Eating Your Way to an "A"
by Olivia Asper
Photography courtesy of Maisie Mansfield Greenwald
Before the holidays, there are a few mountains all students have to climb over before they can sink their teeth into the good stuff. They are known as midterms and finals; and for anyone hoping to study abroad, not get booted from their chapter or just to be a good student, it means a lot of studying. Students all over the world are learning all sorts of strategies to improve their efficiency in this area—study groups, flash cards, harassing professors, you name it. However, one that often gets overlooked is arguably the most straightforward: diet.
The two most beneficial nutrients for efficient and effective studying are omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. All the foods many dieticians and nutritionists call “brain food” are abundant in at least one of these and for good reason.
A 2016 study from the University of Maryland explained, “Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function.”
The important relationship between anti-inflammation and brain health is often disregarded, since inflammation also causes more immediate diseases such as arthritis or bronchitis.
But, as Psychiatric Doctor Robert Hedaya of Share Care Incorporated said, “Over the last 20 years, ample evidence has accumulated to prove that inflammation in the body causes changes in the brain that lead to depression, anxiety, sleep problems and memory problems.”
When brain inflammation occurs, hormones and other neurotransmitters are tampered with. This causes serotonin levels to fall, leading to depression and anxiety and, by extension, poor memory. This inflammation also inhibits melatonin production, causing insomnia with a side of agitation and anxiety.
When your brain experiences inflammation, it’s difficult to memorize and retain information, and you have trouble sleeping—not exactly a sharp brain for studying. Don’t worry, there is a bright side! Studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids can turn all this around and help you work with your best brain. Foods like salmon, brussel sprouts, walnuts, flax, eggs, cauliflower, winter squash, tofu, kale, soybeans, olive oil, chia, tofu and spinach have been proven to play a massive role in this.
Much like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants play an essential role in keeping your brain energized and protect against degeneration. Your brain, much like the rest of your body, gets exposed to oxidative stress, which is essentially the reason people age physically.
“Free radicals can chemically interact with cell components such as DNA, protein or lipid and steal their electrons to become stabilized,” said Dr. Ananya Mandal of News Medical Life Sciences network, “This, in turn, destabilizes the cell component molecules which then seek and steal an electron from another molecule, therefore triggering a large chain of free radical reactions.”
Antioxidants stabilize these free radicals and keep the chemical composition of your brain from undergoing large-scale free radical reactions.
So, when studying, your brain is energized and, like the functions omega-3 fatty acids, aids in memory and learning capabilities. What makes it even better is that you can find it easily at almost any grocery store in foods including blueberries, olive oil, celery, rosemary oil, turmeric, walnuts and even dark chocolate. And to think, all you have to do to is eat.
So as mid-terms and finals roll around along with excitement for the holiday season, just remember that you can give yourself some room to pig out and kill your exams just by making some meal swaps. And if cooking is not an option, have some walnuts and blueberries for your study snack. Put some chia seeds or flax seeds on your peanut butter toast or yogurt. Have some green tea and dark chocolate for your 3:00 p.m. pick me up. Your brain will thank you.