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There are countless tips and tricks to remember what you study.
But these can only get you so far.
If your brain doesn’t work optimally, you can spend hours trying to memorize one page of text – with no success.
So before trying a new study trick, you should put your brain into high gear first.
The best way to do it?
By giving it the nutrients it needs.
Here at Cates Nutrition, we’ll reveal to you the best brain food for studying. So you can pass that exam with flying colors.
Shall we have a look?
Cold-Pressed Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil
Coconut oil might just be your brain’s favorite food.
While most fats in our diet are made of long-chain triglycerides, coconut oil is made of medium-chain triglycerides. These are also known as MCTs. (29)
What’s so special about MCTs, you ask?
For starters, they are shorter than other types of fats. This means that MCTs get absorbed into your liver much quicker. Once there, these fats can be used as a quick energy source for the brain.
Your brain thrives on medium-chain fats.
These fatty acids can get converted to ketones, which is your brain’s favorite fuel source. Even more so than glucose.
In fact, it’s shown that ketones have the ability to prevent, and even treat cognitive decline. (30, 31)
You can get these benefits by taking 1-3 tablespoons of coconut oil daily. Just make sure to take it over the course of the day, instead of all at once. Too much coconut oil in one sitting can cause digestive issues.
Lastly, you should always choose extra-virgin coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil is also fine. As long as it’s cold-pressed, it retains all of its benefits.
By contrast, refined coconut oil is no good. That’s because it loses its beneficial properties during high-heat processing. (32)
An egg a day doesn’t just keep the doctor away.
It also keeps you from failing your exams.
Okay, that might be an overstatement – but the fact is, egg yolks are rich in choline. This nutrient is essential for your memory, learning, and focus.
Here’s how it works: Choline is a building block for acetyl-choline. Acetyl-choline is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in memory creation and fluidity of thought. (1, 2)
According to research, a higher intake of choline raises levels of acetyl-choline in the brain. Leading to improved cognitive function. (3, 4)
You might be asking: how much choline do you need per day?
The answer is, between 400-500mg. (1)
Just one egg contains around 115mg of choline. Don’t throw away the yolk, though – this is where this nutrient hides.
Alongside choline, eggs are also rich in vitamins B6, B12, and folate. All of these vitamins are essential for learning and memory. (5, 6)
Overall, eggs are by far one of the best brain food for studying you can eat.
Ever wondered where blueberries get their deep color from? The answer: anthocyanins. These are plant compounds and antioxidants, which belong to the group of flavonoids.
As it turns out, anthocyanins aren’t there just for the show. They are also responsible for blueberries’ health benefits.
See, antioxidants such as anthocyanins fight inflammation and oxidative stress. (7)
In fact, some of these antioxidants are shown to accumulate in your brain. There, they act as a signal booster between neurons, improving their communication. (7, 8)
Antioxidants in blueberries also promote blood flow and thus improve nutrient delivery to your brain cells. Studies show that this results in improved short-term and long-term memory.
Blueberries can even reduce memory loss over time. (9, 10)
And the good news is, you don’t need a lot of blueberries to reap their benefits. A cup per day (60-80g) is enough to help you with studying and retaining information. This makes blueberries an awesome choice when it comes to brain food for studying.
Nuts & Seeds
Yes, nuts and seeds are among the best foods for brain health.
A 2014 study review found that nuts boost cognitive function, along with preventing neurological decline. (11)
Another study showed that people who eat nuts over a long period of time have a sharper memory, when compared against people who didn’t eat nuts. (12)
So, where do these benefits come from?
The answer: from healthy fatty acids, vitamin E, and natural antioxidants that are found in nuts. (13, 14)
Vitamin E protects your neurons from free radical damage, helping with overall brain function. (15)
Fatty acids, on the other hand, are an integral part of your brain. In fact, over 60% of your brain is fat. A good chunk of that fat is DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid.
This is where walnuts have the edge over other nuts. Simply because they have the highest amount of omega-3s. (16)
As for seeds, the same rule applies to them; those with the highest omega-3s content win. In this case, flax seeds are the champion.
2 tablespoons of flax seeds contain over 1300mg of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Which then converts to EPA and DHA in your body.
What About Pumpkin Seeds?
If you’ve been wondering, pumpkin seeds also belong to the best brain food for studying. They contain several nutrients that your brain needs in order to stay sharp. These include:
- Magnesium – Low magnesium levels are shown to cause migraines, irritability, and other side effects that you definitely don’t want when studying for an exam. Pumpkin seeds can help you meet your magnesium RDA.
