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Eat smart, grow your brain: what to binge on this exam season

The fact that healthy eating has a positive impact on the body is undisputed. There is more to it, though. There are certain foods that have been scientifically proven to improve brain function and thus help with focus and concentration. Could this be a “hack” for the next exam season?

Eat smart, grow your brain: what to binge on this exam season

Eating healthy can be a difficult task to master – where do you start, how expensive is it, do you have to follow a certain diet? There are many questions that arise, and for students especially, it can seem like too much of a hassle when compared to the easier alternative of instant noodles and pasta. The truth, though, is that sticking to balanced and nutritious meals is not hard at all, and even more, it is a powerful tool in improving memory and concentration. It has been scientifically proven that the nutrients you consume help maintain your brain healthy and can help you perform better on certain mental activities. What is more, they can even reduce stress. Sounds like a recipe for success, right? Keep reading and you will find out how to eat healthy, feel good and study more efficiently at the same time!


Improved concentration, memory and mental health among the main benefits of healthy eating

The typical university student is frequently rushed for time, stressed, and eats on the go. It may be tough for you to break undesirable habits such as missing meals or going to the fast-food places. A nutritious diet, on the other hand, can help you feel better, manage stress, and perform better academically and on the field. Not only that, some meals can even aid in the maintenance or improvement of your brain's health, which means that they can also help you achieve your academic goals.

According to research, modifications in the foods and beverages consumed by students have a favorable influence on standardized measures of academic advancement scores. In addition to nutritional modifications, studies show that students engage in more physical activity. It has been proven that a combination of healthy food and exercise is the most effective way to enhance academic performance. Furthermore, the reduction of processed foods and the incorporation of a healthy diet have also shown to improve mental health and reduce depression and anxiety.

So, which exactly are the best foods for students?


Top 10 brain-stimulating foods

Generally, the first things that come to mind when thinking of healthy food are fruits and vegetables. It is not necessary to follow any elaborate diets or splurge on “bio” and “organic” foods to eat healthy, but rather stick to the basics. A good and balanced diet does not require a lot of effort and money, which is perfect for students. The time to improve your health and study more efficiently has come! Here are the best foods that boost brain function:

1. Berries

Berries are not only delicious, but also rich in antioxidants, which are especially important for brain health. Antioxidants, once taken into the bloodstream and transferred to the brain, can protect brain cells from oxidative stress. According to a 2014 review, antioxidant compounds in berries improve communication between brain cells, reduce inflammation throughout the body, increase plasticity, which helps brain cells form new connections, boost learning and memory, and reduce or delay age-related neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline.

Some berries you can munch on as a snack, or as part of a meal, e.g. in combination with oats, include strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, mulberries and blackcurrants. Blueberries, in particular, are especially rich in antioxidants and have been suggested to help improve memory and certain cognitive processes in children and adults.

2. Green vegetables

“Eat your greens” – a popular saying that turns out to be spot on. Kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are high in vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene, all of which are beneficial to the brain. These plants may help delay cognitive decline, according to research. In, addition, you can also improve your brain performance by including other vegetables like cabbage and lettuce in your regular diet.

Broccoli, a childhood nightmare, is packed with powerful plant compounds, including antioxidants. Full of vitamins and minerals, this vegetable is a must for any healthy diet.

3. Citrus

Who does not love drinking orange juice? Good news - This highly nutritious fruit might be the secret to keeping your mind sharp. The recommended daily amount of vitamin C is found in a single medium-sized orange. This is important because vitamin C protects the brain from age-related degeneration. Eating citrus fruits and drinking citrus juices has been demonstrated to improve brain health in studies. Furthermore, citrus fruit consumption has been shown to increase mental performance and total brain function. So, not only are they tasty, but citruses are also extremely good for the mind. Perhaps bringing some orange juice to the library might do the trick.

4. Tea and coffee

Speaking of drinks, your favorite way to start the day is on this list as well! According to a series of new research, coffee and tea may do more than simply wake you up; they may also help keep your brain healthy. These beverages have been associated with protection against depression, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease by researchers.

Although most students are probably aware, it should be noted that coffee can be beneficial to your brain when drunk in moderation. It may increase mood, vigilance, learning, and response time in the short term. According to recent study from Johns Hopkins University, caffeine may even help with long-term memory.

According to recent research, drinking tea on a daily basis might help you boost your memory. Laboratory studies conducted by a team from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, suggest that green and black tea suppress the activity of memory-related enzymes in the brain.

5. Eggs

And on the topic of breakfast, another morning essential has been proven to have positive effects on the function of the brain. Eggs are high in choline, which is increasingly becoming recognized as a key player in brain function. Choline is converted in your brain to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps brain cells connect with one another and has been linked to improved memory and mental performance in studies. So, the summary is: a breakfast that includes eggs and orange juice is the way to go!

