Brainpower

Brain food to boost brainpower nutrition concept as a group of nutritious nuts fish vegetables and berries rich in omega-3 fatty acids with vitamins and minerals for mind health with 3D illustration elements.
Kelly Pelham is a New Zealand-registered dietitian and sports nutrition educator. As a fanatical foodie with a passion for health and nutrition, dietetics was the perfect path, she says. Based at Three Rivers Medical, Kelly is committed to helping people accomplish their nutrition, health or sporting goals.

With NCEA exam time looming, New Zealand-registered dietitian and sports nutrition educator Kelly Pelham advises on go-to foods to help pass exams . . .

Brainpower. Something we all wouldn’t mind a little extra of to get us through the day. And in a couple of weeks time, hundreds and thousands of students will want all the brainpower they can get when they sit their NCEA exams.
Studying isn’t the only thing for getting Merit and Excellences. Sufficient sleep, reducing exam stress, and good nutrition are all important factors. But how often does eating and drinking come into the ‘study and exam’ talk? How often do you think about your own brain health? Probably not enough!

Keeping our brains healthy is important for paying attention, learning, memorising, communicating, controlling emotions, problem solving and decision-making. Key ingredients to fly through those exams.

Brainpower Basics

Keep in mind your brain behaves like a muscle. To develop and maintain it, you need to train it, use it, and keep it active. Also like muscle, the brain needs fuel to keep it running. Its favourite (and most efficient) is glucose, broken down from carbohydrate-containing foods.
However, the quick-fix sugary drinks, lollies, biscuits and chocolates, which a lot of teens opt for, is like putting diesel into your petrol car’s tank. To help get that long-lasting energy, your teen’s best options are wholesome, high-fibre foods, including: wholegrain bread, oats, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), vegetables, and fruit.

Alongside fuelling needs, are essential building blocks for brain structure and function. Nerve cells (neurons) are mainly made up of unsaturated fats from your diet. These healthy brain fats can be found in foods such as oily fish, avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oils.

And when it comes to getting the message across, protein steps in. Protein breaks down into different amino acids needed to produce neurotransmitters, the nervous system’s chemical messengers.

It’s not surprising then day-to-day habits can have a big impact on learning. An Australian study last year investigated five different dietary habits on children’s academic achievements.

You can probably guess their results. Those who ate more vegetables at dinner had significantly higher spelling and writing scores. Those who drank more sugar-sweetened beverages had significantly lower reading, writing, numeracy, and grammar and punctuation scores.

There were also positive associations seen with breakfast, also found in several other studies, and fruit consumption. Although we cannot conclude “cause and effect”, these associations are good enough reasons to plate up and model good eating behaviours.

‘Super’ Brain Foods

So far these “brain” foods described are really just common sense of a good, nutritious diet. So is there that extra something your teen can do? Well there are certainly several nutrients of interest…

Omega 3 could be looked at as the brain’s best friend. Not only important for brain growth and development, but for ensuring smooth brain cell communication — basically, enhancing brain function. Omega 3 might also improve mental abilities such as concentration and memory. Great food sources include: oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, flaxseeds and oils, chia seeds, walnuts, and canola oil. In contrast, diets high in saturated and trans-fats can negatively affect cognition.

Vitamins and minerals have the essential supporting role to brain structure and function. Particular interest is around the B vitamins, where deficiency can result in poor concentration, attention, memory, and even depression.

Vitamin E and C are also of interest due to E’s anti-oxidant role, protecting cells against damaging oxidation, and C’s link to mood.

Last but not least, flavonoids (plant chemicals) are also believed to be super brain foods by protecting neurons, suppressing inflammation, and potentially, improving memory, learning, and overall cognitive function. Think about eating colour, especially: berries, cherries, red grapes, onions, apples, and leafy greens.

Putting Brain Health into Practice

So if your teen is striving for those Merits and Excellences, maybe a little “brain health” is what it will take. Some key things to keep in mind:

  • Breakfast is a must, especially on exam day. Try wholegrain toast with eggs and baby spinach; soak oats overnight in milk/yoghurt, fruit, nuts and seeds; or whiz up a banana, berry smoothie.
  • Keep up your fluids. Dehydration equals a lack of concentration, dizziness, fatigue, and headaches.
  • Snack smarter. Try: fruit and yoghurt, grainy crackers with cheese and tomato, veggie sticks and hummus, roasted chickpeas, or mini savoury egg and corn muffins.
  • Organise and prepare, especially on double-exam days. Avoid skipping meals or relying on tuckshop food.
  • Cut the junk — easier said than done with teens, but having those conversations and role modelling is a starter.

