Today's partly sunny, cloudy, drizzly weather inspired me to cook up something that was part sunny (cooked), part raw (rainy), and totally delicious. Here's a sweet and spicy spaghetti sauce that can be made with the most basic ingredients. Top with chopped basil and crumbled goat's chevre for a really indulgent treat!
It’s exam time, and you’ve studied hard (or maybe not). Did you know that what you eat and drink can affect your exam performance? Wondering what else you can do to boost your chances of nailing that exam (or at least passing?)
After eight years of university and numerous board and placement exams, I’ve been a human guinea pig for all types of study techniques and pre-event “nutrition” – all night cram sessions fuelled by Red Bull and Cadburys, big bowls of Weetbix with sugar for breakfast (what was I thinking?!) and somewhat more “radical” approaches like actually getting some sleep!
I want to share with you my hard-earned expertise so you don’t make the same mistakes I did. There’s just passing, and then there’s graduating with the knowledge that you kicked some serious arse and did everything you could to be a legend.
A long exam is like a mental triathlon in which endurance is critical. If you get your food and drink spot on, you can energise your system, improve your alertness and sustain yourself through the long and sometimes gruelling exam hours. The wrong dietary choices can make you feel sluggish, jittery, or plain freaking burnt out. These nutrition tips will help you perform at your best on exam day, so you walk out of there smiling, not dying.
1. Make sure to eat.
I remember an all night cram session the night before my final veterinary board exam in front of four senior vets. It was the same night my dog ran away from home in a November storm and I hadn’t eaten any dinner - not good! I passed, but I think I got off easy because at 8 a.m. I was the first one up, plus they probably took one look at my hagged appearance and felt sorry for me.
Even if you normally avoid eating when you’re nervous, try to eat when you feel physically hungry - whether that’s two or seven times per day. Very simply, your brain needs the energy from food to work efficiently. You need to keep your mental focus on your exam and not on your hunger. If you are hungry but you really can’t stomach food, then try having a green smoothie or a vegetable juice.
2. Eat brain boosting food.
Some higher-protein foods can lead to greater mental alertness, such as organic free range eggs, raw nuts, and natural yoghurt. High in omega 3 fatty acids (i.e. stuff your brain loves) are fish (sustainably farmed please), walnuts, blueberries, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, figs, and prunes.
If you eat breakfast, yummy brain-boosting options might be quinoa porridge with coconut milk, walnuts and banana, Spanish omelette with kale and lots of vegetables, or unpasteurised miso and avocado on sprouted grain toast. In terms of vegetables, raw carrots, capsicums, Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus are very good choices indeed.
However, if you don’t normally eat a big breakfast, don’t make the mistake of thinking a huge meal will help take you from meh to miraculous – your body won’t be used to it and the energy used to digest that mother load will take away from your ability to think!
Personally, I consider fruit to be excellent brain fuel. It doesn’t take a back-to-back viewing of The Lord of the Rings to digest, leaving you with plenty of energy for mental processing. Try watermelon, kiwifruit, oranges, berries, or bananas – by themselves or in a beautiful brain boosting fruit salad! Try this Third Eye Smoothie for some serious brain food and omega 3s.
3. Avoid brain bombing foods.
On exam day (and ideally most of the time!), stay away from foods made of white flour, such as biscuits, cakes, and muffins, which require added time and energy to digest. Also avoid foods that are high in refined sugar, such as mainstream chocolate, instant desserts, and lollies - these will send you off on a sugar rollercoaster ride of highs and lows – not what you want during your long exam. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably already far beyond those…. far beyond…. :)
Avoid having turkey or chicken before an exam as it contains L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid which helps your body produce serotonin which in turn, makes you feel sleepy. Before you smug vegetarians get too excited (as I did), OD-ing on nuts and seeds or legumes can have the same zombifying effect! Also avoid certain food combinations such as animal protein and starch together. These substances require added time when they have to be digested together, which all takes away juice from the motor in your head where it’s needed.
