When exams are looming or an assignment is due, many students put in extra hours of study. However, did you know that what you feed your brain is just as important as the hours you put into your study?
Our brain — a quick snapshot
Our brain is an amazing machine responsible for millions of processes each day. Because it is so active, it demands a high percentage of the overall daily energy requirements obtained by food. The brain uses glucose (sugar) as fuel. However, as our brain can’t store glucose, we need to feed our brain with this fuel every day. Glucose is delivered to our brain via the bloodstream.
If you want your brain to perform at its best, then you need to feed it quality food. Research indicates that some deficiencies in the diet can have a negative effect on the brain and may cause changes in brain function, leading to:
- Low mood and aggression
- Poorer memory and problem-solving skills
- Low sleep quality.
If you want your brain to be in the best shape possible, then you need to include the following in your diet:
- Dietary cholesterol — dietary cholesterol has been associated with improved brain functioning. Best sources are from dairy and egg yolks. NOTE: care should be taken with excess cholesterol levels, so consult your doctor if you are concerned.
- Omega-3 — aids brain function and reduces inflammation. Found in oily fish, flax seeds and flax oil, and eggs, chicken and beef.
- Monounsaturated fats — supports healthy blood flow. Found in avocados.
- Caffeine (moderate amounts) — boosts memory, assists with focus and mood. Found in tea, coffee and dark chocolate.
- Antioxidants — fight cell damage. Found in many fruits and veggies, including berries, pomegranate juice, green veggies and yellow and orange fruits.
- Protein — vital for producing neurotransmitters, and impacts mood and memory. Found in meat, fish, eggs, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- A wide range of nutrients — play a key role in neurological processes. It’s recommended you eat a wide range of foods from all food groups to ensure adequate nutrient intake.
- Water — it may sound obvious but water is essential for a healthy, functioning brain.
You should also include foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) as they release glucose into the bloodstream slowly, providing the brain with a steady stream of fuel. Good sources include wholegrains, berries, lean meat, poultry and fish, eggs and low-fat dairy products.
Quick meal ideas
It’s all very well to know what you should eat, but putting it into practice can be tricky, especially if your focus is on studying. Here are a few quick and easy ideas that you can whip up in no time:
- Smoothie – blend some frozen berries, handful of spinach, a tablespoon of flaxseed with some almond or skim milk.
- Vegetable omelette — lightly beat eggs and top with ham, spinach, mushrooms and capsicum. Enjoy with a slice of wholegrain toast.
- Porridge — cook rolled oats with a water or skim milk (1:2 ratio of oats to liquid). Top with apple, cinnamon, sultanas and walnuts.
- Salmon and salad — grill or oven-bake salmon and serve with a salad of spinach leaves, red onion, celery, cucumber, tinned corn, blueberries and walnuts.
- Beef stir-fry — in a wok stir-fry lean beef strips. Add beans, carrots, broccoli, zucchini and a little oyster sauce. Serve with brown rice
- Fruit salad and yoghurt — top low-fat yoghurt with a variety of fruits such as berries, kiwi fruit, cantaloupe, or grapes. Sprinkle with flaxseed.
The above ideas are a guide only and may not suit everyone. For further ideas or specific advice, consult your doctor or dietitian.
By taking the time to provide your brain with optimal nutrition, you can be sure that you are making the most of your study time.