Degree In Sight

Blueberries

For busy graduate students strapped for cash and time, it's often tempting to pop a frozen entree in the microwave or grab fast food. But when these choices dominate your diet, you may not have the energy you to need to work effectively, says clinical psychologist Alison Miller, PhD, author of "Finish Your Dissertation Once and For All: How to Overcome Psychological Barriers, Get Results, and Move on with Your Life" (APA, 2008).  
  
But rather than overhaul your diet all at once, Miller suggests gradually incorporating more healthy food and beverages. Start by substituting that afternoon vending-machine candy bar with dried fruit or an apple, she says. Then "tune into how you feel as a result of what you eat and drink, and allow that feeling to guide you to make better choices over time," Miller says.  
  
You can also turn to research to guide your eating choices. Here are a few foods proven to boost brainpower:   

  • Salmon, cod and tuna. Omega-3 fatty acids, found most abundantly in deep-water fish, have long been known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and promote overall heart health. In addition, according to a 2005 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation (Vol. 35, No. 11), omega-3s may also increase brain function in young, healthy adults. Participants who consumed four grams of fish oil (2.8 grams of omega-3) every day for 35 days showed improvements in reaction time, sustained attention and cognitive performance as compared with those who consumed olive oil. A 2003 study in Diabetes & Metabolism (Vol. 29, No. 3) also found that a diet rich in omega-3s keeps stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline from peaking. 

  • Green leafy vegetables. Foods with the B-vitamin folate may help you ace your next exam, finds a 2002 study of 211 healthy women published in the Journal of Nutrition (Vol. 132, No. 6). After five weeks of introducing a folic acid supplement into their diets, study participants showed overall improvements in memory and information processing. Foods high in folic acid include spinach, fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals, lentils, black-eyed peas, soybeans, green peas, wheat germ, beets and oranges.

  • Berries. Animal studies conducted by Tufts University researchers show that antioxidants, such as the polyphenols found in blueberries and red wine, reverse age-related declines in the brain's ability to process information, as well as cognitive and motor deficits. In a 2007 Neurobiology of Aging (Vol. 28, No. 8) study, lab rats that were fed berry extracts and then exposed to whole-body radiation to accelerate the aging process were much better able to find, and in some cases remember, the location of an underwater platform than other prematurely aged rats. A 2009 study in Nutritional Neuroscience (Vol. 12, No. 3) suggests blackberries have memory-boosting powers: Aged rats who ate a blackberry-supplemented diet for eight weeks had significantly better short-term memory performance than those that hadn't eaten the berries.  

—A. Novotney

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