Welcome parents! Coming up to that dreaded exam time – it’s time for ye to do some research on how best to feed your child, to ensure they will perform brilliantly !
The information below is NOT our advice – but information that we have compiled from the Examiner over the past few years. If you don’t have the time to read it all now – why not print it up and read it later, over a coffee and a Hob Nob…..
STUDY WHAT YOU EAT
When exam time is in full swing, the brain needs to be nourished and ready for the extra action and stress. It is also important that moods are kept elevated and attitudes are positive. Exercising everyday in the fresh air helps to clear the head so walk, cycle or run on the spot to get the heart rate up and flush oxygenated blood around the body.
Walnuts come top of the list for snacks, as they contain good oils and protein which keep hunger at bay. A handful is far better than any chocolate bar, but a square of dark chocolate with it will provide a little feel good factor, too. Full of polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats, the brain converts walnut flesh into over 50 useful neurotransmitters, which enhance brain function. And if the stomach gets a little gippy when nervous, walnuts can ease diarrhoea, as well as helping the immune system which can become run down at exam time.
In addition to walnuts, we need a range of foods which generate the natural neurochemicals that help us to concentrate, enhance the memory and speed up reaction times – useful when we are faced with unexpected questions in exams. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential to good brain activity – so oily fish must be on the menu a few times a week. For example, mackerel, salmon, kippers and fresh tuna. Unfortunately, tinned tuna does not deliver omega 3’s as it is steamed so much that little is left, but tinned sardines are a good choice. Walnut and olive oils are best to use for salads but remember that cooking these oils destroys most of the omega 3 benefits.
The fat and protein in milk are good to sustain a study session, and as a treat have it with a square of dark chocolate. Eggs contain choline, a type of fat-like substance, which is good for memory. Choline is also one of the B vitamins, all of which are good for the nervous system – so also eat plenty of brown bread and brown rice to stay on an even keel. The process of cutting out foods is as important as eating the right ones and the bad news is that many high fat and high sugar convenience foods, which can be tempting at busy times, are high in the wrong kinds of fats and can cause depression and reduce concentration. If tempted when passing a fish and chip shop, go for the fish but not the chips.
For a quick meal, frying an egg is better than microwaving a pizza, which has a list of additives that do nothing better than enhance shelf life. A sandwich made with brown bread, butter and jam is more nourishing than many pizzas. There is nothing wrong with beans on toast – excellent, too, when topped with an egg. As we need healthy eyes with which to study, don’t forget to snack on carrots or add some chopped into stir-fries.
Drink plenty of water throughout the study period to keep hydrated and keep the circulation going.
Start now on a good regime for brain health and general fitness.
Roz Crowley, Examiner, March 2007.
TAKE FIVE… BRAIN FOODS
1. Have a handful of nuts or seeds a day. Walnuts and pumpkin seeds are especially good, but most nuts and seeds provide plenty of vitamins for brain stimulation. Avoid salted varieties to keep hydrated and energetic.
2. Oily fish needs to be eaten a few times a week – salmon, fresh tuna, tinned sardines and kippers are best.
3. Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin K, which has been found to improve brainpower. Eat plenty of salad leaves for general vitamin boost. Sage is the herb to improve memory function. While waiting for it to come into season, use essential oils in a bath or flicked onto the shower walls so it steams and stimulates.
4. Brown rice and wholegrain breads, pastas, beans and lentils have vitamin B which keep the nervous system calm, yet active.
5. Drink plenty of liquids, ideally water. Keeping hydrated is essential when burning off energy with studying. Water keeps organs flushed through and cleansed, even the brain. Add a slice of lemon or lime to the water for flavour or some fresh fruit juice. A banana smoothie or other bought smoothies, provide good natural sugar boosts.
STUDENTS TOLD: EAT WELL
Keeping the brain supplied with plenty energy is vital to proper concentration during exams. According to the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, the brain uses up to a fifth of the energy we need every day, despite being one of the smallest organs in the body. It advises eating healthily at exam time, get fresh air and exercise to go into the hall with a clear, focused mind.
A good breakfast is the key to maintaining recall and concentration during the exams, so foods that are high in fibre, giving the body a slow steady release of glucose, are recommended. If a student is too nervous to eat, drinking a fruit smoothie could help supply essential nutrients and energy. The gap between breakfast and exam time can be quite long for some students, depending on the distance from home to school, so it may be a good idea to take a snack.
With most students sitting two papers a day, particularly during the first week, a good lunch is also very important. A healthy lunch is better than eating from the local chipper or fast food, as this could leave students feeling full and sluggish for the afternoon.
While many students use coffee or other caffeine drinks during study periods, its benefits for keeping alert may be counteracted by other factors. For example, excess caffeine can upset blood sugar levels, causing loss of concentration. Caffeine can also cause loss of fluids, and the need to go to the bathroom, which could be unhelpful during an exam. The institute recommends students should drink around 1.5 litre of non-caffeine drinks such as fruit juices, herbal teas and water each day.
HIGH GRADE FUEL
BREAKFAST: Wholegrain cereal, fresh orange juice; porridge with sultanas; toasted wholemeal bread with banana.
LUNCH: Bowl of vegetable soup and wholemeal scone or bread; wholemeal sandwich with chicken, ham, egg or cheese; chicken or tuna wrap; tuna / pasta salad; fruit smoothie.
SNACKS: Fresh fruit or veg; popcorn; scone; dried fruit / nuts; fruit brack; wholegrain cereal bars.
Niall Murphy, Examiner, June 2007.