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Healthy food

21 May 2020

Can you eat your way to better results?

Final assessments and exam replacement tasks are right around the corner. For some of us, this can mean neglecting proper meals throughout the day in favour of snacking during long study sessions. For others, being at home so much more during COVID-19 restrictions means it’s almost impossible to walk past the fridge and not give in to the munchies!

But did you know that it’s not just revision that will help you ace your assessments? The food we eat actually has a lot to do with brain function too.

Susan Torres, Associate Professor at Deakin’s School of Exercise and Nutrition, an accredited practising dietitian and a registered nutritionist, has some great advice on how improving your diet could lead to better study outcomes.  

Understand the link between nutrition and brain function

Think of your brain as being like a car engine – the better the fuel, the better it will run.

Because your brain is constantly at work and never really ‘turns off’, it needs a very regular supply of premium fuel to perform at its peak at all times.

Susan explains that eating food that contain lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress – which can damage cells and subsequently decrease brain efficiency.

‘For example, better cognition has been associated with the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, nuts, fruit, vegetables and fish.

‘Conversely, a higher intake of processed foods has been associated with reduced functioning of the brain.’

Know that you don’t have to spend lots to eat well

Sourcing all those nutrients can sometimes feel like a chore. And, let’s face it, eating well is not always the cheapest option. During busy times like final assessments, it’s easy to rely on takeaway food that is high in sugar and fat with very low nutrient content.

However, Susan says that eating good food doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank: ‘Try and avoid going for the unhealthy option by planning ahead and having healthy meals and snacks on hand at all times. 

‘Buy food in bulk, buy fresh food in season rather than processed foods and limit takeaway foods at all times. The Better Health Channel has some great tips on how to stay healthy on a budget.’ 

If you need more inspiration, check out our recent online cooking class and some quick and easy healthy recipes from Bupa.

Eat well, eat often

On top of eating nutrient-dense foods, it’s also important to eat regularly – no more skipping meals if you’re in a rush or trying to focus on other things. In fact, this habit may actually reduce your short-term memory – not what you want during revision and assessments!

‘Studies in children suggest that regular breakfast consumption can improve academic performance, nutrition and behaviour,’ Susan says.

‘It will also improve performance of cognitive tasks by alleviating hunger and supplying nutrients to the central nervous system.’

Recognise how food affects mood

It’s not just your study that will be helped by better nutrition – there’s a definite link between what you eat and how you feel. Deakin’s Food and Mood Centre researches Nutritional Psychiatry and the results are clear – a better diet is consistently associated with reduced depression risk, while an unhealthy diet (higher in processed foods) is associated with increased depression and often anxiety.

And of course eating well for general physical health is just as important, so remember to look after your mind AND body through proper nutrition.

Good luck with your exam preparation and happy eating!

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