Final exams are just around the corner, and as we make the big push to finish papers, projects, and labs, our diets tend to be put on the backburner. Lattes and frosted scones may seem like life rafts in a sea of stress and fatigue, but these sweet goodies hurt our ability to perform and succeed.
Photo by Kelsey Brown
Rachel Beller M.S., R.D., nutrition expert for Glamour and founder of Beller Nutritional Institute in Beverly Hills, understands that stress is an inevitable part of the college experience and that eating healthfully can be hard when you're pressed for time. However, the nutritional support you give your body during these intense periods of mental exertion can be the extra boost you need to make it through to the finish line.
Rachel counsels college students to take an "energy lasting approach" to eating that will promote healthy brain function and increase mental sharpness. For long hours in the library, select foods that meet the following three criteria: little to no refined sugars, healthy fats, and lean protein. Rachel says to "think synergy and balance" between those three components, and you will be providing your brain with the maximum nourishment to endure the demands you're placing on it. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will neutralize your blood sugars while white bread, ice cream, and pretzels will spike your energy temporarily and leave you feeling even more tired an hour later. Look for healthy fats like avocado, hummus, olives, almonds, and lean proteins such as turkey, egg whites, salmon, and Greek yogurt.
Reduced sleep and stress put our immune systems to the test. Don't feel overwhelmed by the vitamin aisle alluring illness-avoiding promises; supplements are great but only when you have all your other bases covered first. Rachel suggests that the best way to keep your immune system strong is to be productive with your food and create shortcut solutions that won't rob the time you already don't have. Make easy energy lasting and immune-boosting snacks in your dorm or apartment and have them at the ready when hunger strikes.
Rachel recommends a quick turkey-hummus wrap: in a whole-wheat tortilla, spread a tablespoon of all-natural hummus and 2-4 nitrate free turkey slices, then roll and go. These wraps keep well in your bag, and they won't make a mess. Late at night, Rachel suggests sticking to snacks low in sugar and high in fiber that will keep you full, like plain popcorn with salt and pepper or oatmeal with cinnamon to help regulate blood sugars.
Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day and opt for quality green teas before sugar-loaded or caffeinated concoctions that can create a vicious cycle of extreme energy highs and lows. Green tea is loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols that provide sustained and calming energy, and be consumed both hot and cold. If you can't imagine finishing your thirty-page term paper on the Nicaraguan Revolution without coffee, Rachel recommends that you moderate your consumption and take it black with one teaspoon of agave and a splash of soy milk.
Eating for energy and performance will not only give you the needed edge for test day, it honors your body and all the hard work it has done for you over the past semester. When everything else seems to have gone haywire, a balanced and nourishing diet can help bring things back to center. For more tips on maintaining a nourishing diet throughout stressful and busy periods of young adulthood, visit Rachel Beller M.S., R.D. online and on Facebook.
Kelsey Brown writes about healthy hearts, minds and bodies for Small Kitchen College and Happyolks. She's gearing up for finals season at the University of San Diego with green smoothies and the Avett Brothers on repeat.
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