Things Nutrition Experts Wish College Students Knew

Trying to stave off the dreaded "freshman 15"? Here are some simple but effective tips to start implementing in your daily routine. 

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Healthy Habits for Every Freshman to Master

College students look forward to flexing their independence when away at school, but with that freedom can come bad habits and unwanted calories. Avoid the dreaded "freshman 15" by following these tips from nutrition aficionados.

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Look Out for Trans Fats

Registered dietitian and nutrition professor Trish Casey warns her students to be on the lookout for unhealthy fat from processed junk foods. "Be aware of hidden trans fats! So many prepackaged products, such as cookies, cakes, pies and even popcorn and pancake mix, can contain hidden trans fats," she says. "Make sure you check out the ingredients list. If it says 'partially hydrogenated __ oil' or 'hydrogenated __ oil,' this is something you want to stay away from."

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Shop Around

Peruse the dining hall and take advantage of the various options. Instead of getting into a rut of eating the same foods day after day, hit up multiple stations — and don't skip the salad bar!

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Find Balance

Like many aspects of college life, meals must strike a balance. Exercise physiologist and Gabbi Berkow suggests: "Make sure you eat every three to five hours, and combine healthy carbs (fruit, veggies, whole grains), 20 to 30 grams of protein and some healthy fat every time you eat."

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Back Off from the Booze

Alcohol can be one of the worst offenders. One night of drinking can stack up to thousands of extra calories, and by the end of the semester you'll have tacked on several pounds. Furthermore, drinking to intoxication has effects that linger for days, affecting sleep, eating habits and academic performance. So pace yourself, drink water in between rounds, and take some nights off.

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Make Time

Crazy class and social schedules are a main factor in making poor diet choices. Childhood nutrition expert Jill Castle urges college students to pencil in times to eat instead of allowing meals to get lost in the shuffle: "Eat with a schedule in mind. This keeps appetite in check and helps to prevent extreme hunger and overeating. Aim for three-to-five-hour intervals between meals."

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Own It

College is all about responsibility, and that includes diet! Just because there's an endless supply of fried food in the dining hall doesn't mean you should eat it every day. Lindsey Pine, M.S., RDN, CSSD, CLT, weighs in: "I often hear students blaming the dining halls for the dreaded 'freshman 15,' but this is also the time when college students start drinking alcohol and may not be as physically active as they were in high school."

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Stop Skipping Breakfast

In college, breakfast is more important than ever. Registered dietitian Jerlyn Jones puts it simply: "Avoid weight gain by making breakfast a priority." Choose nutrient-dense options like eggs, oatmeal, yogurt and whole-grain cereal to keep energy levels high through all those morning classes.

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Say "So Long" to Soda

With 15 to 20 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-fluid-ounce bottle, the calories from soda can pile up quickly. "Avoid drinking soda at meals — [just because there's] a soda fountain in the cafeteria doesn't mean you need to drink it. Replace soda with seltzer or water," says Tava Sternberg, R.D., LDN.

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