Fuelling your body properly is one of the keys to flourishing at university – both academically and otherwise. The more nutritious your diet is, the better your brain will perform and the happier you will feel in general.
Different foods affect the brain in different ways, so it is no exaggeration to say that your diet has a huge and direct impact on your mood. In other words, eat well to feel well.
There’s absolutely no harm in a McDonald’s pig-out or a Domino’s party every so often – they’re delicious, let’s face it – but don’t let them become daily rituals. The same goes for the food you cook at home: go easy on the oven chips, the chicken dippers, the Chicago Town pizzas, and all the rest of that sort of stuff. You need nutrients from fresh, unprocessed foods! Save the junk-feasting for weekends or, better still, special occasions.
With that in mind, here are some foods to fill your basket when you go food-shopping.
Avocados contain vitamins (specifically B, C, E, and K) and high amounts of monounsaturated fat (i.e. the kind of fat that is actually good for you – not the kind that clogs your arteries). Vitamin K boosts your cognitive function levels, and the monounsaturated fat lowers your ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDLs) while raising your ‘good’ cholesterol (HDLs). Avocado also lowers your blood pressure, which leads to easier blood-flow around your body and to your brain.
And, as you’ll no doubt have seen on Instagram and in foodie cafes, you can do a lot with an avocado:
- Have it sliced alongside poached or scrambled eggs on toast
- Mash it up with thinly diced chili and lime-juice to create a nice bowl of guacamole
- Chop it into chunks and throw these into a leafy salad
You get the gist.
2. Leafy Green Vegetables
On their own, leafy greens are unexciting – we can’t and won’t deny that. But they are highly nourishing: full of antioxidants, high in fibre, low in fat and calories, rich in vitamin C and folic acid, and more. (They’re also very cheap, which is great for your pocket as well as your head!)
Broccoli, spinach, and kale are three leafy greens that you can easily get creative with. Here are some examples of how to use them in a non-boring way:
- Throw extra broccoli into a stir-fry
- Use spinach in an omelette or a salad
- Add fried kale to a pesto-heavy pasta dish
3. Oily/Fatty Fish
Omega-3 fatty acids are renowned for their health benefits, and fish are full of these. EPA and DHA are types of omega-3 that are found in oily fish and in the human brain, so by eating oily fish, you are topping up your body’s supply of EPA and DHA.
Why is this important? Because studies have shown that consuming high levels of EPA and DHA can help to encourage the release of serotonin – the chemical that makes you feel good.
Smoked mackerel and tinned sardines are probably the most budget-friendly types of fatty fish you can get, and they are the most rich in omega-3! But there are plenty of other options if you want to treat yourself to something a bit more luxurious:
- Wild salmon
- Albacore tuna
- Freshwater trout
(If you’re vegetarian or vegan, fret not – we’ve got you covered omega-3-wise in the next section.)
Most types of nuts contain omega-3 acids, but some are packed with them (such as cashews and walnuts). On top of that, all types contain vitamin E, which helps to keep your cognitive function working well, and they contain those healthy fats that keep your blood pressure and your LDL cholesterol level low.
One thing to bear in mind is that nuts are high in calories – some more than others – and they’re certainly moreish, but a couple of handfuls a day is a perfectly reasonable amount to have.
They make a good alternative to crisps, chocolate, and biscuits (much better for your body and your mind!), and you can even incorporate them into your meals – cashews in stir-frys, for example. And when you do fancy a sweet treat, try making a pecan pie – you’ll need to use quite a lot of sugar, but at least you’ll be balancing it out… kinda.
5. Blueberries & Blackcurrants
Antioxidants help to defend your body and your immune system against ‘oxidative damage’, which contributes to things like premature ageing and the degeneration of cells. Scientific research suggests that following a high-antioxidant diet can massively improve the performance and resilience of your body, which, of course, includes your brain.
Anyway, blueberries and blackcurrants are superb sources of antioxidants (and vitamin C), so you should eat lots of them. We suggest mixing them in with Greek yogurt – which probably seems like a healthy-eating cliche, but is a mighty tasty one.
More Student Advice & Tips
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(Photos courtesy of Unsplash.)