Are you trying to balance studies, a part-time job, a social life, self-development, and eating healthy while at college? Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated?
Don’t worry. We have prepared an awesome and comprehensive list of superfoods that are healthy AND will help boost your brain activity! They will nourish your body and soul and are delicious as well.
We have divided this article up by nutrients, with short explanations as to why they are the best brain foods for studying. You can also find tips on how to choose the best drinks and snacks when you are on your next grocery run.
There is a bonus for students as well – a meal plan designed to boost your brain power and memory!
🏆 Best Food to Feed Your Brain
Remember when people believed that fats were bad for you? Yeah, it seems pretty silly now. Fat is essential, not only for our bodies, but also for the proper functioning of our brains too! However, it’s important to remember that not all fats are created equal.
There are good fats and bad fats. Foods like fatty fish, seeds, and nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital for our bodies. Don’t be afraid to indulge in those at all! Foods like butter, dairy, and greasy meat contain saturated fats. You should be careful with this kind of fat.
Partially hydrogenated fats are considered to be particularly harmful. They really should be banned! You might want to keep an eye on that microwave popcorn ingredients list, for example.
Consuming fat can be beneficial for weight loss. Eating the right amount of good fats encourages your body to go from a “storing fat” mode to a “releasing fat” mode. This is one of the principles behind low-carb diets like keto. It doesn’t mean you should eat deep-fried food all the time though!
Also, regarding the keto diet, please note that it is not for everyone, it can be particularly harmful for people with chronic diseases. Always speak to your dietitian or physician before commencing a diet.
See the list of the best fats for you below. Making small changes to your diet has the power to improve your happiness and quality of life. We explore the best fats in more detail below:
Omega-3 fatty acids help build your brain! That is why products that contain this healthy fat are known as memory foods.
To eat more omega-3, go and get some fish for lunch! There is no need to spend money on overpriced dietary supplements.
Before studying for your exam, eat salmon or sardines to help improve your learning abilities. Other options include tuna, trout, mackerel, and herring.
When cooking fish, baking or steaming it is a healthier option than frying.
Let’s admit it, avocados are super high in fat, but they’re good fat!
Avocado contains monounsaturated fat, which has been proven to reduce the chance of heart disease. Why? Because it helps lower levels of bad cholesterol.
Avocadoes contain a long list of vitamins and minerals. For instance, there are B vitamins and potassium. The latter can help regulate your blood pressure.
So, think twice before having your pizza leftovers for breakfast. Instead, you might want to feed your brain and treat your body to some good fats. Egg and avocado toast is an excellent start to your day! Adding nuts can keep you feel fuller for longer!
Nuts are natural brain-boosting foods. Did you know a handful of cashews a day can help with depression?
Almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, and peanuts are all power foods for the brain. Brazil nuts are the best to eat before a test. They contain selenium which reduces stress levels.
It is better if the nuts you buy are not salted nor fried. Some people also prefer to soak them overnight to reduce the amount of phytic acid, something that slows down digestion.
You can also get nut butter but remember to check the list of ingredients. It should not contain any additional oil and be 100% pure nuts.
Let’s talk about vegetable oils. We are not saying they are bad, but some types of oil are not as healthy as others.
For example, canola oil is quite controversial due to the properties it shows when heated. Canola, sunflower, avocado, and extra virgin olive oil are considered to be some of the best cooking oils because they don’t lose their health benefits when you use them for frying. It means that they don’t lose their benefits when you use them for frying, for example.
Sesame and flaxseed oils are better when not heated, so use them for dressing salads. Coconut oil is recommended for baking.
So we have already figured out that you need fats for a fat healthy brain. But what about other nutrients? What about protein?
Some people say that animal protein is irreplaceable, others disagree. One thing remains clear though: we need protein!
Amino acids are the main reason why we should include protein-rich foods in our diet. Our bodies use amino acids as building material. That is why pregnant, sick, or injured people need more protein.
