Preparing for the college admission tests while eating potato chips and drinking cola? You may not be as ready for the SAT or ACT as you think. We talked to dieticians about an important part of test preparation that often gets ignored: food.Food to Help Your Brain
“For optimal brain function, you can’t rely on a single [food] or even a handful of ‘super foods’ for a few days before a test,” says registered dietician Dalia Perelman from the Camino Medical Center in Mountain View, Calif.
“Foods that contain less-processed forms of carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans, whole fruits (not juice) and starchy vegetables, will provide a steady source of energy to the brain,” she says. “When the sources of carbohydrates in the diet are sugars (as in cookies or cakes made with white flour), the levels of sugar in the blood are less stable, thus affecting brain function.”
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“Adolescents need foods from all food groups,” adds Dr. Karen Cullen, associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “To find out about healthful food and beverage choices, students can check out www.mypyramid.gov.”Don't Skip Breakfast
“There’s a lot of research on the overall impact that breakfast has on academic achievement,” says Mary Angela Miller, registered dietician at Ohio State University in Columbus. “You don’t want to work on old energy storages from the day before. It is important to have a fresh supply of carbohydrates each day.”
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Perelman concurs: “If you don’t refuel your body in the morning, you will have to draw fuel from your own energy stores. When using reserves, your body tries to save as much energy as possible, and all nonessential functions will not receive much fuel. So creative thinking, memory, attention span, all suffer.”“The recommended breakfast should include fruit, fiber and protein,” says Miller. “Use fresh fruit, preferably, or canned fruit. Cereal with high fiber, fruit and milk is a great way to renew energy supplies for the morning.” If you are not a breakfast eater, try to build up your “breakfast endurance” before test day.
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The SAT now takes nearly four hours, not counting the waiting time before the test. Being at the test site for five hours is not uncommon.
That’s a long time to go without nutrition. Unfortunately, students are only given one 1-minute break and two 5-minute breaks. Not much time to replenish your system. What is an energizing snack that can be eaten quickly?
“The combination of a high protein, low carbohydrate, and high tyrosine food is likely to jumpstart the brain. Milk and yogurt have this combination, so taking a carton of ultra pasteurized milk, which does not need to be refrigerated, or a light yogurt in a small cooler, would be ideal for a snack,” advises Perelman.
Also consider soy nuts or other nuts; fruit; vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, peppers or cherry tomatoes; bananas and raisins; low-fat granola bars; cheese and peanut butter crackers; or a peanut butter sandwich and bottled water.
“Some students who feel they may need a boost may benefit from the popular energy drinks or sports drinks,” adds Miller. “I would recommend, if a student opts for this route, to drink a beverage they have tried before and know they enjoy and tolerate well. A caffeine jolt could pose problems for the uninitiated.”
“Research suggests that eating foods with trans fats, which includes pastries, candies and all fried foods, will deteriorate cognitive function,” Perelman says. Eating a doughnut in the morning before the test may give you some quick energy, but it definitely will not help you think clearly.
Article reprinted with permission from Next Step Magazine.