Did your parents ever give you a big plate of fish for dinner, telling you it was “brain food”? Maybe you wondered how it made any sense that salmon could make you smarter, but as it turns out, there’s a little bit of truth to it. Nutritionists and physicians have studied so-called superfoods for decades, decoding the science behind their supposed effects on the human body, and there have been tons of foods with observed positive impacts on the brain:
- Fish, of course, but more specifically fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, trout and sardines.
- Turmeric, a powerful antioxidant that’s a staple in curries.
- Blueberries, blackberries, and other dark berries are full of antioxidants and can combat inflammation across the whole body.
- Broccoli, which supplies the Vitamin K that’s a building block of the fat in brain cells.
- Nuts of every kind have nutrients that are linked to slower mental decline and sharper memory.
- Green tea, which promotes relaxation and focus through a big dose of amino acids.
Students reading this might already be planning their all-brain food diet to get ready for the SAT, but slow down—it won’t be as simple as downing a blueberry-broccoli-matcha smoothie on test day. It’s important to note that most of the possible benefits of brain food are long-term, like preventing Alzheimer’s disease. They’re also subtle, like slightly better memory after years of eating nuts for a snack. These foods aren’t magic potions; they’re just good for you, and your brain is an organ that needs healthy food as much as the rest of you. By all means, include them in your diet! But if you’re expecting them to turn you into a super-genius overnight, you’re going to be disappointed.
That doesn’t mean what you eat on test day doesn’t matter, though! You can get a more short-term boost from healthy food and drink that will keep you going as you tackle the test:
- A good breakfast with plenty of protein, like meat, eggs or peanut butter, is great fuel for the brain.
- If you drink coffee, don’t overdo it! A little can wake you up and help you focus, but too much will give you the shakes. Green tea can calm those jitters without making you sleepy.
- Nuts or granola are perfect snacks for the designated breaks. The protein will keep your belly full, and you won’t have a carb or sugar crash an hour after eating.
- Plain old water will never let you down. Staying hydrated is essential test prep.
- Something sweet–perhaps a bite of chocolate–can provide the brief burst of sugar needed to keep your will to excel strong.
There’s no “hack” for maximum brainpower, but doing what you can to be comfortable and confident for the test is the next best thing. And of course, eating well is a great way to stay healthy and feel your best, and that will only help as you take on another school year.