Food for the brain

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Anxiety, stress and hours of studying accompany the dreaded test — but certain foods, from bananas to eggs, may be able to help.

According to an article in the Scientific American Mind titled “Brain Food” by Ingrid Kiefer, food can actually influence memory, concentration, learning and decision making.

“The brain operates best, for example, when blood glucose is stable,”  the article said. “Consuming complex carbohydrates rather than simple sugars, researchers say, can help stabilize glucose in the blood and guard against mental lapses. In addition, consuming adequate amounts of iron is important for staying mentally sharp, because that metal chaperones vital oxygen to the brain. And studies indicate that protein-packed fare seems to boost attention, whereas certain fatty acids found in fish buttress brain function.”

A banana is one example of brain food. (Photo by Elliott Miller)
A banana is one example of brain food. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

Some students eat certain foods to help with anxiety and stress.

Elizabeth Kuhn, a master’s student studying second language teaching, said she learned a trick during her studies as an undergrad in music that has helped her take tests.

“We were taught to eat a banana right before a performance,” Kuhn said. “It spikes your blood sugar and then brings it back down. My anxiety goes up before a test. It’s like stage fright. Eating a banana helps keep me calm.”

Matt Fritzler, a linguistics major from Salisbury, N.C., said he eats food that helps his stress level and improves his memory while he studies.

“Dark chocolate improves stress, and blueberries improve memory,” Fritzler said. “It’s becoming kind of a routine. If nothing else, I am milking the placebo effect.”

One student uses rewards to keep him focused for tests.

Andrew Hodges, a 25-year-old double-majoring in Russian and Spanish, said he uses a reward system to motivate himself for tests.

“While I’m studying I’ll get a Snickers bar before the test,” Hodges said. “I’ll usually study up until I take the test, and then I’ll think about the reward I’ll get while I take the test.”

While some students eat specific foods, others simply want a good meal and the right nutrition before walking to the Testing Center.

Dasha Hodges, Andrew Hodges’ wife and a BYU graduate, said food is necessary to maintain focus.

“I just want to be full so I’m not focusing on how hungry I am during the test,” she said.

Georgina Martinez, a pre-dietetics major from Salt Lake City, said she doesn’t have a specific food that helps her with tests, but she makes sure she has a big meal for breakfast and that the food she eats is nutritious.

“I always make sure I have protein, grain, dairy and orange juice for breakfast the morning of the test,” Martinez said. “My body feels better when I eat better, and I want to have lots of energy to take my test.”

One bonus to the Testing Center at BYU is that students can bring food in while they take their tests.

Kurt Benson, a mathematics major from Orem, said he always takes food into the Testing Center to keep his energy levels up.

“Some of my tests can last a few hours, so I always bring a snack,” Benson said. “There have been times when I’m taking a test and after a while, I lose focus. If I eat something, I am able to keep momentum.”