Find the right foods for mental energy and alertness with these great tips from learndirect and nutritionist Fiona Hunter.
1. Eat a healthy breakfast
Don't just rely on coffee to give you a kick start in the morning. Take the time to eat a proper breakfast and you'll reap the rewards during your day. For a balanced diet, choose a cereal like porridge or muesli with semi-skimmed milk or wholemeal toast with eggs. The sugars in these foods are released more slowly into your blood stream. This means they satisfy your hunger for longer and help your energy levels to increase.
Discover the best healthy breakfasts
2. Drinking water and brain function
If your brain doesn’t get enough fluid you’ll feel tired and be more likely to suffer from headaches. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid a day. Water is the healthiest choice but fruit juice, fruit smoothies and milk also count towards your fluid intake – just keep an eye on the sugar content. Read our article on how much water we need each day.
Find out how much water you need to drink
3. Iron-rich foods for healthy brain cells
To work at their best, your brain cells need a good supply of oxygen. A lack of iron in your diet can reduce your blood’s ability to carry oxygen, reducing the amount delivered to your brain. Not getting enough iron can also cause problems such as poor concentration, lack of energy and tiredness. Lean red meat is an excellent source of iron. Good vegetarian sources of iron include egg yolks, pulses such as red kidney beans and lentils, dried apricots, fortified breakfast cereals, broccoli, wholegrain cereals and wholemeal bread. Read more about iron.
Ten ways to feed your brain
4. Eat your five-a-day
Studies have shown that people who consume more vitamin C perform better in tests for recall, memory and attention. Everyone knows that we should eat at least five portions of fruit and/or vegetables a day, but did you know you need to eat a variety? When picking fruit and veg, go for a rainbow of colours – not just because they look good, but because this is a guide to the good things they have inside.
Find out why you should eat a rainbow of colourful foods
5. The benefits of Omega 3 foods
Oil-rich fish like salmon, sardines and fresh tuna contain Omega 3 fats which help your brain cells talk to each other. As a guide, try to eat at least one portion of oil-rich fish a week. But remember – while fresh tuna contains Omega 3 fat, tinned tuna doesn’t, so opt for tinned salmon instead. Read more about the health benefits of eating fish.
Learn more about the healthy fats you need in your diet
6. Keep lunches light and healthy for afternoon alertness
Eating a large meal at lunch time can make you feel tired during the afternoon. If you need to stay alert, keep lunches light. Healthy salads are perfect for lunchtime meals, and they fill you up.
7. Eat regularly throughout the day
To keep your blood sugar levels stable and your brain supplied with fuel, aim to eat three small meals a day with a couple of healthy snacks in between. Ideas for healthy snacks include low fat yogurt, oatcakes, fresh or dried fruit, smoothies or low-fat cereal bars.
8. Avoid eating food late
A heavy meal late at night can disrupt your sleep, so try to eat at least three hours before going to bed. This will help your body digest your food in plenty of time so that it gets a rest too.
9. Think slow and go for wholegrain
Slow release carbohydrates help keep your blood sugar levels stable, which is important for keeping your concentration and energy levels up. Good sources include wholegrain breads and pasta, brown rice and beans and pulses.
10. B is a good Vitamin
Research has suggested that food rich in B vitamins, such as chicken, potatoes and bananas, can help improve your memory and keep your brain healthy.
Learn more about B vitamins with our A-Z of vitamins and minerals