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How what students eat now can add up to exam success in June

Posted by Francis O' Toole on February 26, 2015

Very often, students neglect the fundamentals of good health, such as eating nourishing foods, which alleviate the effects of exam stress and anxiety on the body. Looking after the body’s nutritional requirements is a must for those who want to succeed, stay calm, keep their energy levels constant and remain alert.

Many Irish teenagers make poor food choices such as grabbing convenience foods, which give an instant boost of energy, but it is short lived and causes imbalances in blood glucose. This type of eating has a direct impact on energy levels and their ability to focus and concentrate.

Glucose is the fuel of the body. Energy is made in the cells and requires glucose to fuel it. The brain has a greater requirement for glucose than any other organ and uses it exclusively. It has no mechanism to store glucose so it is important to feed it a steady supply to optimise its functioning. Eating regularly is vital to balance blood glucose levels. This is the secret to maximise concentration, focus, memory and staying alert.

The most efficient way to make glucose is from carbohydrates. Choosing the right type of carbohydrate is the secret. Excess snacking on simple carbohydrates, such as fizzy drinks, biscuits, cereals and bars, should be avoided.

Complex carbohydrates are typically foods which are in their natural state. They provide a slow release of glucose into the blood, keeping energy levels constant. This prevents blood glucose imbalances. Good sources include oats, wholemeal bread, brown rice, quinoa, fruit, and starchy vegetables such as carrots, turnips, parsnips, sweet potato, butternut squash and pulses.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Aim to start the day with protein, fats and carbohydrates. Two eggs with some brown bread and real Irish butter is ideal.

Alternatively, choose some porridge or muesli with ground flaxseed, nuts and berries. It is not advisable to leave long gaps between eating, as this affects concentration. Always have a mid-morning snack such as an apple or some nuts. Taking regular breaks to refuel improves resilience and stamina.

The brain is a fatty organ. Over 60pc of it is made of fats; 33pc of this fat is called omega 3. This nutrient is essential for mood, hormones, learning and memory. Aim to consume oily fish three times per week; if oily fish doesn’t appeal, then take a good quality fish oil supplement with a minimum of 500mg of EPA/DHA daily.

Prolonged exposure to anxiety from exam pressures increases the production of stress hormones, which in turn create excess oxidative stress in the body. To combat this effect, it is important to eat foods high in antioxidants. Coloured fruit and vegetables are excellent sources. Incorporate lots of fruit and vegetables daily, fresh or frozen. Better choices are berries, greens, tomatoes and orange-coloured vegetables.

Never refuel on caffeinated products. The effect is short term and will result in a sharp drop in blood sugars. Caffeine stimulates the production of stress hormones. High levels of adrenaline wreak havoc on the body, shutting down thinking, causing poor memory recall, brain fog and can cause students to blank out in exams.

Always re-hydrate on water – 1pc dehydration slows the brain function down by 10pc.

Gaye Godkin is a consultant nutritionist.

Irish Independent

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