• Emma Chow

How to Strengthen Mental Performance with Healthy Snacks

We all know it’s important to be mindful of what you put in your body. Having an unhealthy diet can lead to an abundance of health issues. Far too often, we hear about the kind of meals that can improve our physique. But, can our psychological functions be strengthened through our diet as well?


Tehran University of Medical Sciences conducted a study to determine the effects of a midmorning snack on cognitive functions among young male students. 25 of the participants received a midmorning snack for 6 months whereas the control group did not. Due to their socioeconomic background, it was assumed for the participants to have had breakfast before school.


Results indicated improved learning, recall, and selective attention for those who consumed a midmorning snack.¹ In addition, those students performed better in the auditory and visual memory tests.²


Not only are there positive cognitive effects for snacking, but there are also physical benefits as well. Another recent study conducted at the Imam Khomeini International University studied the effects of breakfast and snack consumption on students’ performance. They focused on academic performance, cognitive functioning, and physical activity.


The results indicated the major role breakfast and snack meals have on cognitive functioning and physical activity.³ The data from this study suggest breakfast and snacking to predict:


  • 79% of cognitive performance

  • 77% of academic performance

  • 70% of physical activity levels


Now that we know how snacking can better our cognitive functions, we need to look at what kind of snacks would be best.


Researchers from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri recently conducted a study. They wanted to compare the effects of having high-protein snacks, high-fat snacks, and not snacking at all. Specifically, they wanted to see how it would influence appetite, food intake, mood, and cognitive functioning.


Within this study, 31 healthy adolescents were divided into three groups. The first would consume a high protein snack (26g of protein/6g of fat per 27g of carbohydrates). The second group would consume a high-fat snack (4g of protein/12g of fat per 32g of carbohydrates). And lastly, the third group did not snack and was considered the control group. All three groups were asked to consume their snacks within the afternoon.


On the fourth day, participants completed an 8 hour reevaluation day. This included pre- and post-appetite questionnaires and food stimulated MRI scans. High-protein snacks significantly reduced the desire to eat again compared to the high-fat snack. The high-protein snack also reduced confusion and bewilderment, and increased cognitive flexibility.


This suggests that afternoon snacking, specifically in high-protein foods, will be beneficial for cognitive functioning. It not only improves your satiety, mood, and cognition. It also reduces feelings of confusion and increases cognitive flexibility.


Previous data from their laboratory suggested an increase in dopamine after consuming protein.Dopamine elicits pleasurable feelings and modulates attention and cognition. This may explain why the consumption of protein has a positive influence on our cognitive functions.


Healthy High-Protein Snacks


  1. Beef Jerky: Besides being high in protein, it’s also high in vitamin B12, zinc, iron, phosphorus, and folate.It also has quite a long shelf life, which makes it a convenient and portable option.

  2. Greek Yogurt: This is also high in calcium and can promote bone health.It has 20g of protein per cup and has shown to be more filling than yogurts with lower protein content.¹⁰ Granola and almonds are great additions to increase the amount of protein you intake.

  3. Turkey Roll-Ups: By using slices of turkey breasts to make wraps is a great little snack that’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates. This has been shown to improve blood sugar levels, which are crucial to regulating appetite.¹¹ This can be made with cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.


Researchers from the Tufts University conducted a study to see how an afternoon confectionery snack could affect cognitive processes. The researchers primarily focused on the areas that are critical to learning.
Illustration by Nadia Mokadem

Researchers from the Tufts University conducted a study to see how an afternoon confectionery snack could affect cognitive processes. The researchers primarily focused on the areas that are critical to learning.


For the first experiment, 38 male undergraduates completed two learning tasks. The primary task either involved learning a map or a story. The second task involved monitoring a radio broadcast for a specific word category. Participants who consumed a sugary snack performed better on their primary task, but did a poorer job on the secondary task.


Within the second experiment, 38 boys that were aged 9-11 underwent a similar experiment. The boys who consumed the sugary snack placed more names on the maps. They also left fewer blanks on the maps in both short and long-term recall. In addition, they performed better on their secondary task. In contrast to the first experiment, task performance improved after consuming the snack.


