Eat For Focus

It’s 1 a.m. and you are at the library surrounded by textbooks, note cards, a bag of pretzels from the vending machine and empty coffee cups. You might think that staying up late, drinking multiple cups of coffee and eating pretzels can help you to stay on track when studying in order to ace your upcoming exam. Think again! Follow these 5 food strategies to keep you focused:

1. Eat breakfast: You might feel like there is no way you have enough time to make breakfast in the morning, but It does not have to be elaborate. Make sure you include a whole grain and a protein to keep hunger pains away. Oatmeal, multigrain toast or whole grain cereal can improve focus by giving you the energy your body needs. Proteins, including nuts, eggs or Greek yogurt help you feel full for a longer period of time. For a quick breakfast eat a slice of whole-grain toast topped with peanut butter and a piece of fruit. Oatmeal, raisins and a handful of almonds is another good bet.

2. Watch your coffee intake: Many college students are addicted to coffee, there’s no denying that. But is your coffee consumption helping or hurting you? Studies show that moderate caffeine intake can increase alertness and help with focus, but too much may leave you feeling jittery and anxious or keep you awake all night. Try to limit yourself to 2 - 3 cups per day. Flavored coffee drinks can add unnecessary amounts of sugar and fat, so make sure you limit them. Choose unsweetened or lightly sweetened drinks instead and swap skim or low-fat milk for cream. If you love those fancy frozen drinks, tell the barista to hold the whipped cream.

3. Get your Omega 3’s: A type of fat, we need Omega 3’s for brain health and for our bodies to function properly. While not an immediate fix, if you start eating more Omega 3’s now it will pay off down the road. Studies have shown that increasing Omega 3 intake helps protect brain function. Eating fish is one of the best ways you can get your Omega 3’s. Choose salmon, sardines and Atlantic mackerel. If you are vegetarian or don’t eat fish, eat more soybeans, walnuts and avocados. You can also add olive oil to foods to boost your Omega 3 intake.

4. Load up on fruits and vegetables: Many fruits are loaded with antioxidants that can help protect your body and brain. Great sources are blueberries, red skinned grapes and strawberries, but make sure to eat other fruits too. When it comes to vegetables variety is also the key. Eat spinach and kale to get your dark leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower as your cruciferous veggies, and tomatoes, carrots and peppers and other brightly colored vegetables.

5. Enjoy a little chocolate: Shocked to see chocolate on a list of healthy choices? Chocolate contains caffeine and antioxidants, and a small amount can go a long way. This is particularly true in the case of dark chocolate. Moderation is always the key, so savor a small piece of your favorite dark chocolate the next time you are up late cramming and bag the guilt.
Simple strategies can make a huge difference. Next time you find yourself in the library late at night, follow these tips and forget the endless coffee and pretzels. Enjoy one cup of coffee, a small handful of walnuts with dark chocolate chips or dip fresh vegetables in hummus. You may find yourself focused and ready for that exam.

Photos: Rachel Weidt

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