The recipient of the Luna Regina Healthy Eating Scholarship has now been selected. Congratulations to
from the University of Rochester, New York!
And thank you to all applicants!
We have gone through hundreds of essays from highly qualified applicants from colleges from the United States and all over the world. We were overwhelmed by your knowledge of health and nutrition, as well as stories of your personal journeys to achieve well being through a healthy diet.
Your stories truly inspire us.
We wish you health and good luck in your studies!
Luna Regina Healthy Eating Scholarship Committee
Health and fitness industries proclaim countless “magic formulas” and “scientific breakthroughs,” but one of the most fool-proof tricks to achieving sustainable wellness is often overlooked. What is this trick to bettering one’s emotional, mental, and physical health? It is not a mysterious pill or rigorous cleansing routine, but choosing a healthy diet. Studies show how food choices directly influence all aspects of the body, from the brain to the heart. This report explores why a healthy diet is essential to maintaining wellness.
That old saying, “you are what you eat,” is truer than one might expect. In reality, food choice strongly impacts mental health, producing short and long-term effects. According to preventative medicine specialist Dr. Roxanne Sukol, the brain requires real, nourishing foods to function and grow, as they fuel “protein-building blocks, enzymes, brain tissue, and neurotransmitters.” To contrast, foods containing saturated fats and refined sugars produce the opposite effect, slowing brain processes. (Miller 2015) Such effects are immediate; a student’s breakfast could impact their performance on an afternoon exam. Furthermore, a history of poor food choices can lead to chronic inflammation, which is a known factor of Alzheimer's disease. Foods that tend to contribute to inflammation include “white bread, french fries, red meat, sugary beverages, and margarine.” (Donovan 2016)
Just as food choice that can affect the brain, it is a significant factor of mood and self-esteem. As established, real, nourishing foods provide clarity of the mind, which in turn can encourage positive body image, increase self-confidence, and stabilize mood. The link between self-esteem and nutrition is undeniable, according to Shirley W. Kaplan, a psychologist from the American Nutrition Association. (1987) Another prevalent consequent of diet choice can be stress. When one overeats – defined as consuming a greater quantity of calories than one expends – stress can occur due to weight gain or health complications. Similar complications can occur due to undereating. A balanced diet is necessary for the body to produce “feel-good chemicals,” according to Health and Fitness for Life. (Carroll-Cob & Liguori 2013) Therefore, an individual who deals with chronic stress can both reduce their stress and improve their ability to cope with it, simply by following a healthy diet.
Finally, a nourishing, balanced diet produces physical benefits, alongside mental and emotional ones. These include improved performance levels – increased speed, endurance, and coordination – which improve the quality and efficiency of one’s daily life. Activities such as housework, school, and exercise can become more manageable when one is powered by plenty of nutrients, and not inhibited by the problem-causing ingredients such as refined sugars and saturated fats. (Renter 2015) As far as long-term benefits, a healthy diet can increase life expectancy. This is because food choices help one maintain a healthy weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, reducing one’s risk of contracting threatening diseases such as diabetes and cancer. (Donovan 2016)
Food choice is truly the best “magic formula” to produce real, sustainable wellness. Diet impacts every area of one’s health: mental, emotional, and physical. These implications can be advantageous, such as improved clarity of mind, brain growth, mood, stress management, ability to perform daily tasks, and longevity. Just as nutrient-rich, natural foods can help the body, foods high in saturated fats and refined sugars can produce reverse effects. The acknowledgement that one’s food choice can either significantly help or harm one’s health is a fantastic first-step towards bettering one’s diet.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet has always been a focus in my life, but especially when I was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. Not only did years of healthy eating give me a good foundation to withstand the ravages of the disease, surgery, and chemotherapy, it was critical in getting through the day, hour by hour as a functional person.
