The food you put into your body can have a huge impact on how your brain works. This is important to remember around exam time, when you're probably paying more attention to books than brekkie. Learn how the food you eat affects your body so you can choose foods that improve your memory, fuel your brain and help you smash your study schedule.
What's food got to do with it?
Your brain is the most complex part of your body. Like a computer, it runs millions of processes every day. It never stops working, so it needs constant topping up with the fuel it operates on—glucose, which is a type of sugar. Your body obtains glucose from your food, and it’s delivered to the brain through the bloodstream. The problem is, your brain can’t store glucose, so you need to top up your levels every day.
If your brain isn't properly fuelled, you're likely to feel sad and irritable. You might also have trouble sleeping, poor memory, and difficulty problem-solving. That's not how you want to feel when you turn up for an exam.
Which foods are the best fuel?
Healthy brain food for studying includes:
- Protein — meat, fish, eggs, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds, dried beans and lentils, dairy products and soy products. Protein helps your brain send messages to the rest of your body, and helps create brain chemicals that improve your mood.
- Antioxidants — fruits and veggies, including berries, and pomegranate juice. Antioxidants can help delay or even prevent certain effects of aging on the brain.
- Omega-3 — oily fish, flax seeds and flax oil, and eggs, chicken and beef. Omega-3s have been found to help your brain work harder and improve your mental health.
- Dietary cholesterol — dairy and egg yolks. Your brain relies on cholesterol to create the cells that send messages to the rest of the body.
- Monounsaturated fats — avocados, nuts, olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil. Food that contains monounsaturated fats can improve your memory and help your brain work harder, better, faster, stronger.
- Caffeine (moderate amounts) — tea, coffee and dark chocolate. In small doses, caffeine can help you feel refreshed and more focused.
- Water. Your brain is 73% water, and water is vital to keeping your body (and brain) in tip-top shape.
Try these simple swaps
The best way to feed your brain is to eat a wide range of foods from all food groups. However, when you’re hitting the books, it can be a little tricky to put it into practice. So, we’ve come up with some easy meal-swaps to give you the best diet for studying that will get your brain humming in no time.
| Swap this...
|| For this...
| Processed cereal
||Porridge topped with fruit and walnuts
|Biscuits or a muffin
||Wholegrain crackers with cheese and tomato
|Frozen pizza||Homemade wholewheat pizza
|Burger and fries
||Steak and salad
|Chocolate or lollies
||Fresh or dried fruit
|Ice-cream||Yoghurt and berries
||Handful of nuts
|Coffee||Green or herbal tea|
Eating well-rounded meals most of the time will help you study better, and lead to better results, both in the short-term and the long-term. While many of the brain foods we’ve talked about have immediate results (like caffeine), the best results are the ones that show up over time, such as the slowing down of age-related cognitive decline, and the decreased likelihood of degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s.