Brain Food: Maintaining focus, retaining information more difficult without proper fuel

The school year has started and everyone is preparing for the long 10 weeks ahead. School requires a lot of concentration and students will need to focus — and nutritional breakfast or early lunch can fast track your brain to success.

Eating a healthy breakfast is associated with improved cognitive function, reduced absenteeism and improved mood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staying hydrated may also improve cognitive function, the same study said, which is important for a long day of lecture.

For many students, college is the first time they live away from home, so they will have the freedom to eat when and where they want. It can be challenging to try to eat healthily while at college, but finding easy ways to ready your brain before a day of class can assist in retaining information.

“Always considering the three healthy principles of dietary consumption: balance, variety, and moderation,” said Kristen Neisler, a health and nutrition professor at DePaul University. “Try to eat the five food groups every day, even at every meal (you should know what they are, have been learning them since grade school. But as a refresher: fruits, vegetables, meats/beans, dairy and whole grains.”

Students have to make regular time to eat while balancing classes, studying, working and possible athletic or club commitments. It can also be challenging to make good food choices on your own that promote nutrition and health. It can also be expensive to manage a budget for healthier meals.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” Tiana Young, 23, said.

Young is a personal trainer and online wellness coach in New York, and she specializes in lifestyle management. “Prep your meals, gather some snacks the day before, find ways to make your dollar go the furthest.”

The start of the year is a great time to get a routine in place because students are already adjusting to balancing the new school load on top of other things, such as work or internships.

“Your body will thrive off routine and consistency,” Young said. “If you never reach the point of being starving, you won’t get distracted or cloudy headed. I cannot stress the importance of eating consistently enough.”

Food is fuel for the body; getting the right fuel into your body will make sure it is running properly. And during a long day, not running out of energy is ideal.

For a morning snack, foods such as veggies and hummus, egg nuggets from the muffin pan, apples and PB2, RX Bars, Trader Joe’s pre-portioned trail mix and Trader Joe’s pre-made salads are all solid choices, Young said. They are quick and easy for a running behind type of morning. They are also convenient if you take public transit.

Other great ideas to kickstart your day off right is plenty of water, granola and yogurt.

Plain vanilla yogurt is better than yogurt with precut fruit in it because of sugar, Neisler said. For those who love bread, start with an English muffin or whole grain, multigrain toast.

Some students at DePaul are already off to a good start with a healthy breakfast, with multiple students saying fresh berries and bread are on their morning checklist.

“Oatmeal with fresh strawberries and cinnamon with yogurt on the side,” said Mari Oliver, a senior at DePaul. “It’s my go-to breakfast because it’s easy, health and super filling.”

Don’t be afraid of some carbs to get started, either — not necessarily a large bowl of spaghetti, but a big bowl of whole fruits or vegetables and some delicious avocado toast.

“The brain is fueled by food,” Neisler said. “In fact, although many people try to avoid carbs, carbohydrates are actually the main fuel supply for the brain.”

Whether students are going into their freshman year or their last, your brain needs the same amount of fuel to push past a night of no sleep or a night of too much sleep. So grab a lunch box and prepare yourself for a great school year ahead.