February 23, 2009

Brain Foods

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I’m sitting in the library. The dim, diffused light seems to be as foggy as my brain right now. There are hundreds of flashcards spread in front of me, blurring together in all the colors of the rainbow. My head is incapable of memorizing the hundreds of species of whatever it is I’m supposed to be studying. I gulp down a rejuvenating cup of coffee and I’m able to focus for another fifteen minutes.

As Cornell students, we’ve all had the overwhelming sensation that our brains just can’t function any longer. The thick fog of exhaustion prevents us from cramming even the tiniest piece of information into our brains. Personally, I’m pretty sick of it. And just to spite my hazy head, I did a little research on what the best foods for thought are.

A wide breadth of research is being done on foods that promote memory and prevent cognitive decline. As someone who is admittedly addicted to coffee in all of its glorious forms, I was really interested to see if my chocolate-covered-espresso-bean-popping tendencies might actually pay off. Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D and wizard of all things nutrition, states that coffee and tea may act as stimulants for awareness and cognitive performance. Weil also claims that caffeine reduces the levels of the Alzheimer’s causing protein beta amyloid. So during the long, lonely nights of prelim weeks, it may not be a bad idea to wait in the everlasting line at Libe Café for that double shot latte that you know and love.

To avoid becoming that skeleton that you are frantically trying to study, it is important to deviate from a strict coffee and espresso diet and add a little sustenance. Promising research is being published that is highlighting the rejuvenating effects of omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids and polyphenols, vitamin E, and folic acid. While it seems unlikely that you would be able to find such things at Okenshields or Bear Nasties, they are much more accessible than their names let on. Raspberries, cranberries, and blueberries pack huge amounts of polyphenols and flavonoids. Research shows that these radical-neutralizing antioxidants may directly impact senescent neurons and improve brain signaling and proper functioning. Vitamin E, notorious for its power to protect the brain from the damaging effects of oxidation, is overflowing in the salad bar section of your nearest dining hall. Vitamin E and folic acid, found in leafy greens, have been associated with a slower decline in brain function and an increase in cognitive abilities.

And if you ever emerge from your prison cell at the library, I highly recommend the journey down into the Ithaca commons for a mind-blowing dinner at Bluestone. If God could make me the best salmon dish to ever exist, he’d probably recreate Bluestone’s Roasted Wasabi Salmon.
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The spicy crusted salmon is paired with a fiery peanut lo-mein that will leave you begging for a second round. Three out of four of the people in my party ordered this dish and three out of the four absolutely loved it. And to top it all off, the salmon is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, one the most promising components of this brain food. Omega-3’s have been shown in research to protect against various neurological diseases, improve cognitive abilities, enhance neuroplasticity, and promote overall mental health.

So start munching on lettuce leaves, popping berries into your mouth, and pounding the steaming coffee between every page turned during your studies. Lets face it – we’re all desperate for some way to stay focused and if eating is the way to do it, well aren’t we just lucky!