Students and parents continually ask me what else they should be doing in addition to SAT or ACT practice to perform better on the real standardized tests. My most frequent question is, “What should I be eating the (morning, week, month) of the test? Let me address this question first.
Nutrition is the foundation for academic performance, and this is particularly true on Test Day. What is good nutrition?
• LOW SUGAR of all forms, including fructose in fruits. This means that sodas and sports drinks are OUT and filtered water or “Smart” water is IN. Fruits are healthy snacks but should be limited in quantity to keep within a daily total limit of sugar intake. Dr. Joe Mercola recommends that healthy adults adhere to a goal of an overall daily sugar limit of roughly 25 grams; this is equivalent to just over 6 teaspoons. (1) Snacks should be chosen carefully not just for their healthy ingredients, but also with the sugar limit in mind. For example, sweetened yogurts are good snacks, but care should be taken to choose the Greek style that contains lower sugar content and higher fiber.
Students should understand that sugar (and any food with a high-glycemic index, like wheat, that breaks down into simple sugars) is the underlying cause of insulin spikes and unsteady blood sugar levels. This feeds cancer, heart disease, diabetes, distractibility, mental fogginess, gut problems, and general fatigue.
•Lots of high-quality FATS! Did you know that our brain is 80% fat? As such, foods that are rich in omega 3 fats and antioxidants continue to be the foundation of cognitive nutrition. (2) We need high-quality fats to feed our brains and bodies into peak performance: olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, and wild salmon. This is one of the keys of the popular and successful Mediterranean diet.
• Appropriate amount of high quality proteins: grass-fed beef; grass-fed lamb; non-GMO-grain-fed free-range chicken; wild fish and shellfish low in mercury (salmon, scallops, shrimp, cod); and pasture-raised organic eggs.
• Lots of organic vegetables (3) from all colors of the rainbow: green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, colorful bell peppers, turnips, kale, swiss chard, spinach, beets, sweet potatoes, etc.
• Fresh green herbs and spices: parsley, cilantro, garlic, black pepper, tumeric, cinnamon, etc.
What do I recommend for breakfast the morning of the test? Eggs and avocado (add some sautéed vegetables), left-over dinner high-quality protein with salad or vegetables, coconut milk or almond milk greek yogurt with chia seeds, nuts, and/or raisins, or a breakfast smoothie with berries, greens, coconut milk and chia seeds.
What to bring to the test for snacks? Nuts, a turkey and avocado sandwich (consider gluten-free bread like Udi’s), or a protein bar that is reasonable in sugars. And LOTS of filtered H2O!
As you look through the list of “good nutrition”, you will see that there is not much room for processed foods. These foods, for the most part, are NOT real foods. So they should NOT be a part of your regular diet.
Some of my favorite recommended snacks for teens include:
• Sliced apples or pears with almond butter
• Carrots, sliced cucumbers and celery with hummus
• Seasnax Seaweed snacks with toasted onion
• Baked kale chips
• “Go Raw!” and “Doctor in the Kitchen” Snack packages with superfoods like chia seeds, and nuts.
• Handful of raisins and walnuts, or handful of almonds
In addition to nutrition, meditation and regular sleep (roughly 8 hours per night) will also have important effects on academic and test performance. More on this on the next blog…
What have you found in your dietary habits to help you feel and perform better at school and on standardized tests?
(1) Mercola article 3-24-15 “Sugar Industry Has Subverted Public Health Policy for Decades"
(3) The Environmental Working Group Dirty Dozen list is helpful for shoppers to know which vegetables should be purchased organic versus which are acceptable as conventional: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php. ;
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