It’s that time of the year again when eating right (or sometimes eating at all) takes a backseat to juggling assignments, midterms and the semester odds and ends that pepper your weeks in the countdown to finals. Too often will you be bleary-eyed and groggy come morning, happily guzzling a frequent coffee laden with sugar and cream and a cream-cheese bagel, followed by a greasy pizza slice and pop for lunch, with a burger and fries and a “small” brownie for dinner. By this point you’ve convinced yourself that you have no time to put towards the preparation of healthy meals.
You often envy those friends of yours who come to study sessions with little packages of fruits, nuts and other healthy snacks, while you grab a chocolate bar from the vending machine. But good nutrition can actually help you ace those tests, reduce stress and keep off the unwanted weight gain that follows these high-stress weeks. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Here are some tips to get you started:
Remember to balance your daily vitamin and mineral requirements, as this will make your job much easier. You need iron and Vitamin B to maintain the mental and physical energy required to study, or else you’ll drift off to la-la land or get distracted. Iron-containing foods include red meat, cereals and spinach; chili is a great idea for vegetarians and meat lovers alike. Instead of ground beef, substitute some spinach along with the kidney beans in a vegetarian chili. Remember to get some Vitamin C, as this will assist with iron absorption. Foods containing B vitamins include whole-grains, wheat germ, eggs and nuts. Soy and fish are other good foods said to enhance mental activity by providing the brain with much-needed nutrients.
Vitamin C chewables are not food
While dietary supplements are wonderful additions to a balanced diet, they are not food. Real food is better, so get some Vitamin C from an orange, in addition to fiber, beta-carotene and other minerals! Stop being a pill pusher, and pack some healthy items for study sessions, such as apples, bananas, dried fruit and cut vegetables.
Stabilizing those energy and nutrient levels comes about through consumption of food at regular intervals. Your wallet will also thank you if you curb the temptation to buy empty-calorie snacks from the vending machine.
Big meals come with a price
Few, big meals might get you your nutrients, but at the cost of reduced mental and physical activity. Instead, consider about 5-6 well balanced, smaller meals that will spread out the calories, such as toast spread with peanut butter, hummus, tuna, guacamole or even cottage cheese and olives, or just a piece of cheese with fruit
You’ve often heard that eating breakfast is great, but how to eat a smart breakfast is less understood. A coffee and a bagel won’t provide you with much. Instead, try to get some protein, calcium, fiber and some fruit in there. All of this can be found in a bowl of cereal with milk, a cereal bar, fruit smoothies, oatmeal, grilled cheese and scrambled eggs – endless options! Just don’t forget to add a piece of fruit where you don’t see one listed.
Fruits occupy a coveted niche mong the best foods you can eat to enhance brain function. Blueberries, goji berries and other frozen berry delights contain tons of those great antioxidants and can be easily made into a healthy smoothie with the addition of some yogurt, or low-fat ice cream, and fruit juice. The sugar in fruits is also cleaner in the sense that you don’t experience the crash that follows refined sugar consumption.
Choose your vegetables wisely
Some vegetables are better than others – the darker the color, the higher the nutrient concentration. Spinach is more nutrient-dense than most lettuces, and thus is better for your brain. Pick up other vegetables such as bell peppers, broccoli and sweet potatoes on your trip to the grocery store. If you’re strapped for time, pick a day when you can cook your veggies, so the rest of the week involves Tupperware portions for lunch!
Snack smarter, study better
You’ll find you retain more if you snack smart while studying.Challenge yourself to get two food groups into your snacks to balance the nutrients, and keep your blood sugar stable. Some examples include a banana with peanut butter, a small baked potato with cottage cheese, a baby spinach and feta salad, or cheese with dried fruit and almonds.The list goes on, and the Internet can help you find some examples that are just right for you.Easy recipes can nourish you faster.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort really to nourish yourself. Here are a few ideas: Scrambled eggs with toast, cheese and salsa. Easy chili (see recipes online) with minimal preparation – it simmers while you study! Instant noodles with steamed vegetables and tofu, beans or meat.
Get enough water!
Avoiding dehydration is important, so remember to choose your beverages wisely. Coffee is a diuretic and will dehydrate you, and must not serve as a substitute for water. Try to drink it in moderation. Alcohol is also a diuretic and a depressant, and should be avoided during crunch time. Better beverage options include water, milk, fruit juice and antioxidant-rich green tea.