Learning

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Optimum nutrition is a key factor in increasing your success potential

Gaye Godkin

Published 12/02/2014|02:30

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Dehydration slows the brain down - always rehydrate with water. Photo: Getty Images.
Dehydration slows the brain down - always rehydrate with water. Photo: Getty Images.

This time of year Leaving and Junior Certificate students are tired. After the mock exams students deserve a well earned break.

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It is important that they rest over mid-term and allow their bodies to recuperate.

Diet from now to exam time also needs to be prioritised. Looking after the body's nutritional requirements is a must for those who want to succeed, stay calm, keep their energy levels constant and remain alert. The Irish diet is not good and many students are making poor food choices that impact on energy levels and their ability to focus and concentrate.

Prolonged exposure to anxiety from exam pressures increases the production of stress hormones, which create excess oxidative stress in the body. To combat this effect, it is important to eat foods high in antioxidants. Coloured fruit and vegetables, fresh or frozen, are excellent sources. Better choices are berries, lots of greens, tomatoes and orange coloured vegetables, salads, steamed, mashed or roasted for variety. Similarly, green tea, cocoa, dark chocolate and omega 3 are good sources of antioxidants.

Glucose is the fuel of the body and is vital to maximise concentration, focus and memory. The brain has a greater requirement for glucose than any other organ and uses it exclusively. It has no mechanism to store it, therefore it is important to feed it a steady supply to optimise its functioning. Balancing blood sugars is the secret to staying alert.

The most efficient way to make glucose is from carbohydrates. Choosing the right type of carbohydrate is the secret. Excess snacking on simple carbohydrates such as fizzy drinks, biscuits, cereals and bars should be avoided.

Complex carbohydrates are typically foods that are in their natural state. They provide a slow release of glucose into the blood keeping energy levels constant. This prevents blood sugar imbalances. Good sources include oats, wholemeal bread, brown rice, quinoa, fruit, and starchy vegetables such as carrots, turnips, parsnips, sweet potato, butternut squashes and pulses.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Aim to start the day with protein, fats and carbohydrates. Two eggs with some brown bread and real Irish butter is ideal. Alternatively choose some porridge or muesli with ground flaxseed, nuts and berries. Rather than having three big meals per day, which can cause an energy slump, eat little and often. Taking regular breaks to refuel has been shown to improve resilience and stamina.

The brain is a fatty organ. More than 60pc of it is made of fats and 33pc of this fat is called omega 3, which is chronically deficient in the Irish diet. This nutrient is essential for mood, hormones, learning and memory. Therefore It is important to consume oily fish three times per week. If oily fish doesn't appeal to you then take a good quality fish oil supplement with a minimum of 500mg of EPA/DHA daily.

Never refuel on caffeinated products. The effect is short term and will result in a sharp drop in blood sugars. Caffeine stimulates the production of stress hormones. High levels of adrenaline wreak havoc on the body shutting down thinking, causing poor memory recall, brain fog and can cause students to blank out in exams. Remember 1pc dehydration slows the brain function down by 10pc. Always re-hydrate on water.

GAYE GODKIN IS A CONSULTANT NUTRITIONIST

Irish Independent

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