6 Foods To Fuel & Nourish Your Body During Exam Season

What to stock up on and cook to stay focused, energised and alert.

By Melissa Wong        16 April 2024

When you’re cramming for your exams, it’s easy to skip meals or just grab whatever is convenient (and not necessarily healthy). But not eating enough, or eating too much of the wrong foods, can make you feel sluggish and affect your ability to stay focused and alert. 

Whether you’re the one taking exams, or preparing your child to take exams, maintain mental stamina, energy and concentration by eating three nutritious, balanced meals every day, and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Getting quality sleep, exercising for 30 minutes a day and managing stress are also key to healthy brain function. 

Here are six nourishing foods to include in your daily meals.  

1. Fatty fish

Nourishing foods for exam season - fatty fish

Fish, especially fatty varieties like salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna, has been described as “brain food”. The reason: It’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that’s associated with improved focus and memory. You should aim to eat about two servings of fatty fish a week. 

The best way to enjoy fatty fish is steamed or grilled, and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Serve it with a whole grain like brown rice, and steamed vegetables or salad. 

You can pick up fresh fish at Kuhlbarra – their Norwegian salmon and trout (another fatty fish) are available as fillets, individual portions and slices. They also sell fresh sashimi and salmon patties. 

SAFRA members and 11B holders get 10% off at Kuhlbarra with a minimum spend of $120, using the promo code KUHLSAFRA. For more details, visit safra.sg/promotions/Kuhlbarra

Want more fishy options? Grab a takeaway meal at Fish & Co, which serves a variety of delicious fish and seafood dishes. 

SAFRA members and 11B holders enjoy 20% off the subtotal on their Fish & Co bill (a la carte menu items only). Find out more at safra.sg/promotions/20-off-subtotal-bill

If you’re vegetarian, incorporate walnuts and ground flaxseed into your meals (sprinkled over your morning cereal or salads, for example). These are also excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

2. Wholegrain foods

Nourishing foods for exam season - wholegrains

Your body runs on glucose, which comes from carbohydrates. In order to maintain steady blood glucose levels – which will keep your brain well-fuelled and prevent energy slumps – make sure that every meal you consume contains healthy, unrefined carbohydrates like whole grains – think wholemeal bread, brown rice and pasta, oats, soba noodles, and brown rice vermicelli. 

Whole grains contain fibre and are a healthier source of energy than refined carbohydrates like cake, cookies, sugary drinks and candy. 

Start your day with wholemeal toast or oat porridge with some avocado and fruit on the side; for lunch, try soba noodles with miso soup, veggies and a piece of salmon; for dinner, tuck into spaghetti bolognaise made with wholemeal pasta. 

3. Dark green vegetables

Nourishing foods for exam season - dark green vegetables

Dark green leafy veggies like bok choy, choy sum, kai lan, kale, spinach and broccoli are non-haem sources of iron (iron that is found in eggs and plant-based sources such as vegetables and cereals). Iron is a component of red blood cells which transport oxygen to the brain. Someone who’s deficient in this mineral may feel tired and weak and unable to focus, despite having gotten sufficient rest

Other good non-haem sources of iron include dried fruits, eggs, iron-fortified breakfast cereals and nuts. Some sources include lean red meat, fish and chicken. 

If you’re considering taking iron supplements, get advice from your doctor first. 

Learn more about superfoods like berries, dark leafy greens and nuts here.

4. Nuts and seeds

Nourishing foods for exam season - nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are a concentrated source of energy, so a small amount goes a long way. These are packed with protein and essential fatty acids, and are high in vitamin E, B group vitamins, iron and zinc – all important nutrients for brain function

The best way to get the most nutritional benefit from nuts and seeds is to enjoy them plain, either raw or lightly roasted. Avoid adding salt, sugar, oil or butter to them. If you want extra flavour, add herbs or spices. 

5. Colourful fruits and vegetables

Nourishing foods for exam season - colourful vegetables and fruits

Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules. Left unchecked, they can cause oxidative stress in the body and contribute to premature ageing and chronic disease. Everyone produces free radicals naturally; we’re also exposed to them in the environment, such as through pollution, sunlight and cigarette smoke. 

Antioxidants protect our body and brain from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Colourful fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants. The darker and more intense their colour, the higher their antioxidant content. Blueberries, strawberries and red and purple grapes are especially high in antioxidants

Try to consume your fruits and veggies raw. If you have to cook your veggies, steam them for just a few minutes or roast them using gentle heat. Avoid boiling them as this may leech their nutrients. 

Read more about foods that may boost your brain power here.

6. Coffee

Nourishing foods for exam season - coffee

Coffee is loaded with caffeine, a stimulant that is known to help boost concentration and keep us alert. Besides coffee, caffeine is found in some soft drinks and energy drinks.  

If consumed in excess, coffee and other caffeinated drinks can interfere with our sleep quality, increase our heart rate and cause us to become jittery. Limit your coffee intake to one or two cups a day, and avoid drinking it after 3pm to minimise your risk of insomnia. Do note that coffee may not be suitable for younger children as they may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine.

Grab a traditional coffee at Heavenly Wang, which has outlets at SAFRA Mount Faber and SAFRA Punggol. SAFRA members enjoy 10% off a la carte purchase with cash or payWave, and 5% more bonus value when they top up their WANG Loyalty Card. Find out more at safra.sg/amenities-offerings/heavenly-wang

References: www.healthxchange.sg/food-nutrition/food-tips/brain-foods-study-well-stay-alert-when-studying, www.healthxchange.sg/children/food-nutrition/top-ten-foods-childs-brain-development

Note: Please consult your GP or physician before starting on a new diet plan.

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