Revising for exams, or got a big project ahead? Keep your brain well fuelled with our guide to the different foods that help us concentrate and stay alert.
Our brains use about 20% of all our energy, so knowing the foods that can keep you concentrating is very important.
The best way to fuel your brain is to stay hydrated and eat a balance of ingredients across the day, from all the food groups.
Don’t skip meals – eating a balanced breakfast sets you up for a productive day ahead.
Lots of different nutrients play specific roles in your brain’s development and supporting cognitive function. When it comes to revising, try to keep your diet varied and balanced, by choosing a wide range of vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and dairy foods across several days.
What role do different foods play?
Opt for wholegrain varieties of starchy carbohydrates – the body’s preferred source of energy – for more fibre and nutrients. For example, go for wholemeal pasta, wholemeal bread and oats, as these also contain iron and zinc, which are important nutrients for cognitive function.
Eating foods high in protein may help keep hunger at bay. Plus, meat- and plant-based sources of protein both provide iron, which helps oxygen to reach brain cells. If we’re not getting enough iron, our bodies become fatigued, which impacts everything, including brain function and concentration.
Iron from plant-based sources (such as beans, pulses, oats, nuts, seeds and most dark green leafy veg) is not as easily absorbed as from meat-based sources. However, vitamin C can enhance absorption, so try to eat them with foods high in vitamin C, such as oranges, tomatoes and sweet potatoes.
VEG & FRUIT
Include a variety of veg and fruit as part of each meal and as snacks, as they contain lots of key vitamins and minerals. Healthy snacking can help keep energy levels up, maintain our focus, and provide a short break from studying – which is also healthy!
Swap snacks high in added sugar for nutritious foods such as fruit with nut butter, a bowl of yoghurt, a handful of unsalted nuts, or some popcorn.
Don’t forget to hydrate! Our bodies need water for all cognitive and physical functions. Hydration is essential for our brains to function properly. On top of this, dehydration can make it difficult to concentrate and cause headaches and tiredness. High caffeine intake may impact sleep, which may in turn impact concentration so be aware of your consumption of coffee, tea and energy drinks.
The amount needed to stay hydrated varies between roughly 6 to 8 glasses of fluid every day – water is the best choice for a regular drink.
For more information on the role of these nutrients, plus the importance of sleep and exercise during exam time, see our full guide attached.