‘You are what you eat.’
Nothing haunts my guilt center more than these five words when I am about to ditch all the healthy eating for the sake of sweet sugary bliss. However, at the end of the day, no matter how much I try to debunk this proverb, it always stands tall over my double-cheese-crust pizza dreams.
Given the study load in med schools, one can simply not sit through the long study sessions without supplying the brain with much-needed glucose, but this is where many of us go wrong. Instead of opting for healthy energy boosters, most of us end up resorting to high-sugar energy drinks, fat-fused greasy burgers and carb-loaded crisps. This might come off as a surprise to you, but our choice of snacks markedly impacts our brain. Choosing the wrong type of food not only adversely affects our memory but can even slow down our cognitive functioning. Inflammatory markers were identified in the hippocampus of rats fed a high sugar diet but were surprisingly absent in those that were on a regular diet, according to a 2016 study published in Behavioral Brain Research. Moreover, a high-sugar intake is also associated with an increased incidence of depression and anxiety which can end up severely affecting one’s quality of life.
Keeping in mind the importance of what we feed our bodies, let me help you with choosing the perfect snacks to re-energize yourself during or after an exhausting study session.
- Dark Chocolate
I have yet to come across a fellow med student who turned down chocolate when I offered him some. For us exhausted medical students, chocolate offers the perfect warmth and bliss. It can also offer an additional health boost if we opt for the darker variant. Chocolate is made from cacao, a plant that contains a lot of nutrients and antioxidants. Cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and trace amounts of cacao are all found in commercial milk chocolate. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, has far more cacao and far less sugar than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate acts as a natural mood and concentration booster because it’s high in antioxidants and natural stimulants. Moreover, it also stimulates the synthesis of endorphins, which make you joyful. So you tell me, (read in Chandler’s voice) can there BE a better snack?
There are no snacks that are as crunchy as they are healthy when compared to the mighty almonds. A handful of almonds can provide a rapid energy boost while studying and I would advise you to opt for the unsalted kind and add any seasoning yourself at home to avoid salt overload. A small serving contains a good amount of protein, vitamins and healthy fats, making this snack not only nutritious but also filling and satisfying. According to leading nutritionists, almonds elevate the levels of ACh (acetylcholine), a neurotransmitter, in the brain that helps enhance memory and help fight conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, making almonds the kings of all nutty foods. However, if you have an aversion to almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios are all suitable alternatives.
- Frozen blueberries
Blueberries are well-known for being a healthy addition to our diet, since they are low in fat and calories, high in fiber, and have one of the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit or vegetable. Although consuming blueberries in any form is a healthy choice of snack, frozen berries appear to offer greater nutritional value. According to a research study carried out at South Dakota State University, freezing blueberries increases the availability of their potent antioxidants to the human body. This is due to the presence of anthocyanins, the antioxidant chemicals that give blueberries their blue color. Freezing the berries generates small ice crystals that break the cell structure, making it simpler for our system to reach the anthocyanins present in the skin. So start freezing these magic berries in a ziplock bag the night before your study plans. Then, when duty calls, you can have a delicious, nutritious snack just by your side!
- Fruit Smoothies
Over the past years, fruit smoothies have gained incredible popularity. They are delicious, give an instant boost and are easy to make. Regardless of the ingredients you choose in your smoothies, I like to add a little scoop of pre-workout to give myself that additional push that I need while studying. Smoothies produced with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, yogurt, and healthy fats are the most nutrient-dense, but ones made with a lot of added sugars aren’t as healthy and may cause negative health consequences over time, that is why I prefer making my own smoothies instead of getting processed, packed ones; but it comes down to personal preference in the end.
- Protein Bars
Gone are the days when protein bars were reserved for gym junkies. Rather, in my experience, protein bars make the best study snacks for those lengthy library sessions. Owing to the competitive market, there is a huge variety of protein bars out there. The average protein bar contains 10-20 grams of protein, 5–10 grams of fat, 25–35 grams of carbs, and 5–10 grams of fiber. Not only that, but many protein bars are also a good source of micronutrients, such as calcium, B vitamins, potassium, and iron. In-between study breaks, you can easily munch on a protein bar to refuel your mind and keep yourself energized. My favorite one is the Cookie Dough Bar by Probar. Not only does it taste great, but the sugar content is also minimal, which keeps it healthy.
With this, we bring our list to a close. It won’t be an overstatement to say that studying is as taxing on the mind as working out is on the body, therefore, the brain also demands optimal nutrition. With my recommendations, I hope finding the right snacks has just become a lot easier!