Nutrition and Brain Function: Can Diet Affect Your Studies?
It may sound trite, but the saying “you are what you eat” can hold some truth to it, especially when it comes to cognitive function, memory creation and retrieval, and emotional processing. Yes, your parents may have hounded you to eat vegetables as a child, and you may have begrudgingly eaten carrots, under the auspice that they would improve your eyesight. However, have you carried some of those golden food rules into your young adulthood or adulthood? How important is nutrition and brain function?
Whether we admit it or not, nutrition and brain function are crucially interlinked. What you eat and when you eat it can drastically impact the way your brain functions. Therefore, it affects how productive and efficient your studying time can be. Oftentimes, superficial motivators like weight loss, appearances, or pressures to succumb to an impossible body ideal to motivate changes in our nutritional habits. What is great about the conversation about nutrition and brain function is that it encourages us all to adopt healthier food habits, while nurturing a positive, rather than a punitive, understanding of the relationship between food and our bodies. When the goal motivating our action is internal health, we can adopt changes that are long-lasting and aimed at reducing, rather than generating, anxiety.
The state of study culture
Across many high schools and colleges in America, there is an undeniable culture of competition. It’s a kind of collective martyrdom that borders on pathological. Who can pull the most all-nighters? Who can go the longest without eating and still manage to ace the exam the next day? Or even who can push themselves to the brink in an effort to display their undying devotion to their studies?
Why are we measuring academic prowess in terms of deprivation? Serious conversations about nutrition and brain function can help change the destructive paradigm of study culture that is currently running rampant across competitive high schools and institutions of higher education. It is imperative that parents, educators, and students begin to champion the importance of nutrition and brain function.
Study smart, not long
Changing the nutritional composition of your diet can help you study smart rather than long. Why put in endlessly long hours, if those hours are going to unfocused? Rather than wasting time, plan out your meals with intention. Doing so can have a notable effect on your ability to grasp new ideas and to retain those ideas. Additionally, it allows you to remain emotionally steady enough to retrieve those ideas. This is especially important when the time comes to do so on an in-class essay or an exam.
Good nutrition will also save you time and preserve your emotional wellness in the long run. If you “study smart” on your tests throughout the semester, you will drastically reduce the review time required for your performance on semester or final examinations. Logic and reasoning based tests like the SAT, are particularly dependent on cognitive function and wellness. They require acuity and improvisation on the exam.
When it comes to nutrition and brain function, you don’t have to radically redesign your life in order to help you study smarter. Good nutrition can be as easy as a few quick changes. The good news is also that your bodily systems are symbiotically connected; having a healthy brain, leads to health throughout the rest of your body.
- Nutrition is all about balance and timing. Try to eat first thing in the morning. This way, you are alert and ready to take on the tasks of your day. Drink a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, and try to limit the caffeine intake later in your day.
- Try to find a balance of fresh foods; prioritize leafy greens, fresh fruits and vegetables, and unsaturated fats like olive oil.
- Good nutrition doesn’t have to come at the expense of good flavor. Many spices, like turmeric and ginger, have been shown reduce inflammation in the brain and elsewhere.
- Don’t be afraid to snack! Keep your metabolism and mind working with healthy snacks like nuts and even dark chocolate. Hunger is the enemy of focus, so don’t let it creep up.
Although nutrition won’t substitute studying, it can enhance and accelerate the way that you study. When you eat well, you can work more efficiently, giving you the time to do other activities that promote wellness like exercise, sleep, or meditation. Happy studying!