As the cold weather sets in and final exams loom in the future, a lot of us might feel rundown and overtired from the onset of cold weather combined with a heavy workload. Managing stress can be difficult, especially when it is challenging to find time to relax and unwind. Eating a good diet, exercising and getting enough sleep are all important components to maintaining a healthy balance during this part of the semester, but often we have to sacrifice at least one of these things because we just don’t have enough time to get everything done. One way to improve performance during the busiest part of the semester is to make an effort to eat foods that help your brain function! Consuming nutrient-dense foods can be extremely helpful in reducing stress and improving mental focus during crunch time in college. Here are some “superfoods” that have hidden health benefits:
1. Dark chocolate: In excessive amounts, dark chocolate obviously isn’t healthy. However, eating small doses of dark chocolate has been proven to promote blood flow to the brain thanks to antioxidants in cocoa called flavanoids. These compounds can improve concentration and alertness and also satisfy sweet cravings. Offering even more benefits, flavonoids can decrease blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Also, the caffeine content in dark chocolate helps with mental acuity during those late night study sessions.
2. Monounsaturated fats: Monounsaturated fats, or healthy fats, are essential sources of nutrition. These fats lower cholesterol, provide Vitamin E, burn fat and reduce hunger cravings. They also improve vascular health and make blood flow more efficiently. One good source of healthy fats is olive oil. Eating a salad with some olive oil on it will help your body absorb the nutrients from the vegetables, helping you feel energized and satisfied. Other sources of monounsaturated fats are avocados, nuts and seeds. If you are looking for a late-afternoon study snack, try an option containing healthy fat. You will feel fuller and more satisfied until dinner.
3. Salmon: Salmon, and other types of fish, are good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to increase focus and memory and decrease risk of dementia down the road. Other sources of Omega-3s include beans, nuts, broccoli and cauliflower.
4. Coffee: Caffeine in reasonable amounts improves mental clarity. And, because coffee is rich in antioxidants, it can help improve brain health over a long period of time. Just don’t go crazy and drink more than two to three cups a day, or you will likely outdo any potential benefits by sending your system into caffeine overdrive. Green tea is another great option for a healthy caffeine boost. In addition to waking you up, green tea speeds up metabolism and prevents spikes in blood sugar. Avoid sugar-filled energy drinks. At 2 a.m. in Merrill Library, it is probably tempting to crack open that Red Bull in hopes of finishing your paper by the next day. However, high-sugar energy drinks cause blood sugar to spike, leading to crashes later on, perpetuating the cycle. Having some dark chocolate, green tea or a cup of coffee will help give you that extra bit of energy and will keep your sleep schedule somewhat normal.
5. Water: Everyone knows that drinking water is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, yet around 75 percent of the population is chronically dehydrated. Dehydration can shrink brain tissue, impairing memory and causing fatigue and difficulty making decisions.
6. Wheat Germ: Wheat Germ is a source of choline, an essential nutrient to developing acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that improves memory. Choline helps improve nerve to muscle communication. Look for wheat germ by the salad dressings in Val! It can be mixed in with yogurt, cereal, applesauce, smoothies or oatmeal for an extra nutritional boost. Other good sources of choline are found in eggs, potatoes and oatmeal.
7. Beets: Beets get their bright red color from the antioxidant Betalain, a nutrient that helps fight cancer. Beets also contain iron, which help provide the blood with more oxygen, fighting anemia and promoting blood flow.
8. Sweet Potatoes: A Val staple, sweet potatoes are nutrient-packed. Sweet potatoes are a slow-digesting complex carbohydrate that will keep you full and energized between meals. Carbohydrates in general are the key to staying focused and energized. However, the types of carbs you consume matters. Simple carbs, such as white rice, white pasta and baked goods, provide a spike in energy and a crash later on. Complex carbs, such as sweet potatoes, oatmeal, brown rice and whole wheat breads provide sustained energy over a long period of time. Sweet potatoes are also high in Vitamin A, meaning they are good for your heart, while their Vitamin C content boosts the immune system during the early winter months. Finally, sweet potatoes have 150 percent more antioxidants than blueberries. Substitute regular potatoes for sweet potatoes for a nutritional kick-start.