This Date in UCSF History: Stay Healthy on a Student's Budget

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Originally published on Sept. 13, 2007. 

Student life is hard. Long hours and stressful exams can take a toll on your health and a painfully tight budget can take a toll on your pocketbook. Here are ten tips for staying healthy year-round on your student budget. 

1) Eat vegetables. At the grocery store, the biggest nutritional bang for your buck is still in the produce section. Vegetables are bulky and are a great way to fill an empty tummy. They are also low in calories and full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. And best of all, for under ten dollars you can stock your refrigerator for the entire week. Your best bet is to buy veggies that are in season. They will be the cheapest, taste the best and have the highest nutritional value.

2) Eat whole grains. Brown rice, barley, quinoa, bulgur and kashi are also highly nutritious foods that are easy on the wallet. A couple dollars can get you enough brown rice to last an entire month, eating it almost daily. Whole grains are an excellent source of soluble fiber and many other important nutrients. Grocery stores frequently sell these products in bulk, which can save you even more money. Preparing whole grains in large batches (most can be stored up to five days in the fridge after cooking) can save you time as well.

3) Eat legumes. Despite the popular children's song, beans and lentils are actually more magical than musical. Legumes are some of the most nutrient dense foods available, are packed with fiber, and when paired with grains can be a great source of protein! They are inexpensive in their canned form and can be even cheaper when you buy them dry in bulk. Peas, lima beans and soybeans also store excellently in the freezer and can be prepared in a matter of minutes.

4) Drink water. Water is undoubtedly the best fluid you can drink, and it is free! Almost everyone would benefit from drinking more water. To add flavor try floating lemon or cucumber slices in your glass. Getting in the habit of having water instead of soda with your meals will keep you hydrated and save you money.

5) Take a multivitamin. While a multivitamin can never be a substitute for a healthy diet, it is a good idea to take one daily as insurance. For just ten cents a day, you can be confident that your very basic vitamin requirements are being met. When picking a multivitamin, look for one that lists vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene (rather than retinol), and one that has at least 100% Daily Value of Vitamins D and E (the hardest to get in the diet). For women, it is also advisable to take a calcium supplement that includes vitamin D. Keep in mind that it is best to take your vitamins with meals. This will help your body absorb more nutrients (particularly those that are fat soluble) and minimize the queasiness that can sometimes accompany vitamin pills.

6) Use the gym. As a UCSF student you are incredibly fortunate to have acing yourself all in one sitting, take half of it with you for a later time or split it with a friend. This will cut your meal cost in half and keep you from packing in those extra calories. And yes, this even goes for you boys who think you "need" to eat all that food. Unless you are a serious athlete (a daily gym trip doesn't make you an athlete), it is unlikely you actually need this much food all at once. Save your money and those calories, your body and wallet will thank you.

7) Brew your own coffee. This may surprise you, but coffee is actually a healthy beverage option. This familiar brew has almost no calories and the caffeine can boost your metabolism and mental focus. Coffee is also rich in antioxidants called polyphenols and can contribute to a healthy diet. But at two to five dollars a cup, coffee can make a serious monthly dent in your budget if you are not careful. Brewing your own coffee, even the expensive stuff, can drastically cut down your coffee expenses every month.