ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 7, Summer 2012

A diet of distinction

Diet of distinction_content

Stressed about upcoming exams? Ace your assessments by improving your diet with these tips from accredited practising dietician and exercise sport scientist Lachlan Mitchell.

When it comes to the exam period there are a lot of different stressors that students face. One thing you shouldn’t have to worry about is your nutrition. 

Thankfully eating right for exams is simple, no matter what your tastes are. Following a healthy balanced diet is the way to go, but for that extra kick to your concentration add these key nutrients.


Iron is required by the body to perform many different functions, including brain development and mental function. Several studies have shown improved performance of cognitive function after a period of iron supplementation. This means increased concentration and mental performance, two very useful factors for acing those exams. Red meats, including beef and lamb, are great sources of well-absorbed iron. Aim for 100-200g of these foods three to four times per week. Although not as well absorbed, meat alternatives such as tofu,

chickpeas and nuts are also good sources of iron, as are green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and bok choy.

Essential fatty acids

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are just that – fats which are essential for our bodies. They can only be obtained through diet and play many different roles, such as helping improve mental performance and concentration. Snacking on 45-60g of nuts is a great way of meeting your EFA requirements. When cooking, use unsaturated oils, such as olive, sunflower or safflower oil. Cold-water fish like salmon, tuna or mackerel are all extremely healthy source of EFAs. You should aim to eat fish two to four times a week.


Everyone knows the importance of calcium for strong bones, but did you know that calcium has also been linked to cognitive performance? Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and

cheese are ideal sources of calcium, and you should aim for two to three serves per day. Always aim for low or reduced fat dairy options. For those who don’t eat dairy, calcium fortified soy milk is a great alternative. Fish with edible bones, such as salmon, are also sources of calcium. 

Low GI carbohydrates

Low GI carbohydrates are a key nutrient for everyone, from children to the elderly, athletes to the sedentary, and of course students. Carbs are our go-to fuel source, and the brain’s only choice for energy. Low GI carbs ensure we have sustained energy levels without a post sugar drop. It is important to consume these carbs at each meal, and they are essential at

breakfast to kick-start your day. Look to consume wholegrain breakfast cereals such as oats or untoasted muesli, wholegrain breads, pasta, fruits, starchy vegetables like sweet potato and corn, lentils and chickpeas, rice, noodles and couscous.

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