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Boosting brainpower through nutrition

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@rsseattle/flickr

@rsseattle/flickr

 

The semester has begun, but you are trying to convince yourself it’s still summertime. It’s easy to feel lazy and unmotivated at the beginning of the semester, as you daydream about relaxing on Cape Cod, eating ice cream and swimming in the ocean. But it’s time to get to work. Whether you are a freshman trying to adjust to college life or a senior trying to savor every moment you have left, we all need to get prepared for the busy semester ahead.

One of the most important things that we need in order to be successful throughout the semester is our brain. Many people think that health only refers to our physical health, but a huge part of being healthy is about taking care of our brain and, subsequently, our mental health. Many college students spend hours exercising at the gym and take Emergen-C the minute they feel like they are getting a cold, but tend to avoid taking the time to reflect on how they feel and oftentimes let the stress of life eat away at them.

During a time full of growth and development, learning to take care of your mental health is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. There are many ways to protect your brain and mental health, including exercise, meditation, adequate sleep, positive thinking, connecting with friends and family and healthy eating.

Nutrition is important to help boost your brainpower because, as the saying goes, you are what you eat. Here are some super foods that play a huge role in creating a healthy environment for your brain.

Whole grains: Whole grains play an important role in our cardiovascular health, helping to keep our hearts beating and our arteries open for proper blood flow. Proper blood flow is important because the brain needs a constant supply of blood to stay healthy and work properly.

Whole grains also help our brain function by providing a steady energy source of glucose, which is the brain’s main source of fuel. When glucose is provided by simple, refined sugars such as white or processed grains, desserts, and packaged foods, the body will have a sudden spike in energy that will leave you feeling tired and heavy for the rest of the day. But, when whole grains provide glucose, the glucose is released into your blood slower, providing you with long-lasting energy.

So try to increase your consumption of whole grains by replacing white pasta with whole-wheat pasta and by choosing whole fruits instead of sugary,processed snacks.

Blueberries: Blueberries contain important compounds called flavonoids, which have been shown to possibly improve memory and reduce cognitive decline. Blueberries, fresh or frozen, can be put into a green smoothie, added to your morning oatmeal or just eaten by themselves as a delicious snack.

Avocados, nuts, and seeds: All of these foods contain an important antioxidant called vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin that has been shown to possibly reduce cognitive decline and help protect the brain from toxins.

Many Americans don’t eat enough dietary vitamin E, but this can easily be addressed. Nut butters, like peanut butter, can be spread on whole grain toast, rice cakes or on an apple or banana for a delicious breakfast or snack. You can also add a handful of nuts, like walnuts or almonds, or a handful of seeds, such as hemp seeds or sunflower seeds, to a salad for lunch or dinner. Walnuts are an excellent choice because they are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is an essential fat for brain health.

Dark leafy greens: Green leafy vegetables are some of the healthiest foods you can eat, not only because they are packed with fiber but they are also some of the best sources of the B vitamins. B vitamins are essential for mental health because they help to create essential brain chemicals, such as dopamine, epinephrine and serotonin. B vitamins, especially folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 have been shown to possibly reduce brain shrinkage, which plays an important role in Alzheimer’s disease.

Dark leafy greens are versatile and can be incorporated into any meal of the day. Try putting spinach or kale into your morning smoothie, or stop at Earthfoods Café, located in the Student Union, for a delicious lunch packed with rice, beans and kale. Kale chips have also become a popular option because they are delicious, nutritious and easy to make on your own.

Next time you are feeling mentally tired or like you can’t think clearly, remember that nutrition plays an important role in powering your brain and protecting your mental health.

Haley Harzynski can be reached at [email protected].

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