This summer, as you’re lounging poolside working through your college-bound reading list, make sure to give your brain a nutritional boost.
Certain foods and beverages actually help with focus, memory, and performance. Below is a guide that will have your metacognition skills doing cartwheels on a lush green lawn like a pro. The best news is that brussels sprouts are not on this list – but chocolate is!
Specifically dark chocolate, which means throwing back a handful of M&M’s won’t help. Bummer, huh? Stick to the dark stuff.
A study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital by Dr. Farzaneh Sorond found that after 30 days of cocoa consumption, blood flow to the brain increased and, in effect, improved memory and cognitive skills. In other news, we fully support any and all science that tells us to eat more chocolate.
Tip: You can add bits of dark chocolate to any number of foods, including granola, yogurt, smoothies, or in small amounts for dessert. Dark chocolate is all the rage now and you can find it just about anywhere.
Popular Science explains that a cup of coffee won’t just make you more alert, but can actually make you smarter: “Caffeine potently blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, leading to a net stimulant effect. Controlled trials show that caffeine improves both mood and brain function."
If that last sentence didn’t make a lot of sense to you, then have a cup of coffee and read it again. You’ll get it, I promise. Science says so. But don’t over-do it with coffee or you’ll become agitated and jittery.
Tip: If it’s warm out, allow your coffee to cool and throw it in a blender with a little ice and dark chocolate for a super hero drink. You might even want to wear a cape.
Berries are serious brain nosh. A 2012 study published in Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry by Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Ph.D, found that the antioxidants in berries protects our brain cells and help our neurons communicate.
Tip: While in season, buy blueberries by the bushel load and throw them in cereal, yogurt, smoothies, or atop waffles. Then, store extras in freezer bags labeled “neuron communication enhancers" for year-round goodness — those little plump purple orbs thaw in just minutes.
A study earlier this year at the University Hospital of Besel found that green tea extract increases the brain’s effective connectivity, which increased cognitive performance. Subjects in a study also had improved task performance.
Tip: If a hot spot o’ tea has never been your cup of tea, then try some naturally flavored green iced tea. Just don’t let it steep too long, which can give it a bitter taste.
Your brain loves you so much when you feed it walnuts. James Joseph, PhD, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University in Boston, found that walnuts deliver some significant benefits for our noggins. He told ScienceDaily, “when given to old rats, [walnuts] were found to reverse several parameters of brain aging, as well as age-related motor and cognitive deficits."
Tip: Add walnuts to your yogurt, along with some blueberries for a superior breakfast. Or, if you want to throw a party for your taste buds, bake one of the most underrated pies of all time: maple walnut (but, use real maple syrup in the recipe, keep reading to learn why).
Recently a team of researchers at UCLA released a study that shows a correlation between long-term consumption of high-fructose syrup and decreased learning and memory. Specifically, as reported on UCLA Newsroom, fructose could “block insulin’s ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for the energy required for processing thoughts and emotions."
This doesn’t apply to naturally occurring sugars found in fruits, but rather the highly refined fructose syrups like those found in sodas. On average, Americans consume more than 40 pounds of the stuff a year. Don’t be average!
Tip: If you’re a closet Dr. Pepper addict, try switching to a carbonated mineral water, like the fantastic and wonderful Topo Chico.
Staying hydrated throughout the day is essential and we’re not talking about just after a workout. A 2012 study found that “even mild dehydration can influence mood, energy levels and the ability to think clearly."
Tip: We should all drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day. So, if you’re feeling fatigued or foggy-headed while trying to get through one more chapter, don’t go for a soda. Instead, grab a tall glass of water (mineral water hydrates too!) and walk around for a few minutes. Then maybe grab a slice of that maple walnut pie. Summer rocks!
American Chemical Society. (2012, March 7) Eating berries benefits the brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from Science Daily
Gunnars, Kris (2013, Feb 21). 7 Reasons Why Coffee Is Good For You. PopSci.com. Retrieved from PopSci.com
Nauert, Rick, PHD. (2012, Feb 20) Dehydration Influences Mood, Cognition. PsychCentral.com. Retrieved from PsychCentral.com
Schmidt, Elaine (2012, May 15) This is your brain on sugar: UCLA study shows high-fructose diet sabotages learning, memory. UCLA Newsroom. Retrieved from UCLA Newsroom
Society for Neuroscience (2007, Nov 7) Diet of Walnuts, Blueberries Improve Cognition, May Help Maintain Brain Function. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from Science Daily
Sorond, Farzaneh. (2013, August 7). Neurovascular coupling, cerebral white matter integrity, and response to cocoa in older people. Neurology.org Retrieved from Neurology.com
University of Basel (2014, April 7). Green tea extract boosts your brain power, especially the working memory, new research shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from Science Daily