SARAH MACNEIL
Life reporter

Deciding between a chocolate bar or a handful of almonds for a study snack?

Students should opt for the latter during exam season in order to increase energy and enhance productivity.

Almonds are a great snack option while studying because they contain high levels of essential fatty acids that enhance neural function, said Karen Balko, a registered dietician at North York General Hospital.

Abby Langer, a registered dietician in Toronto, said students gravitate toward processed food because it is fast, cheap and widely available.

“French fries and sugary soda will actually do a disservice to your memory and cognitive function. Junk food slows us down,” Langer said.

Dr. Rahul Agrawal with the Society of Neuroscience wrote in a recent study that a high-sugar diet could impair brain function by depleting memory.

“Sugar has come down as being as harmful as fat for your body. It crashes energy and creates a temporary illusion of alertness,” wrote Langer.

“Instead of sugar and fat, students should try to consume lean proteins rich in omega-3 fatty acid and whole grains to get a brain boost,” said Langer.“Fruit dipped in nut butter is a great snack alternative.”

Anything with a high concentration of omega-3 is super food for your brain, said Sarah Coulson, a registered dietician and professor at Humber.

“Always look to food first before taking the corresponding supplement,” Coulson said.

Balko agrees that more than supplements alone are needed to increase mental sharpness. Salmon, walnuts, flax seed, and eggs are examples of brain food students should incorporate in their diet to improve cognitive function.

“If you only take supplements, you are missing the energy component. When you consume brain food the body will break down the protein and convert it into energy,” said Balko. Exercise is also beneficial during exam period.

“Exercise increases endorphins and releases stress,” said Balko. “It helps to calm and refocus the brain. Get blood flowing by doing a few yoga poses or jumping jacks, it is extremely valuable to the brain.”

Coulson said students should also avoid having more than two cups of coffee per day as going beyond the recommended amount signals an imbalance.

The bottom line is that students need to start relying less on junk food and caffeine to wake up and more on health plans that enhance cognitive performance, said Langer.

“Really, it is all about balance. Energy-enriching foods, sleep and exercise are essential.”