- Zinc – This is another mineral that’s crucial for the signaling between your neurons. Low zinc is linked to depression, early onset of Alzheimer’s, and a host of other side effects related to cognition. So make sure to get enough zinc daily.
- Copper – Copper helps your brain control nerve signaling. With low levels of copper, a whole host of problems arises. From mood swings, irritability, to more serious concerns such as an increased risk for Alzheimer’s.
- Iron – Pumpkin seeds are a great source of iron. This is especially important for people who follow a raw plant-based diet. Low iron levels cause irritability and brain fog, among other health issues.
You might want to replace coffee with green tea when pulling an all-nighter.
Research shows that green tea can greatly enhance your memory, learning, and alertness. (17)
And unlike coffee, it doesn’t give you that infamous „crash“, even though it contains caffeine.
This is due to the fact that green tea also contains l-theanine.
L-theanine is an amino acid which stimulates the production of GABA in your brain. In essence, GABA is a chemical messenger which tells your brain to calm down. (18, 19)
Now, you might get the impression that l-theanine will make you fall asleep. But that’s not the case.
When combined with caffeine, this compound will smoothen out the experience, making you relaxed and focused at the same time.
Furthermore, green tea is rich in natural polyphenols. These are plant compounds and anti-oxidants. As you know by now, antioxidants help your brain fight against inflammation, along with preventing cognitive decline. (20)
There’s a common theme among many foods on this list. They are all rich in antioxidants. But kale is in a league of its own.
Not only does kale top charts when it comes to antioxidant activity. It’s also among the most nutrient dense foods in general.
Kale contains a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols. Many of which play a key role in brain function.
One cup of kale (about 60g) will provide you with over 206% of RDA for vitamin A, 684% for vitamin K, and 134% for vitamin C. You’ll also get about 10% of your daily magnesium intake, along with a myriad of trace minerals. These all help your brain work at its peak. (21)
Alongside vitamin A and C, which are powerful antioxidants. Kale also contains flavonoids such as kaempferol and quercetin. These work in conjunction with other nutrients to protect your brain cells from oxidative damage. (22, 23)
Some people like to drink large amounts of blended kale first thing in the morning. As per anecdotal evidence, this induces a natural „high“ feeling. Much as stimulants do but without any bad side effects.
Fish (Sardines and Salmon)
Fatty fish are among the best brain food for studying. If for no other reason, then simply because they are full of omega-3 fatty acids. (24)
As we stated above, omega-3s are building blocks for your brain. They help build myelin sheath around your nerves, improving their communication. (25)
Alongside boosting memory and learning, omega-3s also slow down the mental decline.
On the other hand, not getting enough omega-3s in the form of EPA and DHA causes memory loss and depression.
A study showed that eating fish regularly increases the amount of grey matter in people’s brains. Grey matter is full of neurons which control memory, learning, emotions, and decision making. (26)
Fish with the highest omega-3 content are sardines, wild caught salmon, mackerel, and trout.
When thinking about brain food for studying, dark chocolate may not be the first thing that comes to your mind.
So you might be surprised to know that this food is full of nutrients that improve your memory. Among these are flavonoids, a family of potent antioxidants.
Research suggests that dark chocolate has one of the highest antioxidant activities out of all foods. It’s so powerful that it disarms the damaging free radicals in your brain. (27)
If you’ve been reading carefully so far. Then you know that the less oxidative stress your brain has to deal with, the better.
Not only that, but dark chocolate also improves blood flow to your brain. With more blood comes more oxygen, resulting in improved memory and cognitive performance. (28)
One study showed that people who regularly ate dark chocolate did better on memory and learning tests than those who didn’t eat it. (28)
These are all strong reasons to include dark chocolate among the best brain food for studying.
However, don’t run to the nearest grocery store just yet.
Because when I say dark chocolate…
I don’t mean milk chocolate, AKA, pure processed sugar.
Dark chocolate must contain a minimum of 70% of cocoa.
Anything less than that, and you’re doing your brain no good.
If you can take the strong taste of dark chocolate, go for the one that has over 90% of cocoa. The higher the cocoa content, the stronger the benefits for your brain.
Also, dark chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine. Nothing to worry about; this isn’t enough to cause you ‘jitters’. Instead, it will give you a nice extra punch in terms of improved alertness and cognition.
Much like their darker cousins blueberries, strawberries are full of antioxidants.
These include ellagic acid, kaempferol, anthocyanins, and quercetin. (33)
I’m sure that by now, you know the power of antioxidants. Not only do they protect your neurons. They also promote blood flow, leading to faster thinking and improved memory.
