We all want to eat healthier. It’s important when you have the risk of diabetes, obesity, or heart disease in your family. Nobody wants to be on medications for the rest of their lives. We also want to have lots of energy, good looks, and a 4.0 GPA.
Here’s a hint at what we’re going to chat about here: pills, supplements, and shots aren’t going to cut it. You need a healthy foundation of food, and healthy brain food is what will get you through the tests.
Of course, if you are eating a good diet, then those extra supplements will give you a temporary extra boost when there just isn’t enough time or studying you can do.
What is a Brain Food?
You brain uses 20% of all glucose, 35% of all vitamins and minerals, 40% of all water, and a staggering 50% of fats in our bodies.
That’s what happens when that particular organ is organizing everything!
Food that are particularly good at nourishing our brains are the ones that have high amounts of fats, nutrients, water, and just a little carbs (or glucose). What sucks is that there isn’t one particular food that fits this bill. You need many of them.
#1 Best Brain Food to Eat All the Time
I do want to share what we think people really should be eating to really get a good healthy brain:
There are so many nuts and they are all good for you. Packed with nutrients, fats, and a tiny bit of carbs, these foods are nature’s energy packages. They are easy to eat, easy to incorporate into other healthy foods, and easily portable.
Here’s just one exception: The Peanut. This food isn’t a nut, it’s a bean or legume. It does not contain many nutrients, although the fats are one of the best for cooking without worrying about heat-induced toxicity (olive oil breaks down at about 250oF/110oC into hydrogenated compounds).
Another issue with the peanut is the aflatoxin. This is a mold that grows on beans, not on nuts, and can cause anything from fatigue to death. The toxin has been found in nearly all jars of commercial peanut butter and is suspected as the true origin of the peanut allergy.
Basically, if you eat peanuts, get the good ones, go organic, and keep it small time companies.
As for the rest of the nearly 100 species of nuts, go for it!
Numbers 2 to 12
Yes, it can keep the doctor away, or at least the memory doctor. Apples contain high levels of acetylcholine, increasing movement and sensory perception. Apples also reduce anxiety. Another study showed students who eat an apple at lunch show as much as a 7 point increase in test scores during afternoon exams.
Ever have a gut feeling? That’s the billions of bacteria in your gut reacting to what’s happening. When the good bacteria are in charge, you feel good, have energy, and digest foods without issues. When the bad bacteria are in charge, you are tired, vomiting, have indigestions, and pain.
Yogurt contains billions of good probiotics that replace some of the bad bacteria in our gut. Properly fermented yogurt (not what is in the tiny containers) is packed with the bacteria, plus thousands of nutritive by-products of the fermentation cycle that help heal our gut.
While yogurt alone won’t give you a brain boost, it helps to fix problems and is a great carrier for other brain foods like…
The darling of the fruit world. Blueberries are nature’s brain packages. There are more antioxidants in 1 blueberry than in 1 super-packed supplement. These nutrients in blueberries show the ability to greatly improve memory, verbal comprehension, decision making, and numerical ability.
Turmeric is a powerful anti-oxidant that has been widely recognized to help just about everything from fatigue to cancer. Several recent studies show it is a neuroprotective agent for a wide range of neurological disorders, including narcolepsy, Alzheimer’s, and tumors.
Make sure you get the curries with real turmeric. Some use a chemical substitute that tastes like turmeric, but causes liver damage.
The fats in salmon are the primary reason for eating this fish. It is very high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and is the animal we can most easily obtain them from. These fats are important for making new neural pathways. You just have to temper eating salmon with the risk of contamination. All wild salmon contain mercury from human waste dumping. But, it’s still healthier than farmed salmon, which contain little, if any, omega-3 fatty acids.
This one is a must for men. They contain several fats that are important for brain health, like ELA and ALA. They are also packed with zinc. Men lose more zinc than women, since zinc is a large component to seminal fluids. During stressful times, we use more zinc in our bodies and men lose more seminal fluids. If you eat your pumpkin seeds, you have a fast replacement, and this allows you your stress release and keeps your body sharp.
Not normally known as a brain food, broccoli is one of the best foods after a traumatic brain injury. Several studies since 2007 show broccoli effective at repairing and renewing neruoconnections and speeding up the healing processes around the brain.
What we found out is that there are several nutrients in broccoli that surround and protect new neruoconnection, causing them to move from short term memory to long term memory very quickly.
Sage works subtly to increase the connections in our brain. It’s well known for connecting the two hemispheres of our brains in order for us to have access to deeper, critical thinking. Several of the phytonutrients in sage are similar to neuroprotective drugs and are vastly more potent. Sage has been used for thousands of years to reduce anxiety and stress.
This simple drink is receiving a resurgence in popularity. Once, it was a drink made from the scraps of animals in order to get every last bit of food out of them. It was a peasant’s food.
Today, we now know it to be one of the leading aids for pain management in auto-immune disorders and a powerful sleep and rest aid. Bone broth helps facilitate the pathways for serotonin to melatonin conversion. You can get to sleep quicker, sleep better, and wake up more refreshed.