I was fit and active in karate and swimming, so when I suddenly found myself with excruciating leg pain and swelling nobody was looking for ovarian cancer. It took 6 months of suffering and 8 doctors to find the disease known as the “silent killer”. Surgery and chemotherapy came next, with all the lovely side effects. At this kind of low point, many feel they have no power to improve their situation. However, we still have control over our nutrition. I am not a doctor, and any actions should always be discussed with your physician. This is my personal story.
The first, ever present issue that needed addressing was the crushing fatigue that comes with chemo. The fix? I began the day with protein: 2 eggs every day with breakfast was a must, else I would run out of gas for the rest of the day. Next I ate something nutritious every two hours after that. Several small meals/snacks is what I needed. I instantly felt more energy after eating a bowl of homemade vegetable soup or pumpkin soup.
Next on the list of symptoms, nausea, was a constant challenge. I made sure a carbohydrate was always available. Foods like crackers and whole grain muffins, made me feel better. Sometimes just a couple of bites was all it took for relief. I never let my stomach get empty. Chemo made my digestive system slow down too, so I increased my fruits and fiber.
I built a special diet for chemo days designed to support me through the 5-6 hour treatments. I brought in homemade chili to the hospital and ate it right there. People were astounded, because it was not a normal food chemo patients felt like eating. The chili had the protein, veggies, and broth which helped with both nausea and endurance, and the beans seemed to help clear my head from the fog and dizziness caused by my medications and treatments.
Like many people, my taste buds were affected by chemo therapy. Tomatoes and other foods were morphed into hideous flavors, and I could hardly taste salt or citrus. While I was prepared for my taste buds to change, I also experienced painful canker sores that would erupt in my mouth while I ate. I found that coating my tongue and mouth with olive oil before eating helped prevent these cold sores. Even better, by using the olive oil, my taste buds regained their function significantly!
As I progressed from chemo to recovery, I wanted to share my experience with everyone. Now I provide comfort and encouragement to other people through my book, The Rope: My Journey Through Cancer, food blog www.ExceptionalComfort.blogspot.com, and cookbook, Comfort Food Cookbook. I wanted to show how making meals from scratch using carefully chosen, healthy, ingredients help make us feel good all the time, not just when we are sick. Healthy eating is important because it is powerful, healing, and makes us feel well. When we feel well, we have the courage to do great things!
I moved to the South of the United States from New England as a college freshman, ready to take on the world. I committed to a college ministry, made friends, and enthusiastically threw myself into my degree. The culture shock of moving from the North to the South was offset largely by some extended family living nearby and by my own love for adventure. However, there was one area I constantly felt overwhelmed in: food and diet.
I grew up in a family that ate organic, unprocessed foods. I knew how to cook from scratch, how to find the freshest food, and how to make sure I was being nourished by what I ate. Therefore, when I went to my college cafeteria for the first time and looked around me, I felt like a foreigner lost in a sea of Velveeta and casseroles. The only green thing in sight was the bagged lettuce in the salad bar. Everything else seemed canned, processed, and dripping with grease. Was this where I was supposed to eat? How could they expect me to be nourished enough to study well?
Other worries in my life soon took over, and I ate what was served. My roommates jokingly called me a hippie when I ate hummus or talked about whole grains. That year, I was introduced to Velveeta, Sonic drive-through, and gravy served on everything. Although I constantly felt unsatisfied and unhealthy -- constantly craving better food -- I was determined I would use the meal plan I’d spent money for. I would go home for the summer, I told myself, and could eat a healthy diet then.
I traveled home for the summer and began working full time as a barn worker and a nanny. It was a full schedule and I loved it -- although I noticed my stamina was down and I often felt sick and flu-like in the evenings. I brushed it off as just overwork, and, by the middle of the summer, most of the symptoms had disappeared.
