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I’m both a full time college student and employee right now, and I have several big tests coming up. Is there a diet or certain foods that support mental functioning? I can use all the help I can get!

Smartliving Guest asked this
July 15, 2011 at 1:34 PM



First of all, way to go! You are well on your path to success by seeking a healthy lifestyle to aid your hectic schedule. Second, as I am doing a bit of a balancing act myself I have plenty of helpful tips and tricks to help you keep your memory sharp and your mind clear as you face the day.

The Basics.

Let me begin by explaining how we fuel our brain. Food as a whole provides our brain with the strength to power through long work days or late-night study sessions because the brain relies on glucose, or blood sugar, as the primary source of energy. Glucose results when our body digests carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains – not only juice and sweets.

It is important to ensure a consistent supply of energy to your brain be sure to plan for nutrient-rich meals and snacks every 3-5 hours. Note that I said nutrient-rich food, not sugar in itself. If you were to grab a bag of Skittles to get you through class, you will find that after the initial energy boost your energy levels crash shortly thereafter. This is because when your body first begins to break down that sugary snack it releases a ton of sugar into the bloodstream, only to be followed up with a surge of insulin sent to remove it – hence the drop in blood sugar. If you opt instead for a nutrient-rich food, complete with protein and fiber, the digestion process will take longer as it is a more complex food. Slower digestion equals slower blood sugar release. With this in mind, make sure that your meals and snacks include a mixture of protein, carbohydrates, and fat such as an apple with peanut butter or hummus-topped pita bread.

Brain Boosting Nutrients.

The mere thought of your seemingly endless to-do list is enough to draw mental fatigue. Thankfully there are plenty of dietary changes you can make to help energize your mind such as antioxidant-rich apricots, carrots, shellfish, dark leafy greens, and whole grains. As you plan for the busy week ahead be sure to incorporate a few of these brain-boosters, proven beneficial for mental health.

•Bright Berries. While all berries are nutrition powerhouses, two seeming to stand out from the crowd are the acai and blueberry. The Amazon Acai is loaded not only with the antioxidants found in all berries; it uniquely contains omega-3 fatty acids and protein! No wonder it is considered a super food! Blueberries may not come with the healthy fat or protein, but they are one of the most nutrient fruits around and certainly easier to find than acai berries. More specifically, blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, antioxidants aiding healthy brain function.

•Eggs. Egg yolks are one of the richest food sources of choline, a nutrient key to nerve transmission in the brain. There is evidence this B-vitamin may enhance memory and reaction time.

•Green Tea. If you can’t live without that caffeine fix, try green tea! This antioxidant powerhouse is believed to provide you with the beloved energy boost without any of the jitters. Caffeine affects each of us differently. In my case, a venti Americano will result in a racing heart, a hungry belly, and a lack of focus – whereas a steaming cup of tea will help me to steadily power on.

•Wild Alaskan Salmon. Thanks to it’s wealth of omega-3 fatty acids, Salmon is the epitome of brain food. Serving to improve the arteries delivering oxygen to our brain, the speed at which our brain communicates, even the very structure of nerves comprising our brain. Omega-3 fats are used to build to outer layers of our nerves and each time we learn something new, our brain must create new layers to connect one nerve cell to the next. If you’re not a fan of fish, omega-3s are also found in ground flax seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and tofu.

As you start the day tomorrow, I hope you kick things off with a well-balanced breakfast to jump-start your day on a nutritious note. One of my own personal favorites is a hearty bowl of oatmeal, sprinkled with walnuts, raisins, ground flax seed, and a splash of soy milk. Good luck!

Jessica Corwin MPH RDN Health Coach answered
July 21, 2011 at 9:08 PM
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