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Published on May 30, 2016

Got the pre-exam munchies? Learn to snack smarter!Got the pre-exam munchies? Learn to snack smarter!

It’s crunch time for students. Finishing term papers and preparing for final exams might mean lots of late nights, but parents shouldn’t start brewing coffee and handing out home-made cookies.

“When you’re pulling long hours, your body needs more fuel,” said Courtney Driscoll-Shea, clinical nutrition manager at Cape Cod Healthcare. “Snacking is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to make sure you’re choosing the healthier options.”

It’s natural for students who are stretching their limits and staying up later to give into the temptation of getting a jolt from caffeine, sugar or carbohydrates. But Driscoll-Shea said the wrong choices may do more harm than good. Comfort foods can leads to spikes and crashes in hormones and blood sugar.

For example, if you’re not a regular coffee drinker, exams are not the time to start experimenting with it.

“People have individual reactions to caffeine,” said Driscoll-Shea. “For some people it may help keep them up and for others it may not. Caffeine can cause sleep disturbances, and being tired during the exam time is not ideal. It makes it harder to focus and retain information.

“Another concern with caffeine is that it can be dehydrating. It’s possible that they need caffeinated beverages just to get through exam time but keeping that hydration is really important. If they do become dehydrated, that can lead to fatigue and not feeling well and having difficulty focusing and remembering.”

As for food options, sugar tends to be the go-to, but Driscoll-Shea said it’s a no-no.

“People feel like it gives them energy, but really it gives a quick burst of energy that then leads to a period of feeling more sluggish because of how it affects our blood sugar level,” she said.

A better option is healthier, well-balanced snacks and meals throughout the day so that your body and brain stay fueled and able to stay focused and retain information. Carbohydrates are an important part of the mix.

“It’s important to have carbohydrates throughout the day, as part of the snacking, but they should be from a good source, like a whole-grain source instead of a sugary, processed source,” she said.

Driscoll-Shea’s suggestions for healthy snacking:

  • Whole grain crackers and low-fat cheese
  • Low-fat or fat-free yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts
  • Whole-grain toast with all-natural peanut butter
  • Apple slices with peanut butter mixed with plain yogurt
  • Hummus with sliced vegetables or whole wheat pita bread
  • Popcorn (preferably air-popped), sprinkled with parmesan cheese
  • Fruit smoothie: Blend 1 cup fat-free milk, 1/2 cup frozen strawberries and 1/2 banana
  • Trail mix: almonds, walnuts, peanuts, raisins and sunflower seeds
  • Instant oatmeal made with fat-free milk; add cinnamon, walnuts and raisins
  • Whole-wheat English muffin topped with low-fat cream cheese, diced vegetables and low-fat mozzarella cheese. Bake until cheese is melted.

Another tip for getting through crunch time: “Take regular vitamins and minerals to keep your immune system healthy,” Driscoll-Shea said. “Pulling long hours studying is draining on the body. Keeping the immune system strong and healthy through all that is really important. We often see that students coming home from college tend to get sick. Their bodies are coming down from all that they’ve been through.”

While nutrition is a key component of study prep, Driscoll-Shea pointed out another important aspect.

“Taking breaks can be helpful,” she said. “Go for a jog or do some physical activity. At night you can do some yoga, go up and down some stairs, or just stretch for a few minutes – anyhing to get the blood flowing. Breaking up all that sitting can help clear your head and keep you focused.”