In the heat of USMLE/COMLEX study season, it’s easy to cruise through the drive-thru for fast food and consume tons of caffeine in coffee or energy drinks. Your blood sugar level spikes, the greasy foods hit your stomach, you feel full and satisfied, then suddenly, you hit a point where you crash. You no longer have the drive to study, and you would rather be on the couch watching a Netflix marathon. Why is this? Well, you didn’t properly fuel your body.
When you study right, you test well, and when you eat right, you feel better. Below are nine super foods and a few ideas on how to prepare them.
Everyone knows water is essential to keep a body healthy. Choosing water rather than sodas or caffeinated drinks will help tremendously in keeping your body happy while preparing for USMLE or COMLEX exams. A few benefits of drinking water include clear skin and improved kidney function, and water fights fatigue caused by dehydration. Eight 8 oz glasses of fluid per day is the recommended amount from the Mayo Clinic, and there are many mobile apps available to help keep your motivated to drink water such as Waterlogged, Daily Water, iDrinkWater and Daily.
Olive oil’s monounsaturated fatty acids are considered healthy dietary fats. They are known to lower risks of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, and help with blood sugar control. Controlling your blood sugar levels will help reduce the mid-study session crash.
How to incorporate: You can cook your proteins such as chicken, fish or steak in a skillet using olive oil instead of butter or fat. You can also drizzle the oil in with your steamed vegetables or before you roast your veggies or nuts.
Blueberries are famous for their high antioxidant values. These antioxidants fight free radicals in the body such as cancer. Blueberries are also good for heart health, and the vitamin C gives an immune system boost helping your body fight off sickness that may hit during your study period.
How to incorporate: Drop them in your cereal, oatmeal or you can just have them next to you mixed with other berries for a healthy study snack. You can even make a smoothie with bananas, almond milk (or milk of choice), protein powder and blueberries.
It is high in Vitamin K which helps boost brain power. This veggie is also high in vitamin C, and its antioxidants fight inflammation. Broccoli is a versatile vegetable that can be included into a variety of meals.
How to incorporate: You can snack on broccoli raw or you can steam it in a mixture of olive oil and water. Another quick way to prepare it is to spread broccoli out on a cooking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and put salt, pepper and any other seasonings you prefer. Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes then let it cool. This makes for a tasty side dish to any meal.
Kale has been in the news a lot for being a “super food.” It is high in vitamin C, K and A as well as containing omega-3 fatty acids. One benefit of eating kale is the B vitamins and folic acids help to keep the mind sharp. Raw kale also contains protein which will fight hunger and help keep blood sugar levels stable.
How to incorporate: Throw kale into a leafy salad mixture and top with a light oil-based salad dressing. If you’re not a fan of the bitter taste of kale, you can sauté it in some olive oil (benefits listed above), add salt and top with some lemon juice. Another choice is to bake the kale, similar to the instructions above for broccoli and make kale chips.
Pumpkin seeds are little health ninjas. They are packed with magnesium, omega 3’s and zinc. The zinc helps ramp up your immune system while the magnesium helps with bone, tooth and heart health. Men can also benefit from the sexual health benefits.
How to incorporate: Wash your pumpkin seeds in cold water, then lay them on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes to dry them out. Bake them for an additional 20 minutes at 350 degrees with your choice of seasoning such as cinnamon and sugar or salt.
Avocados are packed with tons of vitamins. You will find tons of potassium (more than a banana), fiber, vitamins B5, B6, E, C and K. It also has small amounts of magnesium, iron and zinc along with other nutrients. When you eat an avocado, you’re helping improve your cholesterol, immune system and regulating blood sugar along with many other benefits.
How to incorporate: you can cut it up and add it to a salad or sandwich. You can even create a spread to put on your sandwich instead of using mayo or mustard. We know that guacamole often costs extra at restaurants, but the health benefits are surely worth it.
Whole grains contain dietary fiber that help keep your body on a regular schedule. They also contain antioxidants, B vitamins and minerals such as iron and magnesium. Whole grains help control your blood sugar levels, helping you avoid the crash feeling mid-day. The fiber keeps you feeling full so you’re not snacking throughout the day, which will also help with managing your weight. Another benefit of whole grains is that they are good for your heart and help control cholesterol levels.
How to incorporate: Some examples of whole grain include, quinoa, rolled and steel cut oats, brown rice and popcorn (don’t add the salt and butter) just to name a few. Avoid sugary granola bars and breakfast cereals/oatmeals and opt for whole grain pasta, breads and crusts if available.
Salmon, canned tuna and trout are a couple popular fish options when it comes to omega 3 fatty acids which benefit a healthy heart, brain function and reduce inflammation. Adding fish into your meal rotation two to three times a week will greatly improve your health.
How to incorporate: Pour some olive oil with salt, pepper and other spices of your choice into a skillet and cook over medium heat it until it’s nice and flaky. You can also make a Panko bread crust and bake your fish in the oven. Another idea is to cook your fish, put it in the refrigerator and then make fish tacos with some avocado the next day.
To simplify the process and save time, stock up on these items, cook in volume and then divide them into plastic containers for easily accessible, nicely portioned meals. Eat what you need and freeze the rest for later.
A healthy brain and healthy body are going to keep you pushing through these weeks and months of studying for the USMLE and COMLEX exams. The options and suggestions above are just simple, easy ways to get into healthy habits. There are many nutritional websites, and you can even check Pinterest for lots of fun recipes if you’re feeling like a chef and want to spice things up a bit. The extra 15-30 minutes it takes to prepare a meal will not only benefit your brain and body on marathon exam days, but it will also benefit you in the long run. We know your goal is to improve your future patients’ health; please don’t forget the importance of your own.