Brain food that will power you through your next exam

When it comes to test prep, allow us to add one more thing to your plate.

Research shows that your meal choice before a test could impact your performance. You may think you’ve done all you can to crush your calc exam, but if you're pregaming with pizza, your mind won’t be at its peak. What you eat can impact your mood, stress level, energy and memory. A study at Macquarie University found that students who started their day with unhealthy breakfast had slower memory recall versus those who ate more nutritious breakfasts.

Here is some guidance on what (and what not) to eat before your next test:

Snack smart

If you’re the type who rewards yourself with a handful of M&Ms at the end of each textbook chapter (guilty), consider going for the neglected parts of your trail mix. Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats that are shown to boost brain health. Walnuts especially have a high concentration of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid shown to improve cognitive function. (They also kind of look like a brain. Coincidence?)
Upgrade your nutty snack by mixing in some dark chocolate, which can help with mental fatigue and overall brain function. In addition to nuts and seeds, healthy granola bars (sorry, Nature Valley stans) and mozzarella string cheese can offer you an energy boost. A few M&Ms here and there are harmless, but diets high in trans fat and refined sugars have been shown to weaken one’s learning capability and memory.

Breakfast breakfast breakfast

Once more for the folks in the back: Don’t. Skip. Breakfast.

Your first meal of the day is your first opportunity to set yourself up for success…or sabotage it. Think eggs and avocados (vitamins and healthy fats), whole grains like oats (slow-release energy) and yogurt (hunger-quenching proteins). If you love a sweet treat for breakfast, opt for oatmeal topped with cinnamon and raisins or Greek yogurt with berries. If you’re feeling a little fancy, some smoked salmon will load you up with those brain-boosting omega-3s.

Don’t let your sweet tooth drive you to the pastry aisle. Trans fats are detrimental to brain function, and no one wants a mid-exam sugar crash.

Get colorful

Berries contain anthocyanins, which have been proven to improve cognitive functioning and memory. And don’t skimp on citrus, like a couple of grab-and-go clementines, which can help reduce anxiety. All-natural OJ can be great, as long as you avoid added sugar.

For veggies, aim for color. Make sure your plate has splashes of dark green, red and orange (think: shredded red cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli and peas). If you prioritize one color, though, go green. The vegetables that pack the most punch (e.g., lutein and zeaxanthin, which benefit eye health and cognitive function) include kale, spinach, peas, leeks, lettuce and broccoli.

Liquid courage

Wait. Not that kind.

Drink lots of water the night prior and the morning before a test, and bring a water bottle with you. Dehydration can lead to mental and physical fatigue as well as a lack of focus. Tea and coffee are great for concentration, but don’t overdo it — we want attention, not jitters. Keep it simple on the milk and sugar front; add just a little if you need it, and steer clear of the flavored syrups. Remember: All caffeinated beverages are not created equal. Energy drinks and soda contain simple sugar that will give you a burst of energy followed by a quick crash. And this one should go without saying, but avoid alcohol.

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