However, when I returned to school and began eating a cafeteria diet again, I noticed myself getting sick more and more often. I was extremely fatigued. I often had chills and felt faint in the evenings. I suffered from intense brain fog and memory loss. One Monday I even forgot to go to class, a complete anomaly for me. Concerned, I went to the doctor, but he was as confused as I was and the blood tests he prescribed came back negative. My health continued to deteriorate. I started having to cancel important meetings in the evenings and being unable to fulfill obligations for the freshmen I mentored. At one point, doing laundry on a Saturday exhausted me so much I had to sleep for the rest of the weekend in order to be ready for Monday classes. I never slept during the day, and my roommates were worried.
After a long discussion with my doctor about my diet, I decided that eating in the cafeteria would no longer suffice. Although skeptical about whether a healthier diet would help -- and concerned about financing a different diet -- I knew my body was starving for nutrients and eating well would certainly help with whatever illness was going on. Determined to make a change, I pulled out my hot plate and started cooking.
I tossed together pans of kale and sweet potatoes for lunches. I scoured store shelves for legumes, whole grains, fresh vegetables, and protein-rich meats. I spent evenings stirring saucepans of curried quinoa and put a fruit bowl in my living room. When organic greens went on sale at the store, I carried them home triumphantly. My roommates would come bursting through the door as I cooked with exclamations of, “Wow, what is that? That smells amazing!” I would offer them bowls of what I’d concocted. Often, they would look at me with skepticism. You put a egg in a bowl of veggies? Why… would you do that? But after they’d eaten what I’d offered, their eyes would light up and they would agreed with me, “Wow, that’s so good!” As they introduced me to the comforts of queso and beans, I introduced them to scratch meals and refrigerator oatmeal. We spent evenings gathered in our makeshift dorm kitchen stirring saucepans, swapping stories, and building memories.
Gradually, I felt my health improving. My energy increased. My brain fog disappeared and my memory grew stronger. While before cleaning my room had been enough to keep me on the couch for the rest of the weekend, I could now confidently call up friends on weekday evenings and say, “Let’s go for a run tonight!” I started implementing routines for resting and refueling each day, and could now savor my last few months with my freshmen mentees and finish strong in my classes. Even though I have more testing to undergo this summer to ensure my body is remaining healthy, a healthy diet gave me back my life that year.
Although it was a hard lesson learned, eating a healthy diet is important to me because food is such a powerful tool. It has the power to create community through soothing the soul, setting cultures apart, and making foreigners into friends. As I learned about healthy diets, my passion for food grew my community and helped me show love to the people I lived with. Friends who had bad days were offered dinner. As my suite cooked food together, we grew closer and our room became a hub of community for our friends. On Saturdays, I could make brunches for freshmen girls and make them feel cared for through cooking.
Most dear to my heart, a healthy diet is important to me because what I eat has the power to enhance my capabilities, make me feel alive, and give me the energy to be motivated. As I have found out, a poor diet can nearly incapacitate me. Our bodies literally become what we eat, and if I want mine to be strong and resilient, it needs me to be filling it with a nutritious diet. I want my body to be thriving in the years to come, and that starts with taking good care of it now.
As a college student, fellow students don’t always understand when I talk about health and the importance of diet. Maybe it’s too soon and they still think they can eat whatever they want and not pay the consequences. The other night as I was checking out a the grocery store, a group of my friends walked in. “What are you doing?” they called.
“Buying asparagus!” I replied, enthusiastically.
They laughed and yelled back,“That’s weird!”
I laughed. They had a point! Maybe it is weird for a college student to cook asparagus in a dorm room. But, on the other hand, a healthy diet gave me back my life this year. If feeding my body well means I can pursue my dreams, then you will find me at the grocery store at eight o’clock on a Wednesday evening, and I will be buying asparagus.
