In the run up to exams, a healthy diet alongside regular exercise can help rejuvenate fatigued brain cells. White Swan Foundation's Alagammai Meyyappan spoke to Delhi-based nutritionist and health writer Kavita Devgan on the questions she fields from students and parents during exam time.
I am a picky eater. Will taking vitamin supplements help meet my nutritional needs?
It is best to stick to natural foods and unless there is a serious deficiency, there really is no need for supplements.
Are there any foods that particularly help improve brain or memory function?
Yes, there are a number of healthy foods that you can add to your daily regimen. Almonds have a lot of zinc, a trace mineral which has a huge say in our brains’ health. Peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are other good options. A glass of milk everyday is recommended while ghee helps when taken in moderation. Other super foods include berries which are rich in antioxidants and pomegranate which has the immunity boosting vitamin C. Turmeric and cinnamonare other brain function boosting additions to your food. If you are a non-vegetarian, aim to have fish twice a week. Fish contains choline and the brain uses this to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that aids in improving memory and cognitive reasoning.
What are some foods that I should avoid during exam time?
Make sure you go easy on the caffeine (tea, coffee, energy drinks etc) as too much consumption may lead to anxiety, nervousness, upset stomach, headaches and insomnia. Avoid fried foods and junk which is just empty calories and no nutrients - you need to eat light, healthy food that is easy to digest, so that there is no extra burden on your digestive system, and more energy can be directed towards studies. Too much sugaris a bad idea as it leads to sugar rush, which leads to insulin spike in the body, followed by a crash - and a feeling of fatigue and low. Sugar also creates an acidic environment in the body, that results in fatigue, decreased reaction time, decision-making ability, concentration and immune function. Avoid high-fat, big meals that divert the blood supply away from the brain to the digestive tract and cause sluggishness and fatigue. So spreading food intake among four to six mini-meals and snacks throughout the day is a better way to go.
I often end up eating a lot of processed food when I revise for exams. Can you suggest some healthier snacking options?
Nuts, fruits, sprout, boiled corn etc. are great for snacking. You can also drink coconut waterand black chickpea soup (boil black chickpeas or kala chana with extra water, add some black salt and lemon juice to it and drink).
What are some other important tips for eating right during exam time?
Hydrate: Ensure enough water intake, even if you don’t feel thirsty or tend to forget while studying. A good strategy is to keep a one liter water bottle next to where you are studying and finish at least two bottles of water in a day. Understand that our brain is mostly water, around 90 percent!
Don’t diet or skip breakfast: It is not advisable for children and young adults to be on a very-low-calorie diet. Low calorie diets will make you more prone to processing information slowly, taking longer to react and having more trouble remembering sequences. Also the brain burns fuel even while one sleeps, so eating breakfast is the best way to restock fuel stores and prevent a mental fog later in the day. Make sure you start the day with a substantial breakfast always!