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5 Foods to Eat Before a Test, Backed by Science

foods to eat before a test


We’ve all had moments where we need to be at the top of our game.  You may have a job interview, final exams, or on the cusp of a negotiation for a business deal.  Either way, there are times where we need every possible advantage.

It’s been shown that certain foods can enhance our brain function, including short-term memory, attention, and cognitive performance. Below is a list of the foods to eat before a test or interview in order to perform at your best.

  1. WATER – Several studies have shown that being dehydrated has a serious impact on mental performance. This study demonstrated that being dehydrated by just 2% led to significant mental decline.

“Being dehydrated by just 2% impairs performance in tasks that require attention, psychomotor, and immediate memory skills, as well as assessment of the subjective state.”

However, this study concludes that while mental performance is greatly enhanced if you drink water when thirsty, it actually declined slightly in participants who were not thirsty.  Time before their last drink didn’t matter, since it didn’t take into account how thirsty they were then, perspiration, how much was drunk, etc.

“These results show that mental performance is affected by water intake in a way that is not predicted by the immediate subjective effects of drinking.  They also indicate that, functionally, perceived thirst is a good measure of hydration status.

Time since last drink was a poorer predictor of performance, presumably because it did not take into account prior thirst, what and how much was drunk, any subsequent fluid loss through sweating, etc…

Previous controlled studies have found dehydration associated decrements in mental performance (Cian et al., 2000; Gopinathan et al., 1988).  However, in the present experiment, variation in hydration state prior to drinking was relatively small and typical of everyday life.  Furthermore, when thirst was low, the impact of water intake was detrimental rather than neutral or beneficial, showing that mental performance can be very sensitive to physiological perturbation.”

It’s important to remember to drink when thirsty, even if you’re only slightly thirsty.  Don’t force yourself to drink water when you have no desire, but make sure to pay attention to your body and your thirst level.

  1. COFFEE – Caffeine in coffee has been shown repeatedly to boost mental performance. There are a lot of benefits to drinking coffee itself, especially caffeinated coffee. Coffee is full of antioxidants, and caffeine is proven to make you more alert and cognizant.  Coffee also has been shown to improve short term working memory, which makes it perfect to drink before a test or job interview.

Coffee also has been shown to protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and  reduces the risk of having a stroke.

Just remember, when I say coffee I’m referring to a single cup (8 oz.) of black coffee with no milk or sugar added.  While glucose (discussed below) can improve cognitive function, too much can also impair it.

  1. GLUCOSE (SUGAR) – Otherwise known as sugar, your blood glucose levels play an important part in memory and cognitive function. Read a short summary of the study below:

“In a double-blind study the influence was examined of a drink containing 50 g glucose, or a placebo, on the ability to recall a word list. There was a significant correlation between blood glucose values and the number of words recalled. Those whose blood glucose levels were increasing remembered significantly more words than those whose blood glucose levels were falling. No relationship was found between blood glucose and performance on a test of spatial memory.

In a second study blood glucose levels were raised for 2 h by taking a series of glucose-containing drinks. The number of words recalled from a word list correlated significantly with blood glucose levels but not with recall of a Wechsler story. The glucose-induced improvement in memory did not occur only in those whose blood glucose levels were initially low; rather it occurred irrespective of initial blood glucose level.

However, before you go downing a red bull or eating a bowl of sweets, it’s important to note that elevated blood sugar levels were found to be significant predictors of poor cognitive performance among middle age and elderly subjects.  As a matter of fact, Alzheimer’s is sometimes referred to as Type 3 Diabetes and plenty of evidence shows this to be true.

“We conclude that the term ‘Type 3 Diabetes’ accurately reflects the fact that AD [Alzheimer’s Disease] represents a form of diabetes that selectively involves the brain and has molecular and biochemical features that overlap with both Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus and T2DM [Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus].”

While glucose may help you perform better on a test, long-term the effects of sugar are not at all beneficial for your brain or cognitive function.  If you need your brain to work at peak efficiency, the best way to add sugar to your diet is to combine it with fiber in order to slow the digestion into your blood stream.  Fiber has a long list of benefits and can be found in most fruits and vegetables – just make sure to eat the whole fruit (including the skin) in order to get the fiber.

  1. FISH AND SEAFOOD – The long term benefits of eating foods high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids has been shown again and again. However, the purpose of this essay is to help you get through a test or interview that’s happening in the very near future.

Surprisingly (for me, anyway), there is a link to deficiency in Omega-3’s and reduced attention, including ADHD in children.  While this needs further review, studies do show that symptoms are improved when patients are supplied with Omega 3 fatty acids.

Most Omega-3’s are found in different types of fish.  It’s important to note that supplements were not found to protect your brain, so try to eat from the list of these foods (most are fish and nuts, although plant sources like cauliflower, soy, and Brussels sprouts also work).  The closer the food is to raw, the more Omega-3’s will be preserved.

  1. NUTS AND SEEDS – One interesting experiment gave walnuts to rats for a period of 28 days. At the end of the period, the rats had a significant improvement in learning and memory.

Whether it’s cashews, walnuts, peanuts, or almonds, they all have vitamin E, Omega 3s, and other nutrients that improve brain function, memory, and cognitive performance.

In addition to the foods listed above, going outside for a brisk walk has also been shown to help with memory, attention, and brain function.  Additionally, aerobic exercise also has been proven to be effective to improve mental performance for several hours (as well as protecting your brain long-term).

Join me on my journey to end the confusion, cut through the nonsense, and discover simple nutrition that works.

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