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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Column: Food for 4.0s

What if the magic pill to easier studying was the food that you ate? In most cases, diet will directly impact the key variables to successful learning — namely, mood, energy and brain health.

If these are on your list of resolutions, look to what you eat. When midterms begin, you may find yourself cutting every corner for study time, including eating healthy. Yet, while junk food seems more convenient, it can also make you retain less information. Should you be eating healthier for your grades? Here is why I say yes and what to do for optimum brainpower.

As nature has it, everyday living contributes to the damage and death of your brain cells. Luckily, antioxidants like vitamins E, C and other chemicals found in plants protect those cells you need to think. By and large, adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet will put you at a lower risk for mental diseases and impaired learning. Sources highest in antioxidants include cloves, basil, cinnamon, blue/red berries and fruits, artichokes, dark chocolate, pecans, oats, red wine and green tea.

While a green and colorful diet is important, remembering the fats at the top of the food pyramid is also vital. The brain is 60 percent fat, and you better believe you are what you eat because the type of fat you consume is what goes into it. Two healthy oils, DHA and EPA, are the most important for brain development, function and mood.

These are shown to improve memory recall in the midst of stress and aging, and may even improve attention span. Flexible oils like DHA make this possible by allowing faster communication between brain cells. We also have to get these from our diet, so if you don’t like fish I suggest capsules because DHA and EPA are best found in salmon, anchovies, mackerel, halibut, bass, roe, crabs and lobsters, all of which are very high in protein, too.

While high-protein diets are a current fad, carbohydrates are often forgotten. You don’t need a starchy diet to make your noggin work, but I absolutely do not advise going cold turkey. Our brains run on sugar —  deprive yourself of it and you will likely experience that exact sugar-craving come back with a vengeance, and don’t take it out on the DC. Not only is hunger distracting, but limiting the fuel to your brain can slow thinking, too. Luckily, there are many ways to get sugar and the best are from foods digested slowly for a constant flow of energy. These are typically carbohydrates that come with fiber such as whole grains, squash, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Now, even if you know what to eat, how much and when you eat is just as valuable. Let’s start with your morning routine. While breakfast may not improve memory directly, it can enhance mood and energy. Our brains also prefer the aforementioned constant flow of sugar without the highs and lows, which is why I recommend carrying snacks to campus. Eat too little and you won’t think as clearly, but eat too much and more blood will go to your belly, producing the same result.

As long as you eat throughout the day, modest dieting can actually boost your memory because the mild stress makes your brain more alert. So why not lose a little weight in the midst of studying? Of course, on a quarter system, this is likely a never-ending voyage. I say, you should eat up until you’re 80 percent full and/or have a small snack every three to four hours.

So to those of you who choose to eat for a competitive edge in school, I hope you are not in my class. Still, I encourage eating for your brain because not only is it good for you, but also that diploma. After all, getting a college degree can make you absolutely sure of two things: you have a college degree, and you have no money.

We don’t have to sacrifice our health for our wallets, though, so next week I will show you how to eat healthy on a budget.

THERESA RICHARDSON is bringing you the latest research to keep your college waistline and health in check. For questions or comments contact her at terichardson@ucdavis.edu.

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