Food for thought: what are the best foods for effective study?

Feb 11, 2019

Food for thought: what is the best brain food?

If you have studied part-time you may be familiar with the sight of a well-meaning spouse/child/housemate/sibling approach with a cup of coffee and Jammie Dodger. There is nothing better to see while you kick a printer or mutter "where the f is that note?" The kind donor will return to watch the rest of Match of the Day but you'll remember the kindness and pick-me-up just when you needed it.
Efficient study means a well-fueled brain, so what we eat directly helps with how we take on and retain information. The food we eat can give us the energy kick we need at just the right time. Note: energy kick, not sugar kick. Step away from the Hob Nobs, folks.

Snacks - what's best?

Part-time study can equal late-night study. If you want to legally give yourself a blast of energy and fire up your brain, it can be simple and tasty. It's very important to know what not to eat. And sorry, it is not a plateful of biscuits.
Sugars and carb-heavy foods are generally not great for late-night study sessions. You will get a fairly immediate boost which might feel great at the time but it's short-lived and has a negative side-effect: the slump. If you were setting out to do a three-hour stint, you may find yourself with a great 20 minutes followed by a wandering mind and lethargy. Really not worth it.

The better options

It's fairly predictable what are the better choices

  • Greens: broccoli, cabbage and spinach are particularly good. They have been linked with decreasing memory loss. Have you tried raw sugar snaps? They're a nice crunchy snack and way better than crisps
  • Grains: Wholegrain cereals, breads, brown pasta and brown rice are great for slow release energy to keep your brain alert for a longer period
  • Nuts: high energy and easy snacks, high in good fats and iron. You'll get the boost of a biscuit without the sugar and slump
  • Fish: the salmon of knowledge parable has truth in it. Oily fish is rich in Omega 3 which is linked with higher and better brain activity. Salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, herring and kippers are all good
  • Blueberries: superfood salads with blueberries are all the rage and for good reason. They are great antioxidants, improving blood flow to the brain which boosts neural activity
  • Coffee: careful now. Don't hook up a drip of the stuff - go sparingly. Caffeine can give you a boost. A cup or two a day can give a great wake up but don't exceed this. You will get jittery, lose concentration and may impact on sleep which is critical - don't sabotage your sleep under any circumstances. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks after 4pm. Move onto water then and avoid sugary drinks at all times.

Try changing meals and snacks to some of these and you should see a change in your productivity.

A few final tips

  1. Ditch the junk: Be ruthless, throw it out. Don't look back and don't make excuses. If you know it's there it will just torment you.
  2. Snack wisely: Yoghurts, nuts, cereals are better than higher calorie, higher sugar hits. Soup is also good as it gives you the extra satisfaction of hot food. Eating protein with your snacks and meals will leave you feeling fuller for longer.
  3. Don't skip meals: Try to eat well and regularly throughout the day. If you skip a meal you'll be ravenous and eat the first thing in sight which may be fast food or junk food.
  4. Fluids: Drink plenty of water: What you think might be hunger might actually be thirst and dehydration. Your body and brain will thank you for plenty of water throughout the day. Avoid sugary drinks - they are diuretics which will only dehydrate you more.
  5. Have breakfast: It can't be overstated how important it is to start your day with a proper breakfast. Again, avoid the sugary ones - these high sugar, processed foods really won't keep you going. Try wholegrain toast, eggs, fruit, porridge, sugar free cereals and muesli. They'll be better for you and leave you feeling fuller for longer.
  6. Walk on your breaks: Getting up and walking around for even a couple of minutes or having a stretch will get the oxygen flowing and your metabolism going. Aim for a little break every hour.
  7. Reduce alcohol to reduce dehydration and help with your overall mood and well being.
  8. Relax: Find an activity you enjoy. One of the best systems to shut down when you are under stress is digestion and immunity. By reducing your overall stress you not only create a better mental outlook, you will also help your body to perform all its functions to the optimum.

Tuck in and good luck!

Amy Dawson