As exam season nears every year, students find themselves taking comfort in food – whether it be an irresistible slice of cake or something as healthy as apples and peanut butter. Snacking becomes more tempting when our brains are overloaded with information and struggling to cope with stressful situations. Reaching for that packet of crisps and plate of cookies is convenient, but is it what your brains need as fuel to perform to its best capability?
Disclaimer: This list of foods has not been compiled by a dietitian or expert on the human brain. Please undertake your own research and speak to your doctor if you have any allergies before introducing a new food to your diet.
This article compiles research on more than 30 foods and snack ideas that are proven to be healthy for your brain. These foods should help to curb your cravings and improve your revision!
The hype for blueberries being a superfood doesn’t come for no reason. The high levels of antioxidants help them counteract stress and also improve memory. Research shows that consuming them every day over time leads to increased concentration, focus as well as blood flow to the brain. Check out this link to find out more about the benefits of blueberries.
Their easy availability and versatility mean that they can be added to juices, cereals and even eaten by themselves. For that extra sugar, add them to muffins for a sweet breakfast or heat them with some honey to make a quick jam topping with your pancakes!
Several studies have shown that grapes are excellent brain food. Just like other berries, it’s high in antioxidants. Grapes reduce blood pressure, improves mood and protects the degradation of cognitive function. With its ability to stimulate blood flow, it helps you concentrate for longer periods of time.
Its benefits even extend to better eye, heart health, lower blood sugar levels and chronic diseases. While in the mood for a refreshing bowl of fruits, add a handful of grapes to enrich your intake for the day.
These berries are one of the most popular ones out there. Strawberries are seen to reduce inflammation, make the nerves more flexible and also ensure cell survival in the brain. Click here to read more about strawberries benefits.
These scientific terms may seem overwhelming, but the bottom line remains – having strawberries during a stressful study session, or even exam month will be very advantageous for your mind.
Having fresh strawberries will allow you to reap the benefits but using them as a topping for oatmeal or dipping it in dark chocolate will let you take in its endless nutrients in a more appealing way.
Filled with Vitamin C. Having a medium-sized serving of this fruit will make up for your daily intake of the vitamin. It slows down age-related decline of brain function, keeping your cognitive function and memory sharp. An added bonus is the citrus fruit’s ability to keep the blood vessels in your eyes healthy, which is a blessing if you spend a lot of time in front of the screen.
Vitamin C is one of the most important vitamins for our health, click here to find out more about the vital vitamin.
This highly used and versatile fruit is high in lycopene, which helps fight against cell damage and radicals that are related to memory loss. This also heightens your brain’s capacity to concentrate better.
Another antioxidant found in tomatoes is beta-carotene; regulated heart and mental health are proven to be the wonderful effects of the presence of this natural chemical. Read this link to find out more about tomatoes benefits on the brain.
This exotic green fruit is packed with Vitamin C, keeping your body healthy as it fights against infections, boosting immunity. Higher concentrations of magnesium and potassium have the effect of improving your energy, which is great for you when you’re feeling tired and overwhelmed with your academics.
To add onto these amazing benefits, kiwis contain serotonin. Serotonin is popularly known as the “happy hormone” – it helps us with sleep, digestion, appetite and importantly, stabilises mood and happiness. Having kiwis every day is recommended by nutritionists but incorporating it into your weekly diet will still be useful.
For many of us, the day doesn’t start till we’ve had our steaming (or iced!) cup of coffee. While most information warns of the negative side effects of consuming coffee every day, having it in reasonable amounts has been seen to bring about desirable advantages.
Caffeine and antioxidants, which are the main components in coffee, can increase alertness, sharpen your concentration and improve mood.
Although the long-term intake of coffee has been noticed to a reduced link in neurological disorders, it is important to take note that how you consume it is equally important. Click here to find out more about the effects of coffee. Having it with full-fat cream or milk and lesser sugar is one of the healthiest ways to absorb all the nutrients. Swap your processed sugar for something like honey for a sweeter finish.
8. Green Tea
Endorsed by health gurus, green tea is one of those miracle drinks that offer such a wide range of health benefits that it seems too good to be true. Like coffee, it contains caffeine, bettering your chances of focusing, concentrating, retaining information while enhancing your brain’s performance.
An amino acid called L-theanine found in green tea can help your mind and body relax, without making you drowsy. In fact, it can even offset the energy drain people experience after drinking too much coffee. For the coffee addicts out there, switching your second cup of coffee for green tea will prove to be a smarter, more wholesome choice.
Walnuts are considered super “brain foods”. They are the only tree nuts that are an exceptional source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), from which slower degradation of memory and healthy nerve function are proven to be linked. Check out this link to find out more about alpha-linolenic acid.
