The new school year’s just started. Everyone’s on a level field right now, whether you’re a straight-A student or one who’s just trying to stay in school. It’s a fresh start, before studying, tests, classes, extracurricular activities and—obviously—your personal life wear you out.
So what’s an overwhelmed student to do? Everyone’s always telling you about how cheating is bad and that an unfair advantage is something to be avoided. Let’s face it though—a little boost here and there couldn’t hurt. Besides, it’s not really cheating per se…it’s more like a way to give you an edge.
Wondering what you have to do to get this advantage? Believe it or not, it’s as simple as eating healthy. Read on for a cheat sheet on why and how to ace your exams through your stomach.
1. Eating healthy gives you energy. This one’s a no-brainer. (Get it?) Candy, chips and soda are easy to grab on-the-go, but they will cause you to crash in no time at all. You might be alert for the first part of class, but drooling on your desk by the end. This dramatic shift in your ability to focus can completely tank your learning and test-taking efforts. Don’t be that guy snoring in the back of class. Choose snacks that have fiber and protein for long-lasting fuel that won’t cause crazy insulin spikes.
Tip: Boost your memory with a hard-boiled egg instead of the sugary and salty snacks from the vending machine. As a good source of choline, eggs are an amazing brain food.
2. Staying hydrated means staying awake. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and sleeping through class. Or it can cause you to not be able to focus on what’s on the page in front of you. Have you ever tried to answer questions when your brain’s fuzzy? The fastest way to ruin all your studying is to show up for a test without being properly fueled—and that means drinking plenty of liquid. The brain is nearly 75 percent liquid and has no way of storing water, which is why dehydration affects your mental performance so quickly.
Tip: Stay away from sugary drinks as they’ll just cause you to crash a few hours later when the sugar and caffeine have worn off. Stick to plain old water or unsweetened tea (watch out for the caffeine though). Your teeth, jeans and brain will thank you.
3. Your brain needs glucose to function. Just because your brain needs glucose does not mean it’s free-for-all time at the candy store. Trying to jumpstart your brain with a heavy dose of glucose can harm the rest of your body and the brain itself, leading to sleepiness, impaired memory and mental fog. Glucose can be drawn from recently eaten carbohydrates—like vegetables, fruits, and whole grain. The fiber and other nutrients in these whole foods help prevent the sugar spikes that lead to the crashes.
Tip: Eat fruit to power your brain. Fruit is a great source of fiber and fructose, as well as that all-important glucose. The glucose will keep your brain running, and fructose with the fiber will keep your energy levels up and stable. Added bonus: fruits are packed with antioxidants, which can help protect your brain.
4. Certain nutrients protect your brain from environmental damage. What’s that you say? You’ve never done anything hazardous or harmful to your health, ever, in your whole life? Well, good for you. Most students have—and eating healthy can help protect or even repair some of the damage done from exposure to the, ah, “elements.”
Tip: Eat fish for the omega-3s, which could minimize the effect of junk food on the brain while boosting your memory and ability to learn. Skip the fish sticks in the cafeteria though, as there is probably very little omega-3 and a lot of extra fat and filler.
5. Brain food slows aging and cognitive decline. Unless you want to end up like your older relatives who constantly wander about, asking where their keys are, start protecting your brain now against aging factors—and you’ll end up seeing a boost to your memory. Better memory equals better test scores.
Tip: Snack on nuts and seeds. They’re good sources of the antioxidant vitamin E and of omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent cognitive decline. Mix together pumpkin seeds, walnuts and dried blueberries for a brain-boosting snack with lasting power.
6. Improve your recall with the magical fruit. Beans aren’t just good for your heart. Packed with protein and fiber to give you energy to stay alert while learning, studying or taking an exam, beans are also a great source of folic acid. A necessary nutrient for the developing brain, folic acid improves memory and brain performance.
Tip: Don’t like beans (or its side effects)? Try eating strawberries or asparagus instead for the same effect.
Just remember: eating well alone will not help you ace those tests (obviously). You might have to crack open a book once in a while, or stay awake in class long enough to hear what the teacher has to say. But healthy eating will help give you a boost to help you succeed in school—and in life.
Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer in Southern California. With kids of her own, sending them off to school with healthy foods is very important to her. She contributes to the BenchPrep blog, helping students prepare to ace their exams and get through school with flying colors. Follow her on Twitter today!