Whether you're naturally skilled at studying or find it difficult to focus or retain learned information, healthy foods may improve your capabilities. Typical American diets contain too few nutrients and recommended foods and excessive amounts of added sugars, unhealthy fat and sodium, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Like the rest of your body, your brain requires appropriate nutrition to function properly. Improving your food choices may boost your academic performance and your overall health.
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Whole grains provide glucose -- your brain's primary dietary source of energy. Unlike refined grains, which may offset your blood-sugar levels, cognitive abilities and moods, whole grains promote stabilized energy and may help you focus. In a study published in the "Journal of School Health" in April 2008, researchers examined the dietary habits and academic performance of 5200 fifth graders in Nova Scotia. They found a positive link between diets rich in nutritious foods, including whole grains, and positive academic performance. Students who consumed excessive "empty calories," or calories devoid of nutrients, performed at an overall poorer level.
Rather than snacking on potato chips or french fries while studying, choose whole grains such as air-popped popcorn, whole-wheat toast or oatmeal.
Walnuts and Flaxseed
Walnuts and flaxseed provide healthy, unsaturated fats known as omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain function and may help manage symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder -- a common condition that may interfere with study capabilities. Snack on walnuts and flaxseed on their own or incorporated into baked goods, yogurt, cereal and smoothies. Choose ground flaxseed over whole seed for optimum absorption.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are top sources of antioxidants -- nutrients that strengthen your body's ability to fend off toxins known as free radicals that can lead to infections and disease. The fatty tissue in your brain is vulnerable to free-radical damage, according to David Perlmutter, physician and author of "The Better Brain Book." He recommends aiming for six servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day. Particularly antioxidant-rich varieties include berries, cherries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, carrots and leafy greens. For an easy-to-eat snack while studying, prepare a smoothie with fresh or frozen fruit and low-fat milk or yogurt.
Coldwater fish may not leap to mind as a study-friendly snack. As a top source of omega-3 fatty acids, however, and a rich source of amino acids -- which promote proper brain chemical levels -- replacing cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza with grilled salmon, tuna salad or sardines atop whole-grain crackers may heighten your study skills. Other fish high in omega-3 fatty acid content include herring, trout, flounder, halibut and mackerel.
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Omega-3 Fatty Acids; Steven D. Ehrlich; June 2009
- "The Better Brain Book"; David Perlmutter, Carol Colman; 2005
- USDA: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010