Three finals-friendly meals at the C4C

1. Persian Station: Combine some rice, the shish-kebob protein of the day and veggies. Then add a salad with more veggies.

2. Latin Station: Instead of carb-packed burritos, make rice-and-meat bowls with a spoonful of rice and beans and a serving of either chicken, pork or beef. Add a little salsa, guac and sour cream.

3.Italian Station: Ask for sautéed veggies, then add a little turkey or tofu and drizzle a little marinara sauce, with or without pasta.

Source: Lauren Heising, CU's coordinator for Sustainable Dining

W ith a little more than two weeks until finals begin, University of Colorado students are looking for an edge to help them get through the last weeks of classes.

Margo Gasta, registered dietitian and owner of Sante Vi Nutrition in Boulder, said even if students haven't been keeping up with a healthy diet all semester, they can switch to a "brain-enhancing diet" now to help them get through finals.

"They should include protein in every meal," Gasta said. "Protein boosts dopamine, which helps improve focus, so it should be incorporated as much as possible if improved concentration is the goal."

The brain runs on glucose, Gasta said, so students should focus on keeping their blood sugar up by adding healthy carbohydrates, like whole grains to their proteins. Instead of loading up on sugar that will cause your blood sugar to raise and then fall quickly, Gasta recommends adding a serving of whole grains -- like brown rice or oatmeal -- to your protein to maintain energy and stabilize glucose levels.

Gasta also recommends eating more foods with choline, like fish or yogurt, which helps the brain produce acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that enhances memory.

"I have a problem with the term 'brain foods,' but it is true that certain foods can improve brain function and help students stay focused during finals," Gasta said. "It's the combination of a healthy diet, exercise, sleep and plenty of fluids that will make the biggest difference for them."

CU junior Laura Malaver said she relies on healthy snacking to save time but maintain a healthy diet during finals time.

"During finals week and prior, I usually carry a fruit, like an apple, grapes, plums, some trail mix and hummus with pretzels or carrots," Malaver said. "I believe these snacks to be healthy and filling enough so overeating doesn't happen, 'cause if you eat junk food like pizza, burgers and fried foods all the time, then you won't be active enough to study."

Gasta said snacking is fine as long as students stick to the healthy, protein and veggie-filled diet and aren't tempted to revert to typical snacking foods like chips or candy.

"Eating small meals every few hours is fine as long as they're still getting a well rounded diet," Gasta said. "They should be trying to fill their plate with about one quarter healthy grains, one quarter protein and half veggies. Don't just stick to one item like spaghetti."

Avoiding unhealthy foods might be harder than it sounds since a lot of students are eating out or ordering in during finals to avoid wasting valuable study time cooking. But Malaver said she makes a week's worth of food in one day so she'll have healthy and affordable foods around the house.

Lauren Heising, CU's coordinator for Sustainable Dining, said students can rely on campus dining halls during finals time for healthy meals if they don't have time to cook.

"The salad bar is a good place to stock up on veggies," Heising said. "Every station has something different but you can make a balanced meal at any of them." CU junior Ali Naaseh also said he tries to eat as healthy as possible around finals to help calm his anxiety and maintain his immune system -- being sick is the last thing he wants at the end of the semester.

"I like to stick to a nothing-from-a-package rule as much as possible," Naaseh said. "Since my immune system has a tendency to crap out on me once finals are over if I eat crummy, I try and avoid that. Besides, I have all of break to eat holiday cookies and chocolate."

 

Follow Whitney Bryen on Twitter: @SoonerReporter.