The amount of protein you need per day depends on your weight and body type. It is best to consult your dietitian rather than follow the recommendations listed in the first article you find.
Below, you can find the best protein-rich brain food. Also, note that some of the products we mentioned above, such as fish, nuts, and avocado, are also excellent sources of protein!
Maybe you have seen bodybuilders drinking a dozen raw eggs or eating boiled eggs for every meal! That is because just one egg contains around 5 to 7 grams of protein!
With eggs, you also receive minerals, B vitamins, and healthy fats, all of which promote your brain’s healthy development.
It used to be suggested that people should avoid eating egg yolks. However, the newest studies suggest that yolks are key sources of vitamin D, which can decrease stress levels.
Don’t scrambled eggs sound like a great pre-exam breakfast?
Along with eggs, bodybuilders are often caught eating a lot of chicken breast. Again, it’s because its full of protein!
Skinless chicken is better for those trying to lose weight, as chicken skin contains the most calories. Just like before, deep-fried chicken doesn’t count as a healthy protein-rich snack!
The best part about poultry is that it’s so easy to prepare! Roasted turkey breasts, oven-baked chicken thighs – it takes some time to cook but it is almost effortless to prepare. Just what a busy student needs!
Red meat, especially the lean ones, are the ultimate source of protein! Only one serve of beef steak has 25 grams of proteins in it! It also contains iron, vitamin B12, and other nutrients.
Be careful with rib-eye and other fatty beef steaks. Red meat steaks do contain a lot of saturated fat, which is problematic if consumed in large amounts.
Harvard School of Public Health puts red meat at the top of the food pyramid. That means you should consume it in moderation and eat other protein-rich foods daily instead.
If you don’t consume meat, you might consider adding more dairy to your diet. Only one cup of cottage cheese has 28 grams of protein, which is insane! If you choose a low-fat option, it is an even healthier choice than steak, especially for dinner.
Milk, cottage cheese, different kinds of hard cheese, and yogurt are all great for boosting your protein intake. Cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are definitely the winners in this category.
Fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir (a sour-milk drink) contain probiotics. They regulate and promote the growth of the healthy microbiome in your gut. The state of your microbiome has been shown to have a direct connection to levels of stress and anxiety! So consider yogurt and kefir healthy brain food snacks.
Of course, we didn’t forget vegans! There is a great variety of vegan protein sources. Let’s check them out.
A handful of almonds contains 6 grams of protein, so having them as an afternoon snack is already a big chunk of your recommended daily intake. The same goes for peanuts and hemp seeds (actually, all seeds).
Oats are also rich in protein. Having quinoa with broccoli or brussel sprouts on the side for dinner is a great way to finish your day. Another option is lentils or beans. If you are hitting the gym, eating lentils or beans with tofu is the ultimate protein power bowl!
Chickpeas are another great vegan source of protein. They can be boiled or sprouted. Add some chickpeas to your salad or make hummus.
Last but not least – carbs. Carbohydrates are important for healthy brain function but they seem to have a bad reputation. It’s not carbs that cause weight gain. It’s processed foods and also a lack of moderation!
Just like fats, carbs are not created equal. There are fast carbs and slow carbs, also known as high and low glycemic index (GI) foods.
Fast carbs create a rapid increase in your blood sugar level, giving you a boost of energy. But it drops just as fast as it spikes. Slow carbs, on the other hand, nourish you with slowly released energy.
So instead of just having an apple for a snack, try adding peanut butter to it. Thanks to the low GI index of peanut butter, you can stay feeling fuller for longer!
Switch your soda for a green drink and french fries for kale chips.
There is such a variety of leafy greens: collard greens, spinach, kale, arugula, microgreens, broccoli, and many others. Leafy greens are full of good stuff like calcium, lutein, and vitamin K. You won’t find those in potato chips!
In addition to providing loads of carbs, green vegetables also contain tons of antioxidants to keep your skin glowing.
