Brain Foods To Improve Memory For Exams

A good diet plan is essential during exams to ensure your child performs well. Here is a list of healthy brain foods for students to improve memory for exams, and some simple nutrition tips to follow.

By Shiny Surendran

Brain Foods To Improve Memory For Exams
Exam time can be smooth for your child with the right steps

It is that time of the year again! Yes, exam time, when both parents and children get highly anxious and stressed out.

Endless hours of studying, students skipping breakfast so they can study a little more, eating a lot of snacks and sugary beverages while studying – all these would only do more harm than good.

But, is there a better way to handle this entire phase sensibly? Are there certain dos and don'ts for parents? Are there any healthy brain foods for students which will help enhance their memory for better performance in exams? Can parents regulate the food habits or introduce an exam diet plan for their children?

Well, certainly yes! Here are some important nutritional tips to keep in mind during exam time that will help students immensely. 

Brain foods to improve memory during exams

1) Say 'yes' to hydration 

Brain Foods To Improve Memory For Exams
Drinking water is important to prevent dehydration

Hydration is of prime importance. Drinking three to four litres of water per day will ensure high energy levels, prevent dehydration and provide mental clarity. Give your child vitamin C-rich fluids, which are loaded with antioxidants that refresh and rejuvenate the child, and help in iron absorption for the body. Examples of fluids to give your child during exam time include:

  • Tender coconut water
  • Buttermilk
  • Paanagam
  • Thandai
  • Lemon mint ginger cooler
  • Gooseberry, mint, coriander, curry leaves juice
  • Sarsaparilla sherbet with soaked sabja/chia seeds
  • Warm or cold soup
  • Lemon juice with gooseberry and honey
  • Tomato juice
  • Watermelon/pomegranate juice
  • Orange/sweet lime juice
  • Carrot/beetroot juice
  • Rasam
  • Jeera, saunf, ajwain, tulsi leaves ka paani (water)

By staying hydrated, kids will feel fresh. Also, it helps with regulating bowel movement and preventing constipation. Often, we tend to perceive thirst as hunger and end up eating more than we should. So, drinking adequate water keeps a check on body weight.

2) Never skip breakfast

Brain Foods To Improve Memory For Exams
Never let your child skip breakfast

Breakfast is often considered the most important meal of the day and with good reason too. Energy levels could slump while writing exams thereby affecting your child’s cognition and mental alertness. So, never skip breakfast.

Here are some quick and easy breakfast options:

  • Omelette with vegetables and a glass of any citrus fruit or gooseberry juice
  • Peanut butter sandwich and a fruit
  • Almond butter sandwich and a fruit
  • Multigrain, dry fruit and nut porridge; and an egg or a fruit
  • Mint chutney sandwich (paneer/egg and vegetable filling)
  • French toast
  • Stuffed roti (paneer/mushroom/egg and vegetable filling)
  • Milkshake made with apple, banana, pear or pomegranate, and one egg
  • Chia seed pudding
  • Muesli/cornflakes/millet flakes with milk and fruit (you can use nut milk)
  • Red rice flakes (poha or rice flakes with milk)
  • Mixed veg uthappam or vegetable stuffed idlis with coconut chutney, green chutney or sambar
  • Egg dosa and sambar
  • Steamed nendran pazham

Time is precious. So, these quick, easy and nutritious breakfast options make excellent choices. 

3) Replace unhealthy snacks with healthy ones

Brain Foods To Improve Memory For Exams
Unhealthy vs healthy food

Kids love snacks. It is best to provide them snacks for consistent energy levels than asking them not to consume junk food.

Here are some nutritious options:

  • Kozhukattai with chutney
  • Paniyaram with carrot-chow chow-mint-coriander chutney
  • Millet semiya upma with mixed vegetables and chutney
  • Pan-fried burgers
  • Home-made pizzas
  • Stuffed rotis
  • Medu vada with coconut chutney
  • Keerai vada/keerai pakoda with coconut chutney
  • Home-made bhel with sprouts and assorted vegetables
  • Sundal with raw mango and coconut pieces
  • Fresh fruit salad
  • Plain curd with muesli
  • Peanut chikki/sesame seed chikki/rajgeera chikki/nut bars/homemade granola bars
  • Savoury bakes (spinach corn bake/egg muffins/mixed veg baked in cupcake moulds)
  • Millet cup cakes (use palm sugar/jaggery for sweetening)

Note: Avoid these foods strictly – processed foods; foods with simple sugars, colours and preservatives; maida; processed meat like salami and sausages; packaged fruit juice and cold coffee; milkshake with white sugar; jelly; popsicles; cakes with refined flour; cookies; and cream biscuits.

