By Marie A. Spano, MS RD/LD, CSCS, CSSD

Despite the fact that we have so many electronic devices that help us get through our day, we still need to rely on our memory and maximize our ability to focus and concentrate. In addition to keeping your brain stimulated on a daily basis – by reading, learning something new or simply challenging your brain to games like crossword puzzles, you can fuel your brain by following these four tips for smart snacking:

  1. Drink while you eat. Even mild dehydration can sap your ability to concentrate. Therefore, it is important to stay well hydrated at all times. Though water is a great choice, tea (black, white, green or oolong) is nature’s best beverage for your brain. Two naturally occurring compounds found in tea, caffeine and the amino acid l-theanine, increase our alertness, memory and performance in cognitive functioning tasks.  Studies show that l-theanine has the unique ability to also keep you relaxed and reduce psychological and physiological stress while keeping you alert.
  2. Eat a rainbow of red, purple and blue hues. Though all fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, those that are red, blue and purple are loaded with anthoncyanins, compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and increase neuron signaling in the brain. In fact, one study found that older adults who consumed wild blueberry juice daily improved some aspects of cognitive functioning. In addition to anthocyanins, some of these red, blue and purple fruits and veggies also contain resveratrol – a compound that improves memory and cognition in mice and age related memory decline in rats. Choose red grapes, purple grape juice and berries.
  3. Zone in on choline rich foods. Choline is a precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a compound that plays a role in memory. Eggs, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, peanuts, peanut butter and milk contain choline.
  4. Chomp on nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds contain heart healthy fat and they provide an array of vitamins and minerals including magnesium. Magnesium can improve learning and memory and magnesium therapy has been shown to restore brain functioning following brain injury. Your best bets are almonds, cashews, mixed nuts and peanuts. If you need a little sweet mixed in, add raisins, they too contain magnesium.

There are many delicious nutritious foods that can satisfy your hunger, but, if you also want to maximize your memory and concentration, follow the four tips outlined above. Try mixed nuts and a glass of iced tea in the middle of your workday. Or, prepare an egg salad sandwich and bowl of berries if you need a supersized snack. Finally, if you aren’t hungry but in need of a brain booster, try chewing a piece of gum.  Studies show that chewing gum can enhance alertness, mood, reaction time and attention.