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March 31, 2016
By A. Weinberg, Contributing Columnist
We’ve all been there: the impending final exams and you frantically
trying to cram as much information into the corners of your brain as
you can. Some people will tell you to just try and get as much sleep as
possible to keep alert, while others will suggest that you try
performance enhancement ‘study drugs’ – a significant third of US
college students have tried them according to the Center on Young
Adult Health and Development.
But what could really help you ace those exams could be right in front
of you, on your dinner plate. Numerous scientific studies have tested
the benefits of certain foods on memory, cognitive ability and energy
flow – all of which could help you perform your best during exam
A consistent healthy diet incorporating certain key ingredients can help
you build that brain, keep focus and work efficiently in a natural way.
Here is our list of the Top 7 of the scientifically-proven foods that help
you ace an exam.
1. Fry Up Some Fish to Ace That Exam!
Some of the most widely known ‘brain foods’ are those that contain
omega 3 fatty acids, which have been proven to improve memory.
Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna, have high levels of
omega 3 fatty acids; the American Heart Association recommends
eating two 3.5 ounce servings of oily fish per week. The Association
also states that increasing omega 3 intake is preferable through food
than through supplements – a perfect excuse to take a revision break
by getting creative in the kitchen!
A study published this year from Cincinnati, Ohio by a team led by Dr
Krikorian demonstrated the effect of Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish
oil on memory functions, and had positive results. A group of older
adults between the ages of 62 and 80 who suffered from memory
impairment but did not meet the criteria for dementia, were given either
fish oil or corn oil for 24 weeks.
By the end of the trial, the fish oil had increased red blood cell omega 3
content and working memory performance significantly.
2. Snack on Some Walnuts to Keep a Sharp Mind
Similar to oily fish, many kinds of nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids,
making them a great afternoon snack during exam season.
Walnuts are a particularly good source of omega-3 and a study at the
University of Karachi, Pakistan, by Haider et al, tested the effects of
walnuts on memory and learning in male rats.
Walnuts were fed to the rats over a period of 28 days and memory
function was assessed.
The results showed that there was a significant improvement in the
rats’ learning and memory, confirming that the omega-3 in walnuts is
beneficial in improving cognitive ability.
3. Chomp on Some Chocolate to Boost Your Brainpower
You may think it seems too good to be true, but studies have suggested
that chocolate, which is rich in flavonols, can help to prevent cognitive
and memory decline and keep you sharp.
Dr. Brickman et al, a New York team, found in 2014 that a diet rich in
cocoa flavonols can have positive effects on the region of the brain that
is related to memory decline.
In a controlled, randomized trial, the team studied a group of 50
healthy 69 year olds who were put on a high or low cocoa flavonol diet
for 3 months. Through cognitive testing, they found that the flavonol
rich diet enhanced memory performance and brain function. Of course,
chocolate should be consumed in moderation, but these findings
suggest that it can have some seriously good benefits for the brain.
4. Buy Some Blueberries to Improve Memory
Blueberries are also packed full of flavonols, and for the same reasons
as chocolate, can have a significant effect on memory performance and
A 2015 study at the University of Reading in the UK led by Dr. Whyte
produced interesting results after testing the effects of a blueberry
drink on 14 children between the ages of 8 and 10. The children were
given either a flavonoid rich blueberry drink or a similar drink without
The children were then assessed with a variety of cognitive tests, and
the results showed that the children who had drunk the blueberry drink
were able to recall a previously learned list of words better than the
others. It was noted that there was no benefit for measures or
attention, however, the team concluded that children can memorise
things more effectively after flavonoid consumption.
So why not opt for a blueberry muffin next time you go for that study
5. Eat Your Greens To Do Well on Exams
It’s something we were all told as children: you must eat your greens,
they’re good for you. Well, your mother was right!
Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale are rich in vitamin B12
which can improve brain function and memory.
A German study published this year by Dr Kobe et al tested the effect of
vitamin B12 on cognitive impairment. 100 women were assessed, all
with low and high-normal concentrations of vitamin B12, for memory
functions with an auditory verbal learning test and MRIs were
The scientists examined the link between vitamin B12 levels and
memory performance and found that the patients with low vitamin B12
showed significantly poorer learning ability. The trial suggested that
supplementing your diet with vitamin B12 could improve cognitive
6. Start Your Day with Whole Grain Cereal
I know those sugary frosted flakes may be tempting, but to set you up
well for the day and form part of a healthy diet for the brain, consider
switching to a whole grain cereal.
According to the British Diabetic Association, whole grains are low in
fat but full of fibre and carbohydrates which provide a slow release of
energy, keeping you full and alert for the day, so you can focus
properly on learning those equations.
What’s more, cereals are a good source of zinc, which studies have
shown is good for brain development. A Polish study at the Medical
School of Warsaw in 2012 examined the effects of zinc on brain
development of rat babies. Led by Dr. Agnieszka, the team conducted
behavioural tests on the rats and examined the zinc concentration in
different regions of the brain. Their results concluded that zinc
supplementation may improve cognitive development.
7. Have a Warming Cup of Lentil Soup to Help You Ace that Exam
Usually associated with pregnancy, folic acid, which is found in a wide
variety of different foods, has been proven to benefit the brain.
Beans and especially lentils, are an excellent source of folic acid. A
Chinese study held over a period of 6 months in Tianjin and led by Dr.
Ma in 2015 examined the effects of folic acid on Chinese older adults
with mild cognitive impairment.
In a group of 180 patients aged 65 and older, half were orally treated
with folic acid each day and half were given conventional treatment.
Changes in cognitive function were assessed and the results showed
that there was a beneficial effect from relatively short term folic acid
treatment on cognitive function.
So, it's time to get creative in the kitchen now. There’s no excuse –
refer back to our list of top 7 foods to incorporate some healthy brain
foods into your diet and ace those next set of exams.
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