Exam season is upon us and that got me thinking about 'brain food'. What are the best foods to eat before an exam, and can what we eat help us concentrate and focus better? Whether it's a day of exams ahead of us, or equally, a day of meetings at the office, paying attention to your diet can really pay off, and may help keep your memory, concentration and focus as sharp as can be.
Oh gosh, to have all that exam stress behind me now the kids have left home is such a good feeling! I remember sitting on my daughter Helena's bed, my arm around her shoulder, physics books open, trying to fathom it all out so I could help her. But sadly failing dismally to understand any of it myself! She got through it though (but no thanks to me!).
Eating well for academic success is very similar to eating well to perform for your sport. Just read race day for exam day. It's not just about what you eat on the day, it's what you eat throughout your training, or revision period. Or better still, what you eat every day for the rest of your life, that makes the difference.
Try incorporating my top 5 brain-boosting foods in your everyday diet....
Top 5 brain-boosting foods for exam success!
1. Wholegrains and other slow-releasing carbs - may help concentration and steady blood sugar levels
Your ability to concentrate and focus comes from a steady supply of energy in our blood, to the brain. Wholegrain carbs release their energy slowly into the bloodstream and so will help you keep mentally focussed throughout the day.
Try brown wholegrain bread (seeded sourdough or granary bread), brown rice, quinoa and pasta, beans and lentils, sweet potatoes and butternut squash, and of course oats.
2. Oily fish - for healthy brain function
Oily fish is where it’s at when it comes to getting in your omega-3’s. Mackerel, kippers, salmon, herring, fresh crab, sardines are all great. Try to include oily fish in your diet at least twice a week. Omega-3 fats are important for brain function as well as general wellbeing. Try tinned mackerel or sardines on toast, salmon with sag aloo, or pan-fried tuna (although you might have to take out a mortgage for this). These all can have a positive impact on cognitive function, as well as skin, vision, joints and bones. Try these Thai salmon kebabs...
3. Nuts and seeds
For vegetarians, sources of omega-3's include flaxseed, pumpkin and chia seeds, soya beans and nuts, particularly walnuts. Seed and nut oils also help. Studies are also being carried out on the role of omega-3's in combatting depression.
4. Berries - may boost memory and reduce stress
Dark fruits such as blackberries, blackcurrants, pomegranate and blueberries contain anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins are believed to improve mental performance by increasing blood flow to your brain, protecting against inflammation, and improving certain signaling pathways that promote nerve cell production and cellular processes involved in learning and memory.
Sprinkle fruits on your porridge, throw them into a smoothie or eat with natural yoghurt and a drizzle of honey.
Please note that purple vegetables such as aubergines and red cabbage also contain anthocyanins, although probably not that great with your porridge in the morning!
5. Eggs - just really healthy!
Not only a great source of protein, eggs contain B vitamins including vitamin B1, B3 and choline, which can contribute towards regulating normal brain function.
Revising late at night, feeling stressed, missing meals and snacking unhealthily will all interfere with your ability to concentrate, let alone absorb and retain information. Try these top tips:
Eat a good breakfast
Fill up at lunchtime
Skip the meal deal and opt for foods with a low G.I. A home made sandwich made with really good bread, soup, a salad made with roasted vegetables, roasted sweet potato and chicken. Here's some lunchtime pots you might like:
Eat a proper supper
Perhaps some oily fish, spaghetti puttanesca, or chicken pasta.
Eat sustaining snacks
You can't go wrong with a banana, or a pack of Go Bites!
It's not just about the food:
Don't forget about exercise and fresh air
It's not just what you eat, exercise will also help to keep our brains sharp. Take regular breaks from revising to go for a quick run or, my trick, 100 skips in the garden. Gets the heart beating and the brain back in gear.
Good luck everyone!