Nutritionist Shares The Superfoods That’ll Get You Through January Exams

Get to peak brain power and blast through January exams.

Written by Jamie Wright, the head nutritionist at Balance.

The festive fun of December fades away all too fast and then the stress-inducing exam season looms. In fact, you’re probably going to be working pretty hard for the next few weeks (sorry), so it’s time to give your brain what it needs.

How well your brain is functioning is often an afterthought at university (as its only use most of the time is to find the cheapest drinks) but it must be prioritised during these testing times.

Your diet plays a key role in your brain’s health and its ability to function. So, I’ve listed some of the superfoods we recommend to clients that we work with to help them come out the other side with a pocket full of passes, distinctions and firsts.

The goal of our diet during exam season

girl cooking in kitchen

Before you can focus on the individual foods you’d want to include, it’s important to understand and realise the actual function and purpose of these foods. To do that, you need to first identify your goal(s).

The purpose of your diet during exam season is to:

  • Maximise concentration and focus
  • Improve and enhance alertness
  • Protect against any potential harm to the brain
  • Optimise the health of your brain itself (the healthier it is, the better it will function).

If our brain is as healthy as it can be and firing on all cylinders, then we can better prepare and perform during exam season.

So, now onto the individual foods that you may want to include and why.


bowl of porridge topped with cinnamon raisins and nuts

The prototypical superfood, oats are perfectly packaged flakes of goodness. They’ll be particularly useful to you during exam season and starting the day off with a hearty bowl of oats will set you up for a fully focused revision session.

You see, oats are high in complex carbohydrates and fibre, which will keep you fuller for longer and help better manage your blood sugar levels.

The better regulated your blood glucose levels are, the better your energy levels will be. Oats help to regulate blood glucose as they’re more difficult to digest than other carbohydrate sources.

The difficult-to-digest nature of oats leads to a more gradual trickle of sugar into your blood which your body can use more evenly and effectively.

When we have a highly processed food rich in added sugars, this digests really quickly leading to a huge spike in our blood sugar. These spikes provide an initial boost of energy before leading to a crash.

A sugar crash can severely impact our ability to concentrate and focus so it’s best we avoid having too many sugary foods, particularly around exam season.


bowl of strawberries in front of greens

Berries are jam-packed full of antioxidants, which work to reduce inflammation in the body. Food high in antioxidants can slow down or prevent oxidative damage caused by free radicals.

Free radicals are reactive byproducts which may be produced during periods of extreme or consistent stress (like exams!) that causes damage to your cells.

Combatting free radicals is important, particularly during exam season, as oxidative damage can lead to a reduction in short and long-term memory!

Nuts and seeds

nuts and seeds on wooden spoons on a table

Nuts and seeds are packed full of magnesium, iron and zinc — all minerals needed by our brain and body for optimum function.

Magnesium can help improve sleep quality and regulate stress, while iron and zinc support neurotransmitter production (a chemical that carries signals from one brain cell to another).

You might have already guessed that sleep is incredibly important for our brain as it’s the time in which our body clears all the junk from it, allowing it to function at its best, so it’s best to avoid the all-nighters if possible.

Oily fish

mackerel on a plate next to a bowl of lemon and a bowl of salad

We couldn’t have a brain food list without mentioning oily fish. It contains omega-3 fatty acids which are critically important in the make-up and function of our brain.

They’re used in the formation of cell membranes and have been shown to improve cognitive performance whilst reducing our risk of certain cognitive diseases too.

Oily fish also contains vitamin D, which is not only beneficial for keeping bones strong but has been shown to support learning and memory processes. Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are all good options for an oily fish hit.

The holidays are over and it’s time to get back into the swing of things. Whether you have a big exam coming up, or even if you just want to stay on top of your health goals for January, these superfoods will help fuel your brain power so that you can succeed in all aspects of life.

Want more helpful food and nutrition advice to get you through your study sessions? Check out our advice on how to eat well without the hassle of cooking during exams.