Top 10 Smart Foods for College Students
Coasting by on popcorn and energy drinks? Find out which foods really fuel your brain.
Poring over textbooks, organizing lecture notes, and prepping for tests takes a toll on your brain. Give your gray matter the fuel it needs to help you stay focused and absorb what you learn in the classroom.
Milk and yogurt. Low-fat dairy products are packed with protein and B vitamins that may help you concentrate and work efficiently, says dietitian Marjorie Nolan, RD, a nutrition counselor and personal trainer in New York City. She recommends plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, which is super high in protein and has no added sugar. Milk and yogurt are fortified with vitamin D, which also supports brain health.
Oats. It's hard to beat oatmeal at breakfast. Oatmeal is a minimally processed whole grain, which you digest slowly, letting it provide steady energy to your brain and body.
And you get a bowlful of B vitamins and fiber as well as potassium, zinc, and vitamin E. "Most people don't realize how important all that is for brain health," says Nolan. The B vitamins aid memory while vitamin E works to prevent cognitive deterioration.
UCLA neuroscientist Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, PhD, says, "Vitamin B9, or folic acid, is particularly important for cognitive function, though we don't yet know why."
Blueberries. One of nature's perfect foods, blueberries are packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals, the compounds that make them a deep-blue color. Blueberries may help maintain peak brain performance by ridding the brain of harmful molecules called free radicals. A recent study indicates that blueberries may improve both learning and working memory.
Nolan recommends two servings (about one and a half cups) of fresh or frozen blueberries a day.
Salmon. "We need fat for our brains," says Nolan. Salmon is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that studies suggest may aid brain development, protect the brain from deterioration, and enhance brain function. "The brain can't synthesize omega-3s, so they are an essential component for the diet," Gomez-Pinilla says.
He recommends enjoying your salmon Indian style: "Curried salmon gives you omega-3s mixed with turmeric, which is also good for the brain." Both wild-caught and farm-raised salmon provide omega-3s. The American Heart Association recommends two 3.5-ounce servings of fish per week.
Walnuts. While all nuts provide brain fuel in the form of protein and both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, walnuts are best, Nolan says. One study found that students who regularly ate walnuts were better at deductive reasoning. The healthy fat in nuts is still fat, so you don't want to eat too many. Stick to a daily 1-ounce serving -- just enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Hempseed. Hempseed is a real superfood, Nolan says, adding that it provides brain-powering protein, omega-3s and -6s, and a variety of antioxidants and other nutrients. Often packaged as a powder, the seeds of Cannabis sativa -- better known as hemp -- are totally versatile. Their nutty flavor blends well with lots of breakfast foods and baked goods. Stir a couple of spoonfuls into oatmeal, mix with milk or yogurt, sprinkle on cereal, or bake into muffins.