When eaten alone, starchy carbohydrates make you feel more relaxed than alert. So whilst a wholegrain pasta with organic tomato sauce may be a good option for the day before the exam, it may slow you down on the actual exam day. Try not to eat rice or potatoes in large quantities, as this can make you feel heavy and sleepy. As much as I hate to admit it, hot chips (my vice) are not an ideal exam food!
4. Drink brain boosting beverages.
Make sure you drink enough pure filtered water and/or herbal tea before and during your exam. Green vegetable juices are even more hydrating as the nutrients in them will pull water into the cells as they’re absorbed. If you can bring a green juice into the exam hall and deal with the snide remarks you’ll get from (undoubtedly jealous) classmates, then by all means have at it.
What about coffee? I hear you ask (scream?). Despite their popularity as essential cram drinks, tea and coffee will only dehydrate you and send you running to the loo so many times during your exam you’ll miss out on half the allowed time. Dehydration can reduce your concentration, feel faint, and sap your energy. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink a glass of water. If you wait until you’re thirsty, it means your body is already dehydrated.
5. Avoid brain blocking beverages.
This may seem like a no-brainer but it’s been done - avoid alcohol completely on exam day. Obviously, you can’t ace your exam if you’re blotto, have a headache, are feeling nauseous, or vomit on your paper. In general, reduce your drinking around exam time to avoid hangovers, dullness, and excessive fatigue.
Avoid sugary drinks like softdrink. Avoid caffeine, as it can increase your nervousness. If you are accustomed to drinking coffee regularly, try to gently reduce the amount by 20-30% - if you have 3 cups a day, stop at two. Eat something hydrating and alkalinising (i.e. fruit or veggies!) along with your coffee. If you cut out the coffee suddenly and completely, you could end up with a caffeine-withdrawal headache from hell and severe mood swings – and the last thing you need during exam time is to be convicted of a felony. “Sorry sir, their heads were decapitated when I arrived at the exam hall” is not going to help you graduate.
6. Eat light meals.
Cue The Vapors “Turning Japanese” right… now! Go! In Japan, the traditional tendency is to eat until you’re 80% full, and to stop there. Eat enough to feel satisfied but not so much as to feel over-stuffed.
If you eat a big breakfast or lunch before an exam, you’ll feel drowsier than a stoned koala and heavy to boot. Your body’s energy will be focused on the digestive process rather than on providing your brain with the energy it needs to function efficiently. Instead, try a light lunch such as a big green leafy salad with avocado, roast vegetables, eggs or grilled salmon. Eat like a koala, just don’t become one. Extra points you eat like a Japanese koala. I digress.
7. Don’t try any new foods, drinks, or supplements just before the exam, even if they come highly recommended by friends or family. You don’t know how your body will respond to them and you don’t want insanely itchy skin (creatine!), antisocial nervous twitches (caffeine for the non-initiated – I learnt this the hard way!) or other unwanted symptoms on exam day. Stick with food and drink your body is accustomed to.
8. Consider kicking your own arse way before exams.
Most students don’t eat a healthy balanced diet. When you survive on pizza, junk food, frozen yoghurt, Red Bull, and coffee, your body ends up with a lack of essential vitamins and minerals.
A multivitamin can help, but the best option is to consistently eat nutritious wholefoods, mostly plants, most of the time. If it’s too late for such sensible preparation, B vitamins strengthen brain functioning so try some Berocca if you’re desperate. Iron, calcium, and zinc can boost your body’s ability to handle stress – you could temporarily supplement with these but to really go for gold, get it in its original packaging i.e. EAT REAL FOOD.
9. Snack intelligently.
In some countries, students are given a five- to ten-minute break in the middle of a long exam. Hello cheat sheet! But if you’re not amongst the lucky few cheaters, carry healthy snacks, such as dates, raw homemade chocolate, almonds, walnuts, or fresh fruit for such times, to keep your energy high. People used to think I was insane to bring medjool dates into a four-hour neurology exam, but I bet they would have given their left arm to have one of those babies at 3 hours 30 minutes into that hell hole. Avoid refined sweets as the energy high could be followed by an energy crash during your exam. And finally...
