By Jeanine Toes
As spring rolls in college students everywhere are preparing for the inevitable: Semester finals. Students race to submit papers and cram endlessly for difficult exams, pulling all night study sessions and living on junk food. Unfortunately the lack of sleep and nutrition takes a toll on the body and can be counterproductive for a brain that needs to be at its best.
Conversely, a well-nourished body is a well-nourished brain. With some easy steps you can quickly replenish vital nutrients that your brain needs to perform. Here are a few suggestions to transition to optimal health:
-Fill up on high fiber foods
Chances are that you have heard that oatmeal is good for the brain. Your mom was right; oatmeal provides fiber and complex carbohydrates that keep you feeling full and your blood sugar level, which in turn helps concentration. One packet of instant oatmeal has 4-5g of fiber, but try adding fresh fruit for additional fiber and nutrition. Cinnamon can be added to help keep blood sugar constant. Steel cut and rolled oats are the best bets, but any oatmeal is an improvement over sugary breakfast cereals.
-Avoid highly processed and high sugar foods
Highly processed foods have little to no nutritional value and sabotage your diet. They clog up your system and leave you craving more junk. High sugar foods cause drastic moves in blood sugar, causing “crashes” that impede studying.
Approximately 60% of the brain is fat. Your brain needs Omega 3, which may be difficult to get on a typical college student’s diet. Unless you eat oily fish like salmon on a regular basis, you are likely deficient in this nutrient. Low levels of Omega 3 are associated with ADHD and concentration issues, as well as other health issues. Chia seeds and flax seeds are loaded with Omega 3s as well as fiber. Add some to yogurt, a smoothie or sprinkle on any food. One serving of chia seeds (1 oz.) has over 4900 mg. of Omega 3, 10g fiber (42% RDA!), and is packed with calcium, manganese, and phosphorous, all vital minerals. Once or twice a week you can also add canned tuna (in water). Tuna is a great source of protein and Omega 3, and is also loaded with vitamins B6 and B12, niacin and selenium.
-Add real, nutritionally packed foods to your diet
Focus on fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens), whole grains, and good sources of protein, like fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts and seeds, tofu and tempeh. Some easy, nutritionally packed foods include berries, bananas, spinach, kale (the new favorite in the health world), nuts like almonds, walnuts and cashews, whole grains like quinoa and brown rice.
Add protein and calcium packed Greek yogurt to your routine, with chia seeds, fresh fruit and a little honey. If you have access to a kitchen, make an omelet with onions, mushrooms and veggies instead of getting fried chicken wrapped in waffles (a staple at Midwest colleges, apparently). If you have access to a blender, make smoothies daily! They offer a delicious way to nourish your body. Use plain yogurt or healthy protein powder as the protein source; add fruits and vegetables, flax or chia. You can use coconut water, water or milk (try almond milk!) as the base, depending on your personal taste.
-Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate
Drink a full glass of water as soon as you wake up in the morning, and continue throughout the day. Drop the soda and energy drinks, as you crave them because your body is dehydrated. Staying hydrated will give you more energy with fewer cravings.
Eat up and good luck on finals!
Jeanine Toes, AADP
Integrative Nutrition and Holistic Health Coach