Fuel yourself for finals

By: Noelle Harada, Columnist

Are you eager to ace your final exams? Of course you are! An easy way to do that is to feed your brain healthy foods. Did you know that eating the right foods can help improve your attention span, mood, memory and ability to concentrate during this crucial time of the semester?  Your brain is always working, and it uses a lot of energy. It needs a constant supply of fuel.

Your brain works best when you eat higher quality carbohydrates. Carbs provide your brain with the glucose it needs for fuel. Focus on getting in whole grains like popcorn, brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat pasta. Good carbs for your brain also include fruits, black beans, lentils and vegetables.

Antioxidants may help boost memory function and help protect your brain from free radicals that can destroy brain cells. Good sources of antioxidants include blackberries, blueberries, cherries, pomegranates, eggplant, beets, red bell peppers, nuts and seeds. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale and collard greens may also help improve memory. Remember to eat the colors of the rainbow. Dark-colored fruits and vegetables are the best sources of antioxidants.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential for good brain health. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fat that helps improve your overall brain function and memory. Wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout and herring are good sources of DHA. If you’re not a fish-eater then you can get omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, seaweed, flax, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, soybeans, tofu and microalgae.

Other healthy fats, like avocados, contribute to healthy blood flow. Nuts and seeds like cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds and non-hydrogenated nut butters contain healthy fats and vitamin E, which helps prevent cognitive decline as you age.

It’s always a good idea to limit saturated fat intake from things like burgers and pizza, as well as added sugars from cookies and other snacks.  Studies have found a link between impaired brain function and eating a lot of refined sugars.

Start your day off right and NEVER skip breakfast, because it really is the most important meal of the day. People who eat breakfast are more likely to be focused, energetic and are able to concentrate better.  And yes, we know what you’re going to say, “I don’t have enough time to eat in the morning.”

Try prepping the night before and stocking your kitchen with easy-to-prepare foods such as whole grain cereal, small whole wheat bagels, nut butters, whole-grain toaster waffles, eggs, yogurt and fresh fruit. For a good brain breakfast, try some oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts.

We all hate spending those dreadful hours in the library studying while the sun is gleaming outside, but you have the control to use that time efficiently and effectively by fueling your brain the right way.

Some good snacks include granola with walnuts, whole grain cereal with low fat milk, fruit and yogurt parfaits, fresh veggie strips, or a brain food trail mix made with walnuts, dark chocolate pieces, dried blueberries, dried cranberries and some sesame or pumpkin seeds. Make sure to keep refueling during the day, because your brain is going to use up that energy.

Your brain also relies on water to function properly. Brain cells lose efficiency when you are dehydrated. Keep refilling your water bottle throughout the day, and don’t forget to exercise.

Regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampi, the areas of the brain that handle memory and learning. Exercise can stimulate chemicals in the brain that support the growth and survival of brain cells. Exercise also improves mood, sleep and reduces stress and anxiety.

You are what you eat, so be mindful of your daily intake. Eating high-quality food with lots of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and antioxidants nourishes the brain and prevents it from oxidative stress.

Think of yourself as a car. Cars function at their best, and pass emission tests, when they’re well-maintained and powered by the right fuel. The same goes for your brain and body: treating it right will lead to more success on those exams.

For more information, contact campus dietician Kerry Ballek at kballek@towson.edu.

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