Did you know that to create a smarter brain, you have to nourish and take care of it, just like you do your body?
So if you want to give your brain an edge to power up your grades, you need to eat the right sort of foods.
Before we get into these right sorts of food, let’s take a look at the stuff you shouldn’t be having too much of, first.
First: 5 Foods that WON’T Let You Eat Your Way to Better Grades
You might be used to chugging some soda and energy drinks when you feel like you need a pick-me-up or a quick boost of energy.
But I can’t stress enough how bad these things are for you, your brain and your blood sugar.
Sugary drinks and candies have no nutritional value, and excessive intake not only increases the chances of you putting on unhealthy weight and the risk of diabetes, but it also slows down your brain’s performance.
You might depend on an energy drink or sports drink for a sugar rush to get you energized.
But these are frequently followed by a crash, where you feel sluggish and become unproductive.
Apart from the short-term boost, manufactured sugary drinks contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which among other health risks like fatty liver, heart disease, and diabetes, can lead to dementia.
Many sports and energy drinks have a whopping 9-12 teaspoons of sugar, so you might as well just skip the drink and a full quarter cup of sugar instead.
2. Fast Food
As delicious and convenient as fast food can be, they should be a once-in-a-while treat and not something you’re regularly consuming.
Fast food is heavy with bad fats and sodium, which will slow your brain function down.
So if you’re studying, and find you can’t get back into the flow of what you were doing after a fast-food lunch, now you know why.
The long-term effects of consuming so much saturated fat and salts are also bleak.
It can lead to an overall decline in memory and learning functions as well as increase the risk of conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Switch out the saturated fats for good fats, like those found in some fatty fish (which we’ll discuss a bit later).
3. Packaged Foods
Processed and packaged foods are full of bad fats, sugars and salts, and yummy though they might be, they’re empty calories that do more harm than good.
Refined carbs like anything made of white flour, artificial trans fats as you’d find in frosting, packaged cookies and cakes, all have negative side-effects for your body and brain.
Among these effects is the decline in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
This molecule is involved in the formation of new neurons, and the creation and consolidation of long-term memory.
Trans fats are also associated with brain cell degeneration, a reduction in brain volume, and deterioration of cognitive functioning.
Reduce your consumption of snacky foods and swap them out for natural greens and fruits, and trans fat alternatives like olive oil, to eat your way to better grades!
4. Fried Foods
Deep-fried foods are addictive, but their effects on the brain mean you should save them for rare and special occasions.
Typically, fried foods not only contain the harmful calories and fats we have already discussed, but are also associated with brain inflammation, decline in memory and cognitive functioning.
They’re also bad for your overall health, so give the fried foods a pass whenever you can.
There might be health benefits to drinking a little red wine with a meal (if you’re of legal drinking age!).
But too much alcohol can also be a major cause of dementia, among other health risks.
Too much alcohol consumption, even by people who aren’t to the point of being alcoholics, can disrupt the brain’s functioning and lead to poor emotional and cognitive processing.
Drinking too much alcohol is also linked to a reduction in brain volume.
It can also contribute to poor sleep, which further damages your learning and memory capacities.
A critical part of long-term memory formation, consolidation, happens while we sleep.
A glass once in a while is fine, but watch how much you’re consuming.
In general, the rule of thumb is to avoid anything that’s processed, made up of artificial ingredients, and is dripping in fats, salts, and sugar.
Ok – so what should you be eating instead?
Let’s take a look at the foods known to improve your brain’s functioning, that you can eat your way to better grades with.
10 Foods to Eat Your Way to Better Grades!
Why do we sometimes feel as though without our morning cup of coffee, we just can’t start the day right?
Caffeine affects our adenosine receptors – adenosine is the neurotransmitter that makes us feel sleepy.
Because caffeine and adenosine are similar molecularly, caffeine intercepts adenosine from making you feel sleepy.
Not only does it combat drowsiness, but caffeine also gets the central nervous system producing other neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
This gives you a boost in mood and alertness and may improve your short-term memory.
So while coffee is one way to feel more alert, take a look at the green tea below, because it has an added bonus for your body and brain.
