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Foods to fuel your brain

Get the edge in your exams with these tips.

While a healthy diet might not be top of mind when you’re cramming for your exams, it could be the secret ingredient to success.

Certain foods have been found to enhance cognitive function, improve mental alertness and enable sustained concentration to help students learn and remember the themes, concepts or formulas for their final exam.

Yet according to Duane Mellor, an Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, the financial pressures many students face means they are missing out on essential food groups such as fruit and vegetables.

In fact, around 48 percent of tertiary students experience some difficulty in accessing nutritious and safe foods – compared to around two per cent of the general population.

Dr Mellor said with a bit of planning and some knowledge of healthy and cheap choices, students can fuel themselves with nutritious food to maximise their learning and achieve optimum results.

“There is a misconception, particularly in the younger generation, that healthy, fresh food costs too much. But eating nutritious food doesn’t need to be expensive. There are plenty of affordable options for those on a tight budget.”

Follow these tips to boost your brain before your exams:

  • Start the day right. You’ve heard it before, but a healthy breakfast really is the perfect way to get your day off to a good start. Get an energy boost from oats, or opt for eggs. These affordable breakfast choices will keep you fuelled all morning, and eggs contain a nutrient called choline, thought to help cognitive performance and improve memory.
  • Embrace your morning coffee. A 2014 study found that that the caffeine in coffee might offer an instant mental boost, as well as longer-term effects on thinking skills. Just don’t drink too much.
  • Avoid a sugar crash. Before you reach for junk food remember, remember the temporary high you’ll get from a sugar-fix will be followed quickly by crashing blood sugar levels causing fatigue. And overindulging in foods high in sugar and saturated fat might also impact your memory and learning ability. Research has also found that short-term exposure to junk food could affect your memory by increasing inflammation in the hippocampus, the brain structure which is critical for memory and learning.

Find out what happens when you eat too much sugar.

  • Snack on berries. Instead, try snacking on fruit, especially berries. A study from the University of Reading and the Peninsula Medical School found that supplementing a normal diet with blueberries for twelve weeks improved performance on spatial working memory tasks. The effects started just three weeks in and continued for the length of the study.
  • Fuel with fish. Fatty fish like salmon are a well-known brain booster, due to the high-level of Omega-3. Eating fresh or tinned fish three times a week is possible without breaking the bank. Try salmon, whiting or sardines, either grilled or in a salad or a wrap.

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