Exam season is stressful for the whole household! Did you know the right nutrition can have an impact on how well we focus, process learning and cope with stress? Lets have a look at ways we can support our students and ourselves during this tricky time.

Ensure you have enough nutrients in the weeks before an exam

Nutrient deficiencies will impact our mental health, focus and memory. For example B Vitamins are not only needed for energy production but are also needed for the normal function of the brain, nervous system and psychological function. Include plenty of high B vitamin foods such as green leafy vegetables, eggs, salmon and legumes. B Vitamins are easily destroyed by heat and are often lost from vegetables during cooking. To help avoid this, lightly steam or sauté vegetables or if you do boil them keep the water and use for gravy or soups. 

The omega 3 essential fatty acid DHA, found in oily fish is needed for normal brain function. A lack of omega 3 fats is common, if you are not eating oily fish 3-4 times weekly, think SMASH- salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring. Those not keen on fish may wish to consider a supplement.

Fish also contains all essential amino acids, many of which are helpful for mood regulation, conditions such as ADHD, poor sleep and focus. Examples include Tryptophan a precursor to the hormones melatonin and Serotonin which help regulate our body clocks sleep/wake cycle. Serotonin is known as our ‘happy’ hormone. Other foods high in tryptophan include turkey, chicken, celery, cottage cheese, avocado, and banana.

Another useful amino acid is Theanine. Theanine can increase the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine acts as a messenger to the brain and is released during pleasurable activities. Symptoms of low levels of dopamine include depression, lack of motivation or concentration and memory issues. Theanine is found naturally in green tea.

Magnesium is needed for the normal functioning of the nervous system and psychological function, a lack of magnesium is often associated with feelings of low energy and fatigue. A diet high in dark leafy greens, seeds, beans, fish, whole grains, nuts, dark chocolate, yogurt and avocados will provide you with sufficient magnesium levels. Magnesium can also help relaxation in the evening so our Super magnesium is great to include as part of a bedtime routine.

Our Balance for nerves has been formulated to include many of these nutrients in one handy supplement. Containing good levels of B vitamins, magnesium and theanine this can help support students when feeling overwhelmed.

High processed / refined carbohydrate diet. Gut bacteria

Over the last few years our understanding of the gut mind connection has increased greatly. Essentially if our gut microbiome, the vast community of trillions of bacteria and fungi that inhabit every nook and cranny of our gastrointestinal tract is unhappy the likelihood is we won’t be either. Subjects who have low gut microbes often have cognitive issues due to the connection from the gut to the brain via the Vagus nerve. When subjects are given a live bacteria supplement (probiotic) improvements are seen in lowered stress and anxiety, improved memory and cognitive symptoms.

We have known for a long time that our gut bacteria is destroyed by medications such as antibiotics, however we are now discovering that a diet high in processed food also has a major impact. A 2018 study found the link between Just 10 days of processed foods (common diets for teenagers) reduces gut bacteria diversity by 40 percent! However it does recover when we change to a balanced healthy diet, include a wide variety of whole plant foods and foods that contain live bacteria include yogurt, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, miso soup and fermented pickles, as well as foods high in prebiotics these act as a food source for the microbiome, supplements are also an option.

What to eat the morning before an exam

Breakfast does make a difference, balance here is key, keeping blood sugar stable will keep energy levels even, for longer avoiding that crash you get after a sugar high. Research shows that having a balanced breakfast consisting of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats can improve exam performance. Examples include eggs with avocado on whole grain toast, oily fish such as salmon with spinach and mushrooms or oats with yoghurt, mixed nuts and berries. Stay hydrated, have water or herbal teas with breakfast and take a water bottle into the exam where allowed. Even mild dehydration can effect focus. Avoid energy drinks and only have coffee if it’s part of your regular daily routine.

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