* Variety — add fish dishes to the menu, swap to wholegrains, garnish with nuts and seeds, and colour, colour, colour that plate.

With NCEA exam time looming, New Zealand-registered dietitian and sports nutrition educator Kelly Pelham advises on go-to foods to help pass exams . . .

Brainpower. Something we all wouldn’t mind a little extra of to get us through the day. And in a couple of weeks time, hundreds and thousands of students will want all the brainpower they can get when they sit their NCEA exams.
Studying isn’t the only thing for getting Merit and Excellences. Sufficient sleep, reducing exam stress, and good nutrition are all important factors. But how often does eating and drinking come into the ‘study and exam’ talk? How often do you think about your own brain health? Probably not enough!

Keeping our brains healthy is important for paying attention, learning, memorising, communicating, controlling emotions, problem solving and decision-making. Key ingredients to fly through those exams.

Brainpower Basics

Keep in mind your brain behaves like a muscle. To develop and maintain it, you need to train it, use it, and keep it active. Also like muscle, the brain needs fuel to keep it running. Its favourite (and most efficient) is glucose, broken down from carbohydrate-containing foods.
However, the quick-fix sugary drinks, lollies, biscuits and chocolates, which a lot of teens opt for, is like putting diesel into your petrol car’s tank. To help get that long-lasting energy, your teen’s best options are wholesome, high-fibre foods, including: wholegrain bread, oats, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), vegetables, and fruit.

Alongside fuelling needs, are essential building blocks for brain structure and function. Nerve cells (neurons) are mainly made up of unsaturated fats from your diet. These healthy brain fats can be found in foods such as oily fish, avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oils.

And when it comes to getting the message across, protein steps in. Protein breaks down into different amino acids needed to produce neurotransmitters, the nervous system’s chemical messengers.

It’s not surprising then day-to-day habits can have a big impact on learning. An Australian study last year investigated five different dietary habits on children’s academic achievements.

You can probably guess their results. Those who ate more vegetables at dinner had significantly higher spelling and writing scores. Those who drank more sugar-sweetened beverages had significantly lower reading, writing, numeracy, and grammar and punctuation scores.

There were also positive associations seen with breakfast, also found in several other studies, and fruit consumption. Although we cannot conclude “cause and effect”, these associations are good enough reasons to plate up and model good eating behaviours.

‘Super’ Brain Foods

So far these “brain” foods described are really just common sense of a good, nutritious diet. So is there that extra something your teen can do? Well there are certainly several nutrients of interest…

Omega 3 could be looked at as the brain’s best friend. Not only important for brain growth and development, but for ensuring smooth brain cell communication — basically, enhancing brain function. Omega 3 might also improve mental abilities such as concentration and memory. Great food sources include: oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, flaxseeds and oils, chia seeds, walnuts, and canola oil. In contrast, diets high in saturated and trans-fats can negatively affect cognition.

Vitamins and minerals have the essential supporting role to brain structure and function. Particular interest is around the B vitamins, where deficiency can result in poor concentration, attention, memory, and even depression.

Vitamin E and C are also of interest due to E’s anti-oxidant role, protecting cells against damaging oxidation, and C’s link to mood.

Last but not least, flavonoids (plant chemicals) are also believed to be super brain foods by protecting neurons, suppressing inflammation, and potentially, improving memory, learning, and overall cognitive function. Think about eating colour, especially: berries, cherries, red grapes, onions, apples, and leafy greens.

Putting Brain Health into Practice

So if your teen is striving for those Merits and Excellences, maybe a little “brain health” is what it will take. Some key things to keep in mind:

  • Breakfast is a must, especially on exam day. Try wholegrain toast with eggs and baby spinach; soak oats overnight in milk/yoghurt, fruit, nuts and seeds; or whiz up a banana, berry smoothie.
  • Keep up your fluids. Dehydration equals a lack of concentration, dizziness, fatigue, and headaches.
  • Snack smarter. Try: fruit and yoghurt, grainy crackers with cheese and tomato, veggie sticks and hummus, roasted chickpeas, or mini savoury egg and corn muffins.
  • Organise and prepare, especially on double-exam days. Avoid skipping meals or relying on tuckshop food.
  • Cut the junk — easier said than done with teens, but having those conversations and role modelling is a starter.

* Variety — add fish dishes to the menu, swap to wholegrains, garnish with nuts and seeds, and colour, colour, colour that plate.

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