Freshman Scott Stokes grabs a donut to go with a Full Throttle energy drink in 2Convenient, located in Terry-Lander. Sugary foods cause a quick spike in blood sugar, but are not a good choice for brain food because they often leave the body feeling sluggish.
Freshman Katie Sistek studies for an art history midterm while sipping coffee and eating cookies. Sugar and caffeine need to be balanced with other foods to get through long periods of studying.
Junior Elly Nicholson hands freshman Kaza Ansley a vanilla latte at the coffee stand in 2Convenient in Terry-Lander. Students will often use caffeine while studying to try to become more alert, but caffeine can cause inattentiveness.
Candy bars line the shelves in Ian’s Domain in McCarty Hall. Supervisor Nick Maldonado said students buy a lot of “single-serving munchy type foods.”
Before the coffee or cookies start calling out as a late night energy booster, beware of the possible crash later in the evening — that feeling of lethargy, crankiness and a general inability to be productive. As the end of the quarter approaches, a healthy diet is the best way to ensure maximum energy to improve focus, alertness and memory.
“There’s not really one specific food that makes you think better,” said Diane Javelli, a clinical dietitian at the University of Washington Medical Center. “Eating a well-balanced meal helps with a lot of things. It helps fuel your body so it can do all the thinking and mental processes necessary during high stress.”
While preparing for test material, students often neglect the essential step of providing their brains with the nutrients that help it function. Eating healthy meals throughout the day provides vitamins and minerals along with sustainable energy.
Complex carbohydrates, packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, are a responsible way to boost energy. Whole grain breads and nuts coupled with fresh fruits and vegetables are readily available and result in a steady increase in blood sugar and longer-lasting energy. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially helpful, which are found in a variety of fish.
While the benefits of nutritional foods are indisputable, some students still struggle with finding time to integrate them into their diet.
“I just wish I would eat breakfast,” said Anneka Kielman after eating lunch in Eleven 01. “But that doesn’t really happen.”
Javelli said people often skip meals.
“They just grab food like cookies or candy or ice cream,” she said. “In the case of students, they often grab coffee.”
Students also often turn to energy drinks and soda that are loaded with simple carbohydrates in the form of sugar.
According to the University of Iowa Medicine Web site, the rapid spike in blood sugar triggers insulin, the body’s natural response to high blood sugar. It quickly forces sugar content down, leading to lower energy levels and possible headaches and hunger.
Students often reach for caffeinated, sugary drinks because it makes them feel more alert, which is true in a sense, Javelli said.
Because it’s a stimulant, caffeine can cause a heightened sense of focus, but too much of it, in the amount many students take, can produce anything from inattentiveness to jitters.
“That’s not a good thing if you are really trying to learn information,” Javelli said. “It can also prevent you from winding down and getting a good night’s sleep, which is detrimental as well to focus for the next day.”
Workers at Ian’s Domain and 2convenient, express markets run by Housing and Food Services, reported that they noticed student sales for caffeinated beverages rise during weeks with extra studying.
“We always have a pretty consistent selling of caffeine in the morning, but it definitely increases a lot at nighttime during midterms. People are up later,” said student coordinator Shealeigh Heindel of 2convenient in the Terry-Lander residence hall.
Other coffee shops on campus also showed this trend, as students hope to find that extra boost somewhere between the second and third cup of joe.
“We actually have a program here called an upshot, where students can get an extra shot of coffee for free during finals week.” said Kayla Hauck, a barista at the Tully’s stand in By George Café. “I would say about 75 percent of them take it.”
When students do decide that hunger has to take precedence over one more practice problem, convenience, as opposed to nutrition, is on their minds. Candy bars, processed fruit snacks or chips often find their way to the register.
“People buy a lot of single serving munchy type foods,” said Ian’s Domain supervisor Nick Maldonado as he grilled a burrito and took an order for drip coffee. “Little things to snack on.”
As alternatives to such fattening snacks, Javelli suggested many good sources of lean proteins and complex carbohydrates that are served in dining halls. Simple things like tortillas with cheese or a bowl of cereal such as Wheaties or Cheerios provides more nutrition and are just as easy to get.
“We offer tons of vegetables, salad bars, vegan dishes and organic food,” said Storm Hodge, assistant director for Food Services. “We provide everything we physically can for our customer base.”
However, it is really up to students to be accountable for their own eating habits to get the nutrition they need.
“It’s not that [dining halls] need to offer a different type of food during midterms, but students need to take the effort to eat a meal to get balanced nutrition,” Javelli said. “A lot of times people are just living on sugar and caffeine, and that’s not really helpful fuel for the brain.”
Keeping healthy foods on hand can be very beneficial during study sessions. Canned fruit in its own juice, freeze dried fruit or raisins are good ways to munch.
“There are different ways to get fruit besides going out and buying fresh fruit,” Javelli said. “Even having some fresh fruit juice is a way to get nutrients as well.”
But eating healthy shouldn’t be a quarterly phenomenon. Properly balanced diets provide the most benefits when they are part of a lifestyle, since they help prevent weight gain, lower the occurrence of some types of cancer and guard against diabetes.
“I don’t really give more thought to what I eat just because it’s midterms or finals,” said freshman Sarah Reinhart. “I usually just try to eat pretty healthy.”
Eating better can lead to optimal energy levels and stress reduction. When students give their bodies what they need on a consistent basis, planning to eat well during exams won’t even be an issue.
And that means more time to study.
Reach contributing writer Heather Milligan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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