Eating smart: serving up study and exam day meals
A diet rich in wholegrains, protein, fresh fruit and veg, seeds and nuts is going to give you (or your kids) a head start and the fuel they need right now to get through stressful exams. Like everything else in the body, the brain cannot work without energy.
Bite columnist and nutritionist Mikki Williden says, “Good sources of protein and fat will help maintain concentration and energy so you don’t fall asleep during study! Getting up from studying every hour during the day to run around the house will also increase blood and oxygen flow throughout the body.”
When planning an exam-day diet, think omega-3s for brain health. These essential fatty acids cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through food. Omega-3s help guard against memory loss and help you to focus. Along with vitamin D, they can be found in oily fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines. Good sources of omega-3s also include chia seeds, flaxseed (linseed) oil, soya beans and soya bean oil, walnuts and walnut oil.
Packed with protein, vitamins and minerals to help keep the nervous system happy, nuts and seeds make great snacks. They can be whizzed into smoothies, sprinkled on salads or over fibre- and protein-rich oats. Just a handful of pumpkin seeds a day are all you need to get your recommended quota of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking.
It’s been said before but eating breakfast really is important. Serving up that first meal of the day (even when you have slept in and are trying to rush out the door) will slow the decline in cognitive performance during the morning. Eggs are a good source of protein and, along with lean beef, tofu, yoghurt, beans, broccoli and cauliflower, also contain choline that is vital for the creation of memory stem cells. Include wholegrains, too, which release energy slowly throughout the day and avocado which contains oleic fatty acid to help build myelin in the brain. Myelin coats nerves cells and allows them to quickly communicate with each other.
For breakfast, try this exam day cheese and herb omelette on wholegrain toast. Another good breakfast option: full-fat Greek yoghurt. It has more protein than other yoghurts and fat is important to brain health.
Lunch should contribute one third of your nutritional needs and, as far as children are concerned, that means avoiding those packets of chips that many would rather take to school! Read here what Mikki Williden has to say about how you can put more nutritional punch into kids’ lunchboxes.
Leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach contain folate and vitamins, help new brain cells grow and help detoxify. Add them to omelettes or in smoothies such as Aaron Brunet’s get-up-and-go one here. Or try this trio of nutritious, child-friendly smoothies or this creamy one made with avocado.
As well as those leafy greens, you are going to want to include broccoli wherever you can in the exam- or study-day diet. It’s a great source of vitamin K, which helps cognitive function.
And, as a treat, a little dark chocolate definitely won’t hurt. Indeed the polyphenols in cocoa are thought to keep the mind sharp. Ditto blueberries and strawberries, high in antioxidants and vitamin C, too, and both coming into season right about now.
Putting it into practice
Nutritionist Mikki Williden takes foods high in minerals and vitamins, important for brain health, and gives options for a day’s menu to provide optimum fuel for you or your (hopefully) hard-working offspring.
- Bircher Bircher: Soak overnight, wholegrain oats or flaxmeal with grated apple and lemon juice in natural yoghurt or CoYo /coconut milk or almond milk. Top with chopped walnuts, pumpkin seeds, a few slices of banana and berries.
- A hot breakfast option: Scrambled eggs + avocado + kumara/potato hash
- Banana pancakes (made with 2 eggs + 1 banana + 2 Tbsp flaxmeal + 2 tsp almond butter) served with a bit of plain yoghurt and some berries
- Make a smoothie made with:
- Milk or dairy-free almond milk
- LSA powder or add peanut or another nut butter (choose a good one like Pic’s). Or add nuts
- Organic cocoa powder/cacao powder/cacao nibs (the good stuff contains magnesium – good for brains!)
- A date for additional sweetness, if needed (dates are a minor source of minerals like calcium, iron, potassium)
- Depending upon appetite, accompany the smoothie with one or two hard-boiled eggs
- Rice with avocado + salmon plus pickled ginger
- Frittata with kumara and roast vegetables
- Sliced apple and almond butter
- Savoury muffin
- Smoothie, as above
- Chopped walnuts with berries in Greek yoghurt + coconut threads
- Rice thins spread with basil and cheddar cheese
- Grilled salmon with salad and roast kumara
- Baked stuffed potatoes and salad
For more brain-friendly recipes that are packed with nutritious ingredients high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, head to our Brain food collection.
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