Berries, yum! They are indeed one of the best healthy snacks for college students. Berries, just like fruit, are a great source of carbs. However, unlike fruit, they have a very low GI. It is the reason why berries are the best sweet treat for people with diabetes.
Blueberries, for example, contain essential antioxidants and nutrients, which help with memory. Raspberries possess anti-inflammatory power. Blackcurrants are one of the top 10 foods for improving memory and concentration.
At the end of the day, all berries are great for your brain. And don’t forget, avocados are technically a berry!
Another source of good carbs is whole grains. If you have oats for breakfast, you already know this!
Whole grains like oats help fight heart disease. They regulate your blood flow, cardiovascular system, and cholesterol levels. Altogether, they have a direct impact on your brain. Moreover, grains contain tons of fiber, which are beneficial for your bowel movements.
Some other whole grains with low glycemic index are rye, barley, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and brown rice. Pick brown rice over white if you are wanting to lose some weight.
Drinking enough water is vital! Around 75% of your brain is water. Impressive, right? It also means that dehydration negatively affects your brain activity.
Usually, it is recommended to drink about 1.5 to 2 liters of water per day. The exact amount depends on your body type and your lifestyle. Even in winter it is still important to drink a lot of water as water evaporates with your breath in the cold.
It is important to note that sodas, sugary juices, and alcohol are not included in this daily intake! However, the Harvard School of Public Health says unsweetened tea and coffee are in the same category as water.
If you are addicted to coffee, don’t quit. Quitting could make you miserable, since coffee stimulates the production of serotonin, known as the “happy hormone.”
Another reason to include coffee in a brain diet is that it helps reduce diseases such as Alzheimer’s and boosts concentration.
You might know that green tea is packed with antioxidants. But do you know why it is so good for you?
Green tea takes care of your cognitive health. So try having quality green tea instead of sweet black tea.
What’s more, green tea has anti-inflammatory properties, which is great for your brain!
🍳 Healthy Eating 101
Consider including some of the foods discussed above in your daily diet. You might even decide to try a trendy new diet. However, before doing so, consult your dietitian or physician.
Healthy habits are excellent but there are no universal diet plans! What seems to work well for your friend might not necessarily work for you.
Please, make dietary choices wisely and plan your diet considering the unique needs of your body.
♨ Harvard Healthy Eating Plate
What does Harvard say about healthy nutrition in college?
Harvard suggests that half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables and doesn’t specify whether they should be cooked or raw. Take advantage of the benefits of fresh veggies during the summertime. In winter, a hot vegetable stew is the perfect comfort food.
A quarter of your plate should be whole grains. Go back to the Carbs section for more detail and avoid “white food” to keep your blood sugar healthy.
Proteins should fill the other quarter of your plate. We mentioned some ideas at the beginning of this article.
In order to power your brain, don’t forget about healthy oils. Olive, avocado, and sesame oils are great as a salad dressing. Harvard is very cautious about trans fats.
According to the Harvard Plate, coffee and tea are considered to be a part of your daily water intake. It doesn’t forbid drinking alcohol. However, moderation is definitely key.
Most importantly, listen to your body. If you crave a piece of chocolate, go for it, don’t deny your body that dose of magnesium.
📜 A One-Day Meal Plan to Boost Your Brain
And here is your bonus! A full-day meal plan, which is specifically designed to boost your brain function, improve your memory, and reduce stress.
We have designed this plan specifically for the student budget! Here’s how to eat healthy at college!
- Consider drinking a glass of water with lemon first thing in the morning. It starts up your digestive system. Then, eat within 30 minutes of waking up to keep your blood sugar level stable.
- For breakfast, you could have a bowl of overnight oats with a topping of your choice. Remember to add healthy fats, such as nuts and seeds, and antioxidant boosters like berries. You can also top it with a tablespoon of coconut oil as a source of healthy fat.
Also, you can add a cup of coffee to your breakfast. Remember to always eat breakfast to start your day right!
