Friday 23 March 2018

The right diet will see you at your best all the way through this exam season

Looking after the body's nutritional requirements at exam time is a must for those who want to succeed, stay calm, keep their energy levels constant and remain alert.

Glucose is the fuel of the body. Blood sugars are in a constant state of flux. The brain has a greater requirement for a steady supply of glucose than any other organ in the body. Its energy stores are so small that they need constant replenishment to perform at its best. During exam time, a steady flow of glucose is vital to maximise concentration, mood and memory.

The most efficient way to make glucose is from carbohydrates. However, it is important to choose the correct type. Complex carbohydrates are typically foods that are in their natural state and have not been highly processed. They provide a steady supply of sugars into the blood stream. This prevents the sugar highs and lows that affect the brain and concentration.

Good sources of complex carbohydrates include whole-grains, wholemeal bread, brown pasta, unrefined cereals, brown rice, quinoa, porridge, legumes and starchy vegetables.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Aim to eat two eggs with some brown bread and real butter. Alternatively choose some porridge or muesli with nuts and berries.

Eating healthy fats with a meal will slow down the absorption of sugars into the blood.

The brain is a fatty organ which is made up of over 60pc fat. Some 33pc of this fatty structure comes from Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 is an essential fat meaning that the body cannot make it from the foods it takes in. Therefore it is important to consume oily fish three times per week.

If you don't like oily fish, choose a good quality fish oil supplement with a minimum of 500mg of EPA/DHA daily. Other good quality fats are monounsaturated fats, such as nuts, olive oil and avocados.

Protein provides the building blocks of the body. Protein is converted to glucose slowly in the stomach. Good quality protein is meat, typically Irish beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, fish, cheese, nuts, seeds, vegetables, tofu, beans and pulses.

Stimulants give an instant kick but result in a sharp drop in blood sugars. Cut out the caffeine, fizzy drinks, caffeinated drinks, and energy drinks.

Caffeine stimulates the production of the stress hormones from the adrenal glands. High levels of circulating cortisol and adrenaline wreak havoc on the body which can shut down thinking, cause poor memory recall, brain fog and can cause students to blank out in exams.

The body is composed of over 70pc fluid. Just 1pc dehydration slows the brain function down by 10pc. Caffeinated products cause diuretic effects. Always re-hydrate on water, this also prevents hunger pangs.

We are what we eat, drink and most importantly what we think! The net value of a meal is more than the nutrients in the food. Being in a relaxed state while eating changes how food is digested and used by the body.

This prevents the production of stress hormones. Key to managing exam stress is making better food choices.

Gaye Godkin is a consultant nutritionist

Irish Independent

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