Walnuts can also advance learning skills and lower anxiety in people. The recommended intake for walnuts is about 1.6 grams (roughly a small handful) every day. Chop them up, add them to your salads, or bake them in with your banana bread; either way, they’re incredibly nutritious.
10. Pumpkin Seeds
These seeds have a high dose of 4 essential micronutrients – iron, zinc, copper and magnesium. Even though zinc is not needed in big amounts for the body, having the required intake can prove to be useful as it prevents degradation of the brain that could cause diseases like Alzheimer’s. Magnesium adds onto the better learning and memory abilities.
Low iron can be signalled by fatigue, low motivation and impaired brain function. Adding pumpkin seeds to your diet in small ways can act as a barrier to the issues that could potentially harm your learning curve and ability to perform your best.
A crucial component of neuronal development called niacin, or vitamin B3 is found in peanuts. As a result of this, this nut is effective in protecting you from neurodegenerative diseases. Like many other foods in this list, they aid in strengthening memory, concentration and cognition.
They are also an excellent way to add some healthy unsaturated fats as well as protein into your daily meals. Peanuts are known to keep energy levels up during the day, so having a handful a day will help you stay mentally energised.
Popular for its flavour in chocolate spreads and bars, hazelnuts are actually a great brain food. Its abundance of fatty acids (healthy fats that are found in nuts) and protein content has been noticed to alleviate mood, especially keeping your brain function optimal to work smarter and efficiently. Check out this link to see the benefits of nuts on the brain.
The nutritious goodness does not end there. It’s infused with vitamin E, which slows down signs of neurological aging, and manganese, which boosts brain function. Not to mention thiamine (prevents complications in the brain, heart, nervous system) and lastly, folic acid, responsible for increasing blood flow throughout the body.
Add powerful plant compounds, antioxidants and an overflow of vitamin K and you’ve got broccoli. This vegetable, distinguishable by its bright green colour, is a major source of nutrition that fuels the brain.
Vitamin K forms the specific type of fat that is found packed in our brain cells, in charge of their development and maintenance. It also boasts anti-inflammatory, antioxidant effects, as well as increased cognitive abilities when consumed over time.
One cup of broccoli can actually provide more than 100% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K, so you don’t need to consume too much to benefit from it.
The bright scarlet colour of beets is just as mesmerising as what it has to offer for your brain. It contains powerful dietary nitrates that relaxes your blood vessels, increasing the blood flow to the brain. This may also reduce your risk of developing dementia and decreasing mental abilities in the long run.
Many people tend to avoid beetroots as cooking it can be cumbersome. Hence, some more familiar substitutes include carrots, sweet potatoes and red cabbage.
This leafy vegetable is so acclaimed that it even has its own day (called National Kale Day)! Vitamin A, C, K plus brain supporting antioxidants make kale a wonder food that is sure to pave the road to not just a healthy, sharp brain but also overall body.
Scientists are starting to find a link between a naturally occurring substance produced by kale and increased cognitive capability and positive mental health, click here to find out more.
Similar to kale and other green leafy vegetables, spinach is filled with brain-juice boosters. Steam it, blanch it, or add it to your juices – trust the research, you will be doing your brain a favour. It offers your brain protection from the worrying effects of aging like Dementia.
A chemical compound called L-tyrosine is found in spinach; it has been found that L-tyrosine improves cognitive function in young adults, especially when the environmental demands are intense.
As a consequence, spinach is a really effective medium to increase your brain’s ability to stay clear and focused in a competitive environment.
17. Bell Peppers
Whether they be green, yellow, orange, or red, bell peppers are a treat for your brain and taste buds. With the chemical compounds that this vegetable is loaded with, it can prevent the oxidation of the necessary fats that your brain cells need to perform to their best ability.
They are also loaded with more than 5 amazing vitamins and nutrients ranging from Vitamin C to potassium. Eating the recommended serving, about one medium sized bell pepper, will load you with a substantial amount of your daily nutrition needs.
Oats are one of the best breakfast foods out there. Whether they are baked, had as oatmeal, or ground into flour, they provide the body with glucose, which the brain relies on for sustenance.
Due to their low-glycaemic index, the carbs will be broken down slowly, leading to your brain being able to gain from it for hours, keeping you alert and active throughout the day.
B vitamins, iron and magnesium are also some of the extra compounds to look forward to when you eat oats frequently. They also have the ability to ensure you stay full for a long time, reducing the times you get up for your random food breaks.
Lentils are a diverse, colourful powerhouse food that can be easily added into meals. A popular protein alternative for vegetarians and vegans alike. They are loaded with folate and B vitamins, helping the impaired functions of the brain to see improvement.
Plant protein originating from lentils has the ability to also prevent the generation and build up toxicity that leads to cancer cells. As a result, all these compounds in lentils promote a well-functioning brain and body.
