If you could describe exactly how you want to feel the day of an important test, I imagine you’d say well-rested, alert, and laser-focused, but with an inner calm and confidence.
Unfortunately, existing on coffee, energy drinks, and junk food while cramming for exams is pretty common.
No wonder many students find themselves feeling exhausted, unfocused, and a bundle of nerves on the big day instead.
Too many students live on junk food and yet expect maximum performance from their brain.
This is an unreasonable expectation!
Treat your brain like the exquisite, powerful machine it is.
Give it the highest quality fuel all the time, not just the day before a test.
Of the myriad diets and eating plans to choose from, the Mediterranean diet is widely considered the healthiest eating plan of all.
Those who eat this way rank high in overall health and longevity, and stay mentally sharp for the long haul. (1)
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes these unprocessed foods — fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, yogurt, and meat, topped off with a little red wine.
Many popular ethnic cuisines — Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Asian — can easily meet the requirements of a Mediterranean-based eating plan.
Here’s a visual of what’s included in the Mediterranean diet.
Best Brain Foods to Eat Before an Exam
Now that you’ve got the big picture, let’s look at specific foods you’ll want to include in your diet.
These foods all have well-deserved reputations as brain foods.
They have been studied and proven to help you learn, remember, focus, and stay motivated.
It might sound overstated that certain foods can help your brain work better until you realize that they contain nutrients that:
- provide the building blocks of neurotransmitters
- increase blood flow to the brain
- stimulate the formation of new brain cells
- repair existing brain cells
- form the structural components of brain cells
- protect brain cells from damage and aging
Olive oil is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet.
Olive oil’s monounsaturated fats are known for being “heart healthy” but are equally good for your brain.
Monounsaturated fats increase the production and release of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter most associated with memory and learning.
Olive oil also contains significant amounts of vitamins E and K which are important for memory and the prevention of mental decline.
Avocados are unlike any other fruit.
Like olive oil, they are loaded with monounsaturated fats
Avocados can improve blood flow to the brain.
They are an excellent source of vitamins your brain needs like C, E, K, and B complex.
Avocados are high in tyrosine, an amino acid that’s a precursor to dopamine, the brain chemical that keeps you motivated and focused.
Omega-3 Rich Foods
There are two main omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
The brain benefits of omega-3 fats are derived mostly from DHA which is found in high concentrations in the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory, language, creativity, and attention.
The best food sources of omega-3s are animals allowed to get their food from their natural habitat: wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, free-range chicken, and wild game. (11)
Walnuts are the only nut that contains substantial amounts of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the plant form of omega-3 essential fatty acids.
They are among the few foods that contain mood-elevating serotonin.
Eating walnuts can improve your ability to learn and remember.
Eggs are the top food source of choline, a nutrient that few of us get enough of.
Choline is a B complex-related nutrient that is important because it is a precursor of acetylcholine.
Berries of all kinds are bursting with flavonoids, potent antioxidants that protect brain cells from oxidative damage.
Flavonoids help to improve memory, learning, and decision-making.
If you can’t find fresh berries at a reasonable price, opt for frozen.
Surprisingly, frozen berries contain more nutrients than fresh.
Chocolate contains a little caffeine — just enough to boost memory, mood, and concentration, but not enough to make you feel wired.
It stimulates blood flow to the brain to aid memory, attention span, reaction time, and problem-solving.
Turmeric is an Indian spice that’s been used for thousands of years as a brain tonic.
Curcumin elevates levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein to promote new brain cell growth.
Turmerone stimulates the production of new neurons and encourages the brain to repair itself.
As little as a half-teaspoon a day is all you need.
Sea vegetables are some of the best sources of tyrosine, the amino acid needed to create dopamine.
They are one of the few dietary sources of iodine, a mineral critical to brain health and function.
Toasted nori makes a tasty snack on its own.
You may already be familiar with nori — the green sheets used to wrap sushi.