Now, strawberries also pack a hefty dose of vitamin C. We’re talking about another potent free radical scavenger.
You can eat strawberries frozen, fresh, or even freeze-dried. They all retain their nutritional value in all of these states.
If you want, you can even combine strawberries with blueberries in a smoothie to get the best of both worlds; in terms of antioxidants.
Bonus: Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa monnieri (AKA Brahmi) is an Ayurvedic herb.
And it’s one of the most powerful natural memory boosters out there.
Classified as an adaptogen – meaning it helps your brain adapt to stress – bacopa has been used by people from India for thousands of years to improve their learning and memory.
It turns out, these people knew what they were doing.
Studies show that bacopa monnieri stimulates your brain to grow new dendrites. (34)
Dendrites are short extensions of your brain cells. They are responsible for signaling and impulses between the neurons.
By growing new dendrites, bacopa directly improves your memory, thinking, and overall brain performance. (35, 36)
But it gets even better.
According to research, bacopa upregulates dopamine and serotonin receptors in the brain. Dopamine is the feel-good and motivation chemical. It’s responsible for making you want to achieve things.
With more dopamine available, you’ll feel motivated to study for longer. Or even pull an all-nighter if necessary.
That said, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows with bacopa.
This herb takes time to work.
In fact, studies show that bacopa shows its full effects after 8-12 weeks of taking it daily. (37)
So if you have an exam tomorrow or in a couple of days, bacopa isn’t likely to help.
But if you take it on a consistent basis for a long period of time, you can expect some pretty dramatic gains in your memory and cognition. That’s why it’s among the best brain food for studying.
Bacopa dosage: 3-5 grams when taking a powder. Alternatively, 450mg when taking a capsule extract with 45% bacosides.
There you have it, these are the best brain food for studying. Along with a bonus herb, bacopa monnieri.
If you’ve read this article carefully, you now know that many foods can keep you sharp.
Some, such as blueberries and kale, are full of antioxidants. These phytonutrients protect your brain from damage and reduce inflammation. This can indirectly improve your memory and learning.
Foods like coconut oil and fish play a slightly different role.
They provide your brain with the building blocks it needs to rebuild itself and work at its peak condition.
By strategically adding these foods to your meal plan, you can enhance your learning ability and thus increase your chances of acing an exam.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. (source)
Choline: an essential nutrient for public health. (source)
Plasma free choline, betaine and cognitive performance: the Hordaland Health Study. (source)
The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort. (source)
B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review. (source)
Folic acid, aging, depression, and dementia. (source)
Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. (source)
Recent advances in berry supplementation and age-related cognitive decline. (source)
Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. (source)
Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. (source)
Cognition: the new frontier for nuts and berries. (source)
Long-Term intake of nuts in relation to cognitive function in older women. (source)
Association of antioxidants with memory in a multiethnic elderly sample using the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. (source)
Nuts, especially walnuts, have both antioxidant quantity and efficacy and exhibit significant potential health benefits. (source)
Vitamin E and cognitive decline in older persons. (source)
Role of Walnuts in Maintaining Brain Health with Age. (source)
Effect of Green Tea Phytochemicals on Mood and Cognition. (source)
L-theanine—a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans. (source)
The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent. (source)
Neurological mechanisms of green tea polyphenols in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. (source)
Kale, raw, nutrition facts and calories. (source)
Composition and antioxidant activity of kale (Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala) raw and cooked. (source)
Characterization and quantification of flavonoids and hydroxycinnamic acids in curly kale (Brassica oleracea L. Convar. acephala Var. sabellica) by HPLC-DAD-ESI-MSn. (source)
Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth. (source)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and their Role in Central Nervous System - A Review. (source)
Regular fish consumption and age-related brain gray matter loss. (source)
Chocolate and the brain: neurobiological impact of cocoa flavanols on cognition and behavior. (source)
Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study. (source)
Coconut oil and palm oil's role in nutrition, health, and national development: A review. (source)
Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults. (source)
Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimer's disease. (source)
Effect of refined coconut oil or copra meal on methane output and on intake and performance of beef heifers. (source)
The potential impact of strawberries on human health: a review of the science. (source)
A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract. (source)
The cognitive-enhancing effects of Bacopa monnieri: a systematic review of randomized, controlled human clinical trials. (source)
Enhancement of basolateral amygdaloid neuronal dendritic arborization following Bacopa monniera extract treatment in adult rats. (source)
Effects of 12-Week Bacopa monnieri Consumption on Attention, Cognitive Processing, Working Memory, and Functions of Both Cholinergic and Monoaminergic Systems in Healthy Elderly Volunteers. (source)