The types and amounts of nutrients you consume can contribute significantly to how well your brain performs, something that is particularly important for university students, writes Nina Weiss.
“Food is fuel”- I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before. Most people recognise the importance of food to fuel their physical performance, whether that means completing a gym session or simply walking to and from the train station. But what many people don’t consider is the importance of food for mental performance.
To say that university students are busy would be an understatement. Trying to balance studies, work, sport and a social life often leaves little time to plan and prepare nutritious meals. That’s why knowing where you can buy a healthy snack on campus, or having an easy-to-prepare snack-recipe is so important!
While consuming a balanced diet comprised of well-rounded meals is the best foundation for a healthy body and mind, certain nutrients may assist your cognitive function during periods of intense study. These nutrients include protein, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids which are easy to include in your everyday diet if you know where to find them.
When you think about consuming protein, what comes to mind? Muscle gains? Recovery after a period of exercise? While protein is important for physical activity, it also plays an important role in assisting mental performance. Protein is required by the body to produce hormones and neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that support cognitive function and memory. Additionally, consuming enough protein can help keep your immune system strong which is especially important for university students, because the last thing you want is to fall sick in the middle of exams.(1)
GRAB AND GO: Protella Protein Ball from Ralph’s Cafe
In a rush, but don’t want to succumb to the infamous vending machine snack? Why not head to Ralph’s Café for one of their delicious ready-to-go protein health balls! Packed with wholesome ingredients and lots of protein, they’re sure to keep you going for longer!
MAKE IT AT HOME: Chocolate and Coconut Protein Balls
While buying food at university may save you some time, it may not be saving your bank account. Why not make a batch of these delicious protein balls at home instead?
• 3 scoops of chocolate protein powder
• 150g frozen mixed berries, defrosted
• 2 cups rolled oats
• 1.5 tbsp honey
• 2 tbsp peanut butter
• 2 tbsp cocoa powder
• ½ cup desiccated coconut
1. Blend the defrosted berries to form a puree.
2. Put the blended berries, protein powder, oats, honey, peanut butter and cocoa powder in a bowl and stir to combine.
3. Use your hands to form twelve balls from the mixture.
4. Place the coconut in a small cup. Toss each ball in the cup to coat it. Enjoy!
Antioxidants are chemicals found in a range of different foods that help prevent cellular damage by free radicals. What does this mean? Free radicals are chemicals produced during oxidation, a normal chemical reaction that occurs in the human body. However, if free radical levels get too high in the body (because of stress or other factors) they can cause cellular damage(2). Consuming a range of antioxidants during periods of study may therefore help support your brain health and overall wellbeing. Well-known antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E, which you can find in fruits and vegetables.
GRAB AND GO: Fruit & Veg Juice Or Smoothie from Taste
To bump up your antioxidant intake, head to Taste Café on campus for a delicious fruit and vegetable juice or a scrumptious smoothie! There are a range of juice and smoothie options to pick from, but choosing ingredients such as orange, strawberries, carrot or spinach will give you the most antioxidant-bang for your buck! My personal favourite is the Taste Fire, which contains carrot, orange, beetroot and ginger!
MAKE IT AT HOME: Berries and Dark Chocolate
Not only are berries delicious and packed full of fibre, they are also a rich source of antioxidants. For a sweet and healthy snack, try filling a container with a mix of berries (such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries) before you head to university. To complete your snack, simply add a square or two of antioxidant loaded dark chocolate (that contains 70% cocoa or more) and you’re ready to go!
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat, and an important part of a healthy diet. Consuming omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with a range of health benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease(3) and supporting brain function and development. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential component of neuronal cell membranes which allow effective communication between the different cells in the brain(4). While unfortunately consuming omega-3s won’t magically super-charge your brain power, eating healthy amounts (no need to take supplements) can help support your cognitive function and overall health.
GRAB IT AND GO: Avocado, Poached Eggs And Smoked Salmon On Sourdough from Poolside Cafe
Oily fish like salmon are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. This breakfast option from the Poolside Café is a winning combination, that provides valuable omega-3 fatty acids from smoked salmon, alongside protein, healthy fats, vegetables and slow releasing carbohydrates.
MAKE IT AT HOME: Chia Pudding
Chia seeds are another good source of omega-3 fatty acids, and can be used to make a creamy chia pudding that’s easy to transport to university. To make a single serve chia pudding, simply combine 2 tablespoons of chia seeds with ½ cup of milk of your choice and 1 teaspoon of honey. Mix the ingredients well and store covered overnight in the fridge. The next morning, top your pudding with a handful of berries before packing it into your bag for university.
Nina Weiss is a Student Dietician and SUSF Programs & Participation Customer Service Assistant.