Brain Food for University Students – Best Diet for Acing Exams

brain food for university students

Discover the healthiest brain food for university students right here.

If you’re looking to pass an important test, you’ll need to be well-rested, focused, and alert, with an inner sense of calm and confidence.

A typical student diet includes energy drinks, pizzas, and chips which are all foods that can hinder your mental performance – leaving you unfocused, ‘foggy,’ and exhausted.

In this post, you’ll learn about the best eating tips for studying, along with the top 10 brain food for university students. So you can pass the exam with flying colors!

What Should a Student Eat During Exams?

Think of a typical student diet. Pizzas, chips, and Red bulls with an occasional apple here and there. All combined with liters of booze on the weekends. Yet most students want their brain to work at its peak. These expectations are a bit unrealistic!

If you’re serious about doing well at university, then you should be serious about fueling your brain with top foods on a regular basis – not just the day before an exam.

Out of the countless diets that are pushed these days, many experts agree that the Mediterranean diet is considered as the healthiest of them all. As a nutritionist I’m inclined to agree. People who eat this way experience improved health and longevity, and stay sharp in the long-run. (1)

What foods does the Mediterranean diet include? The most common ones are olive oil, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, oily fish, very little meat, all topped off with some red wine (in strict moderation).

Many cuisines – including Greek, Italian, Asian, and Middle Eastern – have plenty of foods that belong to a Mediterranean-based meal plan.

Here’s a graphic of how the Mediterranean diet looks.

Image courtesy of:

How Some Foods Can Boost Your Mental Performance

The following foods all have a deserved reputation as brain foods. Why? Because they are proven to help you focus, remember, learn, and stay motivated. At first glance, it might sound overstated that some foods are better for the brain than the others, until you realize that they contain certain nutrients that help:

  • Repair brain cells
  • Increase cerebral blood flow
  • Provide the building blocks of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters)
  • Protect brain cells from oxidative stress
  • Stimulate the birth of new neurons
  • Support structural integrity of cell membranes

Related: Prebiotics for Brain Health? How Prebiotics Affect Your Mental Performance

10 Best Brain Food for University Students

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the basics, let’s dive into the specific foods to add into your menu:

1. Fatty Fish, Nuts, and Seeds

The first on our list of brain food for university students are omega-3 rich foods. Your brain needs the omega-3s that are found in certain fish – especially sardines, mackerel, salmon and trout. If you’re omega-3 deficient, over time your cognitive function can start to decline, with your memory and focus taking the biggest hit. You may start to feel mentally fatigued and ‘out of it,’ which can be a real problem when you’re trying to pass the semester. Don’t like fish? Vegan brain foods that are rich in omega-3s include flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts that have anti-inflammatory compounds that boost oxygen and blood flow to your brain.

2. Avocados

Avocados are a unique fruit. They’re packed with monosaturated fats, the same ones found in the Mediterranean diet. Avocados help to boost blood flow to your brain. And they’re an excellent source of vitamins C, E, K and B complex, all of which your brain needs. Avocados are also high in tyrosine, a small molecule that’s a building block of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that keeps you focused and motivated. (2)

3. Berries

Eating lots of blueberries and other similar fruits is suggested to help combat the mental decline. (3) Antioxidant-rich fruits like blueberries help to keep free radicals at bay and stave off memory loss. These healthy fruits are also loaded with vitamin C that increases your mental agility, which is crucial for juggling university responsibilities with family, friends, and hobbies. Healthy sugar from fruits provides your body with a great source of energy, boosting your alertness and ability to focus. However, don’t mix this up with refined sugar from candy or cereal, which will only spike your blood sugar levels and lead to brain fog afterwards!

Related at Valentino’s Naturals-

Which Dry Fruit is Good for the Brain?

4. Eggs

When it comes to brain foods, eggs contain choline, possibly the most nurturing brain compound there is. Choline is related to B-complex nutrients and helps your brain make acetylcholine. Which is a neurotransmitter that governs your memory, focus, and other cognitive functions. (4) Without acetlycholine your brain cells would lose integrity and break down. What about the cholesterol in eggs? It’s nothing to worry about, because your brain needs cholesterol – in fact, 25% of your body’s total cholesterol is found in your brain. (5, 6)

5. Dark Chocolate

You might be wondering: “wait – chocolate? Isn’t that candy?!” While you shouldn’t make chocolate your go-to study food, it can help your brain when eaten in moderation. (7) Dark chocolate, one that has 80 percent or more cocoa, is incredibly rich in flavonoids, a group of antioxidants that boost blood flow to your brain. Not only that, but dark chocolate also has caffeine which keeps you alert and focused. Typical milk chocolate won’t do – it’s nutritionally poor with loads of sugar and next to no antioxidants.

6. Olive Oil

Olive oil is a staple ingredient of the Mediterranean diet. Most people have heard of olive oil being heart-healthy thanks to its monosaturated fats – but these are just as good for your brain. Consuming more monosaturated fats is linked to improved memory and other mental functions. (8) These fatty acids increase the production of acetylcholine in your brain, which, as we’ve seen, is critical for our memory and focus. Olive oil also has vitamins E and K which are important for any student who wants to perform at his best mentally. With olive oil, quality is very important since it can be of poor quality and rancid. In some cases it’s not even olive oil! Choosing extra virgin olive oil is a bit more expensive but worth it!

