It's exam season - help!
All over the country, teenagers and adults are preparing for a summer of exams, whether it’s finals, A levels, GCSEs or end of year exams. Make sure your brain is in tip top condition by following our simple tips below to boost your brain and give yourself the best chance for success.
Reduce refined carbohydrates and sugar
There is lots of evidence that shows that excessive sugar damages the brain. Sugar damages the brain by forming toxic compounds called ‘advanced glycation end products’ (AGEs). A lifetime of sugar abuse and AGE creation can lead to artery and brain damage.
Another reason to stay off the sugar is that the more sugar and refined carbohydrates that you eat, the more you’ll have blood sugar highs and lows. This blood sugar dysregulation will leave you feeling tired and unable to concentrate. Rather than using sugar to snack on to keep you going use fruit or vegetables. In small amounts dried fruit is ok, but to minimise the blood sugar rush eat with nuts and seeds or make a batch of energy balls to keep you going. We have lots of recipes on our website but at the moment we love the cacao, orange and turmeric power balls.
Increase your consumption of omega-3 fats
The brain is 60% fat and the fat needs replacing – not by trans fat, found in processed food – but by healthy essential fats. By following a low fat diet you are depriving your body and brain of the essential building blocks it needs to survive. Eat plenty of cold-water oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring, anchovies and sardines. Limit tuna to just twice a month, this often contains mercury, which is damaging to the brain. Other good sources of omega 3 fats are nuts, seeds, flaxseed oil and olive oil. If you aim for 2-3 servings of oily fish a week and a tablespoon of seeds and flaxseed oil a day that should really help your brain.
One of the brains main construction materials is phospholipids. Egg yolks are one of the top sources. Poached or boiled, free range or organic eggs are fantastic brain food. Aim for an egg a day to keep your brain sharp. Look for eggs that are high in omega 3 fats. This means that the chickens would have been fed a diet rich in flaxseed to increase the omega 3 fats.
Increase your consumption of fruit and vegetables
As well as providing important antioxidants for your brain, vegetables contain something called pyroglutamates, which is seen as an essential brain nutrient and can improve learning, memory consolidation and memory retrieval. Aim for 6 or more servings of vegetables a day including green vegetables.
Don’t rely on coffee to keep you going
The ability to recall facts and lists is made worse by caffeine so try and avoid too much during exam season. Remember that caffeine is found in energy and cola drinks as well as in chocolate.
Exposure to natural light every day will help keep your brain sharp, regulate your circadian rhythm (which will help you sleep) and provide you with vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for immune health as well as mental health as it helps to protect our memory.
This is difficult in exam season, but stress results in a rise in cortisol, which can damage your brain. Physical stress has been shown to lower cortisol so go for a quick run, or get your boxing gloves on and punch a punch bag for 5 to minutes a day to lower your stress levels.
The herb rosemary is said to enhance learning and improve brain function so try to include lots in your diet. Rosemary goes well with chicken, lamb, roast potatoes and roast vegetable. Try our tomato, rosemary and bean soup. Or try diffusing rosemary oil in a diffuser in the study room to increase mental alertness, or rubbing a drop of the oil on your wrist while learning. If you also rub the oil on your wrist during the exam you will get smell association, which can help with triggering memory.
Finally, good luck with any revision in your house this summer. I’ve got two children going through important exams this summer so I’ll also be taking on board the above tips too!