In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to study for finals; you’d just sit down with your exam and let the magic happen. Of course, if you’re looking to make the Dean’s List (or even just pass), that’s not your best option. But if you have to study, there are ways to get past the all-nighters fueled by diet pop and pizza, and fill up on foods that can actually make it easier to ace your exam. Best of all, the foods mentioned below are great additions to your diet, exam or no exam – so don’t wait until the end of the semester to add them to your plate.
Brush Up on Brain-Boosting Exam Foods
- Chocolate:Who isn’t excited to have another excuse to eat chocolate? This, however, isn’t permission to run straight for the vending machines. Dark chocolate, with at least 70% cacao content, can help improve focus, making it a brain-smart choice, especially during exam time. To get the best benefits without going overboard, stick to a 1 ounce serving. A cup of real hot chocolate made by melting a square of dark chocolate into a hot cup of fat-free or one percent milk is a great way to start the day.
- Wild Salmon: The abundant omega-3 in salmon, especially wild, can help boost memory – a much-needed help when you’re hitting the books. If you’re not much of an apartment chef, look for it on menus when you’re out to eat. And don’t overlook the cafeteria; some progressive dining halls are even beginning to add this fish to the menu.
- Green Tea: You can’t beat the caffeine and antioxidant boost that green tea gives the brain, and since it’s free from suspicious chemicals and artificial sweeteners, it’s infinitely better than diet pop. The antioxidant content can help improve blood flow to the brain, and, as with dark chocolate, the caffeine can help improve focus and lift brain fog. But take care to stick to freshly brewed teas instead of bottled sugar-bomb tea. Brew a cup to keep you company during study time, or to rev you up for your exam.
- Eggs: On exam day, it’s worth an extra few minutes to eat a good breakfast – especially one that includes eggs. Not only is the protein perfect for keeping you satiated throughout the entire exam (how can you concentrate if you are hungry?), but the nutrients found in eggs, especially choline, can improve brain function.
- Blueberries: Pop them in a bag and toss ‘em in your pack. Blueberries are the original fast food. Even better, blueberries are packed with antioxidants because of the high skin-to-fruit ratio. All those antioxidants have been linked to improving memory – and at exam time, total recall and sound memory are exactly what the professor ordered.
- Beans. Not only are beans full of antioxidants, they are also composed of carbohydrates, which feed your brain. And since they also have a low glycemic index, your blood sugar doesn’t spike and then plummet. Add to that, beans are packed with protein, so you can keep your mind on the exam, not your rumbling belly. Afternoon exam? A bowl of bean-loaded vegetarian chili is the perfect test prep.
The Bottom Line
Study up – but eat up, too. Add these brain-boosting foods to your exam review lineup and you can be sure your body is fueled for success.
Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master Degree in Public Health. An experienced nutrition counselor, writer and public speaker, Beth specializes in translating complex nutrition information into practical concepts. Beth was awarded a Nutrition Communications Fellowship to the National Cancer Institute, and has worked on the internationally recognized Nutrition Action Healthletter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.