10. Get enough sleep.
Many students (and people in general) get into the habit of studying or working late into the night, hoping to cram in a little more information into their already exhausted brains. Instead, on the night before the exam, stop studying in the early evening.
After that, take it easy: eat your dinner mindfully, pack your stuff for the next day, take a soothing shower, set a couple of alarms and head to bed early with some lavender essential oil on a cotton ball under your pillow to help you snooze. You’ve done all you can (maybe). To function at your best on exam day, you need not only the energy that comes from healthy nutrition, but also the energy that comes from adequate, restful sleep.
Whether you're at home, or packing a lunch box for school or work, there's something here for everyone! Apply your body wisdom and food processor/mandolin/hands to quickly satisfy your hunger and fuel your body and soul.
· Radiance Crudites: Enjoy sticks of raw carrot, celery, capsicum, cucumber and other raw vegetables dipped in a selection of guacamole, olive tapenade, hommus, liver pate, and baba ganoush.
· Apple-Raisin Lunch Bowl: In a salad bowl, mix 100g baby spinach, ½ cup cherry tomatoes, ½ cup sultanas, 1 finely chopped Fuji apple, chopped spring onions, chives, basil, orange capsicum and ½ a cucumber. Dress salad in the bowl with minced garlic, sea salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Add shredded chicken, chickpeas, baked sweet potato, and/or hardboiled eggs for a complete meal.
· Gorgeous Vegetable & Herb Slaw: Grate beetroot, fennel (reserve fronds), radish, carrot, red or white cabbage. Add in fresh chopped parsley, tarragon, dill and the reserved fennel fronds. You can dress this with drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (optional) lots of lemon, lemon zest, sea salt and pepper. This looks like a rainbow exploded in your plate! Serve with sprouted grain toast topped with avocado slices and/or goat's cheese.
· Geisha Rolls and Easy Teriyaki Sauce: To make enough sauce for another day, blend 1 cup tamari, 1 cup pure maple syrup, 1 teaspoon chopped ginger, 1 clove garlic, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Using whole red cabbage leaves, rice paper or nori sheets as wrappers, place julienned capsicum, carrot, and chopped coriander, mint, hardboiled egg, and whole basil leaves inside a cabbage leaf. Roll the cabbage leaf and dip into the teriyaki sauce.
· Raw Butternut Salad: Mix 2 cups grated butternut pumpkin (I cut them into long chunks and grate it though my food processor), 1 zucchini, a small thumb of minced ginger, 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, all spice), drizzle of agave nectar, juice of a lemon, a sprinkle of pepitas and a pinch of pink Himalayan rock salt. Fast and yummy! Serve with your choice of protein and carbs - panfried tempeh and brown rice noodles go well with this.
· The Best Guacamole: In a salad bowl, mash together 3 ripe avocados, juice of 2 limes, finely chopped red onion, 2 chopped vine-ripe tomatoes, a cob of raw corn, 1 sliced red or yellow capsicums, chopped fresh coriander, 1 pinch stevia or honey, chilli powder and celtic sea salt to taste. Use this as a vegetable or chip dip or spread it onto a sandwich. You can also add mixed greens and shredded carrot to create a dreamy guacamole salad!
· Crunchy Candied Almond Salad: In a small bowl, place ½ cup raw almonds, agave nectar and tamari. Let the almonds soak in the marinade while you combine in a bowl mixed greens, vine-ripened tomatoes, grated carrot, 4 chopped pitted dates, and diced sweet onion. Dress with balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, wholegrain mustard and fresh pepper, adding the candied almonds last. Crunchy, colourful, high in Vitamin E, and satisfies a world of cravings.
