Exam Diet: Food Habits That Can Boost Your Child’s Smarts


It’s one month before the all-important Primary School Leaving Examinations: are you making adjustments to your child’s diet as the PSLE draws near?

“The research makes it clear: Diet plays a clear and determinant role in every aspect of brain function, literally shaping our thoughts, actions, emotions, and behaviours,” says Lisa Mosconi, author of the book Brain Food: The Surprising Science Of Eating For Cognitive Power. “If your job depends on your brain, it depends on your diet.”

Her top brain food picks include fatty fish (such as mackerel, sardines, and anchovies), dark leafy greens, berries, and dark chocolate with at least 80% of cocoa content.

Fatty fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which the brain uses to build brain and nerve cells—this is why omega-3s are considered essential for learning and memory.

Dark leafy greens contain nutrients that are needed for a healthy nervous system, while deep-coloured berries (such as blueberries) contain antioxidants that prevent inflammation and other conditions that may cause the brain to deteriorate. Antioxidants are also thought to improve communication between brain cells.

And finally, dark chocolate is also thought to be beneficial for the brain—although some Chinese families may consider it “heaty.” This is because dark chocolate contains flavonoids (antioxidant compounds), which gather in the brain and may help to enhance memory. Chocolates, as everyone knows, are also mood boosters!

Apart from careful eating, it is also crucial to stay hydrated. “Over 80% of the brain’s content is water. Every chemical reaction that takes place in the brain needs water, especially energy production,” explains Mosconi. “The brain is so sensitive to dehydration that even a minimal loss of water can cause symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, dizziness, confusion and, more importantly, brain shrinkage.”

Read on to find out the exam food strategies of a KSP member, who has a daughter in Primary 6 this year.

Daily Cod Liver Oil

“My kids and I now take the Rosita Extra-Virgin Cod Liver Oil, which I first read about in a blog post by the ‘health guru’ Chris Kresser. I get ours locally from Top Gourmet, which seems like an unlikely source at first glance, as they mostly sell cooking ingredients. But I decided to order with them after I enquired about rancidity concerns, and they assured me that they use refrigerated trucks for all of their deliveries. I take a teaspoon of the oil daily, and my kids take half a teaspoon.”

Daily Elderberry Supplement

“My friend told me several years ago that her kids’ paediatrician had recommended Sambucol (an elderberry supplement) for immunity, so I made a mental note of it. I don’t do much research on supplements, but the consensus on elderberry seems to be that a few small studies have shown it to be effective in reducing cold and flu symptoms, but more studies are needed to show that they can block infection as well. In any case, since it tastes good, my kids are happy to take this daily.”

Avoid Stimulants

“I’m not sure if it was stress-related, but my daughter had several episodes this year where she suddenly felt nauseated, and there didn’t seem to be a pattern to her discomfort. I brought her to the GP and he said that it could be a sign of acid reflux. He advised my daughter to cut out her green tea intake, as he said that could increase the acidity levels in her stomach as well as lead to cramping. We followed his instructions and she hasn’t had an episode in the last two months. She’s been drinking mostly plain water, and she also likes sparkling water.”

Healthier Snacking

“My kids consume a fair bit of sugary and ‘heaty’ foods—in our home, large boxes of Koko Krunch can disappear in a day. My daughter also loves anything with chocolate in it. Leading up to the PSLE, I’ve been advising her to switch to snacking on fruit instead (she loves kiwi), and to drink plenty of water.”

Smarter Shopping

“Before I buy a supplement, I’ll check a web site called Labdoor to see if the supplement has been tested and ranked. Labdoor tests supplements from different brands to find out if the actual content matches up to the marketing claims—they often don’t. I find their ranked lists of supplements very useful! They also link to Amazon and iHerb so that you can make purchases easily.”

Contributed by Evelyn, a KiasuParents member and parent blogger.