Acing Exams with Healthy Eating
For our brains to function at their most efficient they need the best nutritional fuel. Feeding our brains with ‘junk food’ will only lead to poorly functioning brains – not the greatest scenario for doing well in exams, helping with stress and enabling concentration and memory.
Brains require a high proportion of energy to function so missing meals and surviving on high caffeine drinks will not help exam preparation and exam success.
Top 10 exam tips
1. Don’t skip breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day and should be low in fat, high in fibre and include a lean protein. The energy from breakfast will help with the increased metabolic rate early in the morning. Avoid high sugar refined cereals as they give an initial boost of energy but this is not maintained and can lead to subsequent low energy, lethargy and low mood. An easy breakfast option is a bran cereal served with low fat milk and a fresh fruit or a slice of low GI seed loaf served with an egg and fresh or grilled tomato slices.
2. Include at least 3 meals per day. Keep them high in fibre, low in fat and add a variety of vegetables or salads at each meal. A typical lunch can be a sandwich, low GI bread with lean cold meat or tuna with avocado served with a small green salad.
3. Eat balanced meals. These should include a starch, protein and a variety of vegetables at each meal. Fatty fish e.g. salmon, tuna, mackerel, pilchards, sardines (rich in omega 3) is also a good option to include during stressful times. Omega 3 has been shown to help brain function and increases concentration. It also helps to improve your immune system when your body and mind are stressed.
4. Include healthy snack options when you are hungry between meals. These include fruit and healthy foods to sustain energy needed by the brain. Snack on low fat foods (as high fat foods will cause nausea) and high fibre items (fibre will sustain energy levels and will prevent drop in sugar levels). Snacks could include a small low fat yoghurt, 3 Provitas with cheese, a handful of trail mix/almonds/lean biltong or a fresh fruit.
5. Drink water to prevent dehydration. Remember that it is recommended to have 1.5 – 2 litres of fluid/day. Dehydration can cause irritability and difficulty with concentration. Add taste to the water by adding a few slices of fresh apple, strawberry, lemon or mint leaves.
6. Make time for some exercise. This will increase serotonin levels in the blood which will help improve your mood. Exercise also increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain! It also helps with the added stress experienced during exams.
7. Breaks are important. Keep them short and as part of a study roster.
8. Get enough rest. Make sure that you get enough sleep during the exams. Lack of sleep has a negative effect on concentration and causes mood swings.
9. Avoid energy drinks these are high in sugar and caffeine. They can have the opposite effect, causing dehydration, giving low energy/low mood after an initial energy boost. Coffee is best drunk in the day rather than the evening and can give a lift to our alertness provided intake is not excessive as it can then cause jitteriness and problems with sleep deprivation.
10. Don’t smoke, as the nicotine increases anxiety levels – this tip is for the older learners that are tempted to succumb to peer pressure.
During the exam period try to have a stock of healthy foods, drinks and snacks that you have pre-planned so when those moments of boredom, weariness, panic or times of just needing a break from your revision come along, you are well prepared. Pre-plan your meals during your exams so that you give your brains and bodies the best possible fuel for maximum efficiency and therefore greatest success.