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February 18, 2016

Mission Nutrition

Common student woes can come down to questions of poor nutrition.

Courtesy of Sarah Komanapalli

Scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon, and sugary cereals are Bartlett’s breakfast staples. Dinner has a little more variation, offering an assortment of entrées drenched in oil and coated in salt. But who cares? We’re just busy college kids, wanting to get in and out of the dining hall, free from the burden of cooking. Some of us have class from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. multiple times a week, so there isn’t much time to pay attention to scary nutrition facts like these: one serving of Bartlett’s eggs contains 25 percent of your recommended daily sodium intake, and one cup of Cocoa Puffs, offered daily in the dining hall, contains 14 grams of sugar, which is over half of the recommended 25 grams of added sugar that women should consume in a day. Flouting nutrition facts and recommendations can lead to poor mental and physical health. Ever wonder why college kids are constantly lethargic, moody, and unmotivated?

I struggled with digestive issues my entire life until going gluten-free three years ago, which cleared up the eczema on my hands after three days. Once I kicked dairy and processed sugars from my diet, my forehead acne cleared up within two days. But when I go through the daily grind of college life, I find it really difficult to keep up a healthy diet, especially when the dining halls have such limited healthy options. I also don’t have time to do the kind of research I did in high school, which helped me figure out that the foods I was putting in my body were the source of all of my problems.

In the Reg, I watch people drink Coca-Cola and sugary fruit drinks without thinking twice. One can of Coke isn’t going to kill you, but many of us have consistently poor diets—that’s just part of college life. It even gets to the point where we pride ourselves on how poorly we eat. Two a.m. Reg-goers consume Bart Mart staple foods, which often consist of Sour Patch Kids, Doritos, and those problematically delicious chocolate-covered peanuts. Add a Red Bull to get you through the night, and you’re looking at 72 grams of sugar in one late-night snack. As the quarter rolls on and you’re feeling a little more anxious and a little more depressed than usual, it’s not just your busy schedule or your relationship or your internship woes making you feel this way. Sugar is contributing to your unhappiness, and the school doesn’t really offer any nutritional awareness programs, posters, or workshops to highlight this.

Recent studies have shown that the consumption of refined sugar triggers chronic inflammation in your body, negatively affecting your immune system and brain. Inflammation is linked to a greater risk of depression, along with a slew of other problems like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

As you run from class to class and rush to the dining hall, what are your options? You can head to the on-campus vending machines and get a bag of baked Lays and a Coca-Cola, but that bottle alone has a whopping 65 grams of sugar. You drink it, get a little bit of a sugar high, and then come crashing down in your next lecture. It’s no surprise that so many of us are chronically tired, but we blame it on our never-ending schedules and lack of sleep. We cover up this fatigue with the overconsumption of caffeine, and the cycle persists. So why doesn’t UChicago offer more resources to help students become more aware of the importance of nutrition?

On the Dining webpage, the University claims to have an on-site dietitian for nutrition consultations, but where does he or she hide? Sure, we offer vegetable dishes, but they’re either lathered in oil or packed with sodium. We need to be more educated about how we’re harming our bodies by the food we’re putting in them, and the University should play an active role in that education.

Brooke White is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.

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