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What to eat during exam time

Give your brain some food for thought.

by: Aletta Lintvelt | 28 Oct 2010

Exams are here and our president has asked parents to give kids as much support as possible. I'm sure he meant that parents should give their kids plenty of positive encouragement and make sure the house is distraction- and noise-free.

As mums (and off course those angelic dads who do the cooking at home), one of the most important advantages we can give our child is what we put on their plates and lunchboxes. As grown-ups, we are all too aware of the difference in energy levels after scoffing a cheesy pizza or say a grilled piece of fish instead. The fact is that if your stomach is pulling your eyes closed, it is really hard to concentrate when you hit the books. And a heavy meal before bedtime is sure to leave you feeling tired in the morning.

Mariana Davel, registered dietician (SA) and consulting dietician for Compass Group Southern Africa, says that learners of any age can optimise their concentration by eating the right “brain” food and looking after their general well being.  “To assist with concentration, learners should consume food that steadily supplies blood glucose to the body, which sustains energy levels and maintains alertness.” The brain needs more energy during exam times due to the vast amounts of time learners spend studying.  The energy derived from food should be low in fat and with a low GI in order to supply a constant flow of glucose to the brain.

Top 10 exam tips
Apply Mariana’s top 10 tips during exam times to assist your body during this time and then scroll down for some fab recipes.

1.    Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and should be low in fat, high in fibre and also include a low fat protein.  The energy available from breakfast will assist with the increased metabolism rate early in the morning. An easy breakfast option is a bran cereal served with low fat milk and a fresh fruit or a slice of low GI seed loaf served with a poached egg and fresh tomato slices.

2.    Enjoy 3 meals per day.  Keep them high in fibre, low in fat and add a variety of fruit, vegetables or salads to each meal. A typical lunch can be a sandwich, low GI bread with lean ham and avocado served with a small green salad.

3.    Eat balanced meals.  Include starch, protein and a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables in meals.  Fatty fish e.g. salmon, tuna, mackerel, pilchards, sardines (rich in omega 3) is also a good option to include during stressful times. See healthy family recipes here.

4.    Snack frequently
on fruit and healthy foods to sustain energy needed by the brain. Snack on low fat items (as high fat items will cause nausea) and high fibre items (fibre will sustain energy levels and will prevent drop in sugar levels). Snack could include a small low fat yoghurt or 3 provitas with a spread or a fresh fruit. More lunchbox ideas here.

5.    Drink water in order to prevent dehydration.  Dehydration causes headache, feeling tired and having no energy.  Add taste to the water by adding a few slices of fresh apple or mint leaves.

6.    Exercise – this will increase serotonin levels in the blood which will assist in feeling better.  Exercise also increase the blood and oxygen flow to the brain!!  It also assists with the additional stress experienced during exams.

7.    Breaks are important.  Keep them short and as part of a study roster.

8.    Enough sleep is important.  Make sure that you get enough sleep during the exams.  Lack of sleep has a negative effect on concentration and causes mood swings.

9.    Avoid energy drinks as they are normally high in refined sugar and caffeine which will stimulate heart rate, increase energy initially but then causes drowsiness.

10.    Don’t smoke, as the nicotine increases anxiety levels – this tip is for the older learners that are tempted to succumb to peer pressure. 
•    For more information, contact Mariana Davel on 071 332 2610 or on her email:

Brain food recipes

1. Salmon goujons - a brain-smart take on fishfingers.

2. Pear and honey yoghurt smoothie - when the going gets tough, this will bring some much needed encouragement. 

3. Ostrich keftedes - fragrant little meatballs that go into lunchboxes, fill pittas or be tossed through pasta.

4. Low-GI Fruit and seed crunchie - a treat that is scrumptious and good for you.

5. Tuna Frittata - to up the health-factor, substitute the pasta in this recipe for butterbeans and use low-fat milk instead.


- Aletta Lintvelt

Read more on: aletta lintvelt  |  healthy eating  |  brain  |  exams

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