Our brains are a complex network of billions of neurons, each connecting to thousands of other neurons in a continual “ripple” of activity resulting in, on average, 6 000 thoughts a day. During exams, and times of great stress, our brain activity goes into overdrive, so to speak, with more “connections” taking place than there are trees and their leaves in the entire Amazon rainforest!
Late nights cramming, months of preparation and maintaining concentration for hours on end can leave students drained and their brains starved of vital nutrients. UK nutritional expert Patrick Holford says independent research shows that the right combination of what he calls natural “smart nutrients” can boost concentration and energy levels and mental vitality. These “smart nutrients” include DMAE and phospholipids, which contribute to a sharper mind and better concentration levels.
Below are Holford’s top 10 tips for a brain-friendly diet:
- Eat plenty of whole foods, such as wholegrains, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Avoid sugary foods such as cake and biscuits. Try to stay away from foods with any hidden/ added sugars.
- It is vital to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Choose dark green, leafy and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, or peppers. Apples, berries, plums or citrus fruit are good choices for fruits. Bananas, grapes and potatoes should be eaten in moderation as they contain a lot of natural sugar. Fruit juices should be diluted.
- Avoid overcooking vegetables and eating “white” or processed foods.
- Protein should be combined with carbohydrate foods. This can be done by combining starchy foods (potatoes, pasta or rice) with protein such as fish, lentils, beans, eggs or tofu.
- Aim for eating at least 3-5 eggs a week, as they are rich in protein and Omega-3s.
- Eat fish such as salmon, herring or mackerel 2-3 times a week as they are a rich source of essential fats.
- The best seeds to eat are flax, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame. Grind them up to acquire all of their nutrients, and sprinkle them over salads or soups. Make sure they are raw and unsalted.
- Cold-pressed seed oils such as flaxseed oil and hemp oil are better to drizzle over salads instead of a dressing, or over vegetables instead of butter. Do not cook with these oils as their essential fats are damaged by heat.
- Reduce the amount of fatty, fried and saturated fat from meat and dairy that you eat in order to reduce damage to brain fats.
If you’re looking for a delicious snack to nibble on while studying, try these decadent chocolate hazelnut brownies – they are rich in protein and essential B vitamins from the eggs and nuts.
Chocolate hazelnut brownies
100 g good quality dark chocolate for melting
50 g good quality dark chocolate, chopped into chips
150 g coconut oil, butter or dairy free margarine, suitable for baking
100 g xylitol
2 ripe bananas, mashed
4 large eggs, beaten
2tsp. vanilla extract
150 g ground almonds
2tsp. baking powder
25 g cocoa powder
200 g chopped hazelnuts
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a 22 cm square baking tin with baking paper.
- Melt the 100 g chocolate over a Bain Marie or in the microwave.
- Cream the oil, butter or margarine and xylitol until soft and fluffy, then either blend in the rest of the ingredients in a food processor or do it by hand: beat in the chocolate, banana, beaten eggs and vanilla extract, then stir in the chocolate chips, ground almonds, baking powder, cocoa powder and hazelnuts.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 20 minutes, or until the mixture no longer wobbles when shaken and the top is just firm to the touch. Leave to cool, then cut into slices.