Improve Your Brain Power Term time is right around the corner, and that means getting back into the habit of attending lectures, taking notes and carrying out research. But you still have time to get ready and of all the ways to prepare for a new semester, your diet may be the most important.
Food plays a vital role in your ability to study, as a bad diet easily sets your body up for days of low energy and a lack of concentration. That’s why we talked to five experts from nutritionists to health bloggers and asked them for their tips to make you eat smarter and get you on the right track towards graduation.
Meet your food blogger experts! Hanna of Beyond Fit, Laura (Nutritionist and Author of ‘The Alkaline 5 Diet’), Andra of Mint & Rosemary, Natalie of The Tofu Diaries, Chloe-Ellen of NineGrandStudent
“If we are to succeed in the area of our studies, we must treat it more like athletic training for a sporting event. If you are training for a marathon, you become very mindful about the amount of sleep you are getting and what you eat and drink, in order to give yourself the best chance of doing well and preventing yourself from crashing and burning. Similarly, we need to fuel ourselves properly to facilitate effective and efficient periods of study.” – Laura Wilson
What You Should Eat
Hanna and Laura have ten foods you should keep an eye out for to get you boosting your memory, and keeping those energy levels while you learn. Take it away!
Blueberries and grapes are packed with carbohydrates, so are both great brain fuel but they also specifically help with memory retention. The flavonoids in blueberries help to improve the communication between neurons, improving memory, learning, and all cognitive function, including reasoning, decision making, verbal comprehension, and numerical ability.
It may not be food, but water is still a vitally important part of your diet. Staying hydrated is often overlooked by students. Keeping your brain hydrated is crucial in making sure you are able to study well. Cut back on sodas, alcohol and coffee and opt for what your brain needs most – H2O. Make sure you are drinking at the very least, 2 litres of fresh, pure water every day and more when exercising.
Bananas are the ultimate fast food. If you’re in a hurry, make sure you grab a banana to eat on the go. Not only are they sweet, tasty, cheap and nutritious but they have also been shown to boost concentration. A 2008 study found that students who ate a banana before an exam did better than those who didn’t. Bananas contain potassium, an essential mineral that plays a key part in keeping your brain, nerves, and heart in great working order.
“It’s great to include grains like brown rice, quinoa, millet, and bulgur wheat into your daily meals and you can buy these from your local, health food shop or online cheaply and in bulk. They are rich in complex carbohydrates, fibre, B vitamins and some omega 3 fatty acids that enhance brain-power and general good blood flow and mood.
Dark chocolate is a handy go-to treat which has been shown to boost serotonin and endorphin levels. An increase in these happy brain chemicals has been associated with improved concentration. Dark chocolate is also a wonderful source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, including potassium, copper, and magnesium. It’s much lower in sugar than milk chocolate, which makes it a healthier snacking option. If you find it tastes a little bitter at first don’t be put off, as your taste buds adapt it will soon taste sweeter.
Greens such as kale, spinach and chard are super nutrient-dense and incredibly healthy. They’re a vital source of antioxidants, loaded with folate, and beta-carotene. These nutrients have been associated with preventing dementia, looking after brain function and slowing the age-related effects on your mental capabilities. If you’re not a fan of eating your greens, why not blitz them together with a banana to make a vitamin rich smoothie? Opting for seasonal greens will keep the cost down.
Eggs are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that adequate omega-3 intake has a favourable effect upon memory and mood. Eggs contain phenylalanine, a molecule used by the body to produce the mood-enhancing chemical dopamine, which will make you feel more alert and enthusiastic whilst studying.
Chickpeas contain magnesium. Just like the potassium in bananas, magnesium speeds up the signal transmission between brain cells, it also relaxes blood vessels which in turn helps to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
Like all oily fish, salmon is a fantastic, concentrated source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 helps to rebuild brain cells, slows cognitive decline, and strengthens the synapses in your brain related to memory.
Beetroot promotes better memory and can help to focus concentration. Nitrates in beetroot get converted into nitrites. These nitrites help to increase blood flow in the brain. They aid in improving the flow of blood in the frontal lobes to halt the process of memory loss and dementia.
Changing Your Diet
Learning how food affects your body is one thing, but as we can all attest to, changing our diets is a more challenging matter. But you don’t have to give up your favourite food just get yourself on the right track. It’s all about making small changes, snacking carefully and customising your meals when you can that makes your diet smarter, as Andra and Natalie recommend:
Make Easy Substitutes
“Whether it’s takeaways after a night out, ready meals for dinner or unhealthy study snacks, over indulging as a student is very easy to do. Fortunately there are some easy substitutes you can make to add extra nutrients and turn your fast food into brain food!”
