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This exam diet gets full marks

The countdown to the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations is officially on. The panic begins to set in around now, if it hasn't already descended, and it's time to get into full-on study mode and hope that the past few years of falling asleep . . . sorry, sitting attentively in Maths class has paid off.

However, there is still something you can do at this late stage to ensure you get the best results possible and, no, it is not trying to catch a glimpse of the exam papers in advance.

Like many of your other vital organs, your brain needs to be looked after and nurtured and, believe it or not, it needs food. Not the usual student junk you normally feed it, but healthy nutritious grub and at regular intervals. Here is what you should be eating for optimum concentration.

>breakfast You may be sick to death of hearing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it is true and never more vital than when you are trying to absorb information while studying or relaying that same information back during an exam. The Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute recommends you eat a breakfast that is high in fibre and provides your body with a slow, steady release of glucose. Here are some breakfast combinations that should do the trick:

> Wholegrain cereal with milk and a glass of fresh orange juice

> Porridge with sultanas

> Toasted wholemeal bread topped with chopped banana

If nerves get the better of you on exam day then try a nutritious and energy-packed smoothie.

>lunch As tempting as a late greasy breakfast roll may be, try to steer clear of stodgy food that will induce a 'fast-food coma' leaving you feeling sluggish. During exam time you will be sitting two papers most days, so a good lunch is essential to prevent you from flagging during the afternoon exam. Here is an ideal lunch menu during your exams that should suit even the fussiest of eaters:

> Vegetable soup and wholemeal bread

> Wholemeal sandwich with either chicken, ham, egg or cheese filling

> Chicken or tuna wrap

> Tuna or chicken pasta salad

>snacks Try to keep snacks healthy as these will ensure a steady slow release of glucose to the brain.

> Fresh fruit or vegetables

> Fruit or wholemeal scone

> Dried fruit or nuts

> Wholegrain cereal bars

> Popcorn

It is not just during study and exam times that you need to eat a healthy, balanced diet, it is most of the time -- though not all of the time as life would be way too boring without the occasional treat!

Your teenage years are an important stage in your life because your body is not only still growing, but also developing those (sometimes horrid) hormones (as well as some unwanted spots). To help you maintain a healthy weight you need to follow the food pyramid (if you missed it in the Herald a few weeks ago, visit www.indi.ie), eating extra portions of certain food groups, such as dairy.

Eat meals at regular intervals and get some exercise -- even just walking to school or taking the stairs instead of the lift can make a positive difference.

Besides leading a healthy lifestyle, a healthy attitude is also vital. As you may have read here last week, crash diets just don't work so avoid falling into a fad weight-loss trap and certainly don't let airbrushed images of celebrities make you feel badly about your body.

Even the Sky Sports presenters are smothered in make-up, boys, so don't be fooled by Jamie Redknapp's glowing complexion, he is probably just wearing the latest HD foundation!

It is easy to hate yourself during adolescence but try to love and respect your body as much as possible and you will soon reap the rewards, honestly!