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Good Nutrition for Teens during Exam Week

May is Better Sleep Month, but it’s best known as the month for finals. While many of us could stand to get more shut-eye, teens are at particular risk for sleep deprivation. Early school opening times conflict with their natural sleep rhythms, while challenging academic loads, schedules packed with extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs often cause teens to burn the midnight oil. Add the stress of cramming for finals to that heavy load, and you’ve got the perfect storm for some anxious, grumpy kids.

What’s a parent to do? One place to start is to think about how your kids are fueling themselves during this stressful time. What are they eating and drinking, not just at mealtimes, but especially while they’re studying? Stress eating is common, so teens often consume a lot of their calories between meals. Are yours relying on caffeine and sugar to fuel afternoon or evening cram sessions? Here’s why caffeine and sugar are ineffective forms of energy, and how teens can survive exam week the healthy way. A recent article from The Washington Post explains why that’s a bad idea.

Caffeine and Sugar: The Dirty Duo
There’s a reason teens and adults reach for caffeine and sugar when they need energy. These substances provide it, but that energy comes at a cost. 

Caffeine works by blocking the brain-calming chemical adenosine. Ingest too much of it and your stress hormones rise, which heightens anxiety. For people who tolerate caffeine well, a cup of coffee or tea might not be a bad way to start the day. However, drinking it near bedtime can spell trouble. And those high-caffeine energy drinks popular with teens are even worse.

Caffeine stays in the body for up to seven hours, and according to a 2010 study published in The Journal of Pediatrics, 75 percent of children consume caffeine every single day. Worse still, the more they consume, the less they sleep.

Sugar, aside from providing empty calories, gives short-lived energy, as blood sugar rises rapidly after eating it. But that energy is followed by a crash, as blood sugar drops in response to the massive amount of insulin that’s produced to clear it out of the bloodstream. This rapid up and down cycle causes the body to release stress hormones, which is just what stressed out students don’t need. So, what should these stressed-out, exam cramming teens be eating then?

Better Snacking

Power up with protein. To get your teens off the sugar-caffeine roller coaster, consider offering them a protein-rich snack, like turkey slices, cheese cubes, or hard-boiled eggs. Why protein? The amino acid tyrosine found in many protein sources helps the body make neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine, both of which promote alertness.

Go nuts. Nuts like walnuts or pistachios offer omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce stress levels.

Take a dip. If your kid likes chips and dips, consider guacamole with bean chips. Avocadoes provide healthy fats and B vitamins that support the nervous system and give steady energy, while bean chips contain more protein and fiber than corn chips.

Get fruity. Many fruits, such as oranges and strawberries, are rich in vitamin C, which help keep stress hormones in check. Blueberries contain anthocyanin, a calming antioxidant. Magnesium, found in bananas and dried fruits, also soothes the nerves.

Complete your teens’ diet. Juice Plus+ Complete bars and shakes also make good study-time snacks. The bars come in two delicious flavors, Tart Cherry + Honey and Dark Chocolate + Fig, and contain 5 to 10 grams of protein. The French Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate Complete shakes pack 13 grams of protein each, plus 40 percent of the daily value (DV) for several B vitamins and vitamin C. That’s better brain food than any sugary energy drink! Best of all, Complete products won’t keep your children up at night when they should be resting up for the big test.

What healthy snacks do your teens like best? Share with us in the comments below!

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