Zohair Ali al-Arabi, a senior clinical dietician at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), has emphasised the importance of healthy eating for students preparing for examinations.
He says energy drinks give a false sense of energy and trick the body into staying awake for longer, adding that overconsumption of these beverages can have negative health consequences.
“It is true that energy drinks will make you feel more alert and energetic, but it’s a false feeling that results in distraction, poor memory and staying up late. This will make students sleepy and sluggish at a time when they need their concentration and mental sharpness. Energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine and stimulants that students do not need, and drinking milk or juice is a much healthier choice than these stimulants,” he explained.
Al-Arabi says many people are misled by claims that energy drinks increase focus and improve performance. He notes that getting sufficient sleep and eating a balanced and nutritious diet is essential for helping students perform well on their exams. He also stresses the importance of staying hydrated, saying that even mild dehydration can lead to tiredness, headaches and diminished concentration.
“As the exam season starts, many parents will experience stress even before their children. Parents can help their children maintain healthy habits that will keep them in good shape for their exams by encouraging them to eat a nutritious diet, get sufficient sleep and get regular exercise,” he noted.
“Parents play a major role in ensuring their children have access to nutritious foods and should plan the day’s main meals - breakfast, lunch and supper – as well as one or two snacks. Meals should contain a mix of the six major food groups as each plays an important role," he continued. "Carbohydrates provide energy; milk, cheese and other dairy products, and their alternatives provide calcium; protein is an important building block for the bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood; and fruits and vegetables provide important vitamins and minerals that are essential for focus and endurance.
"Meal planning for students is important as neglecting meals may result in poor concentration and memory because the brain cannot work properly on an empty stomach.”
Eating a varied, well-balanced diet means eating a variety of foods from each of the six food groups daily, in the recommended amounts. It is also important to choose a variety of foods from within each food group.
Al-Arabi recommends eating breakfast between 6am and 8am and says a meal containing milk, bread, cheese or Labneh, healthy fat like olive oil, and vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers, is a great choice. He also recommends a snack between breakfast and lunch, suggesting a piece of fruit, and says rice, meat and cooked vegetables or salad is a great choice for lunch.
Further, he recommends a second snack between lunch and supper, suggesting cookies with milk or fruit.
Al-Arabi also warns about the dangers of overeating, noting that overconsumption of food, especially foods high in sugar, fat and salt, can wreak havoc on the body’s digestive system, leading to vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps and stomach pain, as well as unintentional weight gain. He says overeating causes the stomach to expand beyond its normal size and can lead to feeling tired, sluggish or drowsy.
Al-Arabi also recommends avoiding junk or fast food, especially fried foods, saying they can have a negative effect on the brain. He says foods high in saturated fat can compromise the memory and raise anxiety levels.