- Around three hours later, have an apple or banana. A morning snack is the perfect opportunity to eat some fruit that will give you energy!
- Have a lentil soup and a leafy green salad as a hearty lunch! If you buy canned soup at the supermarket, don’t forget to check the ingredients. Adding some extra virgin olive oil and an avocado to your salad will make it even more nutritious.
- If you get hungry a few hours after lunch, make yourself a cup of green tea and a piece of peanut butter toast.
- Eat a light dinner. It is better to eat dinner 3 or 4 hours before you go to bed. For this meal plan, we suggest seared salmon and broccoli. To cook the fish, wrap it in foil, add some salt and pepper, and then put it to the oven for 15 minutes. So easy!
All the dishes included in this meal plan contain foods that help you focus. It is the ideal food plan before your next big exam.
📒 Best Student Recipes: Cheap & Easy
🍈 No-Cook Breakfast Ideas
Granola + Yogurt
🍴 Budget Lunchbox Ideas for University
🍛 Easy Dinner Ideas
📚 Top 5 Brain Food Books
📕 Brain Maker
The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life By David Perlmutter
The book explains the connection between the way your brain functions and your microbiome – the population of microorganisms in your body. After you are born, your microbiome is constantly developing and changing based on your lifestyle choices. What are the easy strategies that can improve its state and change your brain destiny for the better? Find the answer in the book!
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science & Technology (2015)
Get a copy at Amazon.com
📗 The Bulletproof Diet
Lose up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Energy and Focus, Upgrade Your Life By Dave Asprey
In his twenties, a Silicon Valley multimillionaire Dave Asprey weighed 300 pounds. When being overweight led him to serious health problems, he decided to study the issue thoroughly. The Bulletproof Diet is the result of the research that lasted for 15 years.
In his New York Times bestseller, Asprey describes a program that made him feel better in his forties than in his twenties. He offers a high-fat diet that causes rapid weight loss and increases mental performance.Get a free audible at Amazon.com
📔 The Healthy Mind Cookbook
Big-Flavor Recipes to Enhance Brain Function, Mood, Memory, and Mental Clarity By Rebecca Katz & Mat Edelson
In The Healthy Mind Cookbook, Rebecca Katz uses the newest research on mental performance. She identifies the types of food able to improve cognitive functions, memory, and mood. The result is the collection of more than 120 recipes with all the necessary nutritional details. The dishes offered by Kats are varied, easy to prepare, and can change your life for the better. Get a copy at Amazon.com
📘 The Brain Diet
The Connection Between Nutrition, Mental Health, and Intelligence by Alan Logan
Most of us know that our health depends on what we eat. Still, few of us truly realize how important food is for our mental health & cognitive abilities.
To function intensively, the human brain needs an enormous amount of energy. To be able to think, to create, to perform complex work, and to develop technologies, sufficient blood flow is required. The Brain Diet explains how all of this works and offers suggestions for a healthy diet. Get a copy at Amazon.com
The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ By Giulia Enders
The gut seemed the most underrated body organ for too long. However, the newest studies show that it is almost as important as the brain and, moreover, is strongly connected with the latter. The connection between the gut and the brain is probably the fastest-growing medical research area.
In her book, Enders answers questions like: How does the gut influence mood? Can gut bacteria lead to obesity and even suicide? She explains the gut’s magic and gives a lot of practical advice along the way. Get a copy at Amazon.com
📱 Top 5 Nutrition Apps
Ate Food Journal
A quick and easy-to-use food-tracking app.
Waterlogged – Drink More Water
A water-tracking app that provides personalized charts and reminds you to stay hydrated.
Fooducate – Eat Better Coach
A nutrition and diet tracker that helps millions of people to stay healthy and lose weight.
Rise Up + Recover
An eating disorder monitoring and management tool for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and EDNOS.
Live up! Healthy Recipes
A collection of healthy and easy everyday recipes for vegetarians and vegans.