Boost Your Brain with Healthy Eating
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Did you know that what you eat can impact your academic performance? Imagine if you could do better on quizzes, write more effective papers, and earn higher grades just by making some changes to your eating habits. You can!
According to a recent study published in the Journal of American College Health, nutritious eating habits, particularly eating breakfast, improved student GPAs (Reuter et al., 2020). However, the study found that eating fast food had a negative effect on academic performance and GPA (Reuter et al., 2020). In a systematic review of the impact of dietary choices on academic success, researchers also found that increased consumption of fruit and eating regularly spaced meals also improved student grades and academic performance (Burrows et al., 2017). Although more research must be done on the relationship between diet and academic outcomes, we know that the food we put into our bodies affects the way our brains work.
Better nutrition means stronger memory, greater focus, and higher academic achievement, but how can we resist the temptation to grab a quick bite at a nearby fast food restaurant, especially when we are working full-time, raising families, and going to school? There hardly seems to be time to do everything we have on our lists each day, and it can seem impossible to add preparing healthy and regular meals to that list. However, there are a lot of healthy choices we can make for our brain health that don’t have to take a lot of time or money.
First, drink more water. The brain is 75% water, which needs continual replenishment to maintain our mental health and cognitive function (Cook, 2020). We can help our brain cells perform at their best by reaching for water throughout the day, aiming for at least 8 cups daily.
For increased brain health, reduce your consumption of meat and increase your consumption of beans and legumes. Try eating lentils, garbanzos, and other protein-rich beans. These are an inexpensive way to increase our B vitamins, a nutrient that is essential for good brain health and function (Downey, 2019). In fact, data suggests that more B vitamins in the bloodstream results in better problem-solving, word and sentence formation, and increased memory performance (WebMD, 2020). And, the opposite is also true: a deficiency of B vitamins can actually cause our brains to shrink (Downey, 2019). The last thing any college student needs is a shrinking brain, so be sure to include a variety of these B-vitamin-rich foods in your diet: brown rice, eggs, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and avocados (WebMD, 2020).
Students who reported an increase in their consumption of fruit improved their academic performance (Burrows et al., 2017), so consider grabbing an apple or an orange for a quick snack instead of ordering fast food. Blackberries, in particular, are an excellent choice for brain health because of their abundance of manganese, a nutrient that supports healthy electrical transmissions in the brain (Cook, 2020).
While we can find benefits in a variety of specific foods, the general idea is that foods we consider healthy for our bodies are also healthy for our brains (Gupta & Gupta., 2014). Healthy foods increase our concentration, alertness, and performance when consumed consistently (Gupta & Gupta, 2014). Making a big change to our daily habits, like replacing a drive-thru burger and fries with brown rice and a vegetable stir-fry, takes time and persistence, just like college itself. Make healthy choices part of your learning strategy, and you will continue to see improvements in your physical health, mental health, and academic performance.
The Academic Success Center at Purdue Global is here to help, and we’ve created a website for National Nutrition Month with a variety of video resources, recipes, articles, and more to help you improve your eating habits with more nutritious and brain-boosting foods. Be sure to check it out!
Until next time, this is Dr. Linscott with another Learning for Success podcast. Happy learning!
Burrows, T. L., Whatnall, M. C., Patterson, A. J., Huchesson, M. J. (2017) Associations between dietary intake and academic achievement in college students: a systematic review. Healthcare 5(4), 60-75.
Campbell, K. (2021, July 1). Nourishing the “second brain” in your gut. Alive, 465, 16-20.
Cook, M. S. (2020, July 1). Power up your brain. Alive, 453, 52-55.
Downey, M. (2019, February 1). Why people supplement with B vitamins. Life extension 25(2), 82-89.
Gupta, A. and Gupta, P. D., (2014). Food for thought. In M. Akbar, M.A. Memon, & Essa, M. M. (Eds), Food and brain health (pp. 17-24). Nova Science Publishers.
Reuter, P. R., Forster, B. L., and Brister, S. R. (2020). The influence of eating habits on the academic performance of university students. Journal of American College Health 69(8), 921-927.
WebMD. (2020, December 13). Foods high in B vitamins. Nourish by WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/foods-high-in-b-vitamins