Food For Thought – What To Eat During The HSC

Food For Thought – What To Eat During The HSC

Do you have an HSC student in your household and not sure what to feed them?

The HSC can be a gruelling time for our kids. It’s important to fuel our bodies and brains, with the right nutrition that will support concentration, mood, attention, memory-developing, learning and problem solving skills.

Here are some top Dietitian tips for what to eat:


It is so important for students to fuel their mind and body for a long school day ahead. Eating breakfast has been linked to improved alertness, concentration, mental performance, test scores, mood and memory. A simple place to start is to have a nutritious breakfast that includes healthy grains/cereals, fibre and protein. Some nutritious breakfast ideas include oats/porridge, muesli with yoghurt, toast with peanut butter/avocado/baked beans, Weet-Bix with banana or berries, eggs with toast or a fresh fruit smoothie!

Low GI carbohydrates

Eating foods that have a low glycemic index (GI) can help keep you concentrated and alert for longer periods of time. Low GI carbohydrates release sugar into our bloodstream slowly and gradually. This can help to provide a steady supply of energy to our brain and increase cognition, alertness, concentration, memory and problem-solving skills. Low GI carbohydrates also keep us fuller for longer, thus preventing cravings for more sugary or processed snacks. Low GI carbohydrates include wholegrain bread, cereal or crackers, fruit, non-starchy vegetables, dairy and legumes. High GI carbohydrates include refined white bread, cereals and crackers and sugary, processed foods like chips, lollies, cake, pastries, soft drinks, juice and flavoured milk. Try these tips for incorporating more low GI carbohydrates in your diet:

  • Swap white bread for low GI high fibre white bread, traditional sourdough or multigrain
  • Swap rice bubbles/corn flakes/coco pops/ sultana bran/ just right for oats, muesli, weetbix, high fibre breakfast cereals.
  • Swap plain crackers for Vita-Weats or Ryvitas
  • Swap chips for popcorn
  • Swap chocolates and lollies for fruit, yoghurt, vegetable sticks with hummus/cheese
  • Swap juice and flavoured milk for water


Nature’s lollies are rich in an array of vitamins and minerals that support brain health. Berries contain Anthocyanins which are a compound of flavonoids that have strong antioxidant properties. Anthocyanins work by reducing inflammation in the brain, increasing blood flow and brain signalling pathways which may support increased concentration, attention, memory and learning.

*Flavonoids are also abundant in dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa. Dark chocolate is also an intrinsic mood booster!


Eggs are an extremely nutrient-packed food, containing Protein, B vitamins, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, choline and lutein to name a few. Choline is a precursor to neurotransmitter Acetylcholine- which regulates mood and memory. B vitamins play a huge role in brain function and supporting cell health. Vitamin D works in many ways to support brain function and largely supports brain cell health and neurotransmission. Lutein is a carotenoid that supports visual health, as well as cognition and brain health.


Legumes are our protein-packed vegetarian friends. They are also full of fibre which can help keep us fuller for longer and support our gut health. Legumes are also a good source of folate – involved in the production and maintenance of new cells and essential to brain function. In addition, legumes provide good amounts of antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids, and many other vitamins and minerals which support cognition. Add a can of lentils, chickpeas or beans with a salad, make a chickpea curry or have baked beans to increase your legume intake!

Healthy fats – Nuts, Avocado, EVOO and Fish


Are a fantastic ‘brain food’. Nuts are rich in omega 3 fatty acids which support concentration and cognition, Zinc which is involved in nerve transmission and can help facilitate memory and learning processes, Vitamin E and an array of B vitamins which support brain function. Nuts are also high in protein and fibre which keep you fuller for longer and reduce hunger and cravings. *opt for unsalted varieties.


Contains healthy monounsaturated fatty acids which promotes healthy blood flow – supporting brain function. Avocado has fibre and a range of other nutrients for satiety and good health.


Contains essential omega 3 fatty acids that support brain health. Having fish 2-3 times per week is recommended to obtain good amounts of essential fatty acids in your diet. Tin tuna or tin salmon work great as study snacks! Fish is also a good quality source of protein, which will keep you fuller for longer to sustain those long study sessions.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil or ‘EVOO’

Is a powerful antioxidant-packed oil with amazing benefits for our health. Compared to other oils, EVOO contains at least 10x the amount of antioxidants to support brain health and function. EVOO has also shown to support satiety – helping to manage hunger and cravings.

Healthy fats found in Avocado, EVOO, Fish and Nuts can help to keep brain cells flexible , reduce inflammation and improve nerve signalling – supporting overall cognition, memory, learning and attention during study!

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients – bioactive compounds that reduce inflammation and the risk of many diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and so on… So increasing our intake of these is beneficial in many ways! Further benefits include improved brain health, through their powerful antioxidant activity and general provision of vitamins and minerals that support brain health and function. Aim for two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables daily!


Exercise releases endorphins and boosts mood, which can improve concentration, focus and memory processing while studying. This can also reduce stress and assist in the management of anxiety and depression. Exercise also stimulates new connections between cells in the brain that are responsible for learning and memory. Simple effects of exercise, such as increased heart rate, leads to more oxygen flow to the brain as well!

Overall, following a healthy balanced diet and getting in some daily exercise is key to good nutrition during exams!


Dementia Australia 2020. What you eat and drink and your brain. Reviewed 2015

Gómez-Pinilla F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 9(7), 568–578.

Ioannis Bakoyiannis, Afrodite Daskalopoulou, Vasilios Pergialiotis, Despina Perrea, Phytochemicals and cognitive health: Are flavonoids doing the trick?, Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, Volume 109, 2019, Pages 1488-1497, ISSN 0753-3322

Moore, K., Hughes, C., Ward, M., Hoey, L., & McNulty, H. (2018). Diet, nutrition and the ageing brain: Current evidence and new directions. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 77(2), 152-163. doi:10.1017/S0029665117004177

Wysoczański T, Sokoła-Wysoczańska E, Pękala J, Lochyński S, Czyż K, Bodkowski R, Herbinger G, Patkowska-Sokoła B, Librowski T. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and their Role in Central Nervous System – A Review. Curr Med Chem. 2016;23(8):816-31. doi: 10.2174/0929867323666160122114439. PMID: 26795198.


Claire Ward

Claire is a founder and director of Ward Nutrition. She leads a team of Accredited Pracitsing Dietitians who provide professional nutrition advice to those around the Central West.

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