Eat your way to a healthier and smarter brain: 10 snacks that will boost your brainpower

What you eat when you study matters. It matters a whole lot.

If you want to have a mental edge and boost your brainpower, here’s a tip: eat healthy snacks before and/or during your study sessions.

The thing about food is it profoundly affects your brain. And the thing about your brain is that it’s a nutrient sensitive organ.

Feed your brain junk food? It will suffer.
Feed your brain plant-based wholefoods? It will thrive.

By simply increasing the amount of healthy plant foods you eat, you can experience dramatic improvements in:

• Your mood (less depressed)
• Your ability to focus
• Your mental sharpness
• Your creativity
• Your memory
• Your intelligence
• Your willpower

Here are a few basic things you need to understand about your brain’s relationship with food:

• Your brain is 2% of your total body mass but it consumes 25% of your daily calorie intake (this tells you it’s working hard!).

• Your brain is loaded with cells that link to each other via synapses. This allows you to think, speak, move and manage your day to day life.

• Your brain cells need a steady stream of oxygen and nutrients to survive and work properly.

• Certain food components are toxic to the brain (e.g. artificial colours, artificial flavours, preservatives, pesticides and antifoaming agents).

• The more fast food you eat the more toxins you’ll have in your body.

• A high toxic load in the body can lead to chronic inflammation and the development of serious diseases (e.g. diabetes, heart disease and cancer), depression and subtle brain damage.

• Memory problems can be a sign that your brain cells are not working properly due to not getting the nutrients they need.

As Dr Joel Fuhrman states:

“A healthy and happy brain requires a steady stream of vitamins, minerals and phytochemical plant compounds – ingredients that are missing from modern commercial foods.”

It’s time to stock your fridge and pantry with healthy snacks. Here are some of my favourites:

1. Chopped vegetable sticks and hummus

Raw vegetables are essential for excellent brain health. Vegetables, such as carrots, celery, capsicum and cucumber, are loaded with vitamins and minerals.

Chop these up and store them in a big clear container. Do this in your downtime when you need a break from your books. It will take less than 30 minutes to chop a big pile of vegetables and you’ll have veggies that last for several days.

You can easily whip up a hummus dip with some chickpeas but if your short on time, pick up a 1 kg tub from the shops. Chickpeas are one of the most nutrient dense carbohydrate sources. They are also high in protein and have a low glycemic index.

2. Raw date desserts

You’ve probably seen these desserts for sale in hipster cafes. They usually cost a bomb and have been sitting there for days. The good news is you can easily make a big batch of fresh raw balls at home and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

I love medjool dates and purchase them by the 5kg box! Dates come loaded with fiber and phytonutrients.

But dates are also high in sugar. Is this a problem?

Apparently not!

According to science our bodies process the sugar in dates differently. Dr Joel Furnham says:

“When scientists used dates instead of sugar in feeding experiments, they found that the blood sugar did not go up, and any increase in oxidative stress was not measurable. Figs, dates and unsulfured dried apricots do not seem to cause a problem with health, weight and blood pressure. This is mostly because the sugar is bound to a huge amount of fiber; and combined with all their minerals, trace elements and phytonutrients.”

Every week I’ll make a big batch of a simple raw dessert with nuts, cacao and dates. You’ll find lots of different recipes online. Check out this raw dessert Pinterest page for a wealth of ideas.

3. Berries

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries: what makes these berries superfoods?

They are packed full of phytochemicals, antioxidants and flavonoids. They are also super high in nutrients and low in sugar.

Pre-wash your fresh berries and store in the fridge so when hunger strikes you can just grab and go!

Fresh berries are out of your budget? Buy frozen berries. They can be just as good as fresh berries, retaining most of the nutritional properties at a fraction of the cost.

4. Smoothies

If you don’t have time to chew, the smoothie is the perfect way to get an energy boost. It’s also a great way to consume a number of brain boosting foods in one go (e.g. flaxseed, cacao, spinach, almonds, dates and berries). I love making chocolate blueberry banana smoothies. Here’s my recipe:

1 tablespoon of flaxseed
2 tablespoons of cacao powder
A handful of almonds
2-3 medjool dates (take the pits out)
2 cups of water or plant-based milk (almond or soy)
A cup of greens (usually kale or spinach)
1 cup of blueberries
1 banana

5. Nuts and seeds

Tend to get sleepy when you study? Grab a handful of nuts and seeds. They are high in protein, which helps you stay alert when you study.

Aim to eat these everyday. Any of the following are good for you:

• Walnuts
• Almonds
• Macadamias
• Cashews
• Sunflower seeds
• Flaxseeds
• Chia seeds

Worried about the calorie and fat content of nuts? There’s no need to worry!

Dr Joel Fuhrman states:

“All the fat calories consumed [in nuts] are bound to plant fibers and not fully absorbed.”

In fact, a significant percentage of the calories in nuts are removed from your body when you do a poo. How amazing is that!

6. Kale chips

Love crispy, salty stuff? Then you’ll love kale chips.

Kale is a cruciferous vegetable that is super nutrient dense and good for you.

I’ve been perfecting the art of the kale chip for the last 2 years. Check out how I make my kale chips here.

7. Dark chocolate

The key word here is dark (80% cacao content or more). Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids so it has a similar affect on the brain as berries. If you can stomach it, go 99% dark chocolate. And you don’t need to have much. A small square will do the job.

8. Bowl of weet-bix with fresh fruit

When I’m feeling lazy, I throw 2 weet-bix, some berries and a chopped banana into a bowl and add some almond milk. This is as easy as it gets! Plus it’s low in sugar. Just don’t go adding honey or spoonfuls of sugar to your weet-bix!

9. Banana nice-cream

Forget buying tubs of super sugary ice-cream that is loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol. You can easily make your own healthy banana ‘nice-cream’. All you need are some frozen ripe bananas and a blender. If you want a sweeter chocolate version, just add cacao powder and a couple of dates!

10. Fruit

Yes, fruit contains sugar. So what makes it different to lollies, cakes and biscuits? It’s the fact the sugar in fruit comes bound to fiber. This means you don’t get a surge of sugar in your bloodstream.

All that being said, while all fruits are healthy, some fruits are better for your brain than others. Aim to eat fruits with a low glycemic index, such as peaches, nectarines, apples, apricots and plums.

To sum up

If the above snack foods are new to you, start by introducing just one or two of them into your diet. Notice the effect they have on your brain and your ability to think clearly. Start to pay attention to your mood and energy levels, too.

A word of warning: If you’re used to eating processed fast foods, you may have nuked your taste buds! Consequently, the above snacks may not taste that great to start with. But persevere! With time, you will retrain your palate to prefer the subtle flavours of healthy foods. And ultimately, your brain and body will thank you for it!