more of their product. This is all because of our brain’s reward system.

Our bodies tend to crave foods that are sweet, salty and fatty because that is the food that contains energy and nutrients that we need for survival. Adding large amounts to their products is what helps make them so appealing to us, and what also tends to make most of us overeat.

Along with overeating, you can even become addicted to all this junk. The idea that your body is rewarding itself with all these processed foods is what can get you addicted to the point that you can no longer control how much you consume.

Food addiction involves many of the same neurotransmitters and many of the same symptoms that are nearly identical to those that you would have if you were addicted to drugs.

So, even though college students now have an excuse for their craving of processed foods, besides them being so convenient, that doesn’t make them any better for your health.

Bottom line, most processed foods are not good for you.

Investing yourself into finding healthier alternatives or less processed foods will be worth it in the long run. Try substituting your ramen for whole wheat pasta, or instead of calorie packed chips stock up on Snapea Crisps from Emporium right on campus.

If you want to be able to do anything with that degree you are working so hard for, it’s time to stop eating those microwave ramen cups and drive-thru hamburgers, and start making healthier eating choices.

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