Brain food and health

Picture of healthy breakfast
By Alex Burden, Student Blog

18 August 2016

Your brain needs fat, water, vitamins / minerals and glucose (carbohydrates and sugar) - in that order. It might seem surprising that fat comes above water, but your brain couldn’t survive without a nourishing meal. Our quick-fire guide and links to easy recipes will take the stress out of nutritious eating for study and exams.

You may already have a pristine, health-driven diet, but for those of us who can be easily tempted into ‘bad’ foods like delicious crisps and mouth-watering sweets, putting extra efforts into picking foods during exam time is the least of our worries.

You need plenty of B12, the energy-producing vitamin, to kick-start your day and it can be found in a variety of products including meat, fortified cereals, shellfish, almond and soya milk, tofu and the hit or miss Marmite spread. We're quite partial to eggs: fluffy, runny, fried, poached, boiled or in an omelette using some of the items we list below. However you like to have them, this meal will set you up for the day (and lower heart disease).

The BBC have also produced this very helpful collection of recipes for exam day breakfasts. The aim is not to fill up too much and get enough slow-release energy.

Breakfast ingredients or study snacks

  • Nutritious nuts (except peanuts, which are a legume and low on the nutrient scale)
  • Anxiety-decreasing and antioxidant apples, which also improve memory
  • Bacteria-brilliant yoghurts, which can also be used as a ‘base’ for fruit, seeds and nuts such as prunes, flaxseed, and walnuts
  • Numerical blueberries - apparently these are great for increasing numeracy skills, not to mention being the most anti-oxidising fruit
  • We don’t want to recommend you turmeric as part of the ongoing ‘fad’, but for thousands of years this humble spice has delivered numerous health-benefits, as well as being neuro-protective. Just get the good stuff – some cheaper turmeric is adulterated with Dibasic Calcium Phosphate (DCP), which prevents your body from absorbing minerals. Try high-quality turmeric in curries, added to hummus or dips, or as a trendy latte
  • Leafy salads such as kale, spinach, greens, and chard are packed to the gills with vitamin K, another neuropathway-building chemical
  • Dark chocolate is good for building analytical skills and also has a touch of caffeine for a perk!
  • Omega-3 rich fish like trout and salmon help your neural pathways – just avoid too much wild salmon for its mercury risk, or swap it over with flaxseeds, an alternative source of Omega-3
  • Pick some pumpkin seeds, another magnificent brain booster courtesy of high zinc levels. You lose zinc when you are stressed, so think of this as your filler-up!
  • Brain-powering broccoli, celery, and cauliflower – not the most-liked vegetables, but fantastic for the brain due to their ability to build neuro-connections (i.e. store things in your memory) and choline content. This latter chemical is necessary for brain development.
  • The 'sage' sage improves memory also, not to mention stress-reduction and high quantities of neuro-protecting phyto-nutrients.

The night before an exam

Not-so-beautiful bone broth has made a comeback, and for a great reason. This cheap and effective meal, made from boiling animal bones and meat in water, is amazing for auto-immune disorders and helps us produce melatonin; the chemical that gives us a good night’s sleep. Nourished Kitchen has provided a ‘how-to’ if you’d like to have a go at making your own. You can buy your own readymade broth too if simmering bones for 24 hours doesn’t float your boat!

Words of advice:

  • Don’t over or under-eat. If nerves get the best of you and the thought of eating makes you sick to your stomach, then make up a smoothie or similar liquid alternative
  • Avoid white flour products
  • Avoid jittery caffeine, but if you’re addicted like most of us, then stick to a small cup in the morning followed by water
  • Eat and drink things your body has previously eaten. Leave experimentation till after the exam as there’s nothing worse than a dodgy stomach striking on the second question
  • Stay away from processed junk food. If it can’t be found naturally producing itself on this planet, then it’s best to forego the tasty option. These foods are full of sugars and fats which will have your eyelids drooping just about half-way through the exam.

Share your own suggestions with studentblog@icas.com, and we’ll add them to the feature.

Topics

  • CA Student blog

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