7. Turmeric

Turmeric is one of the best Indian spices for memory. It’s been used for thousands of years to enhance brain function. The two main components in turmeric – curcumin and turmerone – are shown to boost neuron growth in the brain as well as repair existing brain cells. Turmeric in curcumin is also a potent mood enhancer, and helps to lift stress from studying. As little as half a teaspoon per day is all you need. (9, 10)

8. Sea Vegetables

In addition to being rich in iodine, sea vegetables are also one of the best sources of l-tyrosine. Both of these nutrients are critical to brain function. For example, one of many functions of l-tyrosine is to help your brain make more dopamine, which is important for focus and attention during tests. Iodine, on the other hand, keeps you smart. When it was first added to table salt in the USA during the 1920s, a sudden rise in the average IQ of the population was noted. (11)

9. Broccoli and Tomatoes

Tomatoes and broccoli – this duo is often included in lists of superfoods for your general health, and each one packs nutrients that boost your cognitive performance, focus, and brain health. As a student, you should always include these foods in your grocery shopping list, as they go well with many meals. Toss in other healthful veggies like beets and green lettuce for an ultimate brain-boosting salad.

10. Whole Grains

Last but not least on the list of brain food for university students are whole grains. The complex carbs in whole grains digest slowly, releasing glucose over a longer period of time. This will give your brain the sustained energy needed to finish a study session or paper. The key component of whole grains is fiber, which improves blood flow to your brain and other organs, while keeping cholesterol in check. Adding some fruits and some dairy is a delicious and filling way to add some good energy at breakfast time, a meal that fuels you for the day ahead.

Food to Avoid Before Studying

Avoid eating milk chocolate or drinking soda before an exam and in huge quantities while writing a paper. This is due to their high sugar and caffeine content. Ultra-processed foods and drinks are low in nutrients but high in caffeine. These can reduce your long-term memory capacity, and leave you feeling demotivated and sluggish after a short-lived sugar high.

Pro tip: If you have an irresistible sweet tooth, substitute milk and white chocolate for dark chocolate, along with swapping your sodas with sugar-free options. Much like chocolate, coffee can be tempting to indulge in. However, either implement it strategically before your exams or study sessions, or replace it altogether with green tea. Which is a great alternative that’s full of antioxidants that promote clear, crash-free headspace.

Related: Best Tea for Brain Fog – Which One is it?

A Few Additional Tips to Consider

While eating a bowl of oatmeal and fruits on the day of your exam might help you to focus when it matters, making healthy dietary choices throughout the semester is just as critical. Here are a few habits that are good to pick up early on.

1. Prepare in Advance

Planning what you’ll eat ahead of time is an effective strategy for avoiding poor food choices. When you’re low on willpower, and you don’t have anything healthy to eat closeby, chances are you’ll cave in to cravings. While eating junk can relieve the stress in the short-term, such foods lead to a cycle where you’re craving even more junk which will impair your cognitive performance over the long-run. To avoid constant junk snacking, bring a packed lunch with yourself which you can prepare the day before. A simple and easy tip is to make dinner in bulk, so you have more left for the next day. Which is both time and cost-efficient.

2. Water, water, and water

You might already have a habit of bringing a bottle of water with you, but remembering to drink enough water while studying is something not many university students do. Staying hydrated prevents a lack of concentration, tiredness, and headaches – all of which you could live without while studying.

3. Study with your friends!

Find friends and study mates who’re interested in following the same brain-boosting diet during your exam season. This will keep you motivated to stick to your nutrition goals, and will improve your results.

4. Take ‘nootropic’ supplements

Nootropic supplements use vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other natural compounds that when combined, can make the biggest impact on your focus and cognitive performance. Being safe and research-backed, these compounds work to boost your short-term mental function while supporting long-range brain health, without energy crashes or other typical side effects of stimulants.

The Bottom Line

University students need to put in a lot of work to pass tests and assessments, and a big part of preparations is the diet you eat. So, what did you learn in this post? Sounds doable – and not that bad – right? What are you going to add to your meal plan after reading our list? Are there any other brain food for university students that you eat to give yourself a mental edge?

  1. Adherence to a Mediterranean-Style Diet and Effects on Cognition in Adults: A Qualitative Evaluation and Systematic Review of Longitudinal and Prospective Trials. (source)
  2. Foods highest in Tyrosine. (source)
  3. Eating more berries may reduce cognitive decline in the elderly. (source)
  4. Chapter 23: Choline, a precursor of acetylcholine and phospholipids in the brain. (source)
  5. Essential fatty acids and human brain. (source)
  6. Brain Cholesterol: Long Secret Life Behind a Barrier. (source)
  7. Chocolate makes you smarter, study says. (source)
  8. Monounsaturated, trans & saturated fatty acids and cognitive decline in women. (source)
  9. Curcumin reverses the effects of chronic stress on behavior, the HPA axis, BDNF expression and phosphorylation of CREB. (source)
  10. Turmeric – Science Alert. (source)
  11. How Adding Iodine to Salt Boosted Americans’ IQ. (source)
About Valentino M. 84 Articles
Valentino is a nutritionist, author, spiritual practitioner, and health coach. He's been researching nutrition and brain health since 2015, and has launched Valentino's Naturals to help people maximize their cognitive performance. When he isn't writing, Valentino loves to travel around Europe, spend time recharging in nature, and research topics within his field of expertise. More...

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