Brain Food: The Best Foods for Studying

Brain Food: The Best Foods for Studying

What are the best foods for studying?

      Food has a huge impact on the way we feel and function; many of us find a bar of chocolate or a doughnut perks us up during a long afternoon but can send energy levels crashing down an hour later… The impact that food has on our mood and cognitive ability is especially important when we are studying. We might eat certain types of food when we are working out or when we know we need fuel to keep going – the same goes for our brains. Our brains need to be maintained for peak performance and they are affected by the food we eat and how often we eat. Choosing specific powerful foods for studying can have a positive impact on your academic performance – in both the long term and short term.

How should students eat to learn and study better?

     A lack of specific vitamins can have detrimental effects on a student’s cognitive function and focus. A deficiency in zinc, iron and folate can have serious effects on a number of factors relating to mental cognition. Zinc is found in foods like beans, chickpeas, tofu and oysters, and a lack of it can lead to an increased emotional response to stress. Zinc is used by the brain for nerve signaling so it’s very important.

     Iron deficiency depletes stores of iron in the body which can lead to a reduced attention span, brain fog as well as an impaired memory. Iron is needed to convert oxygen to oxyhemoglobin in the blood and a lack of it can certainly be felt through fatigue. If you’re tired all the time, speak to your doctor about getting your iron (and ferritin) levels checked. You could be anemic.

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So what are some student budget friendly examples of foods for studying?

Eggs are cheap and packed full of B vitamins, good cholesterol, and choline. Choline is needed to create the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is important for mood, memory, and other brain functions. Boiled eggs have to be one of the easiest and healthiest breakfasts out there. Eggs are also a great example of choosing foods for studying that won’t break the bank.  Vitamin C is another nutrient vital for brain health. You can find it in supplements, but by far the best source is found in fruit and vegetables, particularly those that are red and orange such as bell peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries. Vitamin E protects cells, including brain cells, thus preventing neurodegeneration. Vitamin E can be found in oats, brown rice, and bulgar wheat.

Is drinking a lot of coffee actually helpful for studying?

It can be- but to an extent. It could be best to avoid it in the late afternoon or evening if you want a good night’s sleep, but during the morning, studies show that a moderate amount of caffeine boosts alertness and improves brain function. It also increases acetylcholine and research from John Hopkins University found that caffeine increases long term memory.

What about fats and sugars?

We think fatty foods and foods high in sugar are bad for us, but are they? Not all foods high in fat are bad for you, there are ‘good’ fats found in food like avocados, eggs, fatty fish, nuts, and dark chocolate (see: some chocolate can be good for you!).  According to a study by Annals of Neurology, the amount of fat doesn’t matter but the type of fat has a significant impact on the brain. A high amount of saturated fats in the participants’ diets led to poorer overall cognition and memory over the course of the study. Poor nutrition and eating habits will have a negative effect on your cognitive abilities and can also have a negative impact on your mental health (which in turn affects cognitive abilities).

What about candy and chocolate?

Sugar can impair memory function and excessive consumption can also lead to a reduced attention span. Does this mean all carbohydrates are bad or just sugar itself? Simple carbohydrates, especially sugar, are best avoided in large amounts. An influx of sugar can lead to an energy crash, so eating foods that are lower in sugar can help to stabilize mood and energy. Foods like dried fruit or nuts are great examples of foods for studying as they give you energy without that nasty crash!

That doesn’t mean, however, that you should be cutting out carbohydrates completely. Carbohydrates break down into glucose which is the most efficient fuel source for your brain. Other foods, like protein, can be used as fuel, but they’re nowhere near as quick for the brain to break down; so, not including any carbs is less efficient for the brain and negatively affects brain function. Eat complex carbs with a lot of protective fiber. Lentils, carrots, and apples are really good for you and are inexpensive.

Excessive consumption of sugar and processed foods can lead to inflammation throughout your gut which connects to your brain. Your gut has an impact on chemicals that make your brain feel happy – dopamine and serotonin are two of the most well-known examples. Eating foods that are good for your gut, such as almonds, bananas, garlic, ginger, yogurt, kefir, and miso, is good for your brain.

When we eat well, we do well. Food influences everything from memory to mood, so it’s important to make sure you eat the right foods. That doesn’t mean you can’t have the odd treat, but late-night kebabs and biscuits to keep you going whilst writing an essay may not be the smartest choice. Shop wisely and eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to keep the brain at peak performance.

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