Eating healthy and avoiding winter weight when stressed.
by Lea Brayton
The all-you-can-eat allure of the dining halls heralds endless amounts of cheese sticks and a well-stocked ice cream machine, making it easy for anyone with a meal plan (and an appetite) to overindulge—especially during the stress of mid-terms and finals weeks.
Studies show we reach for comfort foods and gain weight when stressed, but that doesn’t mean we have to. Trying new, healthy alternatives can be rewarding for your waistline and your study habits, keeping you as physically fit as you are mentally. Stock the fridge and pantry with these healthy and affordable snacks to help you stay focused and fit during the winter season, and avoid that desperate trip to Mickey D’s.
Instead of energy or coffee drinks:
Green Tea—Proven to improve brain function and physical performance, this stimulant is chocked full of amino acids and antioxidants that help repair cell damage… say, from too many shots at the R Bar last night. Drink it hot or cold, and add lemon or a small amount of honey for flavor.
Voke Tabs—Locally produced in Bozeman, Voke Tabs are made of just three ingredients: guarana berry for caffeine, acerola cherry for vitamin C, and caffeine from tea leaves. These little guys pack as much punch as a full can of Red Bull, and improve concentration.
Cranberry Juice—Cranberry juice is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and it’s known to stave off infection, relieve stress, and detox the body. Don’t mix up this sour drink with cranberry cocktail, which can be packed with sugar.
Senior Tip: It’s easy to confuse hunger for thirst, so keep a water bottle on your desk and make sure to drink as you cram. Staying hydrated will also keep you awake!
Instead of potato chips, Cheez-its, or Doritos:
Kale chips—These easy-to-make dried “chips” are much lower in calories than potato chips, and high in potassium so they keep your immune system healthy during stressful periods. Play around with flavors like salt and vinegar or dill, and enjoy that crispy kale-crunch.
Air-popped popcorn—A deliciously simple snack, popcorn is a whole grain, with fiber and antioxidants. We recommend air-popping to avoid the added butter, salt, and oils of microwaveable popcorn, and the sugar of kettle corn. Sprinkle smoked paprika on top, or mix in chopped chives.
Roasted chickpeas—Packed with protein, roasted chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are one of most addictive healthy foods around, and for under a dollar a can, they’re super affordable. Drain, rinse and dry, toss peas in a small amount of olive oil, add spices (we recommend Cajun style), and roast under high heat (350 F) until crispy.
Jerky—High in protein and super convenient, beef jerky can be a great finger-food between meals. Look for brands like Krave, that are low in sodium, preservatives, and fat to keep it healthy. Pair it with a low-fat cheese like mozzarella for a filling mid-day snack.
Senior Tip: Keep snacks separate from the desk, so your study area is for only that purpose. You can get up to go grab a snack when you knock out a page of that literature paper, or 10 calculus problems—but make sure you’re actually hungry.
Instead of dips and fattening processed spreads:
*Hummus with veggies—Low in calories, and certainly delicious, hummus is a great study snack. You can even make your own (see recipe). Try dipping with some of these super-veggies to pack in even more nutrition for your study session:
- Cucumbers—This crisp veggie contains an anti-inflammatory that improves memory and protects your nerve cells.
- Carrots—Filled with fiber and potassium, carrots are a vasodilator so they bring your skyrocketing blood pressure down.
- Grape tomatoes—High in vitamin C, grape tomatoes promote antioxidant activity in your body and fight off certain types of cancer.
- Celery—A super low-calorie snack, the magnesium in celery soothes the nervous system and calms your during high-stress periods.
Almond butter with fruit—Lower in fat content, sugar, and oil than most peanut butters, almond butter is an all-around better choice. It’s high in iron, vitamin E, and magnesium, which boost your metabolism and keep you feeling full. Try dipping with these fruits: (or eating by the spoonful)
- Apples—An apple gives your body as much energy as a cup of coffee, without the heartburn. Apple’s antioxidants fight aging in the brain, and the extra fiber keeps you full and able to study on, dude.
- Bananas—Stressed and depressed from hitting the books? Have a banana to make you happy! They contain serotonin (the chemical that balances your mood), so you smile as you learn. They’re also high in potassium which makes you more alert, vitamin B-6, and iron. Eat this yellow miracle food before an exam and find yourself relaxed and ready to ace it.