20. Wholegrain Bread and Pasta
Wholegrain foods have been known to be a great way to bring fibre into your body and are also a provider of B vitamins with other antioxidants. Selenium is an essential mineral found in wholegrain foods; its presence protects your heart, mental functions, and even boosts your immune system. Read more about selenium here.
21. Dark Chocolate
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but dark chocolate can actually fill you up with brain-boosting compounds.
In a study conducted with 900 people, ones that ate dark chocolate regularly were seen to perform at an advanced level in mental tasks in comparison to those that didn’t. This could be explained by the presence of flavonoids, caffeine and antioxidants.
It’s also no wonder that dark chocolate is a mood booster. Whether this be because of the compounds found in chocolate, or the irresistible taste of it, studies have backed up the fact that it blossoms positive feelings and emotions with its consumption.
Eggs have become one of the most universal breakfast foods and for good reason. They are high in vitamins (like B12, B6), folate and choline.
The vitamins are one of the building blocks to sustained brain health; its intake decreases your chances of mental decline over time and regulates sugar levels in your brain. Folate deficiency has been connected to depression; eggs are a natural way to decrease your chances of developing it.
If that hasn’t convinced you enough, research has shown that people who add eggs to their diet frequently are able to perform better on cognitive tests. This may be due to B12, responsible for synthesising brain chemicals.
It’s hard to miss talking about how suitable fatty fish is as a brain food. Fatty fish covers a few different types, from salmon to trout, and is an unmissable source of omega-3 acids. The acids contained in fatty fish are essential in the development of the brain, its nerves and also the learning and memory capabilities of a person.
Eating fish has also been linked to improved sleep quality. Studies have found that people who consumed fatty fish regularly had better control on their decision making, emotion and memory. Click here to read more about these studies.
To make life easier, consider taking fish-oil supplements or other omega-3 supplements (if you are vegan) to make up for your daily intake to boost your brain power and immune system.
Bananas, known for being yellow and high in potassium, may be one of the most convenient ways to fill you up quickly while loading your body with everything good it deserves. Significant data and evidence have pointed to the fact that bananas can actually make you seem smarter because of its contents.
Aside from being able to supply your brain with fructose to keep a strong, constant flow of energy, it regulates your moods to make you stay calm and focused. The magnesium content in it helps your brain dispose of unnecessary substances and toxic build up, helping you pay attention clearly.
25. Avocado on Toast
If it hasn’t filled your social media at least twice in a month, welcome to one of the most influencer-worthy snack ideas. Avocado toast has become quite popular over the past few years and its attention is quite well deserved.
Avocados have a multitude of properties to take advantage of, from your heart to your skin. More specifically, this vegetable stimulates great things for your brain functions.
Recent speculation on the matter has brought forward the fact that avocados are as good for your brain as blueberries. The monounsaturated fat that is packed in helps stimulate blood flow, which is essential for a healthy brain. It also supports the nerves that are responsible for carrying information around.
Keep your bread wholegrain and add vegetables as toppings to profit from not one but numerous sources to support you while you study.
26. Sweet Potato Fries
Fries are one of those irresistible snacks that you just can’t get enough of. It’s common knowledge that they aren’t too healthy for your body, but using sweet potatoes, oven baking them, coating them in olive oil and spices provides a healthier alternative that tastes just as good.
The cause behind its effectiveness are the anthocyanins, particularly found in purple sweet potatoes. Known to reduce inflammation and keep chances of radical damage to brain cells at bay, the chemical is a prevention method to combat signs of low performance and aging.
Olive oil on the other hand, is also great as it has been linked to better visual memory, verbal fluency, and decreased chances of developing brain diseases.
27. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
A snack as simple and nostalgic as this may do the trick to keep your brain going just as much as a fancy one. Peanut butter contains Vitamin E, which protects your nerve membranes. It’s concentration of thiamine ensures a smoother flow of electrolytes to the nerves in your brain.
As for the jam side of things, organic and sugar free options will be the best choice as they fuel your brain with fructose and natural glucose, giving you energy to keep going. Berries are after all brain superfoods, so snack guilt-free on this childhood favourite while you revise.
28. Quinoa, Lentil and Veggie Chips
A substitute for high fat potato chips, these recently popular, more wholesome versions promise to not just be lower in fat content but hike up on the other good nutrients.
Quinoa is favourable for the gut, due to its fibre content, as well as the heart as it can lower cholesterol and glucose levels.
More importantly, for the brain, quinoa contains riboflavin that keeps the muscles in your brain working optimally. Moreover, the iron in it promotes the role of oxygen carrying cells that our brain relies heavily on.
As we have covered earlier in this article, hiking up your lentil and vegetable portions will be doing your brain a favour, so don’t miss out on this goodness.
29. Chia Seed Pudding
For the ones that like to meal prep for the week or the next day, chia seed pudding will appeal to you. There are several different combinations and flavours to try out, and you can add almost anything that you prefer to it, which is what makes it flexible and personally adaptable to your preference.
