Have you been having trouble remembering things lately? It’s quite likely you have, more so if you are a student about to sit for the dreaded Board exams. The stress can muddle the sharpest of minds, but the upside is that eating the right kinds of food can help you get a memory edge.
“Usually, asking teenagers to eat food that is good for health doesn’t works, but they must realise that the weeks leading up to the exams are crucial for their brain health. A healthy diet can help them fight the “exam ka bhoot” (exam monster) that haunts them day and night,” says Swapna Chaturvedi, senior dietician, All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Even if you eat a well balanced diet, stress often hampers nutrient absorption, just as poor food quality takes away from the food value. Even mild iron deficiency can slow the thinking and remembering processes, reported scientists at the American Society of Nutritional Sciences meet late last year, but making up for the deficiency — 60 mg of iron supplementation for four months — can improve memory.
Iron deficiency lowers stamina, impairs immunity, hampers metabolism and interferes with the thinking and memory processes. Some good iron sources are almonds (10 pieces, 0.7 mg , dried apricots (10 pieces, 1.7 mg), broccoli (raw, one stalk, 2.1 mg), dates (10 pieces, 1.6 mg), kidney beans (1/2 cup, 3 mg), peas (1/2 cup, 1.3 mg) spinach (1/2 cup, cooked, 2 mg), and chicken breast (0.7 mg). “Although beans and green vegetables have a lot of iron, it is less easily absorbed from plants than from meat, so people getting iron from plant sources need vitamin B12 and folic acid supplements,” says nutritionist Ishi Khosla of WholeFoods.
This does not mean that iron pills are the elusive memory-enhancers people have been seeking for years. Iron supplementation works only when you are low levels of iron, which helps the blood carry oxygen to the cells, including those in the brain. A simple blood test (haemogram) can give you a measure blood haemoglobin level, which should be over 12 gm/dl for girls and 13 gm/dl for boys.
Another dietary must is fish . It has omega-3 fatty acids, which play a crucial role in brain function and are essential for normal growth and development. “These essential fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and are particularly important for brain memory and performance as well as behavioral function. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include extreme tiredness, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor blood circulation,” says Khosla. Plant sources of this essential fatty acid are seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), wheatgerm and walnuts.
Traditional Indian food is very balanced, with its focus on the various food groups — grain, fruit and vegetables and even animal protein with its emphasis on milk and yoghurt. “Since all essential aminoacids are not found in all vegetables, make sure you eat a variety of leafy vegetables,” says Khosla.
What all nutritionists are unanimous about is that the so-called smart pills — also known as brain boosters or cognitive enhancers — do not work.