Americans struggle mightily with keeping to a healthy diet. With all of the different options out there, and all of the temptation, it is quite easy to take a trip down the wrong lane to dietary peril. All the time we are being bombarded with images of food that fill us with desire for the most mouthwatering and scrumptious foods, but these are often some of the worst offenders. When we fall for these less-than -optimal foods, they can have very negative effects on our bodies, contributing to low energy levels, tooth decay, and unhealthy body weight. Over the past four decades, obesity and other diet-related issues have become some of the leading causes of impairment and mortality in the United States. Whether it is a diet that is lacking in nutrients, one that contains too much, or one that is simply out of balance, an unhealthy diet can easily hamper our quality of life.
Since we all need food to live and it provides all the energy and nutrition to keep us alive and going, it is very important to make healthy eating one our main concerns in life. Having a healthy diet encompasses several areas including what we eat, when we eat, and how much we consume. It also includes being properly hydrated. One of the main areas where having a healthy diet can have a profound effect is in controlling our body weight. Taking in the same number of calories as we burn helps ensure that our weight remains steady over time. However, when we consume more than we burn, especially as excess carbohydrates or fat, our bodies convert extra calories to fat tissue (Annigan). Carrying excess weight puts us more at risk for various diseases (Healthline). We become much more likely to develop conditions like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It is therefore best to keep our weight and level of body fat in a healthy range, and one of the best ways to do that is through having a healthy, balanced diet.
Diet can also have a major impact on our mood, energy level, and our ability to focus. When we have a proper, balanced diet we are better able to control stress and balance our emotions. We are able to maintain a more stable blood sugar level and our bodies have a steady source of the vitamins and minerals required for proper brain functioning (Glover). When our brains have quality fuel to run on, our energy levels rise and our brains are able to run more efficiently. According to Debra Nessel, a registered dietitian with the Torrance Medical Center, people who improve their diets “frequently experience increased focus.” By contrast, having an unhealthy diet is more likely than not to put us at an increased risk of productivity loss at work (Glover).
One of the most important aspects of having a good diet is that it contributes to overall health. Taking in too much or too little of certain nutrients can form the basis of many health issues. For example, while sodium is an essential nutrient, excess salt intake (or conversely, insufficient water intake) is known to contribute to disease and can cause acute impairment in our mental functioning. On the other hand, proper amounts of vitamins like A, C and E act as antioxidants that protect our cells against toxins (Annigan). Calcium, protein, and potassium strengthen our teeth and bones, our muscles, and our nerves, respectively. Consuming proper nutrients is especially vital to proper growth and mental well-being in children (FamilyDoctor.org). Our diet even affects our hormone levels. It affects our ability to fight off sickness and disease as well as how quickly we recover from illness or injury. As we age, how much our bodies wear depends largely on what we put into them. If we want to live long, happy and healthy lives, it is therefore of the upmost importance that we control our habits and watch what we consume in order to have a healthy diet.
Have you ever looked in a mirror and thought to yourself: Why do I get those dark circles under the eyes? How could I finally get rid of my acne?
And, hang on a minute: have I gained weight again? Answers to these questions may point to your diet. While 90% of people in the USA claim that their diet is healthy, most recent data has shown that the obesity rates remain well above 20% in all states. What is worse, these numbers tend to increase with age. Unfortunately, this indicates that people do not understand what a healthy diet is and why it has to be taken seriously. A healthy diet should focus on respecting one’s body and sustainably meeting its needs, because food plays an important role in physical functioning, prevention of diseases, and psychological well-being. In this essay, I would first like to consider how nutrients and their amounts influence neuro-functioning, then discuss the importance of a healthy diet in the long run, and finally focus on the effects of healthy eating habits on human’s psyche.
