It's exam time at university - merry Christmas! - and snacking is a habit most students are likely to indulge in when anxiety is high and time is short. Instead of grabbing for the pop and chocolate bars which can give quick bursts of energy but end with a crash that leaves you feeling tired and irritable, make a smarter choice and go for brainy snacks - foods that are actually proven to boost cognitive function. There are plenty of healthy snacks that are quick and easy to prepare or require no prep at all, so it's really just a matter of tuning in to what you need and committing to working them into your day. You can’t flourish on snacks alone, but brain food may help you focus and retain information, which for students on doctor of nurse practitioner programs at Bradley University, for example, is a great thing.
Here are some brainy break-time goodies to try when you need to be at your best:
Avocado on Wholegrain Toast
This hugely popular snack/breakfast/brunch dish is loved for good reason. Avocado is not only tasty, it's high in healthy, unsaturated fats and is packed with antioxidants including vitamins C and E. Mash up a nice ripe avocado (I prefer the Hass variety when I can find it) with a fork and increase the brain benefits by choosing wholegrain toasted bread to spread it on - its low glycaemic index means it slowly and steadily releases glucose into the bloodstream, and that's important because your brain requires glucose for concentration. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and some freshly ground black pepper, and for extra protein, add an egg however you like it - poached or soft boiled is the healthiest option.
Make your own crunchy trail mix using pistachios, almonds, Brazil nuts, raisins, sultanas, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds - and don't forget to include walnuts. This meaty nut has shown in studies that it can not only boost memory, but also concentration and the speed at which your brain processes information. For extra yumminess you can experiment with different seasonings, such as a pinch of sea salt or cinnamon. Pop it all in a sealable tub and grab a handful when you need an energy boost.
Dark Chocolate and Blueberries
Yes, what you've heard is true. Dark chocolate is good for you. Cocoa has been found to improve verbal fluency and cognitive function and a daily portion of dark chocolate improves blood flow to the brain. (This is how I justify my huge stash of Valrhona sticks in the pantry.) Chop it up and mix your chocolate with a handful of juicy blueberries which are practically magical - in research studies they've been found to not just improve memory but actually reverse memory loss. That really is one super food. For a more substantial snack or for tomorrow's breakfast, add your dark choccy bits and blueberries to slow-cooked oatmeal which also has a low GI and will release that brain-loving glucose to help you focus on your work for hours. Or blend them with almond milk and a banana for a satisfying smoothie treat.
Today's DesignSkool lesson: All of these snacks contain healthful ingredients, but as they are meant for between meals, you do need to control your servings. Nuts and avocados are full of nutrients and those good for you, unsaturated fats, but even good fats can be too much of a good thing when over-consumed, so stick to sensible servings. And if only the more dark chocolate, the better, but as luck would have it that's not the case. Fortunately, you don't need to eat a lot of these foods to get the benefits, a small handful of walnuts and dark chocolate will do the trick. However, for most of us, practising restraint is easier said than done. A snack like trail mix can be too easy to compulsively pick at and if you struggle with being able to resist putting your hand back in, portion sensible servings in advance. If that's not enough to stop you from pilfering the rest in the same day, don't make that kind of snack. Stick to the ones that require utensils to eat, like the avocado on toast with an egg, or porridge. And if you're prone to compulsive snacking at your desk, keep nosh time confined to the kitchen or somewhere other than where you work. Separating the two functions so you're mindful of what you're doing will keep you from gorging without thinking, and also help you concentrate on your work or studies. If you can manage this, you'll feel much better about yourself at the end of the day!