It’s rich in fiber, iron and magnesium, which all help the brain receive blood flow. The flavonols in dark chocolate increase blood flow, and the function of the heart, which can improve memory. It also contains the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. It’s better than coffee!
Dark Leafy Greens
All dark greens are packed with Vitamin K and nitrates. Naturally occurring nitrates are bound to other vital nutrients and are healthy for our systems. Chemical nitrates, like what are found in lunch meats and preserved foods, actually destroy the blood-brain barrier and cause ‘leaking’ into the brain. Not something you want.
The vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting, It’s also one of the vital nutrients for the formation of new neuropathways. You are physically able to learn when you have enough vitamin K in your system.
B12. You can’t find it anywhere naturally other than in the flesh of other animals. That’s why vegetarians get so sick after a few years. B12 is perhaps THE vitamin for energy, since we are unable to make energy without it.
You also get a huge influx of vitamins, minerals, and fats in one single egg. All research shows that eating 1 egg per day can lower heart disease, cancer, fatigue, and fill you up. All the ‘studies’ on eggs that show they raised cholesterol were debunked and trashed.
The Worst Brain Food of All Time
If you notice on the list above, there isn’t a single processed food, pill, or artificial ingredient. So far, man has not met the perfect of nature. We just can’t figure out how it all works together to get something that nutritious in such a delicious package.
So, we say the worst brain food is anything packaged. If it’s in a package, it’s not food, it’s a food-product. It’s a subtle difference, we can eat food-products, we just can’t get nutrition out of them.
If you aren’t getting nutrition out of your foods, your brain isn’t getting the nutrition it needs to really think. Plus, processed foods are packed with chemicals, preservatives, pesticide residues, and possibly unknown GMOs. Your body has to fight these and that means less energy for your brain.
Why You Need Food Combining for a Healthy Brain
Even though we said nuts are nearly perfect, alone, they just don’t cut it. We need balance. That’s why we combine different foods at different times to get the best possible range of nutrients.
Don’t bother counting, however. As a nutritionist, even I can’t count all the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, carbs, proteins, and sugars. And we aren’t meant to. Natural foods contain what we need when we need it.
Don’t rely on any particular food on this list. Keep switching out different ones so you get the best of all the nutrients. Try new foods, different vegetables, and different combinations.
Go with your taste buds. When you are studying, we often seek out sweets and stimulating foods. By using the foods on this list, you provide your body with healthy choices that really nourish you.
Brain Food Snacks
The combination of fresh fruit with healthy nuts is one of the best snacks you can eat. A simple apple with walnut butter gives you lots of B Vitamins, healthy fats, and just a little bit of sugar. Apples also are packed with fast-acting anti-oxidants, so the stress of studying can be mitigated quickly.
Just eat them alone. Or mix and match. Just make sure the brain food is the start of the show.
Brain Foods for Exams
It’s better to go into an exam on a less than full stomach than having just eaten. Our anxiety increases when we approach a test, and this anxiety slows or stops our digestive system. This is the main reason to go easy on food before an exam.
An optimal breakfast would be a single egg omelet with spinach, mushrooms, and a few other vegetables. These are lower in sugars, and very high in nutrition. A bad breakfast would be a donut, sugary coffee, or cereal. These are high in sugars, which will give you a sugar crash later on, and very low in nutrition.
Brain Foods for Studying
This is where you get the biggest bang for your food dollars. Studying takes lots of energy, vitamins, minerals, and water. If you lack any of those, even parts of those, you will be less than optimal.
Water is important. Keeping hydrated means your brain works optimally. A dehydrate brain is in pain, slow to react, and sensitive to loud noises and lights (a hangover is brain dehydration). Keep a large glass of water near you and refill it often.
Smaller meals and frequent snacking is also good for studying. You don’t want to fill your stomach, because this causes your body to release hormones that cause drowsiness. You also don’t want to be hungry because that causes hormones that take your attention away from studying.
To keep optimally studying, stick to the list of foods above and eat small portions often. That way, you keep your brain engaged, your stomach quiet, your nutrition and sugars high, and your distractions low.
Brain Food Recipe Before the Test
Try this dinner and see how you feel the night before the test:
Dinner Menu for Your Brain :
Sage, oregano, & parmesan crusted salmon – pan fried to a light golden brown with a beef bone broth reduced sauce. Paired with buttered collard greens or Swiss chard and curried broccoli.
Dessert of yogurt parfait with pumpkin seeds, blueberries, apples, and dark chocolate
1. Heat oven to 350oF/175oC and heat a large, flat pans on medium high on stove top.
2. Dust broccoli with curry powder – lay flat on oven pan – bake for 15 minutes until broccoli becomes crunchy.
3. Melt butter in one pan – slice collards into strips – add to pan – toss regularly to avoid burning – you can add pumpkin seeds for crunch.
4. Pat dry salmon – add peanut oil to second pan – dredge in beaten egg, then in sage, oregano and parmesan mix – pan fry salmon until golden – if it needs to finish cooking, add to oven.
5. Serve everything while hot.
Parfaits can be made ahead of time and refrigerated
Layer fruit, yogurt, and chocolate in tall cup or dish – serve cold
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