A healthy diet is a diet based on a balanced consumption of certain products in precise daily quantities. It is required for the maintenance of optimal body functions, in particular the nervous system. Our brain begins to function at about eight weeks of embryo development, and since that moment continues to work 24/7. If you take adequate care of it, all the other organs will work properly too. Although the brain constitutes only 2% of the total body weight, it uses a vast amount of energy compared to the rest of the body. This energy comes from carbohydrates in the food, which are then metabolized into glucose. The latter is then utilized as a major source of energy in the neurons. Thus, low energy diets often lead to insufficient amount of energy available for the brain, resulting in tiredness, loss of attention, and impaired cognitive function. On the contrary, high-energy diets result in excessive energy production which causes cellular damage, release of toxins and, thus, increased vulnerability to diseases. Thus, in order to achieve perfect balance, our caloric intake should meet our calorie requirements based on one’s gender, level of activity and height.
However, it is not only the amount of incoming energy that matters for optimal neural function, but also the nutrients from the food. They affect the fundamental molecular and cellular processes involved in the transmission and processing of information in the brain. For example, fatty acids such as omega-3 (found in oily fish products) provide the structural material for the plasma membrane of the cells, increasing its flexibility, resulting in better neuronal activity and, as such, mental cognition. What is more, it is a well-known fact that fatty acids can help enhance mood and memory, as well as reduce the symptoms of stress. In addition, minerals such as copper and zinc (found in meat, oysters, nuts, seeds) – play a significant role in neurodevelopment, neurotransmitter synthesis and energy metabolism. To sum up, a well-balanced diet rich in essential nutrients enables one to nourish their cells, the brain and the whole-body system.
As mentioned earlier, a healthy diet is vital in order to reduce the risk of illnesses. Since prevention is better than cure, many diseases may be avoided, suppressed or relieved by means as simple as eating healthy. For example, the third most prevalent cancer in the world, the colon cancer, can be prevented by a diet rich in whole-grain products, fruits and vegetables. In addition, people who have at least 8 servings of meals rich in fibre per day are 30% less likely to experience ischaemic heart disease, a leading cause of death over the past 25 years, than those who have less than 1.5 servings of such food per day. Consumption of saturated fats and trans-fats (found in butter, whole milk and baked food) remains one of the main causes of heart disease. On the other hand, unsaturated fats, which are present in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds, are involved in regulating blood cholesterol levels and stabilizing heart rhythms. And it is not only heart disease which can be prevented by a healthy diet. For example, products rich in magnesium, calcium, and fibre can inhibit headaches and enhance general well-being. In summary, eating healthy is crucial in order to be able to live a longer and happier life.
Finally, a healthy diet is not only about making smart food choices but also about developing specific habits like not skipping breakfast, eating regularly and in small quantities. Such habits are important as they help to maintain an optimal energy level. The first step to a healthier lifestyle is ensuring to always eat breakfast. Many people tend to skip the morning meal because they are in a rush, or have other excuses. However, this practice does not enhance their performance because their bodies have to use the reserves in order to maintain functions necessary for survival instead of focusing on the new challenges of the day. As a result, skipping breakfast leads to increased levels of stress hormone cortisol and contributes to irritability and anxiety. Furthermore, as one eats, the brain releases a neurotransmitter dopamine which works on the brain reward center and makes one feel happier. Thus, it is important to start a day with breakfast and have a lively mind, because it boosts concentration, inspires creativity, and encourages optimism. Another essential habit for a healthy diet is eating regularly and in small quantities. This is important because it helps avoid over-eating, and, ultimately, prevents gaining weight. Unfortunately, many people experience depressive thoughts due to not being satisfied with the way they look. They then avoid social activities and exercise, which only perpetuates their self-identity of a couch potato and exacerbates the problem. Making simple changes to one’s eating habits, such as consuming the right amount of calories from a balanced diet on a timely schedule, could help prevent that. All in all, a healthy diet is essential for better self-esteem, confidence, cognitive function and social activity – all that is needed for a normal psyche.
In conclusion, a healthy diet - balanced caloric intake from regular meals in adequate portions - is necessary for proper functioning of the nervous system, disease prevention, and for a healthy psyche. As we do not live to eat but we eat to live, a healthy diet should not be a burden, but instead a piece of cake.