Stern: Foods that make you smarter

With midterms approaching, libraries filling up and students revving their engines for exams and papers, we are all searching for tricks to succeed during this frantic rush toward spring break. While we all know to maximize mental performance by sleeping, exercising and unwinding, one lifestyle change we can make is watching the foods we eat every day.

To ace tests, get papers done and finish problem sets, we instinctively reach out for energy shakes, protein bars and five-hour energy shots that are available at Durfee’s. But nutrition experts, scientists and doctors are increasingly advising against consuming these chemical-infused products. Instead, they suggest that to improve mental acuity, we should “eat what our ancestors ate.” Here are some brain foods available in Commons that you can eat to get a leg up on your Red Bull-pounding, Muscle Milk-loaded neighbor.

One of the most beneficial foods to add to your diet is berries. For starters, tart fruits are associated with improvements in memory and coordination. In a recent study out of Tufts University, researchers found that anthocyanin compounds in berries, which are especially concentrated in blueberries and strawberries, are responsible for increasing communication between brain cells and improving motor function. You can also add dried cranberries to your diet because they have high levels of flavonoids, which protect brain cells from free radicals and help you to retain information.

You should also eat some healthy fats. Food containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts and fish, especially salmon, are two delicious paths to improving cognitive function. For dinner Wednesday, you might opt for the “fresh catch of the day.” Furthermore, fats in meats, nuts and oils help your body to produce acetylcholine, a compound that helps to improve memory formation and “neural integrity,” according to author Pierce Howard in “The Owner’s Manual for the Brain.”

While you might want to go for a fat-laden slice of Commons pizza, you can easily make a healthier mini pizza with a toasted English muffin, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, one of my personal staples. Tomato sauce contains lycopene from tomatoes, which prevents destruction of brain cells. The mini pizza can be made even healthier if it’s on whole wheat bread: Whole and complex grains are a steady energy source for your brain, which uses 20 percent of the body’s carbohydrate supply. If you’re an over-achiever, you can top off the slice with some herbs: The antioxidants found in oregano, rosemary and turmeric also improve brain function. But if you’re not feeling peckish for bread, Wednesday’s lunch option of couscous with lemon and tomatoes or tomatoes and herbs in the salad bar are good alternatives.

Dairy is another readily available recommended supplement to your diet. Some of the most promising research into reversing brain damage surrounds choline, a fat-like compound responsible for maintaining brain health. Egg yolks (offered every morning in the form of scrambled eggs) are a good source of this compound, as well as skim milk, nuts and many meats. Beans, which contain thiamine, help to stimulate the production of choline. Thursday’s lunch options of “Tuscan white bean soup” or “refried black beans” are a good place to start.

Finally, don’t forget about your fluids. Besides water, other natural drinks can also supplement your studying diet. In moderation, coffee supplies antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Even better, green tea provides all of these nutrients and catechines, which promote mental relaxation and help with concentration.

Though bars and supplements might give you an energy rush and a laundry list of minerals, according to Cindy Moore, director of nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic, what’s missing are the other benefits of natural foods, the chemicals that aren’t vitamins or minerals. So, while you’re hunkering down with classes, make your study time worthwhile by getting serious in the dining hall too.

Rebecca Stern is a sophomore in Berkeley College.

Comments

  • Yalie’13

    Very well written. It kept me entertained all the way to the end! Very interesting. I’m changing my eating habits!