Top nutrition tips for exams
As exams loom, late nights, stress and quick food fixes all play havoc with your ability to concentrate, take in information and the function of your overloaded brain. If you're hitting the books this October-November, follow these simple guidelines to ensure your diet is packed with brain-boosting foods.
Keep calm and carry on eating
Stress can have an adverse effect on your appetite and skipping meals won't do much for your concentration. Six small meals a day are better than three while revising to avoid hunger pangs and provide you with a sustained energy release. The key to achieving the right balance is to enjoy a wide variety of foods, as no single food can provide all the nutrients your body needs.
Don’t forget breakfast
Despite the brain being one of the smallest organs in the body, it uses up to 20% of the energy we need every day. Keeping a steady supply of glucose (energy) throughout the day, will ensure you do not lose concentration during both your study and exam times. When you wake up, your body hasn't had any food for several hours so a balanced breakfast provides us with the energy we need to face the day, as well as some essential vitamins and minerals.
Water allows many of the chemical reactions in our bodies to take place and drinking too little can influence the speed at which our brains can work. Aim to drink around 1 -2 litres (6-8 glasses) of fluid a day - water being the liquid of choice to keep your body functioning on top form. Keep a glass of water or diluted fruit juice within easy reach while studying and take a bottle of water into the exam (if you can).
Eat for energy
Tempted to reach for something sweet to get you through the long afternoon at your desk? Avoid the sweets, chocolate, biscuit and cake pick-me-ups and choose a healthier low sugar alternative as the temporary high you'll get from a sugar-fix will be followed quickly by crashing blood sugar levels and fatigue. Healthier alternatives include fresh fruit, a low fat yoghurt, home-made bran muffin, wholegrain crackers with cheese, nuts, popcorn, biltong, vegetable sticks with hummus or even a bowl of high fibre cereal with milk.
Get enough sleep
While you want heaps of energy during the day, come bedtime ensure your body and mind are ready for a rest. Lack of sleep will make it impossible to work under pressure and you'll be more likely to reach for a sugary fix to get you through the need for a nap. Sip on a mug of warmed milk or herbal tea before bed as they can bring on sleep with their sedative effect.
Support your immune system
If you've been suffering from stress, sleepless nights or a poor diet due to all that time at your desk, your immune system might need a helping hand. To avoid having your hard work ruined by a cold, fill up on a variety of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains.
Be organised and prepare food ahead of time
Pack a healthy lunch to take with you for exams, rather than buying it. Pack it before you go to bed and keep it in the fridge, ready to grab and go in the morning.
- Make a tuna, chicken, salmon or egg salad sandwich using whole grain bread or seed loaf or try a whole wheat pita bread or wrap.
- Prepare your own veggie pizza by spreading tomato sauce or pesto on a whole wheat pita, top this with sliced peppers, onions, mushrooms, peppadews and grated cheese. Bake until cheese is bubbling and eat it hot or cold.
- A pasta, potato, bulgur wheat or quinoa salad is great for a lunchbox. Add any combination of peppers, spring onions, cucumber, baby tomatoes, chickpeas, chicken, tuna, toasted almonds, pine nuts, seeds and feta cheese. Top with your favourite low oil dressing.
- Have healthy snacks available for when you are hungry between meals, such as veggie sticks with hummus in a separate container, unsalted nuts, popcorn, lean biltong, crackers with cheese or fresh or dried fruit.
- Make your own trail mix using a few whole grain cereals, dried fruits nuts and seeds.
Don’t forget to exercise
To help relieve stress, clear your mind and lift your mood, break up your studying with short bursts of exercise. You could do some exercises, skip, go to the park with the dogs or even have a swim.
Teachers and Parents
As teachers and parents, we know how important it is to keep children healthy! Teach children the importance of having a healthy breakfast, lunch and snacks to stay energised and focused at school. Pick n Pay School Club believes that education is the first step to tackling unhealthy eating habits. With this in mind, educational content has been created from Grade 1-7 that both aligns to the curriculum and finds fun ways for learners to understand the benefits of healthy eating.
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Click here to access your FREE CAPS aligned educator workbook for Grade 7
Good luck for the upcoming exams!