Your brain is the powerhouse of your body. It controls everything you do — from how you move, to how you feel, to what you think.
And, as students, we use our brains a little extra—cramming it with new knowledge and experiences every day. So, to keep your mind sharp, it’s important to give it what it needs: food.
While there’s no such thing as a “superfood” (sorry, no amount of kale will guarantee you ace your finals) the best way to care for your body and brain is to ensure you’re eating enough nutritious foods. After all, certain foods do have properties that can contribute to your brain health including things like improving focus, memory and preventing the development of various neurological problems later in life.
So, here are seven foods with surprising brain-boosting benefits that you can incorporate into your diet—even on a student budget:
Brain benefits: reaction time, concentration, mood boost
We bet you didn’t expect to see this one on this list!
Coffee is already a student diet staple; and, luckily, it has a number of positive short-term effects on the brain — like improving reaction time, contributing to better moods, heightening concentration and improving general brain function.
Additionally, due to its high antioxidant content, some studies suggest consuming coffee long-term can help reduce the risk of developing neurological diseases—like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s — as well as some heart conditions.
While coffee can be great for your health, it’s important not to overdrink it. Most experts agree 400 milligrams of caffeine is about as much as most adults can handle daily—which equals around three to four cups of coffee. Alternatively, decaf coffee can help you reap its benefits without as much caffeine. And, when picking which coffee to have in the Stabucks line before class, go easy on the cream and sugar, since these will just drown out the positive health effects.
Brain benefits: memory
Mixed berries—like blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries—are excellent brain foods to incorporate into your diet.
Packed with antioxidants, regularly eating mixed berries can:
- Keep your memory sharp
- Boost your learning abilities
- Reduce inflammation throughout the body
- Reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases
Summer is the prime time for these sweet fruits; but they can be found at most grocery stores year-round—fresh or frozen.
Berries double as a healthy and delicious sweet treat! You can add berries into your diet by mixing them to foods like yogurts, smoothies, salads, baked goods and ice cream—or by savouring them on their own.
Brain benefit: mood boost
Who doesn’t love chocolate?
While all chocolate is delicious, dark chocolate is the only one you should try incorporating regularly into your diet for its brain-boosting effects.
Loaded with nutrients, dark chocolate is made with cacao: one of the best antioxidant sources out there! It also contains many other nutrients such as iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and small amounts of caffeine.
Regularly eating this snack has many brain benefits — like helping to improve cognition, preventing memory loss and boosting your mood. It can also improve your brain plasticity over time—which is crucial for learning.
Generally speaking, the darker the chocolate, the greater the brain boost. So, to make sure you’re getting all the brain benefits mentioned above, choose dark chocolates with at least 70 percent cacao.
If you’ve dreamt of eating chocolate every day, here’s your sign to start! However, like with coffee, moderation is key.
Brain benefit: healing
Broccoli, a.k.a the miracle tree, is a great veggie full of nutrients to help boost your brain.
Vitamin B-6, protein, vitamin C, calcium and magnesium are plentiful in this food—and they can promote brain healing, facilitate learning, slow down brain ageing and maintain overall brain health.
This nutrition monster can be eaten in various ways, making it easy to incorporate regularly into your meals. Eat it raw with dip, steam it with salt and butter, bake it with spices or mix it into other dishes!
And, as a bonus, it’s usually easy to find at the grocery store and as a side at restaurants.
Brain benefit: attention
Quinoa is one of the world’s most popular health foods. But did you know it also has benefits for your brain?
As a gluten-free whole grain, quinoa is an excellent source of plant protein and fibre. It’s also one of the few plant-based foods containing all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies cannot create independently. And, studies have shown your ability to pay attention can improve when you get enough amino acids.
Additionally, the grain is high in magnesium, vitamin B, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, Vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants—which all contribute to a healthy brain.
You can prepare quinoa easily in as little as 15 to 20 minutes and, like rice or oats, it makes a great base. Top it with other foods from this list for a student – and brain-friendly meal!
Extra virgin olive oil
Brain benefits: learning and memory
As a staple in the highly reviewed Mediterranean diet, extra virgin olive oil is a cooking ingredient proven to have a significant impact on your brain health.
Try incorporating extra virgin olive oil as your primary cooking oil to easily shoehorn it into your diet.
Brain benefit: cognition
Sushi lovers, rejoice!
This sea vegetable has been called a “nutritional powerhouse.”
Seaweed is a naturally rich source of iodine and is also said to contain a handful of unique antioxidants, minerals and vitamins which are essential for cognition (a fancy way of saying “basically all the stuff your brain does”).
On the legendary Japanese island of Okinawa, sea vegetables like seaweed are a staple in the local diet. As one of the so-called “Blue-Zones“, there, it’s very common for people to live to the age of 100. Additionally, Alzheimer’s and other chronic diseases are almost non-existent. Coincidence? Maybe not.
Brain benefits: memory, stress relief, anti-inflammation
Time to spice things up with some cinnamon!
Besides being delicious, cinnamon can help support your brain health in many ways—such as by encouraging the process of learning and forming new memories and by helping the body deal with symptoms associated with inflammation, stress and high blood sugar.
There isn’t a set dose for how much cinnamon you should consume regularly; however, some experts suggest up to one teaspoon per day.
Incorporating cinnamon into your daily dishes and drinks can be fun! Try sprinkling a little into your hot cocoa or coffee, adding it to fresh fruits like apples or berries, mixing it into oatmeal, making granola or including it in baked goods like cinnamon rolls and pies!
Super yummy and healthy!
Brain benefit: stress relief
Butternut squash is a great source of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants. When eaten regularly, it can provide significant brain benefits.
Some of these benefits include:
- Maintaining brain function
- Lowering stress-related anxiety
- Helping with digestion and gut health
There are many ways to include butternut squash into your diet—but, by far, the easiest is by picking up a free litre of butternut squash soup from IGNITE’s Soupbar!
What’s IGNITE’s Soupbar?
It’s a grab-and-go station providing you with tons of delicious frozen soups to take home and enjoy! With locations on each campus, you can pick up your very own frozen one-litre container of soup anytime to secure yourself a healthy, delicious, affordable and easy meal between classes or study sessions.
And, our butternut squash soup isn’t the only one with brain benefits! We also often have beef barley, Thai coconut curry, tomato, French onion and Indian daal, while ingredients last! If you can’t choose just one, try them all!
Your brain (and your stomach) will thank you.
Treat yourself to a gourmet meal on a student budget with these six simple ways to jazz up your cooking.