Healthy Food Bites To-Go: Food That Keeps Your Brain Focused

In 1987, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America launched a memorable ad campaign featuring a cracked egg sizzling on a hot frying pan. The anti-drug slogan, “This is your brain on drugs,” was not soon forgotten.

In 2014, the documentary film Fed Up explored America’s obsession with sugar featuring Mark Hyman, MD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine stating emphatically, “Your brain lights up with sugar just like it does with cocaine or heroin. You’re going to become an addict.”

The word is out… sugary foods hijack clear thinking, wreak havoc on blood sugar (wait, there’s more!), suppress the immune system and instigate further cravings for same. The white stuff is all too often deified in this country. That sugar has been described as an “anti-nutrient” that steals other nutrients from the body as it gets digested is a bittersweet reality check.

What if…

What if there were foods you could eat that would light your brain up naturally, keeping you feeling fueled on-the-run, as you tend to your unending to-do list and juggle the demands of the day? With a little pre-planning, eating for sustained energy can be simple, healthy and easy on the wallet.

Start a routine of eating healthy on campus.

Is it test day?

Before leaving the house grab some fruit and nuts. Grapes, berries and walnuts are optimal for brain health and focus. Stop by the cafeteria for breakfast and have some oatmeal or eggs which will offer balanced energy for a few hours. Try a smoothie featuring 1 or 2 servings of fruit and protein powder. Bring a baggie with Omega 3-rich hemp, flax or chia seeds from home for added brain power. Add leafy greens or green powder for extra oomph. Remember to eat protein and fiber early in the morning to keep your blood sugar on an even keel.

Skipping lunch is easy, but it’s the meal that can set you up for success the rest of the day.

A hearty soup and salad combo, a wrap with protein and vegetables or a stir-fry with chicken or tofu will fill you up while keeping you alert. Experiment and see how you feel after eating a steak sandwich or pizza for lunch. Then, try lighter lunch fare the next day. Note the measurable difference in your energy level on consecutive afternoons.

Stock up on healthy snacks.

If you keep healthy snacks with you during the day you will be better prepared to avoid, high sugar snacks which can steal your energy and concentration. These might include KIND nut and spice bars or LARABARS (keep bars under 10g of sugar and at least 3 grams of protein), individual squeeze packets of almond or peanut butter, hard pretzels, edamame, nuts, veggies, hummus, Greek yogurt with mix-ins (homemade trail mix or fresh fruit) or a crunchy fall apple.

If you tend to skip meals in favor of coffee or energy drinks to boost productivity…

…your brain is more likely to reward your food choices after a meal including: fatty fish (salmon), whole grains (brown rice or quinoa), vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli, avocado and sweet potato), fruit (especially berries), nuts (walnuts and almonds), seeds (pumpkin and tahini), 70% cocoa content dark chocolate, green tea and plain old water.

Now that we’re past the first few chaotic weeks of school starting, it is time to figure out a plan for eating real food at regular intervals to keep the brain happy. A brain that’s well-fed and rested can help you score big.

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