Also, always try to reduce the amount of pesticides going into your tissues -including your brain- and get organic if you can. And of course, if you’re the parent of a younger child, coffee may not be on their list of approved foods :)
2. Green Tea
Another fantastic naturally occurring nootropic you find in green and black teas is l-theanine, although green tea has much more of it than black tea.
This amino acid makes you feel more relaxed, plus you don’t get the same jitters as from black coffee.
L-theanine has many, many benefits for the brain and body.
For instance, it stimulates the production of the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, and serotonin.
These neurotransmitters help boost your concentration, along with regulating things like mood, sleep, and energy.
It also helps inhibit the production of stress- or anxiety-causing chemicals (which are bad for the brain’s plasticity and learning ability).
L-theanine is available as an over the counter supplement, and some doctors even recommend it for anxiety, depression, and even conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Of course, before purchasing and using l-theanine supplements, or any supplements for that matter, you should consult with your doctor.
In the meantime, a cup of green tea in the mornings does wonders for your brain and body!
If you’re looking for something to sip on as you learn, try green teas and you can add agave or a bit of honey if you like – but just a bit.
Green teas are natural nootropics which can help boost your brain’s learning powers.
They actually relaxes you at the same time and won’t leave you jittery. It puts your brain waves in a better state for learning.
I especially love the organic, ceremonial grade matcha tea and drink it every morning. People normally think that matcha tea has a bitter taste, but that’s because they are drinking culinary grade match that you cook with. Ceremonial grade has a nice smooth taste.
But – make sure you look at the ceremonial grade organic matcha green tea powder.
Why? Did you know that most tea bags contain microplastics? Yuck!
After testing popular tea brands available at local supermarkets, researchers found that a single teabag can release 11.5 billion microplastic particles into water.
This is estimated to be much more than microplastic particles in bottled water.
Although the effects of this on your brain and body haven’t been concretely determined, do you want to be drinking plastic?
Most certainly not great for your brain or your body.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Unsaturated fats – the good kind are a much better alternative to the saturated and trans fats we mentioned before – are critical for healthy brain function.
The Omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) occur plentifully in fatty fish and fish oils.
60% of the brain consists of fat, and much of our brain gray matter happens to contain these Omega-3 fatty acids.
DHA and EPA occur naturally in cell membranes, including brain cells.
Fish oils derived from deep-water fish like salmon and trout are one of the most direct and abundant sources of these fatty acids.
Several studies have found that consumption of DHA and EPA correlates to improved cognitive functioning and prevention or slowing down of degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s.
So, to maintain the health of your brain and help promote neurogenesis and neuroplasticity (the ability to make new neurons and make more connections between them), optimum amounts of these fatty acids are essential.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with improving memory and hundreds of other functions in your body.
By providing your brain with EPA- and DHA-rich diets, you’re giving your brain the materials it needs for long-term learning and recall.
Research finds that Omega-3 fatty acids can help combat depression symptoms too.
Depression can cause negative neuroplasticity by forming negative neural pathways and preventing the growth of positive ones.
So, enough fish oils in your diet can be good for your mental health and positive for your neuroplasticity, too, among many other health benefits.
Sometimes it is difficult to eat enough fish to get what you need in these “good fats.”
So, talk with your functional medicine doctor or health care provider and ask about omega 3 supplements.
Fish Oil Alternatives
Some people don’t or can’t consume as much fish oils as they need for a healthy brain directly from the source, so Omega-3 supplements are an option.
Make sure you consult your doctor first before taking any Omega-3 supplements.
These are natural blood thinners, and if you are on certain medications or planning surgery, your doctor will advise you whether you can take them.
The body is also able to create DHA and EPA from another Omega-3 fatty acid called Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Include flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and other foods that contain ALA.
However, note that the body isn’t able to create as much DHA and EPA the brain needs from just this source.
Flavonoids are naturally-occurring, highly effective antioxidants, derived from plant matter.
Berries, like blueberries, are an excellent source of flavonoids. Think of them like brain berries.
Numerous studies find that berries have wonderful anti-inflammatory benefits.
And the antioxidants they are full of help your neurons communicate faster and more effectively.
This means better memory and plasticity, contributing to improved learning and recall.
Studies of the effects of berries, in particular blueberries, also find that they are associated with delaying degenerative brain conditions and cognitive decline.
Another great source of flavonoids is dark chocolate.
