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Nutrition and Brainfood for Students, Part Two

Updated on August 7, 2019
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Ms Z is a qualified bilingual proofreader and translator, and a part-time feminist.

Brain Foods, Part 2 – after we recently established in our article "Nutrition and Brainfood for Students" WHY it is important that you provide your brain with a healthy and nutritious diet, especially while you’re studying, today we'll look at what we should be putting on our shopping lists. First, though, let's have a quick glance at what we should definitely stay away from...

The No-Nos

  • Coffee, unfortunately, is a food item we all should seriously cut down on. While SMALL amounts of coffee make us more alert, too much doesn’t help concentration, but makes us jittery and dehydrates body and brain. The most you should enjoy is about two cups a day. The same goes for any tea containing caffeine, and caffeinated sodas and energy drinks. Uplifting, caffeine-free herbal teas can be a good substitute.
  • Sugar – no surprise here, but a lot of us still go for sugary snacks when we need a quick lift. While sugar will give you a quick short-term high, its intake blocks membranes, slowing down neural communication, and will affect both your attention span and your short-term memory.
  • High-fat foods. Your stomach needs a longer time to digest fatty food items, which will leave you feeling sluggish, bloated and slow. There are healthy fats, of course, and we’ll get to those soon… in the meantime, skip the kebab and taco fries.

What should we eat instead?

What we should eat instead:

1 - Fish

You’ve probably heard this before, but oily fish improves your brain function – and this is where we can find some of those healthy fats we were talking about earlier. 60% of the fats in our brain are Omega-3 fats, so a good supply of those is essential for brain function. Salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout are all a fantastic source of the fats you need – and as a little extra benefit, they also contain lots of vitamin D, which we in Ireland tend to have a lack of.


2 - Whole Grain Products

Brown bread is better than white bread… but why? Whole grain products improve concentration and focus. Unlike refined grains, whole grain doesn’t spike your blood sugar, but has a low GI and releases glucose slowly into the bloodstream to provide you with a steady energy supply. It also promotes good blood flow to all your organs, including the brain, so it works on several levels to help you stay mentally alert all day. Try wholemeal/spelt bread, wholemeal pasta or brown rice!

3 - Broccoli

Vitamin K, which can be found in great amounts in broccoli, improves brain power and enhances cognitive function. Remember that, when you are on a budget and busy studying, frozen veg is your friend – it still holds all the vital nutrition you are looking for, but saves valuable time in preparation. Broccoli can be part of a bigger meal, or enjoyed in a salad with cherry tomatoes and balsamico for a quick and healthy lunch! Other brain-boosting green leafy vegetables are spinach and cabbage. Why not try cabbage raw in a salad with fresh orange slices?


4 - Blueberries

What more delicious way to boost short-term memory can you think of than eating handfuls of juicy blueberries?! The protective compound contained in those tasty little favourites of mine is called anthocyanin; it delays the aging of neurons, which means that the way our brain cells signal and communicate improves. Anthocyanins can also be found in cherries, cranberries, plums, and… aubergines (ah, well).

5 - Black Currents

To reduce anxiety and stress, have some black currents. They contain high levels of vitamin C, which increases mental agility and manages anxiety levels. Also, try other foods with high vitamin C content, like red peppers, oranges and other citrus fruit, and broccoli. Note that combining green vegetables with fruit and veg containing a lot of vitamin C works especially well - because this essential vitamin helps your body absorbing the iron that's locked in the greens.


6 - Nuts and Seeds

Nuts contain a lot of the oils and fats your brain needs (and are a great vegetarian alternative to fish!), as well as vitamin E – which prevents cognitive decline and memory loss. Nuts are also a fantastically easy snack for in between meals, combatting hunger while you are working on your college paper. Keep a small bowl of mixed nuts and seeds on your desk to keep you going!

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