Health & Wellbeing

The #UniLife diet: tried and tested

Nadene Budden discovers there’s way more to typical students food than meets the eye, and it’s not pretty.

Back in April, Yak explored how to live and eat healthy on a student budget. This month we’re back for more, this time covering the flipside: what are the health benefits of stereotypical student foods? Nutrition and Dietetics graduate-cum-PhD candidate Hannah Brown is here to give the lowdown on what exactly goes into those deliciously convenient foods. Time to bring out the main offenders.


Delicious, wonderful pizza. Who knew there could be any wrong in your $5 value price tag? Well, apparently, there’s a lot.

“They’re high in energy, high in salt, hardly any vegetables unless you get vegetarian”, Brown said. Meatlovers pizzas are particular offenders. Although people tend to need fat and sodium in their diets, the sodium levels in takeaway pizzas are often so high it can become quite easy to max out the daily intake in one sitting.

According to the Heart Foundation, the recommended maximum intake of sodium is 2300mg – roughly a teaspoon – per day. With younger people, including children, it should be even less.

Noodles, Mac & Cheese and other convenience foods

The convenience in convenience foods is that they’re ready after two minutes in a microwave, but what else are they good for? “They’re what dieticians call ‘empty calories’”, Brown said. This means the food is high in energy, calories and fat, and that’s where the nutritional value ends.

The noodles in two minute noodles and the pasta in mac and cheese aren’t inherently evil, “…when you add the sauce is where a lot of the nasty stuff comes in”, Brown said. Once again, the salt levels rise, along with the introduction of preservatives that come with reconstituted, powdered flavour.

These foods are low in both vegetable content and protein, meaning the people eating them are likely to get hungry again quickly. “If you have a big day of classes and you have that for lunch, you’re going to be hungry in about an hour.”

“They’re generally just not a good option and they make you feel like crap.”

Energy drinks

Coffee’s super-strength sibling, the seemingly perfect partner to 3am study sessions. Caffeine is famous for bringing energy back into the drinker’s system, but it can become very dangerous when drunk at excessive levels.

“There are really, really high amounts of caffeine in these drinks – more than most young people would need in a day”, Brown said. According to the Australian Drug Foundation, one particular energy drink contains more than two times the amount of caffeine than a standard bottle of cola soft drink.

Health effects of drinking excess energy drinks (and other forms of caffeine) include insomnia, headaches, vomiting, rapid heart rate and, in severe cases, heart palpitations.

Thinking of grabbing one just to get your head into the books? Think again. “Often they’ll make you so buzzed out that you can’t concentrate.” Caffeine also causes dehydration, with the insomnia possibly leading to even more tiredness.

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol puts the body under more stress than just the caffeine intake would alone. The alcohol relieves the brain from registering any pain coming from the rest of the body.

“It’s like if you have five cups of coffee a day for a really long time. You build up a resistance, so then you need more”, said Brown.

These foods, of course, can be consumed in moderation but they should be occasional foods only. Students should maintain a balanced diet, making sure to eat a wide range of foods to keep up their nutrition levels. The addictive components of sugar and caffeine often found in the cheap, conveniently packaged foods can cause a cycle of unhealthy eating.


Feature image by Jackie Brock. Jackie is studying Visual Communication at the University of Newcastle.


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