6. Whole grains

Although they have been villainized in recent times, carbohydrates are extremely important for the body. Whole grains like oats, barley, and quinoa are high in B vitamins, which help to decrease inflammation in the brain and may help to preserve the memory. Furthermore, according to studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming whole grains may help your body regulate serotonin levels, the feel-good mood-stabilizing hormone.

So, apart from aiding the brain in improving the memory, whole grains can also reduce stress and anxiety. Some of the healthy carbs you can include in your diet are brown rice, barley, bulgur wheat, oatmeal, whole-grain bread and the student-favorite pasta, but in a whole-grain version.

7. Nuts and seeds

Because nuts and seeds include omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, they may be beneficial to the brain. Nuts and seeds are also high in vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical-induced oxidative stress.

Magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper are all found in pumpkin seeds, for example. Peanuts are a legume that has a high nutritional value. They are high in unsaturated fats and protein, which help to maintain a person's energy levels throughout the day. Walnuts are abundant in alpha-linolenic acid, a kind of omega-3 fatty acid (ALA). Low blood pressure and healthier arteries have been related to diets high in ALA and other omega-3 fatty acids. This is beneficial to both the heart and the brain.

8. Fatty fish

Another food that is rich in unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acid is fish. Omega-3 fatty acids aid are part of the formation of membranes that surround all cells in the body, including brain cells. As a result, they can enhance the structure of brain cells known as neurons. According to research, those with high omega-3 levels had better blood flow in the brain. Omega-3 levels were also linked to improved cognition, or thinking abilities, according to the study. These findings imply that consuming omega-3-rich meals, such as fatty fish, may help to improve brain function. One good and trendy example is salmon.

9. Soy

On the other hand, even if you are vegan, you can still find great alternatives that also boost the brain. Polyphenols, a kind of antioxidant found densely in soybean products, are very beneficial. Isoflavones, which include daidzein and genistein, are polyphenols found in soy products that have been associated to improved cognitive and memory abilities. These molecules are antioxidants, which provide a wide range of health advantages. Soybean intake in the diet has been demonstrated to not only improve memory but also to correct memory deficiencies, according to research.

10. Dark chocolate

Last but not least, an absolute treat for those with a sweet tooth! Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are high in flavonoids, caffeine, and antioxidants, all of which are good for the brain. Chocolate's flavonoids concentrate in the parts of the brain that deal with learning and memory. These chemicals, according to researchers, may help with memory and mental performance. Eating this form of chocolate may boost brain plasticity, which is important for learning, as well as provide other brain-related advantages.  

According to studies, chocolate is a proven mood enhancer. Along with chemically assisting the brain, this sweet treat can help fight depression and reduce stress. What more could you need? You now have all the reason to stock up on some dark chocolate and use it as a weapon on the academic field.

These, along with other foods, are incredible sources of healthy ingredients that are able to do wonders for the body and mind. It is especially important for students to eat good food that improves the memory and concentration, and reduces stress and (test) anxiety. The question, however, is how do you balance it all?


Getting started on your healthy food journey

You do not have to be a gym rat or health freak in order to be healthy. It is completely possible for everyone to take small steps towards feeling good and establishing healthy habits.

Managing the student budget

Although the student budget is typically tight, there are some ways in which all the good ingredients can be accessible. Whole foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and excellent fats are the way to go when it comes to eating healthily. To prevent munching on junk food when tempted, shop for things like oats, bananas, and quinoa at less expensive grocery stores. Look for items on sale, and if they can be frozen, buy them in quantity. Before heading to the market, check out what deals are going on at your grocery store online, and if it gives free rewards cards, take advantage of it.

Spending money on sugary or alcoholic beverages is not only expensive, but it also means you are consuming additional sugar and calories. Investing in a reusable water bottle and taking use of the campus water fountains will save you a lot of money, and staying hydrated is vital for your general health. You can also bring a reusable coffee cup and make your morning drinks at home in order to save money and be more conscious.

Tips for even the busiest

With examinations, homework, and, of course, partying with friends on the horizon, eating healthily typically falls to the bottom of a student's priority list. One way to combat that is through planning some meals in advance and cooking in bulk when you have the time. Meal prepping is a health trend that offers a lot of convenience for busy individuals.

It is important to stock up on healthy snacks, because when you are on the go, they are usually what you reach for. If you opt for nuts, fruit and dark chocolate, rather than chips and candy, you will have great brain-boosters at the reach of a hand.

Another good idea is to find a cookbook with easy recipes, so you can save time and always have meal suggestions. The “Hack Your Kitchen” cooking book compiles recipes especially for students that are super easy and quick to prepare, but also healthy and nutritious.

At the end of the day, there are many options and ways of maintaining a healthy diet as a student. It does not have to be your number one priority, but it is something that can do wonders for your body, mood and mental health. No more convincing needed! You can become a better, healthier version of yourself, starting today.