Brain-Boosting Foods for Back to School
With the start of the semester among us, it’s important to focus not only on studies. What you eat can have a significant impact on your energy levels, mood, and yes — even your mind. This article is going to dive into eight brain-boosting foods that are essential for learning, memory, alertness, and more. Your report card will thank you.
Before we dive into all that, though, it’s important to strive for a balanced diet filled with fresh produce, lean meats or other sources of protein, and foods that limit preservatives and sweeteners. This may be tricky if you don’t have full control over your diet (say, you have a dining hall membership). Still, you can be choosy about what options you go for; head to the salad bar instead of the fry station, go to a natural grocery store and cook in a kitchen, or ask for the ingredient list of foods that are prepared on campus.
With a little bit of work, you can weed out the stuff that will do more harm than help. Now, let’s look at eight specific foods and ingredients that go the extra mile to help boost your brain and make you feel even sharper in the classroom.
Boost Your Brain With These Foods
Oatmeal. For breakfast, skip the instant oats and go for whole or steel cut oats, which will help keep you full way longer than the sugary stuff. Oatmeal fuels the brain, satisfies hunger, and is also quite tasty, keeping your body and mind in full-force throughout the day. Oats also contain something called choline, which the body needs in order to produce a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine helps with both learning and memory. Steel cut oats tend to be less processed than other oats, so if you see them as an option, go for it! For extra brain power, top them with blueberries, which we’ll dive into next.
Blueberries. These little berries pack and punch when it comes to nutrients and brain power. Blueberries are known for being chock-full of antioxidants which are key to improving memory, aiding in cognition, and helping combat aging. In fact, one study found that a group of elderly participants who had mild cognitive impairment drank blueberry juice every day. After three months, scientists saw improvements in their brain function. Top your morning oats with a healthy handful of blueberries or eat them straight out of the carton.
Turmeric. Spice up your brain power with this impressive super-spice that has a ton of health benefits. If you’re a big fan of curry, then you’ve definitely eaten turmeric before. It’s a yellow spice from India that is used in many Indian and East Asian dishes but is easily transferable to meals you can make right here at home or on campus. Turmeric’s super-star compound found within its root is called curcumin, which helps protect against aging, increases blood flow, and even helps with stress and anxiety. Turmeric has also shown to help prevent diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s. Grab the spice at any grocer, and add it to your scrambled eggs or stir-fried vegetables. Use it in a soup, or give the trending, wildly popular Golden Milk drink a whirl. Every now and then, you can also indulge in some Indian or Thai take-out.
Eggs. In my opinion, eggs are a completely satisfying meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. (Forget an apple a day, and try an egg a day?) It has that same nutrient as oatmeal, choline, which has helped eggs earn a name in the cognitive world as a “brain food” that may protect against cognitive decline. Eggs are also filled with protein and a healthy dose of good fats and are naturally sugar-free. There are countless ways to cook with and eat eggs. To get you started, try an egg–white patty on a whole-grain English muffin for breakfast, enjoy a veggie frittata or quiche for lunch, and top a poached egg on a brown rice bowl filled with meat or other protein, and lots of fresh vegetables.
Fatty fish. Don’t be scared of healthy fats! You need ‘em for learning and memory, due to the omega-3s found in healthy fats that are busy building new cells in your brain. Yummy and good-for-you fatty fishes include salmon and tuna. These fish have also been shown to improve mood, reduce stress, and sharpen our cognitive ability. They may even help reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, both of which are cognitive and memory disorders. Have some friends over for a dinner party and cook a filet of salmon or tuna right on the stovetop. For a quicker option, you can also purchase the canned options; just make sure to read the label to ensure there are no unnecessary additives.
Coffee. Okay, this is not a “food” perse, but we had to include this for the coffee lovers out there! The caffeine found in coffee — and yes, this the same caffeine found in green tea — comes to our rescue by increasing alertness, improving our mood, and sharpening our concentration. It’s easy to over-do it with caffeine, though, so try to stick to one cup a day, and drink it in the morning. Opt for black coffee or a shot of espresso over lattes filled with milk and sugar.
Dark chocolate! We had to include an indulgent treat on here. Luckily, dark chocolate is not only delicious, it’s also packed with important nutrients that have shown to be good for our brains. Dark chocolate can help with our focus and concentration, protect our brain against aging and oxidation, and helps with our overall brain help. How? The flavonoids found in cacao (which is found in dark chocolate) are super potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents which are known for being beneficial for the brain.
Walnuts. Go nuts for nuts — seriously. Out of all nuts, walnuts rein supreme as being the best for our brains. They have a high amount of an Omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, which is known for improving brain health and cognitive performance while helping to combat cognitive decline. That’s not all: Walnuts are also a great source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Don’t overdo it, though — you only need about seven walnuts a day to reap the benefits. Add them to that bowl of steel cut oats in the morning, and throw a handful in a ziplock to snack on when hunger strikes in class.
Give your brain a little boost by incorporating these foods, beverages, and ingredients into your daily meals! It’s easy to get creative with it, too, putting a little fun into your food. See if you can get all eight into your diet in a day, or have friends over for brain-boosting breakfast — yes, this means you can have chocolate for breakfast. All in all, simply be mindful of how you can get these foods into your diet more frequently that you might have in the past, and see how that impacts the new school year. Bon appetit!