Can food really boost your brainpower?

The best brain foods are those that contain essential fatty acids.

Yes! Brain foods do exist and they can help improve our mental performance. While this doesn't mean if we stick to eating spinach, walnuts and olive oil we'll turn into geniuses overnight, it does mean we can give ourselves a boost in the brain department just by making slight changes to our diets. And who wouldn't want a mental boost when studying for uni or TAFE courses?

Healthy food, healthy mind

Scientists are hard at work trying to figure out what certain foods do for our bodies, and the general consensus is that the best brain foods are those that contain essential fatty acids. That includes, oily fish like salmon and sardines, as well as avocados, walnuts and pumpkin seeds.

Walnuts actually help increase blood flow to the brain – can't argue with that, but perhaps the most important substance of all is simple H2O. Without water, our brains become dehydrated and it becomes impossible to function properly, so before you think about what you're eating, think first about making sure you're drinking at least 1.5 litres of water a day, if not more.

Thankfully, there's also proof that chocolate (at least the dark kind – 80% cacao or more) is good for you. Not only does it contain caffeine, which helps you focus, it also contains flavonoids – a type of antioxidant that boosts blood flow and lowers blood pressure.

Veggies are essential

Leafy green vegetables like spinach and broccoli have been proven to support cognitive function. Broccoli is packed full of vitamin K, while the herb sage, according to old wives' tales, improves memory.

Another vegetable that has been shown to have brain-enhancing powers is the humble tomato, which contains an antioxidant that may protect the body from free radicals that can cause things like dementia in old age.

It's not just what we eat though, it's how much we eat and when. Meal timing is a crucial factor in performance. For example, breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day, so be sure to eat a good breakfast every morning (avoiding sugary cereals that will make you crash and burn mid-morning and opting instead for whole grains, which release energy slowly) as this will help improve memory – perfect for when you have a big day of studying ahead.

Read about the science to studying.