We know students need proper nutrition to cope with study schedules, but choose ‘smart foods’ to support brain function, and you’re one step ahead according to Clinical Nutritionist Sarah Spann.
Study snacks to reach for to help support brain function include protein and healthy fats which provide sustained energy and improve focus, says Ms Spann.
Protein makes neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is associated with happiness. The type of fats found in avocado, olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds are highly beneficial for the brain and have been shown to improve depression.
The temptation is to reach for something sugary, but high sugar diets cause inflammation in the brain and can cause memory problems due to the hormonal changes that occur with high sugar intake.
High sugar diets also mess with your blood sugar levels, and once these come crashing down, you’ll be left feeling worse,” explains Ms Spann.
So, when it comes to fuel your brain, Ms Spann recommends the following brain food to study smarter.
Top 10 ‘Smart Foods’ for Studying
- Oily Fish (Like Salmon, Trout, Mackerel or Sardines)
Oily fish is a rich source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. They are called ‘essential’ because the body cannot make them, and they must come from the diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are highly beneficial for the brain as they slow mental decline and protect against Alzheimer’s disease. The brain uses them for new brain cell growth and to help with learning and memory.
Deficiency of omega-3 is associated with depression. Flax seeds are a vegan alternative source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, and it is very beneficial for the brain. Curcumin is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound which helps new brain cells to grow and improves memory and depression.
Turmeric can be added to rice, stews, curries or roast vegetables, or turmeric latte mixes are widely available.
- Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc, magnesium, copper and iron, all of which improve memory and brain function. They regulate nerve signalling by the brain, and this is important to make sure that the brain is communicating with the body correctly. These nutrients also protect against conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, migraines and depression, and iron helps lift brain fog.
Nuts are a great source of healthy fats, antioxidants and vitamin E which all support brain health to improve your concentration. Vitamin E is protective against age-related mental decline. Walnuts are particularly useful for the brain as they are another excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Egg yolks are rich in choline which is a precursor to acetylcholine, an essential neurotransmitter for memory.
Eggs also contain vitamins B6, B12 and folate, which help neurotransmitters to function correctly and improve mental health. These vitamins may also slow the progression of age-related mental decline.
Broccoli contains vitamin K, which enhances memory. Broccoli is also high in a compound called glucosinolates, which can slow the breakdown of acetylcholine to help keep your memory sharp and focused for longer.
- Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is full of polyphenols, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to protect the brain. These polyphenols can also help to improve blood flow to the brain.
But not all chocolate is created equal – it should be at least 70 per cent cocoa and preferably minimally processed with low or no sugar!
- Green Tea
Green tea contains caffeine, which helps to improve alertness, performance, memory and focus. However, unlike coffee, it also contains L-theanine, which is an amino acid that helps to reduce anxiety. The L-theanine also offsets any overstimulating effects of coffee. Green tea is also rich in polyphenols.
Avocados are a great source of monosaturated fat which improves healthy blood flow to the brain. They also contain vitamin K and folate which help to prevent blood clots in the brain and improve memory and concentration. Avocados contain B vitamins and vitamin C, and the high-fat content will help keep you fuller for longer and provides sustained energy for the brain.
Blueberries contain a compound called anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help protect the brain. They have been shown to improve short-term memory. Other deeply coloured berries also contain anthocyanins.
Meals to Boost Brain-Power and Balance Blood-Sugar.
The following is a daily meal plan idea that incorporates brain food to help students study smarter.
An egg-based breakfast, such as an omelette filled with vegetables, is a great way to balance blood sugar, provide sustained energy throughout the day and improve concentration.
For lunch, consider a salad with chicken and avocado.
A stir-fry with chickpeas, mixed vegetables, sesame seeds and brown rice.
The following study snacks are all examples of a well-balanced macro-nutrient meal that will help you stay focused, energised and support your body to study, explains Ms Spann.
- Vegetable sticks and hummus
- Natural yogurt with nuts and berries
- An apple with nut butter
- Strawberries and almonds