You wouldn’t think of putting the wrong fuel in your car or bike, yet it is amazing how many of us run our brains and bodies on the wrong fuel and then wonder why we feel sluggish, tired and unfocused. Diet is particularly important when you are studying for exams or are in a situation where you really have to concentrate and remember stuff, yet so many schools and colleges only offer junk food and poor nutritional choices to their students. Fried foods, pastries, sugary sodas, chocolate bars and snack foods full of fat, salt and sugar will slow you down, make you feel tired and foggy – and still leave you hungry because they don’t contain the nutrients your body craves.
So what should you eat instead?
Well, an egg for breakfast would be a good start to the day. After years of bad press, scientists and nutritionists have come round to realising that handled correctly, the humble egg is actually a very good food source that packs a huge number of nutrients into an easily digestible ‘package’. To quote the Egg Nutrition Centre, ‘One large egg has varying amounts of 13 essential vitamins and minerals all for 70 calories. At just 20 cents each, eggs are affordable and also contain 6 grams of high-quality protein and all nine essential amino acids. Eggs are an excellent source of choline and selenium, and a good source of high-quality protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, phosphorus and riboflavin. In addition, eggs are rich in the essential amino acid leucine (one large egg provides 600 milligrams), which plays a unique role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis.’ http://www.eggnutritioncenter.org/egg-101/ Obviously if you fry up your egg with sausages and bacon in a sea of grease and salt, the benefits start to disappear, but if it is eaten boiled or hard boiled, or even scrambled (easy on the butter, please) and served with a slice of whole grain bread or toast, you will have an easy economical breakfast that won’t divert all the blood from your brain to your bowels to digest. Add a piece or two of fresh fruit and you’re ready to face the day. By the way, hard boiled eggs eaten with fresh tomatoes, a little bread and a few olives is the classic light breakfast or picnic in many countries around the Mediterranean.
Okay, so that’s breakfast sorted. What about lunch? Tuna salad (made with olive oil and lemon, not bottled mayo), sardines or other oily fish such as mackerel and salmon are all good choices. You have probably heard about Omegas. To put it simply, these are a kind of fatty acid which can be divided into Omega 3 which is anti-inflammatory and important for neurological function and memory, and Omega 6 which is associated with inflammation when consumed in excess. We need some of each for our metabolisms to function properly but modern diets have become heavily loaded in Omega 6 and we don’t eat enough Omega 3 so the ratio is all wrong, making us fat, tired and prone to mood swings. While Omega 6 occurs in many processed foods and is one of the factors associated with the global obesity epidemic, Omega 3 is an important ‘brain food’ and can only be found in oily fish and, to a lesser extent, in oily seeds and nuts such as flax and walnuts as well as in olive oil. For more detailed information about the role of omega3 fatty-acids in our diet, go to http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids
For snacks, if you must munch while you study, fresh seasonal fruit and raw vegetables such as carrots, radishes and cucumbers can fill you up without filling you out or slowing you down. Consumed this way rather than as juices or smoothies, the fibre slows down the rate at which the naturally occurring sugars in these foods are absorbed, helping to keep your blood sugar levels stable and reducing the likelihood of a sugar rush followed by a slump which happens if you gulp down sodas and juices or eat candy and chocolate. Cut carrots and cucumbers into disks and eat instead of chips. If you want a savoury dip, a dollop of thick Greek or Turkish plain yoghurt, mixed with mint or other herbs will give you flavour and texture without a lot of unwanted salt, fat and sugar. Nuts are also good for you as long as they are not covered in salt or sugar coatings. A small handful of walnuts or almonds can be a great boost if you feel tired in the mid afternoon.
Plain or sparkling mineral water is better for you than sodas sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup and if you like iced tea, it’s easy to make your own – all you need is boiling water, tea and time for your beverage to infuse and cool. If you get organised and make a pitcher before you go to bed in the evening, it will be ready to pour into a bottle to take with you in the morning. You can sweeten your iced tea with sugar, honey, stevia, xylitol or agave syrup to taste and you know exactly what you are drinking. You can also add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. If you drink cola for the caffeine, take a tip from the Greeks. They make a delicious variant on iced coffee making use of instant coffee and iced water frothed up together in a blender or shaker and served over ice with milk and sugar to taste. A Greek-style frappe contains only a fraction of the sugar of a canned cola and you know exactly what is in it. It is also incredibly cheap to make, which is great if you are on a tight student budget.
We hope that you have found these tips helpful while you study and save you from making poor nutritional choices in the cafeteria or at the vending machine.