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Brain Fuel: 5 Food Groups For Successful Students

May 31, 2013

We've heard it a million times by now; eating right is smart, and eating right can make you smart. What this actually means is that eating the right foods gives your brain nutritional support, which helps you perform at the highest level. For college students, being able to perform your best is an everyday necessity. There are dozens of studies, books, and more all about the idea that what you use to fuel your body can also help your brain.

College students on the WGU Facebook Page suggested varied study snacks that they believe help them in class. From healthy to hilarious, answers included gluten-free, low-carb options, all the way down to sugary snacks and energy drinks to give a boost before a test.

So the question remains: What are the best snacks for college students to grab before a study session or quiz? For online university students, these study snacks are that much more important. Because so much of your online schooling is done when it’s convenient for you, making sure you have the right food on hand for whenever you need to hit the books (or e-books) is crucial. We compiled five great food groups and snacks that nutritional experts recommend when it comes to finding the right brain food.

Oily fish, seeds, and nuts. The omega-3 fatty oils in certain fish—especially salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, and kippers—are a must-have for healthy brain function. Omega-3 deficiency can lead to fatigue and poor memory—which could be a real problem for a university student. And omega-3s can't be made in the body, so you have to get them from your diet. Not a big fish fan? Omega-3 fats are also found in linseed or flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and pumpkin seeds. Walnuts are also a great omega-3 healthy snack, full of heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory nutrients that help promote blood flow, delivering more oxygen to the brain, which helps you prepare for that assessment.

Berries and other fruits. Eating lots of blueberries, strawberries, and other berries appears to be linked to slower mental decline, according to studies. Antioxidant-rich fruits like blueberries appear to keep free radicals under control and stave off age-related mental conditions. These healthy snacks are packed with vitamin C, which is believed to help increase mental agility, which is crucial for an online university student juggling work, family, and coursework. Healthy sugar can also enhance your alertness and ability to focus—it's your body and brain's best source of energy. Before you get too excited, we're talking here about the glucose you get from natural carbohydrate sources like fruits and juices, not candy or an extra spoonful of sugar in your cereal.

Dark chocolate. You’re probably thinking, “Hold on—chocolate? That sounds like candy to me!” We’re not saying you should make chocolate bars your go-to study snack. But, in moderation, dark chocolate can energize you and help you focus. A recent Harvard study shows that dark chocolate can help reduce blood pressure, as well as get more blood flow to your brain and help you get more fuel. Grabbing a piece of dark chocolate before your test may be a great way to keep focused and relaxed.

Whole grains. Whole grains are another important component to overall wellness. The complex carbohydrates in whole grains have a low glycemic index, so they digest slowly and release glucose—your brain's best source of energy—over a longer period of time. This means you will have energy longer and can make it through a lengthy test or paper. The fiber in whole grains keeps cholesterol in check and improves blood flow to the brain and other organs. And whole grains (along with fresh fruits and dairy) are a satisfying, filling way to add some healthy calories and energy at breakfast time, a crucial meal for getting brain food to fuel your day.

Tomatoes, broccoli, spinach. This trio is often mentioned in lists of superfoods for your whole body, and each packs nutrients that have major benefits for cognitive function, concentration, and brain health. These super foods should always be on your college student grocery list, as they are easy to toss in many meals. Throw in other brain-boosting produce like beets and avocado and you've got a tasty tray of veggies to be your best study snack yet.


College students need to work hard to prepare for assessments and tests, and a big piece of preparation is the healthy food you consume. So, what do you think? Sounds doable—and delicious—right? What are you going to add to your college student diet after reading this list? Are there any other foods you look to for brainpower and energy?

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