Research finds that the flavonoids found in cacao can improve the growth of neurons and blood vessels in the brain.
This contributes to better functioning of the parts responsible for learning and memory.
Including berries and other flavonoids in your diet can thus help you eat your way to better grades!
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is another excellent source of free radical combatting antioxidants.
These help protect cell membranes and prevent deterioration of their functions.
Unsurprisingly, scientists find that consuming foods rich in vitamin E correlates to better memory, cognitive functioning, and a delay in degenerative brain conditions with age.
Nuts and seeds, which can also contain some essential Omega-3 fatty acids your body can convert to DHA and EPA, are also rich in vitamin E.
Whole grains like brown rice and barley are also a brilliant source of vitamin E –
And a great alternative to refined carbs like white flour we mentioned earlier.
6. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens like broccoli and spinach are full of nutrients that have numerous benefits for the brain and body.
Among these nutrients is vitamin K, which plays a big part in the formation of sphingolipids, another type of fat found in the brain.
Like DHA and EPA, this type of fat is also necessary for the healthy functioning of the brain.
High levels of vitamin K, according to several studies, also relate to better memory.
7. Lion’s Mane
This mushroom has many health benefits.
But when it comes to the brain, scientists find it plays a significant role in producing compounds that promote neuron growth.
By stimulating the growth of your axons and neurons, it helps enhance brain function!
Along with the production of these compounds, some studies suggest it might prevent, slow down or even reverse degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Some research also suggests lion’s mane can help repair and regenerate damaged brain tissue!
Research also suggests that lion’s mane can help reduce or control symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Feelings of stress and depression can inhibit brain growth and functioning.
They can even result in negative neuroplasticity, so the reduction of these symptoms is excellent for brain and overall mental health!
Lion’s mane also has several other nutritional benefits like its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to generate greater nerve growth.
8. Panax Ginseng
Ginseng as many incredible health benefits for both the brain and the body.
It has been the subject of hundreds of scientific studies and used in herbal treatments for thousands of years.
And for good reason, too.
Ginseng contains compounds called ginsenosides.
The many varieties of ginsenosides have incredible health properties.
They are excellent anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, neuroprotectors, and more.
They great for boosting your mood and reducing stress and anxiety.
And they also stimulate the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine plays an integral role in boosting memory and learning.
Studies show how ginseng has even helped improve memory for Alzheimer’s and stroke patients by improving the brain’s plasticity!
Another naturally occurring nootropic is creatine, an amino acid that plays a massive role in maintaining the health and growth of your muscles.
It also has terrific brain benefits too!
Creatine increases the level of phosphocreatine in the brain, which helps prevent or slow down many neurological conditions.
Studies show that creatine supplements can have positive effects in treating conditions like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.
Creatine also gives your neurons a boost of energy, which leads to better cognitive functioning and short-term memory!
10. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba, like ginseng, is another popular medicinal herb and naturally occurring nootropic.
It also boosts your energy and brings more oxygen to your eyes as well so it helps your eyesight.
It’s available as supplements and powder made from the extracts of the ginkgo biloba leaves.
Some studies suggest ginkgo biloba can effectively reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia and boost enhanced memory.
It is also a very effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herb!
And here you go – a comprehensive guide to how you can eat your way to better grades!
Healthy fats can improve your brain growth and other foods help make more connections in your brain and help your neurons communicate with each other better.
With so many natural sources of excellent nutrients, which keep both your brain and your body healthy, you can eat your way to better grades.
Optimize yourself for learning knowing what is – and isn’t! – brain food!
Are you going to be incorporating any of these foods into your diet?
I’d love to hear about it!
Pat Wyman is a learning expert, university instructor, best-selling author and the CEO of HowtoLearn.com. She invites you to take the free Learning Styles Quiz on the home page.
Her courses, Total Recall Learning™ for Students, Total Recall Learning for Professionals™, Total Recall Speed Reading™and Total Recall Memory™ have benefited over half a million learners with higher grades, increased productivity and the ability to know how to read faster, learn and remember anything.
She’s worked with people in such corporations as Microsoft, Raychem and Sandvine and has won several life-time achievement awards for her work. Pat is a mom, golden retriever lover and big time San Francisco Giants fan! Come on by if you’re ever at a Giant’s game and she’ll welcome you with open arms.