How Best To Fuel The Brain When Revising And Preparing For Exams By Eva Humphries.

BANT registered (British Association For Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine) Eva Humphries (DipION, mBANT, CNHC, Nutritional Therapist) answers our questions on how best to support the brain with food and drink during revision and exams.

1. What are the key foods to help stimulate brain function/concentration whilst revising and why?

EH: Fun fact: we burn around 20% of our daily calorie intake through brain function. There is a slight increase during periods of intense concentration so powering the brain is a good idea. 
Here are some of the top foods for brainpower:
- good quality eggs - I’m fond of Clarence Court eggs but any really good quality ones like organic will do the trick
- wild salmon - note the wild bit, farmed salmon is a no no 
- shellfish like oysters, mussels and crab 
- hemp seeds
- raw cacao - not a spelling mistake, it’s the cooler, much more nutritious relative of cocoa 
- berries & cherries 
- parsley - yup 

2. What nutrients are in the foods you mentioned from above question and why are they important in helping the brain function?

EH: Notice I mentioned the brain uses 20% of our daily calorie intake. In theory, adding extra calories is easy but this would be like giving a lion cat food. It’d probably get by but lions are optimised to hunt for Impala and such!
Our brains need a lot of nutrients to function at an awesome capacity.Paying attention to a few key ones has the potential to supercharge brain function.
Here is why the foods on the list above were suggested:
Eggs - choline
Choline is essential for brain function, especially for memory. Think of it as a little booster for revision when remembering things is especially important.
3x eggs a day covers most of the recommended daily intake of choline.
Wild salmon - Omega 3 fats 
Omega 3s are super fuel for the brain.
In a study on young adults, higher intakes omega 3 were associated with better cognition.
Meaning having to work less hard to achieve more.
It’s a no brainer. 
Pun intentional.
Shellfish such as oysters, mussels & crab - Omega 3 fats and zinc
Shellfish are often under appreciated but they totally deserve superfood status.
Alongside the Omega 3s described above, they are also amongst the best sources of zinc.
Low zinc levels are associated with all sorts of not such great things like lethargy, a lowered ability to learn new things and trouble focusing.
The bad news is most of us don’t actually get enough zinc, it simply isn’t in many foods.
Shellfish to the rescue. 
Hemp seeds - zinc & magnesium
Hemp seeds are one of the only reliable plant-based sources of zinc.
Note: you’ll need around 100g of them per day. 
Hemp seeds also contain another essential mineral, magnesium.
Magnesium is needed for memory and learning but there is another aspect.
When we are stressed, we burn through more magnesium, creating somewhat of a deficit. 
Magnesium is known as the ‘chill out’ mineral so putting a bit more of this in when revising may just be the ticket to better learning capacity. 
Raw cacao - magnesium & antioxidants
In case you need an excuse for a hot chocolate, this is it. Just use raw cacao for it.
It’s a rich source of magnesium and contains some nifty antioxidants that may further support the brain.
In a study on older individuals, antioxidants found within cocoa improved memory and cognition. Whether that translates to the younger generation remains to be seen but irrespective of the results, whipping up a hot chocolate with raw cacao can't be a bad thing.
Berries and cherries - Vitamin C & antioxidants
Vitamin C does a lot of neat things for the brain, notably in relation to concentration and memory. Like cacao, berries and cherries also contain antioxidants that have the potential to give the brain a boost.
Parsley - iron & apigenin
Parsley may be a surprising addition to this list but it's a powerhouse of nutrients.
Iron, found in abundance in parsley, is often ignored in relation to brain function but it couldn't be more important. We actually need iron to make most neurotransmitters, aka our brain chemicals. Without sufficient iron, tiredness and poor concentration can set in, which is probably the very thing you are trying to avoid when revising.Furthermore, apigenin, a compound found in parsley, is showing promise in improving cognition but further studies are needed before we jump to conclusions

3.Which foods would you recommend for breakfast, lunch and supper and could you give a couple of simple recipe ideas?

EH: Meals containing a good mix of the foods listed above would be ideal but to keep it simple, here is what to focus on:
A. Does the meal contain protein? If not, it's more like a snack.
B. Does it contain veg? Ideally aim for 2-3 different ones per meal. These will add a tonne of feel-good nutrients.

4. What can someone with a vegan diet substitute for meat and dairy products which would be as beneficial as someone who isn't vegan? Could you give a couple of recipe ideas?

EH: There isn't a like for like replacement, unfortunately, rather those on a vegan diet should aim for a well-balanced diet that focuses on nutrients first. It can take a bit of extra effort initially.
In particular, it's worth paying attention to total protein intake, Omega 3 fats, Vitamin B12, zinc, iron and calcium.
The nutrients listed are typically harder to obtain from a vegan diet.
In addition, it's worth adding a little bit of seaweed. It sounds utterly random but seaweed contains a few nutrients which are otherwise hard to obtain.

5. In your opinion what would be the best breakfast to have before the start of a day of exams?

EH: If you want to go all out, eggs, smoked wild salmon, a handful of veggies like tomatoes and rocket on sourdough would tick so many boxes.
Whatever your eating preferences, focus on a higher protein breakfast. This will keep blood sugar nice and steady, meaning the capacity to concentrate also stays high.
6. We all know teenagers like to snack!  What are healthy snacks they can munch on whilst sitting at their desk?
EH: Like with breakfast, it's good to aim for items that are higher in protein and/or fats. This may help to keep blood sugar steady and therefore concentration high.
Here are some examples:
- Energy bites made with nut butter, oats and dates. Here is a version: 
- No bake flapjacks like this one:
- Perhaps an avo chocolate mousse to get that magnesium-rich cacao in: h
- Frozen yoghurt berry bark:
Technically fruit also works, just have it with a handful of nuts/ seeds or some nut butter to add protein and healthy fats. 

7. If they have to have 'unhealthy snacks' are there any better than others?

In all honesty, they are much of a muchness. The good news is, protein and energy bites are readily available from supermarkets now so these may be a good option in case making snacks is not a possibility. Look out for brands like Tribe Nutrition, Misfits and Bounce.

8. Keeping hydrated is very important. Apart from water, can you recommend any other more interesting drinks which are still healthy?

EH: It's super easy to "jazz up" water. Add some lime or lemon, slices of cucumber, mint or frozen berries for an instant flavour boost.
Unflavoured fizzy water such as San Pellegrino is also an option.

9. Are there any foods/drinks that can help reduce stress and anxiety?

EH: Foods that contain higher doses of magnesium may help.
Magnesium is our 'chill out' mineral so adding a bit more of this mineral can often be useful.
Cacao and hemp seeds contain larger quantities.  These hemp and cacao brownie bites combine both:

10. Sleep can be a real issue for many the night before an exam. What foods/drink can help with sleep?

EH: Here are some that may help:
Chamomile tea - it's calming
Sour cherry juice - certain compounds in sour cherry juice may promote better sleep. Kiwis contain some of the same compounds too. Lemon verbena - a fab calmin herb. Can be added to tea alongside chamomile or sprinkled on top of food.

11. Can you give any other tips/advice you feel have helped you in the past when facing exams? (don't have to be food-related) 

EH: Personally, I find staying active generally helps to burn through that nervous energy, as does getting some fresh air.The worst thing is staying in a headspace whereby you keep going over and over the task at hand. So I tend to distract myself by talking to friends, going for walks or even just listening to music. Breaking that cycle of rumination can be so helpful. 

For more information and tips/advice from Eva see all her details below.
Web: media:Instagram: @wholefoodwarrior