Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Brain Food - Nutrition for Learning & Memory

What are the best foods for learning?  Can your diet help improve your memory?

These are foods you should add to your regular diet which will boost your brain's ability to function and help you do well in school.  For info on what to eat for alertness before/ during studying, I will make another post and put the link here when it's done.

"Top Ten" Brain Foods
(according to this article)

1. Fish - Omega3 Fatty Acids are crucial to neural health, and can even prevent dementia.  They also promote heart health by reducing risk of blood clots, which will reduce risk of heart attack. Bonus!  It's recommended to have at least 2 servings of fish per week.

2. Nuts - high in essential fatty acids which help your brain perform its best, as well as iron which will help in getting oxygen to the brain (because the major component of hemoglobin in your RBCs is iron).  It's also got unsaturated (good) fats which will give sustained energy.

I would also add Avocados to this category, because they have a great amount of unsaturated fats which will give the same benefits as the nuts.  As a bonus, they have no cholesterol or salt!  Here's a site with info on avacados, how to pick a good one, how to slice, etc.:

3. Whole grains (quoted directly) - Eating lots of refined carbs like white bread and pasta is not only bad for your physical health, but it also leads to sleepiness, lethargy, and mental dullness. Luckily, whole grains tend to have the opposite effect and can lead to enhanced memory function and even better grades. Chow down on whole grain breads, crackers, and pasta while you study for a quick energy boost.
This source website has some info on a few whole grains you might not know about
4. Apples - skins of apples contain an antioxidant called quercetin that enhances memory. :)  Plus it's a good source of fiber to help you feel full, and is a very quick, portable source of energy.

5. Cruciferous Vegetables (direct quote) - In case you’re a bit rusty on your vocabulary, “cruciferous” vegetables make up a family of vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and bok choy. A long-term study conducted by Harvard Medical School revealed that these type vegetables had the most positive effect on memory retention, meaning they are the most likely to help you achieve better grades. Eating these vegetables raw is the best way to get the optimal nutritional benefit, since cooking them often cooks out the nutrients your body and your brain need most.

6. Dark Chocolate (direct quote) - Not just any variety will do, but a certain type of chocolate – dark chocolate – can feed the brain, not only by improving memory, but also by increasing blood flow to the brain, increasing alertness and clarity. The darker the chocolate, the more benefits your brain will receive.

Click the following link for another article with more great things about dark chocolate, such as the facts that it has antioxidants, it prevents blood sugar spikes, even helps keep your teeth healthy! (Who knew?) Article on

7. Spinach - great source of folic acid which can reverse memory loss, lots of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, and even some Omega-3 Fatty acids.

8. Berries (direct quote) - Here’s a quick solution for the problem of how to study better—pop a handful of colorful berries in your mouth as you prepare for your next test or exam. Colorful berries such as blueberries, cherries, black currants, raspberries, cranberries, blackberries, gooseberries, and even grapes have significant health effects directly related to brain function. Not only do these flavorful snacks reduce the level of toxins in your bloodstream, but they also contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that improve blood flow to the brain and enhance neural activity as well.

9. Legumes - very high in protein to fuel your brain without blood a sugar spike and plummet, and also have folic acid to help with memory recall.

10.Onions - The compounds in onions, namely anthocyanin and quercetin, have even been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  Help improve memory and focus.

Another case for some good proteins

Amino Acids Can Excite or Calm Your Brain

The amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine must both cross the blood-brain barrier in the same pathway. If tryptophan crosses the barrier, it will have a calming effect. If tyrosine wins out, then you will be energized and alert.
A high-carbohydrate meal can increase the brain's tryptophan levels, and hence the serotonin that promotes contentment and normal sleep.
Therefore, a carbohydrate-rich meal may be more appropriate for the evening meal.
On the other hand, one can be energized for hours after a morning meal high in protein, because it raises tyrosine levels in the blood and brain – causing neurons to manufacture norepinephrine and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that promote alertness and activity.
Tyrosine is crucial to brain power and alertness in another way. It's also needed for your body to make active thyroid hormones. Low blood levels of tyrosine are associated with an underactive thyroid gland. (Extreme thyroid deficiency causes severe mental retardation known as cretinism.)

Source above text is from

Tyrosine is actually made from phenylalanine in the body.  It's used to make neurotransmitters including epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.  Here are some dietary sources:

Tyrosine is found in soy products, chicken, turkey, fish, peanuts, almonds, avocados, bananas, milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.

Another source has some info on Amino Acids boosting brain function, on

Brain Food No-No's
Some things NOT to eat (avoid as much as possible): alcohol, caffeine, and sugar (as in simple carb sweets).  There are many ways these items are bad for your health, a couple of which are their propensity for being addictive, help you gain weight, and to produce a giant sugar crash that will put your brain out of commission.  Here is another nice physiological reason, related to the neurotransmitter Dopamine.


Dopamine is the neurotransmitter needed for healthy assertiveness and sexual arousal, proper immune and autonomic nervous system function. Dopamine is important for motivation and a sense of readiness to meet life's challenges.
One of the most vulnerable key neurotransmitters, dopamine levels are depleted by stress or poor sleep. Alcohol, caffeine, and sugar all seem to diminish dopamine activity in the brain. It's also easily oxidized, therefore eat plenty of fruits and vegetables whose antioxidants help protect dopamine-using neurons from free radical damage. More and more healthcare professionals recommend supplementing with vitamins C and E and other antioxidants.
Age-related cognitive decline is associated with dopamine changes in the brain. People whose hands tremble from Parkinson's disease have a diminished ability to synthesize dopamine, which is crucial to fine muscle coordination. Attention deficits are also connected to dopamine.

Source above text is from
Visualization for Alertness & Success
Another tip while you are studying and taking tests, you want to make sure your Reticular Activating System is active (as I'm sure you already know, this part of the brain is what controls your awake and alert state- it determines what you focus on).  A great way is to actually visualize yourself succeeding.  You hear a lot about thinking positively.  Well it's true.  Successful people visualize themselves being successful, and that actually makes them more successful.  Here's an article if you want to learn more:

By the way, since the RAS includes the Thalamus which takes in sensory info - so if you use a multi-sensory approach to visualizing and studying, you can trigger your brain during the test.  For instance, if you always chew the same flavor of gum while studying Physiology and visualizing your success, then chew that same gum during the quiz/ test, it could help your RAS pay attention to being successful!  Just a thought. :)

Hey, if you remember from the post about the brain anatomy and functions, I pointed out that the Reticular Activating System is just as active while you're dreaming as when you're awake - perhaps that's the logic behind listening to lectures, music, etc. while you're sleeping or meditating too!  Interesting...

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