Special Section Spring Finals Edition

Food for thought: tools to strategize snacking


Well-balanced snacks like oats, cereals, sunflower seeds, fruit and dark chocolate can aid the brain in memorization. | Photo illustration by Trey Strange

As the end of the semester approaches, it’s tempting to let your eating habits slip as you hold on to more important things: grades, finals and your GPA.

While eating leftover Valentine’s Day candy from the bottom of your backpack can be justified as a quick pick-me-up, why not put more focus on fueling your body and brain? After all, they’re doing the hard work — so check out these foods that will get you through the tough times and leave you ready to take on your finals.

When You Need Energy

Dark Chocolate: Besides being delicious and delectably sweet, dark chocolate has a certain amount of caffeine that will give you an energy boost. Since it contains flavonoids and antioxidants, dark chocolate has also been proven to decrease stress hormones and heighten your mood. Plus, who doesn’t love chocolate?

Eat Breakfast: This isn’t a specific food, but eating a small meal before starting your day has been proven to boost your overall vivacity. It’s easy to skip breakfast during finals season, but you’ll thank yourself later. Whether you roll out of bed and grab a granola bar or head to Smoothie King before class, anything to kick-start your body will help. Drinking a glass of water with your first meal always wakes up your organs more effectively than a cup of coffee.

Spinach: Before you stick up your nose and skip this entry, imagine Popeye and what his diet largely consisted of — you’re right, it’s spinach. The iron and vitamin B6 in this leafy green health-booster are a tried and true method of sustaining, and even elevating, energy levels. If you don’t like it plain, try mixing it into a salad or blending it in your smoothies. You won’t even notice it’s there, but your body will.

Sunflower Seeds: Forget the trail mix (we know you only eat the M&Ms). Sunflower seeds contain twice the amount of protein of common nuts such as walnuts and pecans. These tiny nibbles pack a powerful energy punch when you need to satisfy your salty craving. They also contain phytochemicals, or natural plant chemicals, that have essential nutrients for your body. Yay, sunflowers.

When You Need Sleep

Herbal Tea: The warmth and nutrients in herbal teas produce a sedative effect as your body relaxes before sleep. For first time tea-drinkers, try chamomile or passion flower, both of which are mildly sweet and sip-worthy. Lucky for you, tea comes in so many flavors there is bound to be one you’ll love to drink before drifting off.

Milk: As college kids, we mostly use milk to complement Captain Crunch, but studies show drinking a glass of milk before bed will help you get to sleep quicker. As a dairy product, milk contains the amino acid tryptophan that produces sleep-inducing brain chemicals like serotonin and melatonin. Milk also boasts a healthy serving of vitamin D and calcium, both of which relax your muscles. So pour up some milk at night, or just drink the rest from the bottom of your cereal bowl. We won’t judge.

Carbohydrates (Oats, grains, whole wheat bread): Speaking of cereal, eating a small portion of carb-rich foods before bed will kick-start the body’s production of insulin, clearing the bloodstream and allowing sleep-inducing amino acids to quickly reach your brain. Eat some cereal or bread, but be careful of overly-sugary snacks or you might experience the crash-and-burn effect. That is a no-no before bedtime.

When The Test is Minutes Away

Avocados: That’s right, guacamole can lower stress levels. If that’s not the best news you’ve heard all day, you should also know that avocado contains essential omega-3s and fatty acids that stimulate brain activity. So before you take your test, bite into the gooey green goodness.

Yogurt: Like milk, yogurt contains stress-fighting nutrients and digestive-helping bacteria. It will relieve your nerves before a final and also has the power to calm your anxious tummy. Also, stress-eating frozen yogurt instead of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s will give your body a break when the tests start piling up.

Fatty Fish: If you love sushi, this brain food is for you. Fish like salmon and tuna are full of heart-healthy omega-3s and energy-boosting vitamins. By having the former, fish are, like avocados, a class-A brain food. If you have time for lunch before a test, order some salmon and feed your brain. It’s probably starving.

Eggs: Scrambled, fried, poached or omelette du fromaged — no matter how you like your eggs, they’ve got you covered before a test day. Since eggs are a protein food, they leave you feeling more satisfied for longer periods of time. If you’ve had problems with a growling stomach during tests, eggs are for you. They’re also relatively easy to cook, and if you need a protein pick-me-up on the go, hard boil eggs the night before and bring them to school.

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