If you’re living on 2-minute noodles and energy drinks, you can’t expect your brain to function optimally. It’s important to find out what foods provide the best fuel for your brain, help you to concentrate and study faster for exams. Here are 10 smart foods worth including in your diet.
The omega-3 fatty oils in fish salmon are essential for proper brain function. Omega-3s have to come from your diet because they are not made in your body. The benefits of omega-3 fats to the brain come mostly from DHA, which is found in the cerebral cortex.
This is the area of the brain responsible for attention, memory, creativity and language. A deficiency in omega-3 can make you feel tired and affect your memory – which could be a real problem for a student. Various studies have shown that omega-3s help your brain work harder and improve your mental health.
Salmon is dense in omega-3s, low in mercury and a delicious option for a variety of meals. The American Heart Foundation recommends having two 3.5 ounce servings of oily fish a week.
Oatmeal is one of the best and quickest ways to add healthy calories to your diet and give you a boost at breakfast time. Oatmeal is a whole grain that contains complex carbohydrates with a low glycemic index.
This means oats digest slowly and release glucose over a long period, which gives your body and mind energy for the day. Along with that, it’s also full of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc and potassium.
Studies have found that students who skip breakfast eat less fiber, miss out on important nutrients, have a less healthy weight and suffer from more fatigue and a loss of concentration. Eating within an hour after you wake up with jumpstart your metabolism and give you that fuel you need.
All nuts contain protein, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids but walnuts contain plenty of a plant form of omega-3 fatty acids called alpha-linolenic acid, which isn’t found in other nuts. The healthy fat in nuts is still fat, so you don’t want to eat too many. Eat a daily 1-ounce serving or enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Walnuts are an excellent snack to pop into your mouth if you’re feeling hungry or just before you write a test. Besides containing lots of omega-3s, walnuts also contain melatonin, which will help you to get a good night’s sleep.
Berries of all kinds, such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries are full of flavonoids, and these potent antioxidants that protect brain cells from oxidative damage, keeping free radicals in check.
Studies of rats have showed that a diet rich in blueberries improves motor and memory skills and also reverses age-related declines in coordination and balance.
Berries are also full of vitamin C, which is thought to improve mental agility. The healthy sugar they contain can also increase your energy levels and ability to focus – and they’re far better for you than an energy drink or candy. According to a Harvard study, you need to eat them three times a week for maximum effect. If you can’t find fresh berries at a reasonable price, opt for frozen berries.
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5. Dark green vegetables
Vegetables are generally low in fat and contain many nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and E, potassium, fiber and folate. Broccoli, spinach and other dark green vegetables are rich sources of folate, which is crucial for your brain to function properly. Think about using spinach in a salad rather than iceberg lettuce. It contains more than three times the amount of folate.
Vegetable amounts required vary by individual but eating two and a half to three cups a day is recommended for both women and men from 19 to 30 years of age.
Avocados may contain fat but it is monounsaturated fat, which promotes healthy blood flow to the brain. They are an excellent source of C, E, K and B complex vitamins and make a great addition to a number of dishes due to the rich texture and good flavor.
The potential health benefits include protecting you against cancer, improving your digestion and reducing the risk of depression.
An amino acid, tyrosine, that’s found in high quantities in avocados, is a precursor to the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine helps to keep you motivated and focused. As avocados are high in calories, eat a quarter to half an avocado a day instead of a whole one.
You may be surprised to find chocolate on this list but if you eat the right type of chocolate, it can increase the blood flow to your brain. Milk chocolate doesn’t contain enough cocoa to offer this benefit and white chocolate contains no cocoa at all. The cocoa is what provides nutrition and brainpower, so you need to stick to dark chocolate.
You shouldn’t have too much either – half an ounce or a couple of squares a day is enough. You could also stir a teaspoon of cocoa powder into your Greek yogurt for a similar effect.
Beans are an economical food and underrated food. They are a good source of magnesium, B vitamins and protein, all of which increase brain function.
They are also high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, so they digest slowly, stabilize your blood sugar levels and provide a steady stream of energy. Kidney beans, in particular, are a good source of antioxidants and omega-3s. Lentils or back beans are other healthy options.
Add beans to a salad, use them in wraps, or even add them to spaghetti for a more nutritious meal. If you’re not a fan of beans because they produce gas, lentils may be a better option for you because they are easier to tolerate. Try to eat half to two-thirds of a cup a day.
Many students have a container of yogurt in a fridge because it provides a healthy, nutritious snack. Greek yogurt does not contain sugar and is high in protein and calcium but it has another important benefit too.
The living bacteria found in yogurt is also found in your gut (probiotics) and research is increasingly showing that changes in the bacteria in the intestinal tract can have an effect on the brain.
A UCLA study by researchers and scientists that appeared in the online peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology found that women who consumed probiotic yogurt twice a day showed changes in brain function.
Researchers have known for some time that the brain sends signals to the gut, which is why stress can contribute to gastrointestinal problems. They now know that the signals can travel in the opposite way too. Yogurt may actually positively affect the way your brain responds to your environment.
Many people think of garlic as a “superfood” because its sulfur-containing compounds have anti-oxidant, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory qualities. Eating raw, crushed garlic will give you garlic breath, caused by the allyl sulfide it contains but it can help you to shake off colds and infections induced by stress.
Eating garlic will not only boost your immune system but also has benefits for your brain. Damage to the brain can occur through oxidative stress and inflammation, and plenty of research is finding benefits to the brain from eating garlic.
If you don’t want to eat raw garlic, you can get similar benefits by taking an odorless aged garlic extract (AGE) as a supplement.
A final word
Healthy eating doesn’t just happen on its own. Your bad eating habits are easier to break if you make small, gradual changes. If you’ve been skipping breakfast, start by eating a bowl of oatmeal in the morning.
If you’re used to buying takeaways, learn how to make some simple healthy meals yourself, like grilled food, stir-fries, wraps or salads. When you have nutritious foods at hand, you’re more likely to eat them, so shop regularly for groceries and include the above foods on your list. Changing how you eat can take some effort but also has many benefits.