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Eat your way to Great Marks: Exam Time Nutrition

fruits and vegetables

During these frantic weeks before exams, everything that doesn’t directly relate to trying to understand hearsay or the Tasmanian Dam case goes out the window. Cooking and diet tumble down the list of priorities and your menu quickly descends into toast, two-minute noodles and anything sold by a library vending machine.

Although making the effort to eat properly may take you away from the books for a few extra minutes, it will certainly reward you with greater concentration and improved memory. Survive Law spoke to naturopath Tiffany Sharp about the best foods to fuel your brain this exam season…

According to Sharp, a good study session begins with breakfast. “Breakfast is imperative to kick starting and fuelling your brain for rest of your day,” she says. The morning meal helps to balance your blood sugar levels throughout the day, and skipping breakfast can lead to feeling light-headed, irritable, and unable to concentrate. To start the day off on the right foot, she recommends eggs, salmon, green smoothies and protein smoothies.

For students on the run, she suggests starting the day with a banana: “grab a slightly greener banana rather than an overripe yellow banana as they contain less fructose,” she says. Lower amounts of fructose means a more gradual rise and fall in blood sugar levels, helping the body to avoid that unwanted drop in concentration and energy.

But what should we be munching on as we highlight our notes? According to Sharp, our favourite sweet study snacks are bad news: “frequent high sugar snacks and high sugared beverages has been linked to brain shrinkage.” Eek!

As an alternative, she suggests snacking on raw nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, and pecans. Other great snack options include low fructose fruits like berries, apple, pear and green banana.

Lean proteins like tinned tuna, salmon and boiled eggs are also good choices, as are complex carbohydrates such as rice snacks, sweet potato and quinoa. Sharp says that choosing the right study snacks makes a huge difference: “not only will this help with focus, it also provides even energy bursts through the day.”

When lunchtime rolls around, most of us are prone to heading towards the nearest burger shop. If you are getting take away, Sharp recommends sushi made from brown or wild rice (which many sushi places are starting to offer). If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, opt for whole grain bread and replace the margarine with avocado, which contains essential fatty acids that the brain loves. For the filling, she suggests combining salad with lean protein or cheese.

If you’re eating at home, chicken skewers with steamed greens such as asparagus are a great pick for protein and blood sugar balancing.

If all of this snacking has made you thirsty but you’re not in the mood for water, Sharp recommends the “brainy beverage” of green tea. “Green tea increases generation and proliferation of brain cells, providing benefits for memory and spatial learning.”

If you’re after something cold, try a juice, “but have more vegetable based juices, rather than high fructose fruit juices,” she advises. “Studies have shown that beetroot juice has high nitrate intake that will boost blood flow to the brain.” Vegetable juices containing celery, beetroot, carrot and ginger are a great pick, with optional pear or apple for flavour. “Supermarkets will also have vegetable based juices such as tomato mixed veg juices,” Sharp says.

“If you really want to outperform and outplay, exercise,” Sharp says, explaining that exercise helps to enhance mood, improve concentration and reduce stress and anxiety. “Jog out the stress of study; it will clear the mind and improve cognition.”

Finish the day with some omega 3, which Sharp says increase healthy brain cells and aid mood elevation and cognitive development. “It is one of the best nutrients to help keep your cerebral power lines strong,” she says, adding that salmon and tuna are great sources of omega 3. “Aim for 360g of fish a week, or if you prefer supplements, take 2-6 grams of fish oil a day.”

So there you have it. A little bit of extra planning to incorporate some brain foods into your daily diet will not only provide you with a fantastic excuse for procrastinatory cooking and eating, but will also help you score those brilliant marks you deserve.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 9 November 2012.

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