Whether it’s studying for an exam, working on a complex project, or writing double-digit page papers, as students we are more than familiar with the feeling of stress. And many of us are familiar with stress eating, especially during finals week, all-nighters, and when we spend entire days in the library. When students are spending many hours studying, they often can be seen with bags of chips, cans of soda, cups of coffee, and pints of ice cream; mostly foods with sugar, fat, salt, and caffeine. These foods are comforting and may provide a small bit of relief from challenging brain work.
However, what many students don’t realize is that these comfort foods, the sugary, fatty, salty foods and caffeinated beverages can actually make it more difficult to study. These comfort foods are often made up of white flour and sugar, and are called simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates provide your body with a quick burst of energy while rapidly raising and dropping your blood sugar, which can leave you feeling tired and unable to focus. You’ll also feel more hungry after a shorter period of time, and crave another candy bar or bag of chips. And caffeine from soda, coffee, and energy drinks can make you feel jittery and anxious.
Complex carbohydrates are minimally or not processed foods such as whole grain bread, oatmeal, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Unlike simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates digest slowly and over a longer period of time, and your blood sugar gradually rises and falls. When you consume complex carbohydrates, you are better able to concentrate and focus. Complex carbohydrates also provide your body with the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
To avoid over-consumption of simple carbohydrates, it is important to plan ahead. If you know you will be spending all day studying, have healthy, pre-portioned food on hand. If you have healthy food ready to go, you will be less likely to reach for junk.
Here are some smart snacks to eat while studying
- An apple and a serving of pretzel sticks
- Greek yogurt and a banana
- Baby carrots and a low-fat cheese stick
- 1 cup of whole grain cereal with skim milk and fresh blueberries
- Air popped popcorn and an orange
- Fresh veggie sticks and hummus
If you know you will be spending more than 5 hours studying, you should also have ready-prepared meals. Snacks are great for keeping your hunger at bay between meals, but they shouldn’t replace them.
Here are some smart meals to eat while studying:
- PB&J on whole wheat bread with veggies on the side
- Salad with sliced turkey breast or tofu and a glass of skim milk
- Meal replacement bar, a piece of fruit, and soy milk
- Brown rice and beans with veggies on the side
- Frozen, natural TV dinner such as stir fry
Remember, it is okay to have an occasional sweet while studying, but complex carbohydrates should be your staple. Snack smart to study smart!