Chili peppersPaul Asman and Jill Lenoble, Wikimedia Commons
The brains of students on their way back to school benefit from the chemicals found in certain foods. The Earth provides many tasty treats for students, but don't leave these foods behind in the school cafeteria. The foods help brain functioning in all people, not just young scholars.
A fiery hot chili pepper can boost alertness during a cram session, without the jitters and insomnia of coffee. Beyond serving as a tongue-scorching substitute for espresso, peppers, both sweet and spicy, also provide one of the highest doses of vitamin C in foods that regularly appear on American tables.
Nerve cells use vitamin C to function and the vitamin collects in nerve endings. Eating fruit with lots of vitamin C improved people's moods after six weeks compared to folks who didn't feast on fruit, according to a recent study in the journal of Human and Clinical Nutrition.
Cannabis seeds D-Kuru, Wikimedia Commons
Consuming cannabis generally doesn't help when it comes to remembering facts for exams, but the seeds of the plant help the brain. Cannabis (hemp) seeds contain alpha linoleic acid (ALA). ALA serves in the production of brain cell membranes, as well as the myelin, the chemical that coats nerve cells and speeds transmission of signals.
Many other seeds, including chia, flax and walnuts, also provide ALA. The weed purslane contains a rich source of ALA.
PotatoesScott Bauer, USDA, Wikimedia Commons
Brains suck up much of the body's energy. The brain uses approximately 20 percent of the daily dietary energy an adult consumes. Children's brains use even more. Maintaining a good level of the sugar glucose in the blood keeps a steady flow of energy to the brain. Healthy levels of glucose help the formation of memories, according to decades of research reviewed in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.
Starchy foods, such as baked potatoes, provide a slow and steady energy source, since the carbohydrates they contain break down more slowly than simple sugars, like those in candy bars.
PumpkinsHarald Bischoff, Wikimedia Commons
Pumping iron isn't limited to the school gym. In the body, blood pumps the element iron as it transports oxygen in the molecule hemoglobin. A snack of pumpkin and squash seeds provides that essential iron.
Lack of iron reduces the brain's oxygen supply. Iron deficiency also hinders the production of neurotransmitters, the chemicals used for communication between nerve cells in the brain. Symptoms of iron deficiency include irritability, inability to concentrate and memory loss. Lack of iron in the thalamus, a section of the brain, may contribute to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a study published last year in the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry.
EggsJosé Manuel López Pinto, Wikimedia Commons
The amino acid tryptophan relates to several brain functions such as sleep, sensitivity to pain and the control of mood. An experiment published in Psychopharmacology found that lack of tryptophan decreased people's ability to determine if others' facial expressions were fearful, happy, sad, or disgusted.
The human body can't produce its own tryptophan. The amino acid must be eaten. Eggs contain high levels of tryptophan.
OystersPeter Gugerell, Wikimedia Commons
On an episode of the Simpsons, a spoof of 1950s educational films explored what the world would be like without zinc. “Come back, zinc!” cried the young man trapped in a world without telephones, car batteries, hand guns and many other things made of zinc.
Even the brain depends on zinc. Zinc plays a role in communication between neurons and the internal functioning of nerve cells, and improper levels of zinc may play a role in the death of neurons associated with stroke, epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease according to a study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Oysters contain large amount of zinc. Vegetarians can get their zinc from wheat.
Rib-eye steak Peter Bagi/Corbis
Beef provides the highest concentration of B12 in foods Americans commonly eat, according to the USDA.
A study in Neurology found that lack of B12 may correlate to smaller brain volume. Deficiency in vitamin B12 also relates to neurological disorders, mental disturbances and blood chemistry alterations. B12 deficiency must be caught early to avoid irreversible damage to the nervous system. Symptoms of deficiency include memory loss, pain and abnormal sensations at limb extremities.
A student plays after school on a jungle gym.Per-Anders Pettersson/Corbis
Getting outside of the library helps a student's brain by allowing their skin to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D protects the neurons of the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in the formation of memories. Vitamin D also affects the transport of glucose to the brain, which is important for providing energy to the hungry brain.
Blossoming Almond TreeVincent van Gogh/Wikimedia Commons
Almonds contain a rich dietary dose of vitamin E. This vitamin protects against some of the effects of aging in the brain. Vitamin E also plays a role in cognition, the mental processes involved in attention, memory, learning and other mental functions.
College football players take note: a study on lab rats suggested that vitamin E can prevent brain damage and learning disability after mild injuries to the brain. The journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair published the results of that experiment.
Salt mounds in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.Luca Galuzzi, Wikimedia Commons/www.galuzzi.it
Sprinkling some iodized salt on roasted pumpkin seeds, baked potatoes and other brain foods adds to their benefit.
The production of hormones in the thyroid depends on the element iodine. Iodine deficiency caused goiters in adults, a serious swelling of the thyroid gland. Unborn humans suffered an even worse fate from iodine deficiency. The term “cretin,” now used as an insult, originally referred to a person born after suffering from iodine deficiency and an inactive thyroid gland. People suffering from this condition were born with mental disabilities and physical stunting. Most salt now contains iodine to prevent the dangerous effects of deficiency.