University life can be so much fun and so busy that eating well is often the last thing on your mind. You grab fast food in between classes, enjoy nights out in subsidised student bars drinking more than is good for you, and pick up easy-to-cook meals from the supermarket. Many students don’t know how to cook nutritious meals and are living on a restricted budget – which, given Australia’s high food prices, means that eating well is a challenge. But with careful choices, students can still eat well, which will nourish mind and body, and help them to study at their best. And eating healthy meals doesn’t have to be boring. These five foods will be good for the brain and tasty as well …
No, not in the form of blueberry muffins, tasty as they are. Blueberries are considered by some to be a ‘superfood’. They contain antioxidants that protect the brain, and while you’re not going to be too concerned yet about their potential to help guard against dementia, it’s never too early to start looking after your brain health. In fact, any kind of berries are rich in antioxidants, so eat plenty with your breakfast, as a snack, or for dessert. You should aim to eat berries every day. They can be expensive out of season, so if you find a relatively cheap source then buy as many as you can afford and freeze them.
They may not be the cheapest of fruits, but avocados are well worth including in the student diet. They’re packed with healthy monounsaturated fats, which improve blood flow and helps keep the brain healthy. Don’t overdo your consumption of avocados, however, because of their calorie count. Half or less daily will be enough to get the benefits, so if you really love avocados you should restrain yourself. Don’t pile on the guacamole or eat them with every meal.
Nuts & seeds
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, like many students, nuts and seeds are a good source of protein and provide a healthy snack to sustain you through long lectures and library sessions. They’re also good for your brain, thanks to their Vitamin E content. Be sure to pass on the salted nuts, though, or you risk raising your blood pressure – definitely not something that you want. The beauty of nuts and seeds is that there are so many kinds you can try. Eat them chopped and toasted on muesli, on their own as a snack, or sprinkle them on salads. You can also get the same benefits if you eat nut butters, although you should opt for versions that don’t contain hydrogenated fats and avoid being too generous with your portions.
Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel are frequently recommended for their health benefits. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for the brain to stay healthy and will boost your brain power. Just what you need when revising for exams! Salmon can be expensive, so if your budget is limited try alternatives such as mackerel or pilchards. These can be bought cheaply in canned form. If you don’t eat fish, then other sources of omega-3 are flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, linseed, and walnuts. It’s easy to add these to cereal, yoghurt or salads, and they also make a very healthy snack to keep you going until lunch or dinner.
If your cupboard contains only refined carbohydrates like white rice and pasta, it’s time to make a switch to wholegrains. Your brain needs energy when you’re poring over books and essays, and wholegrains offer a steady release of energy. If you’ve ever had the post-meal crash after a lunch of pasta or pizza, you’ll know how hard it is to make your brain work when you’re going through that slump. So, leave the white bread on the supermarket shelf and pick up wholegrain instead. If you find wholemeal bread unpalatable, try one with seeds in for added interest (not to mention nutrition), or even have a go at making your own. It can often work out cheaper buying the ingredients, and when you’re wrestling with a stressful assignment you’ll find pummelling the dough rather therapeutic!