“Next time you’re craving chips or wedges, why not try sweet potatoes instead? They’re full of beta-carotene and vitamin C, both perfect for an immune system boost. Not only that, but they cook far more quickly than regular white potatoes; pop the sliced sweet potatoes in the oven with a little oil and seasoning and they’ll be ready to eat in less than twenty minutes.” – Natalie
Give Breakfast a Change
“They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Start the day in style with creative porridges that take minutes to make. Be playful and top your porridge with fruits, seeds, honey or maple syrup. Or even better, leave some chia seeds to soak overnight in your favourite milk, then just top with your choice of fruits in the morning.” – Andra
Make Your Own Instead of Buying Ready-made
“We all love burgers and pasta. Making your own burger patties is fun and you can use some of the meat to make meatballs. Bake your meatballs in the oven, on a tray lined with parchment paper as it’s healthier (and less messy). Find a quick basic tomato sauce recipe and spice it up as you like. Use plenty of garlic, a handful of basil, some chillies or even a touch of smoked paprika if you prefer.” – Andra
Cook in Batches
“Burger patties, meatballs, tomato sauce and many other things can be cooked in batches. Pack your patties or meatballs in small-sized zip-lock bags and freeze them (remember to put a note with the date and the content, so that you don’t end up eating 3-years old burgers!). You can also use jam jars to store your tomato sauce in the fridge as it will last longer.” – Andra
Your Brain Food Recipes
Now you’ve got the tools you need to stave off hunger and keep your study skills in check, but we couldn’t let you go without hearing a great recipe from our experts. Check them out below and give them a try to make your diet smarter, as well as healthier!
Caramel Oat Balls – Natalie
200g dates, soaked in hot water for one hour
50g oats, plus extra to coat
1tbsp cashew nut butter
- Drain the dates then add them, along with the oats and cashew nut butter, to a food processor.
- Blend until they have formed a smooth, sticky paste.
- Place the mixture in the fridge for ten minutes – this will make it easier to roll into balls.
- Separate the mix into small portions, roll into balls and roll in the extra oats until they are fully coated. Store in the fridge.
“Want some sweet treats to keep you going in the run-up to a coursework deadline or exam? Have a go at creating your own bliss balls; they only need a few ingredients and you can mix up the flavour as much as you like. They’re long lasting, and you can even add oats for extra fibre and create your own no-added sugar flapjack!” – Natalie
Paleo Pancake Stack – Hanna
1 tablespoon of almond flour
1 tablespoon of coconut flour
Coconut oil for frying
- Beat the eggs, banana and flour together into a smooth batter.
- Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a heavy base frying pan on medium heat.
- Using a tablespoon, drop a spoonful of batter into the centre of the pan, it will start cooking straight away.
- Once the base of the pancake is firm, slide a fish slice underneath to carefully flip it over. Repeat until firm and your batter should make about 10 small pancakes.
“The sweet flavours of the banana and almond flour ensure you won’t require any added sweetness. Why not try it with some fresh berries and a sprinkle of almond flakes!” – Hanna
Chia Pudding – Andra
50 grams chia seeds
200 ml milk
1 teaspoon honey (plus extra, for serving)
2 ripe bananas
Put the chia seeds in a glass jar with a lid. Add the milk and one teaspoon of honey. Stir and leave to soak overnight in the fridge. To serve, put the chia pudding into two bowls, add the fruits and a teaspoon of honey.
2 Spicy Sausages
½ tin of potatoes
1 tin of butter beans
Onion gravy granules
- Simply fry the sausages in a little cooking oil until they’re lightly browned, then chop and add the peppers and onions until they’re slightly softened.
- Then add the carrots and mushrooms to briefly fry too before placing them in a slow cooker. Be sure to place the potatoes into the cooker first to make sure they cook through.
- Fill the rest of the cooker up with your gravy and cook it on a low setting for 6-8 hours. If it needs thickening, mix in a combination of corn flour and cold water and stir while adding. Then cook it for another 10-30 minutes on a high settings with the lid removed, stirring often.
“This recipe is warm and hearty, a great winter dinner. I like to serve it with just some boiled green vegetables, but I have been known to omit the potatoes and make some mashed potatoes to go with it. This type of dinner is definitely my idea of perfection! It’s also given a modern twist with the spiciness, which just makes it even better in my opinion!” – Chloe-Ellen
‘Activator’ Alkaline Green Smoothie – Laura
1 lime (juice of)
2 chopped apples
1 inch slice of cucumber
½ stick celery
spinach or kale
1 inch slice pineapple
1 teaspoon wheatgrass powder
water, as desired to thin consistency
(optional) ½ tsp, spirulina powder
(optional) ½ avocado
Simply wash your ingredients, place them in a blender and pour to enjoy!
Make some smart changes to your diet today and you’ll really start feeling the effects when it comes time to study. Let us know what healthy treats you’ll be enjoying by tweeting @montroselondon