Greek yogurt with berries—Packed with probiotics to help kick bacteria’s ass and strengthen your immune system, Greek yogurt is an excellent snack for college students constantly exposed to germs. Eat plain or combine in a smoothie with berries and chia or flax seed, if you dare.
- Blueberries—Often called the world’s healthiest food, blueberries are high in vitamin C and antioxidants that support cognitive health so you don’t burn out while on the study grind.
- Blackberries—These plump berries keep your brain alert and clear, and their vitamin K content aids in muscle relaxation to keep you chill under pressure.
Senior Tip: Carrots are a poor choice for third-floor library snacking. Don’t be that guy.
Instead of candies:
Dried apricots—Biting into a dried apricot is like the first tear into Swedish Fish, but 1,000 times more rewarding. Full of potassium and fiber, this sweet and healthy fruit is a “dessert” that you won’t feel bad munching.
Mandarin oranges—There’s nothing more convenient than popping a Cutie into your backpack before heading to the library. Each sweet slice is bursting with calcium and fiber, and lowers cholesterol. Try dipping these in dark chocolate.
Frozen grapes—Frozen grapes are a sweet treat that helps you meet your calcium, vitamin C, and protein needs. Pop a few off the vine to savor a healthy and refreshing snack. Bonus—the chill from the grape keeps you alert!
Fruit leather—Pureed, layered, and then dried, fruit leather is a good way to bring fruit on-the-go. And, since it tastes more like a fruit roll-up than actual fruit, you can trick all your friends into eating a healthy snack, too.
Senior Tip: Studying at the Co-op means you have access to lots of different healthy, local food options and the walk home or back to campus will give you a study break and a little fresh air to stay relaxed.
Instead of ice-cream and cakes:
Frozen bananas—We’ve already talked about what bad-asses bananas are. Try putting brown bananas in the freezer, and pureeing a few with a tablespoon of almond or peanut butter for a treat very much like ice-cream. Or, peel and dip a banana in honey and roll it in crushed nuts, then freeze it to enjoy later for a mouthwatering study break.
Cinnamon applesauce—A cup of cinnamon applesauce (best when chunky) is low in calories if unsweetened, and high in protein and fiber. Warmed applesauce is as comforting as a hot mug of tea, but even more delicious when it’s served with a cold scoop of frozen yogurt.
Senior Tip: It’s tempting to eat when bored, or as a distraction from studying. Try to eat on a schedule—a small snack every few hours to keep you fueled without letting you get hungry enough to binge on Pickle Barrel and barbecue potato chips.
Instead of microwavable foods, frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, or Hot Pockets:
Peppered avocado with hard-boiled egg—Avocados are packed with healthy fats and fiber, and this creamy fruit is a filling alternative for a frozen meal. Simply slice in half, remove the pit, and fill the divot with a halved hard-boiled egg. Top with black pepper and salt.
*Baked parsnip fries—More of a desert than they are a meal, these “fries” are only a little more time consuming than baking a frozen pizza. Get the full recipe to enjoy these next time you’re studying for that e-chem exam.
Tuna and whole-grain crackers—Impress your girlfriend with tuna salad study “sandwiches” on whole-grain crackers for a quick but satisfying meal to keep you full while you cram. Just replace the mayo with plain Greek yogurt to keep this protein-packed snack healthy.
Senior Tip: It’s easy to reach for something quick and convenient when under pressure to get work done, but taking a small break to cook a healthy meal can help your body de-stress and get the nutrients it needs to keep chugging along. You can’t live on ramen and beer forever, despite what your roommate thinks.
With all these snacks available at Town and Country, the Co-op, the Bozeman Winter Farmers’ Market, and other area grocery stores, there’s no reason not to keep a few on hand for your next study session.
*Recipe for at-home hummus: Shape magazine has an excellent guide to easy at-home hummus. We recommend the Classic, but instead of tahini, which can be expensive, just use plain Greek yogurt!
*Recipe for parsnip fries: There is nothing more delicious than hot-from-the-oven fries—especially when they’re covered in natural peanut butter instead of salt and oil.