12 Foods That Make You Smarter

If you are preparing for the bar exam your diet is probably the last thing on your mind. Does it really matter that you had that pastry for breakfast? What if I told you that adding these 12 foods to your diet would improve your memory, increase your concentration, raise your mental energy level, and make you sleep better at night?

Just like a race car running on high, during times of stress your mind and body need good quality fuel to run well. But it’s during high times of stress that we tend to eat the worst. We don’t think we have time to eat healthy. We desperately need that soda to stay awake and definitely deserve that breakfast muffin. I remember being addicted to the Pete’s carrot ginger muffins when I was studying for the bar.

I’m not saying you can’t treat yourself or that you need to drastically change your eating habits. This is not the time to go on a diet, quit smoking or try to get off coffee. But if you simply add these 12 foods to your diet, you will be giving your brain real fuel, which can be a game changer in times of stress. I have also included a few of my favorite easy recipes below.

Top 12 Brain Foods

1. Water

Drink more water. 85% of your brain tissue is water. When you are dehydrated your brain shrinks and doesn’t function as well. You should be drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day. If you get headaches, it’s probably because you are not drinking enough water.

2. Green Tea

You may like coffee in the morning or diet coke in the afternoon, but if you’re willing to change it up occasionally, try green tea. It improves your focus and fights mental fatigue. It also includes antioxidants that enhance your memory.

3. Green Leafy Vegetables

Green vegetables are also Study Super Foods. The vitamins in broccoli help convert tryptophan into serotonin, your good mood brain chemical, and the large amounts of vitamin K in broccoli enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower. Try adding green veggies like spinach, broccoli and brussels sprouts to your diet. The easiest way to add green veggies is simply to add a salad to your lunch and dinner.

4. Avocados

Avocados are a “Super Study Food.” They contain good fats, which contribute to healthy blood flow to your brain and support proper brain function. I recommend adding 1/4 to 1/2 of an avocado to one meal daily as a side dish. Adding avocados to your eggs creates the perfect pre-study breakfast.

5. Fruits

Instead of grabbing those potato chips, grab an apple, banana or orange. It will give you antioxidants that boost your brain and body function. A great mid-day snack is bananas or apples with almond butter. You can get almond butter from most grocery stores or health food stores.

6. Oatmeal Topped with Yogurt and Blueberries

This is a great brain breakfast combo. Blueberries are possibly the best brain food on earth because they strengthen your neuron signals, which improves your brain function. They are also high in fiber and low on the glycemic index, so they won’t spike your blood sugar like that muffin or scone. Oatmeal and other whole grains boost blood flow to the brain and stick with you, keeping you full until lunch. And an amino acid in yogurt helps improve your mental alertness and memory.

7. Nuts and Seeds

Both nuts and seeds boost your brain power and improve your mood. Nuts like almonds, cashews or walnuts contain protein, fiber, and beneficial fats. Snack on nuts to clear up that mid-morning brain fog. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are particularly good because they contain tryptophan, the amino acid the brain converts to serotonin. So these little seeds can also improve your mood and help you sleep. I love sunflower seeds in the shells because I have to work at them. It gives me something to do when I study to keep me awake. And ladies, because pumpkin seeds also contain lots of zinc, they have been shown to increase your libido – just something to keep in mind.

8. Eggs

Eggs contain high-quality proteins, vitamins and nutrients. One nutrient in eggs even boosts the memory center of your brain.

9. Fish

Fish is a good mood food. Salmon and tuna contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve memory, and reduce anxiety and hyperactivity.

10. Brown Rice and Beans or Lentils

Beans and lentils are rich in quality protein, so they will fill you up, while also help stabilizing your blood sugar levels and energizing your brain. Brown rice contains the perfect mix of carbohydrates and fiber to fuel your brain while keeping you full.

11. Popcorn

Fat free popcorn is a whole grain. So snacking on popcorn (not the buttery or sugary kind) can help boost blood flow to the brain.

12. Chocolate

Yes, chocolate does actually make you happier. Dark chocolate, in moderation, enhances your focus and concentration. Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and contains several natural stimulants, which increase the production of endorphins.

Balancing Meals

For best brain results balance good carbohydrates with proteins. Your brain actually needs carbohydrates for fuel. But try to avoid any meals that are purely carbohydrates. A high carbohydrate meal will make you feel sleepy and sluggish later. And remember that carbs like candy, chips, white bread, pastries and pasta give quick energy, but don’t go the long haul. Healthy carbs like whole grains, fruits, veggies, and lentils provide longer lasting fuel for the brain.

I have included a few easy recipes below. If you have foods that you like to eat when you study, share them here.

Want more tips to improve your brain function? Lauren Firestein is the founder of the Mind Over Bar Course, an innovative course that focuses only on the mental challenges of the bar exam. The course teaches in-the-moment practices you can use study faster and easier and rock the bar exam.

Scrambled Eggs with Avocado
2-3 Eggs
½ Avocado, chopped into small cubes
Cheddar cheese
Canned Mexican flavored tomatoes (Rotel is my favorite brand.)
Chili powder

As you scramble the eggs in a pan, add the chili powder and cumin. Once the eggs are almost done, add the canned tomatoes and cheddar cheese. At the end, fold in the fresh avocado and cilantro. Top with your favorite salsa.

For another variation: Replace cheddar with goat cheese, Mexican flavored canned tomatoes with fresh tomatoes, and chili powder, cumin and cilantro with fresh basil.

Tasty Brown Rice and Beans
Cooked brown rice
Your favorite type of canned beans – garbanzo, white cannelli, soy, lentils, black, etc.
Canned tomatoes of any flavor (Mexican flavored, Italian flavored, etc.)
Juice of one lemon

Combine all ingredients, microwave and enjoy.

Easy Lunch Tostada
2 corn tortillas
1 Zucchini, cut into small cubes
1 Squash, cut into small cubes
5-6 fresh cherry tomatoes, chopped (or canned tomatoes)
Olive oil
Mexi corn (canned or frozen)
1 can black beans
Chili powder

Preheat your oven to 400°. Put foil on a cookie sheet, drizzle a little olive oil on the foil and very lightly coat the tortillas with the oil. Bake them for 7-10 minutes, checking often as the burn quickly.

In a large pan, cook the zucchini and squash in a little olive oil for 3-4 minutes. Season with chili powder and cumin to taste. Once they are almost done, add the cherry tomatoes, mexi-corn, black beans, and 2 tablespoons salsa. Cook until everything is warm. Spoon mixture on cooked crisp tortillas.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons good olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Cut them in half. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour them on a cookie sheet and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly. Sprinkle with more kosher salt ( I like these salty like French fries), and serve immediately.
From: The Food Network, Barefoot Contessa

Yummy Green Salad
Baby spinach leaves
¼ cup Broccoli, chopped
¼ Cucumber, sliced
1 carrot, sliced (or use shredded carrots)
1 (11 ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
Balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing to taste

Mix it all together and enjoy.