Penarth nutrition

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Teenagers and Exam Stress

It is that time of the year again, the summer exams are looming and stress levels are starting to increase. One way to help teenagers cope with the pressure is to make sure that they have plenty of healthy food on hand to keep their moods balanced and give them the nutrients they need for optimal brain function.

Here are a few ideas that I have found to be helpful with my revising teenagers :

Balance Blood Sugar

Fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause irritability, headaches, and tiredness and can affect concentration. Your child might feel the need for a sugary snack or fizzy drink but these foods will cause a blood sugar dip again a few hours later and consequently lead to them reaching for more sugar.

Instead aim to feed them three balanced meals (make sure they eat breakfast!) and if necessary three snacks, every day. This will help to keep their blood sugar stable and reduce the craving for unhealthy snacking. Include good quality sources of protein (chicken, fish, cheese, beans, nuts and seeds) with every meal and snack and swap refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta for wholegrain alternatives such as brown rice, brown pasta, oats and wholegrain bread.

Feed Their Brain

Omega 3 fatty acids, especially the long-chain ones found mainly in fish and shellfish (EPA and DHA) are important for the brain where they appear to help cells to grow, regenerate and signal to each other. Low levels of these fats have been linked with an impaired ability to think effectively and a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that the consumption of fish oil benefits mental health and brain function. So try to include oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, fresh tuna) in their diet two to three times a week, or consider a daily supplement if they are not keen on fish.

Water

As little as 2% loss of body water can affect energy levels and dull critical thinking abilities. Teenagers should aim to drink around 8 glasses of water daily. Pure water is the best option, try adding crushed ice or slices of citrus fruit to encourage them to drink.

Snacks

Have lots of healthy snacks on offer as it will stop them reaching for a sugar fix. For example :- dips such as houmous and guacamole with wholemeal pitta bread, olives, feta cheese and vegetable crudités. Provide mixed nuts and seeds for them to munch on when they are studying. Home made flap jacks or black bean brownies (see my web site for recipe) are a healthy treat or try yoghurt pancakes.

Sleep

Simply not getting enough sleep each night can cause concentration problems during the day so try to encourage them to get to bed at a reasonable hour (easier said than done – I know!). Sometimes a snack an hour or so before bed such as oats, bananas, milk or yoghurt can help but remember to cut out caffeine (in tea, coffee, coke and chocolate) before bed as it can disrupt sleep patterns in some people.

Exercise

Make sure your kids are active as exercise can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress. Even a walk around the block can help.

Food For Thought

Optimum functioning of the central nervous system is dependent on a wide range of micronutrients including folic acid, vitamins B12, B6 and antioxidants. Some research indicates that taking a multi vitamin can improve cognitive function in children. The studies that I have read are unclear whether the positive effects of supplementation are due to the correction of marginal deficiencies or sub-optimal levels that would not, under current guidelines, be classed as deficiency. However, given that some teenagers do not eat an adequately balanced diet, supplementation may be a useful, especially around exam time.

GOOD LUCK!

 

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