Brain Food

Exam season proves to be a stressful time for students across the globe. Many find comfort and deal with such stress by reaching to the nearest chocolate bar available to satisfy hunger urges and reduce anxiety. Yet sugary and unhealthy snacks can be detrimental to the physical and mental pressure exams cause. Scientific research has investigated the negative effects sugar and caffeine have on the brain, proving why it is incredibly important that students feed the brain on the right food all year round, but especially during exams.

It is essential that students eat balanced meals to keep them awake and alert, to concentrate during revision, without impacting upon any anxiety already being felt. Research has evidenced that skipping meals results in a 20-40% reduction in concentration, memory and alertness. Consuming balanced meals are therefore necessary to balance blood sugar and brain chemistry to avoid this outcome. The amino acids created by protein create norepinephrine and dopamine, such brain chemicals influences alertness, energy and attentiveness. When carbs are eaten they are digested and turned into glucose, not only powering the brain but additionally endorsing serotonin which induces calmness.  Antioxidants, found in fruit and vegetables, aid the regulation of oxidative stress on braincells, which is caused when glucose is being converted into energy. Healthy fats have the benefit of stabilising your blood sugar levels and maintaining the feeling of fullness for longer. Additionally keeping hydrated throughout the day when revising is imperative as becoming dehydrated impacts negatively on memory.

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Sugary snacks and caffeine are often craved for during exams – evidenced by the high spike in sales of such food on campus. Both have increasingly negative effects on the brain, which can only translate into unfavourable outcomes when it comes to exams.

Caffeine -This is usually found in coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks and other processed foods.

  • It can double the stress hormones of cortisol and epinephrine in the blood, acting like stress by increasing the heart rate. Anxiety can be exacerbated by caffeine as it poses as a psychoactive drug.
  • Caffeine causes insomnia by blocking adenosine, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel tired. It decreases the most restorative stages of sleep during the night, this has resulted in caffeine-induced sleep disorder being recognised by professionals as a mental disorder. Sleep is essential during exams, it has been found that students who sleep for seven hours a night do averagely 10% better than those who get less sleep
  • It ransacks the brain and body of essential nutrients, decreasing magnesium (related to anxiety) and vitamin B (anti-stress vitamins)
  • Caffeine reduces the blood flow to brain by up to 27%. It is essential that blood flow is  at a continuously high level as it delivers the necessary nutrients, vitamins, minerals, oxygen and glucose found in food and absorbed by the blood.
  • The amount of caffeine consumed positively correlates to the harmful effects it causes. Pure caffeine is found in pills and powder, making overdose a scary reality
    – 1/16 of a teaspoon can lead to addiction
    – 1/4 of a teaspoon causes anxiety
    – 1 tablespoon is enough to kill an adult
  • Caffeine addiction can cause serious withdrawal symptoms including depression, irritability and fatigue.

Sugar –  fructose, glucose and corn syrup can all be forms of processed sugars, found in 74% of packaged food in supermarkets.

  • Researchers found that over consuming on fructose were damaging their synaptic activity in the brain, impairing brain chemical communication and ultimately impacting upon memory
  • Taste receptors activated when eating processed sugars cause feel-good hormones, like dopamine, to be released .When this reward system of pleasurability is over used it creates craving problems and an increased risk for developing depression.
  • Processed sugars found in many snacks that students go to grab result in sugar crashes. Blood sugar levels suddenly peak as it is digested then drop dramatically, this causes fatigue and irritability – something students definitely want to avoid during revision!

Ultimately, the food we consume impacts differently upon the brain. During exams it is vital that students try to minimise the negative effects that can be caused, especially by caffeine and sugar. Instead they should try to maximise the effectiveness of memory, concentration and attentiveness through eating balanced meals to feed the brain and help it reach its potential. Being mindful about brain food is imperative! 

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