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December 16, 2020

Brain Food for Finals

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For Cornell students, tomorrow marks the official beginning of finals. It’s the last push before our well-deserved winter break, and the stress is certainly piling on. With so much to balance between long study sessions and three hour exams, it’s easy for us to ignore our health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, many of us make the critical mistake of not realizing that success during finals week is a result of  how we treat ourselves. Finding time to plan meals and not depending on six cups of coffee a day might be difficult, but now is the most important time to prioritize your health. 

Our diet is the basis for our body’s ability to function properly. What you eat during finals week directly impacts essential cognitive functions such as memory and alertness. There are varying opinions on the power of certain “brain foods,” and the actual benefits they may present. Being able to discern fact from fiction when making appropriate dietary choices is crucial and could be the difference between an A or a B. I have highlighted five foods that are scientifically proven to give your brain the extra boost it needs during this demanding time, while also tasting delicious. 


It’s long been known that avocados and their healthy fats protect against the onset of brain diseases later in life. In the short term, the monounsaturated fats present in avocados lower blood pressure, which has been linked to improved brain functions. They are convenient to prepare, ensuring you won’t be sacrificing valuable study time to reap its nutritious rewards. Avocado toast has quickly become one of my favorite brunch go-to’s. Paired with whole-grain bread, you will surely get the energy needed to power through a long day of studying.


Similar to avocados, eating salmon can lower blood pressure due to its high content of Omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is also high in B vitamins, which help to maintain and improve brain function. The relatively high protein content will conveniently satisfy hunger for long periods of time. As cooking salmon may be intimidating for some, a great alternative is locks on a whole grain cracker. A couple of servings for an afternoon snack is the perfect amount to make a noticeable difference in alertness and energy throughout the day.


It’s no secret that nuts are a great source of much needed nutrients and can provide lasting benefits with only a small serving. When it comes to almonds, there is no shortage of advantages, and a daily serving can greatly enhance brain productivity. Almonds contain a high percentage of vitamin E. According to a study by Giorgio La Fata, a senior scientist in Switzerland, vitamin E is repeatedly linked to reducing cognitive decline and improved cognitive performance. Additionally, almonds increase the creation of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which plays a crucial role in benefiting a person’s memory and can certainly make a difference in studying your final exam material. Lucky for us, almonds are extremely easy to add to our everyday diet. I found that making a quick homemade trail mix with dark chocolate and raisins is a perfect way to fulfill your almond need, while also taking very little time away from your studying. Just add whatever additional nuts, raisins and sweets you like, and you are good to go. 


While many people associate healthy food with the less appealing tastes of leafy greens, the sweet and delicious nature of blueberries make them the perfect brain food for your stressful week. Just like almonds, blueberries are loaded with antioxidants that play an integral role in fighting against stress on your immune system and stressors on your memory. When comparing adults who drink blueberry juice every day to those who drank a placebo, doctors discovered that in only a few short weeks, a massive increase in brain activity was recorded. Additionally, blueberries have also been linked to increased concentration and focus. After days of intense studying, a diet including blueberries will get you through the finish line. I recommend starting your day with this delicious blueberry smoothie that has the perfect balance of ingredients for sustained energy.


Rich in antioxidants and vitamin K, broccoli speaks for itself as one of the healthiest foods out there. Vitamin K helps the body form sphingolipids, a key fat in the cognitive process. It’s no surprise studies have found that adults with higher vitamin K intake have a better memory. Broccoli is also high in fiber, preventing any digestive discomfort that could distract you from studying. Clearly, your parents weren’t lying when they said: “You need to eat your broccoli!” A perfect side dish to any meal, steamed broccoli is easy to prepare and delicious. For a quick snack, raw broccoli and ranch is a personal favorite of mine.

All these “brain foods” are packed full of the nutrients your brain needs to get through the stresses of finals week. Although they might be convenient, it’s important to stay away from fast food and junk food. Potato chips and other empty carbs will provide you with a rapidly fading spike of energy, leaving you feeling worse off than if you had just avoided them in the first place. Good luck on exams, and treat your body right this finals week; It deserves it! 

Nick Hoge is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached a [email protected]