As the last half of the year approaches, the pressure is on for students, especially if you’re in your final year of high school. You’re expected to take on and retain large amounts of information, so your brain has to work extra hard. I’d like to offer you some tips to help your brain work better so you reach your exams feeling fresh. Even if you’re not a student, these tips can help you work smarter, faster and feeling less stress.
There are just three nutritional words you need to memorise: Glucose, fats, protein. Knowing how to apply these will feed your brain and help keep your mood stable, so you can cope more effectively with pressure.
Glucose is the main fuel for your brain neurotransmitters. Surprisingly, your brain uses up a huge proportion of the glucose circulating in your bloodstream; its greedy for glucose. But it performs best when provided with a steady supply of glucose, without sudden rises or slumps in supply. To enable this, ensure the carbohydrates in your diet are of the complex type. This means that they are slow to digest, and release their energy slowly.
Starchy vegetables like sweet potato and sweet corn are ideal; so are complex grains like brown rice and quinoa. Fruit is also a complex carbohydrate source when you eat it raw (not juiced). Fast release carbohydrates like soft drinks, potato chips & crisps, fruit juice and lollies will cause a rapid rise in your blood glucose level. It feels good at first – but your pancreas will immediately take action to push that excessive sugar level down, leaving your blood sugar level too low for your brain to function as well as you’d like it to. The result can be foggy thinking, grumpiness and mood swings.
Although your brain feeds on glucose, it’s made up primarily of fat. The more flexible the nerve cell membranes are, the more effectively they can take oxygen and nutrients in, and work harder. Eating plenty of good fats, especially those rich in omega-3s, are the key to a healthy brain structure. Oily fish are an excellent source of good oils, as are flaxseed, most nuts, avocado and olives. Fats to avoid are those high in omega-6 oils which promote more rigid cell membrane structure: dairy food, fatty processed meats, pastries and deep fried food.
Finally, you need protein, to build neurotransmitters. High quality protein from meat, fish and eggs is ideal – a little at every meal.
Here’s a sample day’s diet for a hard working student:
Breakfast (essential): Poached eggs on baked beans
Morning snack: 30g mixed raw nuts with fresh fruit
Lunch: Rice salad with tuna, capsicum, cucumber, celery, bean sprouts, spinach leaves, sesame seeds and parsley, with a soy honey dressing.
Afternoon snack: Hummus with carrot and celery sticks.
Dinner: Meat or fish with vegetables. Ensure that half your dinner plate is filled with a mixture of green vegetables.