4) Choose foods wisely

Brain Foods To Improve Memory For Exams
Children holding fresh vegetables

Choose high-protein foods at dinner, if your child plans to study at night. Carbohydrate-rich foods such as idli, dosa, rice and roti can make kids sleepy. Hence, choose foods wisely according to her study plan. Three main meals and two snack breaks will help in sustaining your child's energy level. Heavy meals are best avoided during this phase.

If you want your kids to be alert and stave off sleep after food, try these:

  • One bowl soup and one cup paneer bhurjee
  • Sprouts-vegetables-fruit salad and one bowl soup
  • Paneer mushroom stir fry
  • Dhokla with green chutney
  • Khandvi with green chutney
  • Besan/moong chilla with chutney
  • Paneer katti roll
  • Vegetable momos (preferably made using rice and not maida)
  • Adai or pesarattu
  • Egg roll
  • Omelette with chicken or mutton mince and veg
  • Fish or chicken tikka or momos (preferably made using rice and not maida)
  • Shredded chicken with vegetables
  • Fish or chicken cutlets with soup

Avoid these since they can make one sleepy:

  • Curd rice with potato/yam curry
  • Masaladosa
  • Roti with potato/yam curry
  • Poori with potato curry
  • Biriyani
  • Curd
  • Eating large amounts of food in one meal

5) Include good fat in diet 

Brain Foods To Improve Memory For Exams
Food sources of healthy fat

Good fat nourishes the brain with omega-3 fatty acids, which come with a host of powerful health benefits for your body and brain.

Some examples of good fat are:

  • Flax seeds: 1 to 3 tsp per day (powder the seeds and add to salad/subzi/dal/buttermilk or any beverage served at room temperature). Do not cook or heat them.
  • Chia seeds/sabja seeds: Keeps the body cool, provides vitamins and minerals, and reduces hunger pangs. Soak the seeds for four hours and then add them to buttermilk/coconut water/fresh lime juice/any homemade sherbet/plain water.
  • Quinoa: This super food is loaded with omega 3, magnesium, manganese, protein, fibre and it is digested slowly by the body and releases energy in the process. Quinoa can be added to different types of salad and soup to thicken them.
  • Fatty fish: Fish is a good choice for non-vegetarians. Include fatty fish in your child's diet plan for around four meals a week. It helps to nourish nerve cells and protects the brain.

Activities to improve memory for exams

Apart from a healthy diet, exercise and sleep are two important factors that help to improve your child’s memory during exams.

1) Exercise, exercise, exercise

Brain Foods To Improve Memory For Exams
Exercise helps the mind to be alert and attentive

There is no substitute for fresh air, exercise and sunlight. Let your children indulge in some physical activity for one to two hours every day. It helps the mind to be alert and attentive. Get a generous dose of sunshine by lying down on a mat in your balcony or terrace. Wear minimal clothing. Expose legs up to the knees, and ensure ample sunlight falls on the abdomen, chest and back. Twenty minutes of sunlight exposure will do wonders for your child's energy levels by boosting vitamin D.

2) Sleep your way to good health

Brain Foods To Improve Memory For Exams
An uninterrupted sound sleep helps children to focus better on studies

The foundation of good health is an uninterrupted sound sleep from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. There are kids who study well at night, and there are some who are early birds, who tend to focus better on studies in the wee hours of the morning. Ensure healthy snacks are stocked at home if they need a midnight snack when studying late. However, there is no substitute to night sleep. Hence, aim to get at least six hours of sound sleep every night.

So, go on, encourage your child to try these tips before exams and follow a healthy routine that involves a nutritious diet and regular physical activities. She will surely sail through the exam phase like a breeze. Feed your kids well, encourage and support them during this time and they will shine bright. Wishing the kids all the very best for their exams!

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About the expert:

Written by Shiny Surendran on 26 March 2019; updated on 12 February 2020

The author is a well-known sports nutritionist and the first Indian to be certified with a graduate diploma in Sports Nutrition by the International Olympic Committee.

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