What is it?
Just as a weight lifter needs a different diet from a long distance runner, teenagers sitting exams need a different diet from other children, according to natural health expert Michael van Straten. The correct diet can even, Michael says, make the difference between a pass or a fail, an A or a C grade.
If your son or daughter is sitting exams, or has them coming up, it’s vital you make sure their brains get a constant supply of energy. This is not a day-by-day diet plan but simple tips and things to look out for to help your child achieve the best possible marks!
How does it work?
Different foods are broken down in different ways and have different effects on the body. In this diet, Michael suggests ways of making sure your child’s brain receives a constant and steady stream of energy, helping them concentrate as well as possible for as long as possible. These foods will help your kids avoid slumps that could slow down their revision. How often they eat is just as important as what they eat so Michael advises on the frequency of meals too.
Who is it good for?
Anyone with exams coming up, whether you’re 13 or 73.
What are the drawbacks?
If your child is not used to eating this type of food, they might not welcome the change, especially at such a stressful time. If they’re really resistant, try to incorporate a few small changes such as changing their snacks or making sure they take a daily vitamin pill.
Read Michael van Straten’s advice and use as much of it as possible
in the weeks running up to your children’s exams. There are some recipes
at the end for brain-boosting food the whole family will enjoy.
It might be tempting to feed your child sweets, chocolate or energy bars
to keep them going but in fact, sugary foods should be kept to an
absolute minimum. Anything else with a high-sugar content will give your
child a short term boost but this will be followed by a sudden drop in
blood sugar. The result is a roller coaster of brain function that can
seriously interfere with concentration, memory and performance.
The sugars your child’s brain needs should come mostly from unrefined
starches like wholemeal bread, wholegrain cereals, oats in porridge or
muesli, rice, beans, and pasta. These all provide a slow release of
energy to help keep their blood sugar on an even keel.
Vitamins and minerals: According to Michael Van Straten, the majority of children aged between 10 and 16 are seriously deficient in some of the vital nutrients they need, especially vitamins A, B6, zinc and calcium. But it’s the lack of iron and folic acid in their diets that really affects their mental
powers, as these are needed to make sure there is sufficient oxygen in
Don’t worry, though. It’s really easy to avoid these problems and
guarantee that the brain has everything it needs to cope with the extra
demands of exam time. Just include a regular supply of these super brain
* Oily fish for essential fatty acids, for example sardines, salmon,
tuna, pilchards, herrings or mackerel.
* Prawns, shrimps and shellfish for zinc
* All red meat and poultry for protein, iron and B vitamins
* Wholegrain cereals for B vitamins and slow release energy
* Nuts and seeds (for example, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds,
brazil nuts, walnuts and peanuts) for essential oils, zinc and selenium
* Fresh fruit, salads and green vegetables for vitamins C, A and folic
* Liver for vitamin A, iron and B12 (not to be taken by pregnant women)
* Rosemary, sage, basil and ginger all enhance brain function
As well as providing your child with the right food, encourage them to
take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement. One study in a Welsh
school tested the IQ of a group of children. For eight months they were
given a vitamin and mineral pill or a placebo and then their IQs were
tested again. The children who took the vitamins improved on average
five times more than the children taking the placebo.
Frequency of meals
In order for your child’s brain to do its job efficiently, they must eat
at regular intervals, at least every three hours. Don?t let them go too
long between meals and provide them with healthy, nutritious snacks
like fruit, nuts or wholegrain cereals.
Think about what kind of meals you’re providing at what time of the day.
Meals rich in starchy foods like pasta, rice, bread, cakes and biscuits
trigger the release of the hormone serotonin from the brain, which is
relaxing and prepares you for sleep. These are an ideal evening meal but
not great at lunchtime. High protein foods like meat, fish, poultry,
cheese and eggs stimulate the brain so are better for use at lunchtime.
If your kids are sitting exams or are just getting ready for them, this is an example of how they should be eating.
1 large glass of fresh fruit juice, large chunk of cheese, a tomato and 1 slice of wholemeal toast OR 1 egg, lean grilled bacon and a low fat grilled sausage
Mid morning snack:
Dried apricots, raisins, dates and plain fresh nuts. 1 banana.
Meat, chicken or fish with vegetables or a large mixed salad which
includes basil and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds ?A mug of ginger tea
(make this yourself by grating half an inch of ginger root into a mug of
boiling water and adding 1tsp honey).
Mid afternoon snack:
Cheese, hard boiled egg or houmous with raw carrot, red pepper and celery, plus any fresh fruit
Thick root vegetable casserole or pasta with tuna fish and basil (for
recipes for both of these, read on). Fruit crumble for dessert (recipe
Also during the day, your child can eat a handful of semi-dried dates
and a banana. Encourage them to drink at least three to four pints of
fluid as well, mostly water but including weak tea, herb teas, natural
fruit and vegetable juices and not more than two cups of coffee.
Bean and root vegetable casserole
1 large leek 1 large onion 3 cloves garlic 3 tbsp rapeseed oil 1 swede 1 large parsnip 2 carrots 1 medium sweet potato About 700ml (1 1/4 pt) vegetable stock 400g tin chopped tomatoes 3 tbsp tomato puree 400g can broad beans Sprig of rosemary and 6 sage leaves.
1. Slice the leek, chop the onion and garlic. In a large saucepan, heat
the oil and sweat all three, stirring continuously, for 3 mins.
2. Peel the parsnips, carrots and sweet potato and cut into cubes. Add
to the pan and stir to coat thoroughly.
3. Add the stock, tomatoes and tomato puree and bring to the boil. Add
herbs, cover and simmer for 45 mins.
4. Drain the broad beans, rinse thoroughly and add to the pan Continue
to simmer until beans and vegetable are all tender (about 10-15 mins)
Green pasta with tuna
450g (1lb) green tagliatelle 6 spring onions, coarsely chopped including green parts 1tbsp olive oil 400g (14 oz) tinned tuna in oil Handful shredded basil leaves Black pepper
1. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Meanwhile, put
the oil in a frying pan and very gently fry the spring onions till soft.
2. Add the drained tuna and stir well until warmed through. Drain the
pasta, return to the saucepan, and stir in the tuna and spring onion
3. Serve sprinkled with the torn basil leaves and black pepper.
Apricot and almond crumble:
500g (1lb) apricots 2tsp sugar 2tbsp water 150g (6oz) porridge oats 50g (2oz) ground almond 1tbsp runny honey 1tbsp flaked almonds 25g (1oz) butter, cut into tiny pieces
1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF /gas 6. Lightly grease a pie dish.
2. Put in the fruit – washed, and peeled or cut up if necessary. Add the
sugar and the water.
3. Mix the oats and ground almonds together and spread over the top of
the fruit – there should be enough to make an inch thick coating.
4. Drizzle the honey over the top. Scatter over the flaked almonds. Dot
with the butter and put in the oven for 20 mins.
* For more information, visit www.michaelvanstraten.com.