Instead of just providing you with a list of different food items, you may find it more useful if I suggest a few ideas for specific meals and snacks. They’re all fairly simple and don’t require a long time to prepare. Most of them can be assembled in 5–10 minutes.
Please don’t skip breakfast food! This is the first meal of the day you need as fuel and energy to keep you going, no matter what you’re doing. Don’t starve yourself or have coffee as a meal replacement. Make it a priority to eat.
- Oatmeal. Mix it with 1 tablespoon flaxseeds, 1 teaspoon peanut butter, sliced banana or other fresh fruit, and some walnuts or almonds on top. Flaxseeds are an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a healthy fat that boosts cerebral cortex function.
- Yoghurt with fruit. Measure 1/2 cup of Greek yoghurt, 1–2 tablespoons granola, 1 cup fresh fruit (sliced or diced), and a spoonful of nuts such as walnuts and almonds. Almonds are beneficial for increased attention and awareness necessary for learning, as well as restoring memory and cognitive function.
- Eggs. They are a powerful mix of B vitamins (they help nerve cells to burn glucose), antioxidants (they protect neurons against damage), and omega-3 fatty acids (they keep nerve cells functioning at optimal speed). How many? Two should be sufficient.
- A smoothie with beets and berries. The natural nitrates in beets can increase blood flow to your brain which improves mental performance. In a blender, combine 1/2 cup of orange juice, 1 cup frozen berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries), 1/2 cup diced beets (raw or roasted), 1 tablespoon granola, 2–3 dates, 1/4 cup coconut water or plain low-fat yoghurt, and 3 ice cubes. Blend for one minute.
If you want to optimize your brain performance, stay away from fast food. It’s typically greasy and loaded with carbohydrates, which can fill you up quickly but you’ll feel a slump later, and may even feel groggy or sleepy in the afternoon. Prepare lighter food for lunch instead.
- Sardine sandwich. Layer sardines with slices of avocado, then squeeze some lemon juice on top. Sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are responsible for improving brain cell communication and regulating neurotransmitters that boost mental focus.
- Big salad with protein, fresh spinach and lentils. Some good protein options are grilled chicken, tuna, and salmon (which is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids). Lentils are rich in vitamin B which can help improve brainpower, while dark leafy greens such as spinach may reduce cognitive decline. Prepare everything in an airtight container with a lid, and store it in the fridge overnight.
Having pasta, pizza, potatoes, or fried food for dinner is OK if you have it occasionally. But if you’re focused on studying or working on a project deadline, it’s better to have a meal that will fill you up while also giving you the energy to keep going for a few more hours.
- Seafood. Grill, bake or saute some salmon, mackerel, kippers, or trout. These are considered oily fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that contribute to healthy brain function and reducing memory loss.
- Tomato and kale salad. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may protect our cells against damage from free radicals which are linked to memory loss. Kale (also chard and spinach) is considered a superfood: it’s rich in many vitamins including A, C, and K, and promotes the resilience of brain cells; it can also positively impact our memory, attention, and verbal abilities.
- Sweet potatoes. They are rich in the powerful antioxidant beta carotene, which has been linked to a boost in the brain’s cognitive function. You can steam or boil them much like regular potatoes, or you can cut them into strips and bake them in the oven to make sweet potato fries (spice them up with crushed or smoked paprika, pepper, thyme, oregano).
- Broccoli. It is an excellent source of vitamin K which is responsible for boosting brain power and cognitive function. Steam it for 5-10 minutes just enough for it to soften without losing its rich green colour. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil (rich in polyphenols which are found to reduce cognitive decline), or add a spoonful of plain Greek yoghurt or kefir on top for a boost of calcium.
- Carrots and squash. Carrots and all types of squash (spaghetti, acorn, butternut, kabocha) are rich in beta carotene, which helps improve memory and verbal skills. You can eat carrots raw, or you can steam or bake them. Squash is easiest to bake in the oven, either by slicing in half or cutting into large cubes and sprinkling with spices such as oregano, paprika, rosemary, or whatever your own spice preference may be.
Mid-afternoon it’s normal to feel tired and reach for some candy to get an instant sugar rush. Instead of candy bars, think of other options that you can have as a quick snack.
- Walnuts. This powerful brain food improves cognitive function and can even reduce memory loss. You need less than a handful for maximum effect.
- Fresh fruit. Rich in vitamin C, fruit boosts mental agility and reduces decline in the brain’s cognitive abilities. Eat it whole (apple, banana, tangerine, pear, peach) or dice several different types of fruit and eat it as a fruit salad (watermelon, papaya, mango, berries, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple).
- Fruit and nut mix. This mix of dried fruit and nuts can be prepared ahead of time. In a jar, place walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and some dried fruit like dates and raisins. Keep the jar at your desk or in a desk drawer, and have this snack when you need more energy.
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