Chia seeds have the ability to nourish your brain by aiding communication between brain cells and keep the arteries there free of plaque thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids. If you decide to add in almond milk, it will work wonderfully in terms of taste, but also as an added mental boost. Vitamin E that is found in almonds is known to be a strong ally to the organ.
Chia seeds are tasteless for the most part, taking on any flavour you add to them. For the picky eaters out there, don’t be afraid to explore this, you might just end up finding your new favourite meal.
If you are looking for inspiration on recipes, check out these 32 Chia Seed Pudding Recipes!
30. Yogurt Bowl
Known for its magic of being creamy, nutritious for the whole body, yogurt comes in many different types, ranging from coconut to Greek yogurt. They all have their benefits and drawbacks – feel free to pick whichever one your heart (and taste buds) desires.
Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles have discovered that yogurt in general is capable of helping people cope with issues like anxiety, stress, bad moods and pain. This can be linked to the naturally occurring bacteria found in it, which also helps with digestion and burning fat to keep you in top shape.
The beauty of a yogurt bowl is its ability to elevate itself through the addition of a few toppings. Some ideas that are advantageous to the brain include berries, tropical fruits, peanut butter, dark chocolate chips and seeds.
31. Smoothies and Shakes
An effortless and powerful blend of anything from a myriad of fruits, vegetables, nut butters and protein, these are bound to satisfy your demands and cravings if nothing else has so far.
The benefits to your brain health are entirely dependent on what you add into your blender. Plant based milks like almond and cashew milk prove to be just as fruitful as whole milk in supporting your brain. Whey protein is even thought to reduce cortisol levels and improve serotonin levels, but if kept in moderation as part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle.
Here’s a list of 100+ Smoothie Recipes to help spice it up, find new combinations to treat yourself in a healthy way which your body will thank you for.
32. Granola Bars
It’s common knowledge that our brain relies on glucose to keep itself powering through the day. Granola bars are laden with carb-rich components like oats, healthy fats like nut butters and mineral rich dried fruits, all of which help keep fuelling your brain.
Of course, not all products out there are the best for your health because of their high sugar content and presence of preservatives. Although, a healthy version once a day will give you that spring of energy you need.
To make sure you are putting the best foods in your body, check the label on the box. Ones made with natural ingredients and sweeteners, low in preservatives, containing nuts, dark chocolate and berries will be the best for your brain and body.
If you feel a little fancy, try making your own granola bars! They’re almost too easy and will have that extra touch of something special.
Yes, you have probably heard the dangers of sugary breakfast cereal and what they do to your body over time. On the other hand, cereals like wheat bran, muesli, low sugar and salt alternatives have a positive effect on your mind. Due to the low glycaemic index of these good cereals, your brain receives a steady flow of energy, which according to this study leads to people receiving better scores on memory and cognitive tests.
34. Hummus and Veggies
This is a classic option that requires little to no preparation. In fact, if you have store bought hummus and pre-cut vegetables, all you have to do is add them onto your plate for a quick, nourishing snack.
Hummus is good for your brain because of firstly the chickpeas, which are ideal for maintaining cognitive health in top shape due to the magnesium content, and also tahini, which releases sesamol that clears plaque from the brain.
35. Salad Bowls
Salads often have a negative connotation to them. Being associated with strict, restricting diets, they don’t get the credit they are due in certain situations. A salad bowl with the right ingredients is a filling, hearty way to get in everything your brain needs to keep running.
To make the most out of it, combine all food types into your bowl. A simple, basic bowl should include fat (Most preferably in the form of oils (olive oil is a great choice) and nuts), carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and of course, fibre. Your bowl is completely customisable to you but try adding foods mentioned in this article to elevate it to the next level for your brain.
36. Chocolate Banana Bread
This dessert combines more than 3 brain foods – bananas, flour (oat or wholegrain), oil, and cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is known to ramp up neuron production, brain function and blood flow to brain tissues while bananas provide energy, focus and concentration.
Despite this being the unhealthiest one on the list, there are numerous health-conscious fudge recipes that include ingredients like walnuts and coconut oil that can be an advantage for the organ that never stops working.
For a delicious, nutritious recipe, check out these Healthy Homemade Fudge Cups.
38. Hot chocolate
Hot chocolate manages to make even the worst of days feel better. Making your own with whole milk will aid brain development, while plant-based options will load you with Vitamin E that would do the same.
Lastly, a splash of vanilla promotes mental relaxation and prevents brain fog. Melted dark chocolate or cocoa powder will both give you that chocolate-y deliciousness. Combining the two will give it that edge taste-wise and for your brain too.
Hopefully after reading this list your mouth is watering and you’ve found some new food inspiration. Now go fuel that brain!!!