· Raw Blended Carrot Recharge: Blend 2 cups fresh carrot juice, 1 ripe avocado, 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1 tablespoon fresh ginger and 1 clove garlic in a blender on high until smooth. Serve with toasted Essene bread or flax crackers. Great concoction for healthy eye function!
· Raw Thai Young Coconut Soup – Combine in a blender meat of 2 young coconuts, 2 cups coconut water, 1 garlic clove, 1 knob ginger, 1 tablespoon minced lemongrass, 1 handful each of Thai basil and coriander, 3 tablespoons lime juice, and 1 red chilli (optional) and blend until smooth. Add salt/pepper to taste and garnish with finely diced red capsicum and spring onions. Serve in the empty coconut shell for a gourmet touch! A great entree or starter to an Asian dinner.
· Japanese Guacamole Nori Rolls: Mash 1 ripe avocado with 1 tablespoon tamari, 1 teaspoon raw honey, 1 teaspoon chopped ginger, a little minced garlic and a tiny squeeze of wasabi. Using nori sheets as wrappers, place a line of the japanese guacamole, julienned capsicum, carrot, mushroom, red onion and chopped spinach inside a nori sheet. Roll the sheet up, slice in halves or quarters and devour!
· Buckwheat Pancakes with Savoury Fillings: Drain 1 cup raw buckwheat (soaked for at least 4 hours) and process in a blender with ¾ cup water until it reaches a thick-shake consistency. Cook in a non-stick pan on low to medium heat for around 2 mins on each side, using a little butter, coconut oil or rice bran oil if required.
Stack pancakes on top of each other so they stay warm and soft. Add julienned vegetables of your choice, sprouts, olives, sweet onion and sundried tomatoes. Roll up and devour!
· Sunomuno Salad: This is a traditional Japanese dish: 1 ribboned cucumber (use a vegetable peeler) and 50g soaked wakame seaweed marinated in rice vinegar, sugar and salt. To make it detox friendly, substitute for equal amounts of lemon & lime, sea salt and stevia, if desired. To make it into a dinner size salad, toss with chopped cos or red/green leaf lettuce. Top with a handful of crushed nori and a sprinkle of black sesame seeds. Light, lovely and high in natural iodine for thyroid health.
· Chunky Tomato Gazpacho: Finely dice 4 cups cherry tomatoes, ½ a cucumber, ½ a red or yellow capsicum, ½ cup red onion. Finely chop ½ bunch of parsley and 1 clove garlic. Place ingredients in a bowl with the zest and juice of 1 to 2 lemons, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if desired, and Tabasco hot sauce to taste. Puree 3/4 of the recipe and garnish with the remaining quarter. Bask in the Tuscan sun and enjoy!
Delicious, flavoursome comfort food that's packed full of veggies!
Serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a side dish.
What to do
Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Separate garlic cloves leaving the skins on.
Wash and cut potatoes into wedges. Wash carrots (peel if you want, we don’t – there is too much goodness in the skin!) and cut into pieces the same size as the cut potatoes.
Peel onions and cut into wedges leaving the core intact to keep it together during cooking.
Place all ingredients into a baking tray and add oil, paprika, nutmeg, salt, white pepper and mix softly.
Hint – Sit the potatoes on their skins during baking to stop them from sticking. It gives them more colour.
Roast vegetables for 30 mins or until cooked depending on what size your vegetables are cut.
Meanwhile, remove stalks from your kale (they’re a bit tough) and cut or break into large pieces. Chop parsley and dill roughly.
Once veg is cooked mix everything together gently while still warm and add the lemon juice.
* Celery salt is made by drying celery leaves in the oven at 100 degrees C for about 20 mins then crushing with natural rock salt or himalayan salt in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. It’s an amazing and natural seasoning for anything. My favourite application is using the salt sprinkled on sprouted essence toast smeared with avocado… heaven!
Cook with love, chew your food fully and experience the wonderful tastes and grounding properties of the root vegetables.