Brain Fuel: 5 Food Groups for Successful Students

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We all know this by now: Eating right is smart. Eating right also can make you smart.

More accurately, eating the right foods can give your brain the nutritional support it needs to perform at the highest level, study after study seems to show.

We asked our friends on WGU's Facebook page what foods they used to fuel their brains. Their answers ranged from healthy to hilarious.

Among the healthy suggestions, some even sent in photos of their favorite mind meals, like the gluten-free, low-carb, high-protein chocolate pancakes pictured in this post. Others relied on quick-fix fuels whose health benefits may be questionable—there were lots who looked to caffeine, chocolate, sugary snacks, and energy drinks to get a study-time boost.

So what should you be eating to keep your gray matter in tip-top shape? Here are a few healthy ideas nutritional experts suggest—foods that support brain health in addition to their more widely known benefits to the rest of our bodies.

  • 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, as well as for the heart and joints. And omega 3's 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, soya bean oil, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Walnuts also have lots of heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory nutrients and help promote blood flow, delivering more oxygen to the brain. 
  • Berries and other fruits, even juices. Eating lots of blueberries, strawberries, and other berries appears to be linked to slower mental decline, according to a recent study. Antioxidant-rich fruits like blueberries appear to keep free radicals under control and stave off age-related mental conditions. Vitamin C—packed in many fruits and berries—is believed to help increase mental agility. And sugar can enhance your alertness and ability to focus—it's your body and brain's best source of energy, and 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 coffee or cereal.
  • Coffee and chocolate. OK, so we mentioned caffeine as one of the maybe-not-so-healthy options named by many students, and of course too much coffee can make you jittery and impact your blood pressure, while making chocolate bars your go-to study snack certainly isn't good for you, either. But in moderation, caffeine can energize you and help you focus. And low-sugar dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, especially flavonoids for improved blood flow.
  • Whole grains. Another important component to overall wellness, whole grains aren't just for heart and digestive health. 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. 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 critical meal in determining what kind of day your brain will have.
  • 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. Throw in other brain-boosting produce like beets and avocado and you've got a tasty salad designed to make you a smarty!

So what do you think? Sounds doable—and delicious—right? What are you going to add to your diet after reading this list? Are there any other foods you look to for brainpower and energy? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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