Doing well in exams takes a lot more than studying assiduously throughout the year. It also involves keeping your body in good shape and ensuring your nutritional intake is adequate, since there is an drect link between physical and mental health.
Nutrition tips for exam time
Follow these top nutritional tips for a sound body and mind come exam time:
- Don’t miss a meal on the day of your exam: When we are hungry, tasks like concentration or recollection of vital information can be more challenging. Make sure your energy levels are at an optimal level by keeping your blood sugar constant throughout the day. Consume five small meals a day and steer clear of foods which are too calorie-rich or high in fat, since they can make you feel sluggish and tired.
- Avoid high-sugar and processed foods in the days leading up to exams: Meals which are primarily made up of processed foods and refined sugar not only take more time to digest; they also cause your blood sugar levels to spike then dive, resulting in less energy. Unless you are a regular coffee drinker, stay away from this beverage, and any other drink or food containing caffeine, which can increase anxiety.
- If you are feeling anxious the night before an exam, try a relaxing tea made with lime blossom and/or Valerian. Valerian has not only been found to help with sleep; it is also thought to improve mood and anxiety levels.
- Bring healthy snacks with you to exams: If you have more than one exam in one morning or afternoon, stock up on snacks like fruits, nuts and protein bars to keep energy levels constant.
Why not start consuming brain-healthy foods? These include:
- Foods which are high in Omega-3 fatty acids: The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids hovers between 1:1 to 5:1, yet the average ratio in the Western world stands at approximately 15:1 or 16:1. In other words, our diets are normally seriously deficient in Omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in foods like poultry, eggs, avocado and whole-grain bread, while top sources of Omega-3 fats include wild salmon, flaxseed and olive oil. Not only does an adequate intake of Omega-3s boost heart health and fight inflammation; it also promotes a host of important functions in the body, including the building cell membranes in the brain. An important study carried out by researchers from UCLA has found that the consumption of Omega-3s can help us increase our memory, improve cognitive function, battle mood swings and even keep age-related diseases such as dementia, at bay. Omega-3-rich foods should therefore be at the very top of our list in the months leading up to exam time.
- Protein-rich foods: Lean protein sources like chicken breast, eggs or meat contain an important amino acid called tryptophan, which is crucial for the production of serotonin. The latter is also known as the ‘feel-good molecule’, since a decline in its levels has been linked to many mental conditions, including depression, anxiety and migraines. Another food that helps increase serotonin levels is chocolate. For ultimate benefits, stick to dark and preferably, raw chocolate. Many raw chocolate varieties are made with essential oils like lavender, considered by many to have powerful effects when it comes to relaxation.
- Yogurt: Probiotic foods have been proven to lower stress levels. In order to answer exams without suffering from mental blocks or excessive nervousness, it is vital to keep worry and panic at bay. Therefore, yogurt is an excellent food to consume for breakfast on the morning of an exam. Mix it up with high-energy foods like oats and dried fruit, sweetened with stevia or Agave syrup.
- Water and Fresh, Organic Juice: Make sure you are well hydrated at exam time by ensuring you drink enough water and fresh, organic fruit juices. Dehydration can cause everything from a loss of concentration to nervousness. You should begin drinking water a couple of hours before an exam. If you wait until you feel thirsty to drink, chances are, you are already dehydrated.
- Consider Supplementation: If you are constantly on the go and/or experiencing a stressful or particularly busy time in your life, consider the benefits of supplementation. Some of the many vitamins and minerals which are vital for brain health include B Vitamins (some of which are found in red meat fish and whole grains), Vitamin C (found in citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables) and Vitamin D (sourced from eggs, shrimp and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna).
We hope that you have found these tips useful. If you have any foods that you think should be added to our list, please let us know via the comments below.
All that is left is to wish you the best of luck for your exams!
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