The right snack may provide your brain and body the boost it needs to help you focus and prepare to ace your finals.
The ability to concentrate and problem solve requires a steady supply of energy—in the form of glucose—obtained from wholesome, slow-to-digest carbs. In fact, the brain only uses glucose for its energy, so without adequate carbs in your diet, it’s hard to think clearly, memorize or concentrate.
However, when stress is high, studies show that the hormone cortisol rises, which causes insulin to rise and blood sugar to drop, making you crave high-calorie comfort foods like cookies, pizza and chocolate. These foods light up reward areas of the brain that help you feel better—albeit briefly. In addition, these quick-to-digest carbs create dramatic spikes and drops in blood sugar that can make it harder to concentrate.
A healthier approach to combat stress and fuel your grey matter is to choose wholesome carbs that are slow to digest or carbs that are partnered with protein or healthy fats to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream. This helps provide steady energy your brain craves.
Here are five smart snacks to try:
1. GORP or Trail Mix: Otherwise known as hiker’s trail mix, make a study-friendly version by combining whole grain cereal with dried fruit mixed with your favorite protein and fat-rich nuts. GORP is calorie-rich so keep your portion to less than a half-cup.
2. Greek Yogurt with Berries and Granola: Plain Greek yogurt is high in protein but low in added sugar so it will help sustain your energy. Top with berries and a tablespoon of granola for a creamy treat that will satisfy your cravings for something sweet without turning to candy.
3. Whole Grain Cereal with Milk: Whole grains are generally low in glycemic index (GI), which helps provide steady energy to the brain. In fact, one study reported that test takers who ate a lower GI oatmeal breakfast scored better on memory and cognition tests than when they ate a high glycemic matched meal. Have a cup of a 100% whole grain cereal with milk to gain an edge to help you make the grade.
4. Apple and Nut Butter Sandwiches: In place of bread, core and slice an apple and spread each slice with your favorite nut butter and top with another apple slice. These apple “sandwiches” provide a steady dose of carbohydrates that provide the fuel your brain needs to stay focused, while the protein and fat in nuts will help keep you satisfied longer.
5. Tea with (Avocado) Toast: Instead of fretting over how much you have to cram, make a cup of soothing tea and enjoy with a healthy comfort food – a slice of avocado toast. A specific nutrient in tea (green and black) triggers areas of the brain that help you feel calm, yet focused. What’s more, unlike downing an energy drink or coffee, tea has less caffeine so it’s less likely to leave you with the jitters and disrupt your sleep. To make avocado toast, use wholesome whole grain bread and spread with 3 tablespoons avocado and sprinkle with a little sea salt and cracked pepper.
Note: Since everyone’s health history and nutritional needs are so different, please make sure that you talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to get advice about the diet and exercise plan that‘s right for you.