The first experiment indicated an improvement in long-term spatial memory. This is the kind of memory that retains information about your surroundings. The second experiment showed long-term enhancement and improvements in short-term recall. Combining the results from both experiments, sugar intake appears to improve cognitive performance. Specifically in regards to to attention and spatial memory.¹²


With a high availability of glucose, it will increase the rate of acetylcholine synthesis.¹³ This evidence suggests the importance of glucose in memory and attention. Acetylcholine is a compound that plays a major role as a neurotransmitter in the parasympathetic nervous system. It is a part of the autonomic nervous system and regulates the involuntary physiological processes. Learning is one of the many processes where our body is in high demand for acetylcholine.


Healthy Confectionery Snacks


  1. Acai Smoothie (Dessert Bowls): The antioxidants found in acai counteract inflamed brain cells. These damage one's memory and learning capabilities.¹⁴ Acai purees are often accompanied with bananas, strawberries, kiwis, chocolate chips, shaved coconuts, peanut butter, and many more.

  2. Blueberries: Fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and phytonutrient are all nutritious contents that can be found in blueberries. They also contain a range of compounds that contribute to their antioxidant properties.¹⁵

  3. Avocado Puddings: Avocados are packed with vitamins and minerals (folate, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B5, B6, and many more).¹⁶ They also aid in cellular inflammation, promote eye health, protect the liver, etc.


These snacks not only promote better cognitive functioning, but it also comprises several benefits that improve your overall well-being. Give these snacks a try and strengthen your brain!

References

  1. Koohdani, F., Meshkani, Z. S., Karbakhsh, M., Sheibaniasl, N., Sotoudeh, G., Lesan, S., & Dabiran, S. (2016). Midmorning Snack Programs Have a Beneficial Effect on Cognitive Performance of Students From High Socioeconomic Background. Nutrition Today, 51(6), 310-315. http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1097/NT.0b013e318298e7dd

  2. Ibid.

  3. Masoomi, H., Taheri, M., Irandoust, K., H’Mida, C., & Chtourou, H. (2020). The relationship of breakfast and snack foods with cognitive and academic performance and physical activity levels of adolescent students. Biological Rhythm Research, 51(3), 481-488. http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1080/09291016.2019.1566994

  4. Ibid.

  5. Leidy, H. J., Todd, C. B., Zino, A. Z., Immel, J. E., Mukherjea, R., Shafer, R. S., Ortinau, L. C., & Braun, M. (2015). Consuming High-Protein Soy Snacks Affects Appetite Control, Satiety, and Diet Quality in Young People and Influences Select Aspects of Mood and Cognition 1-3. The Journal of Nutrition, 145(7), 1614-1622C. http://ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/docview/1695234604?accountid=13158

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Raman, R. (2020, March 13). Is Beef Jerky Good for You? Retrieved March 5, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-beef-jerky-good-for-you#:~:text=Beef%20jerky%20is%20a%20good,on-the-go%20option

  9. Flynn A. (2003). The role of dietary calcium in bone health. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 62(4), 851–858. https://doi.org/10.1079/PNS2003301

  10. Douglas, S. M., Ortinau, L. C., Hoertel, H. A., & Leidy, H. J. (2013). Low, moderate, or high protein yogurt snacks on appetite control and subsequent eating in healthy women. Appetite, 60(1), 117–122. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2012.09.012

  11. Samkani, A., Skytte, M. J., Kandel, D., Kjaer, S., Astrup, A., Deacon, C. F., Holst, J. J., Madsbad, S., Rehfeld, J. F., Haugaard, S. B., & Krarup, T. (2018). A carbohydrate-reduced high-protein diet acutely decreases postprandial and diurnal glucose excursions in type 2 diabetes patients. The British journal of nutrition, 119(8), 910–917. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114518000521

  12. Mahoney, C. R., Taylor, H. A., & Kanarek, R. B. (2007). Effect of an afternoon confectionery snack on cognitive processes critical to learning. Physiology & Behavior, 90(2-3), 344-352. http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.09.033

  13. C. Messier, T.P. Durkin, O. Marbet, C. Destrade. Memory-improving action of glucose: Inderect evidence for faciliation of hippocampal acetylcholine synthesis. Behav Brain Res, 39 (1990), pp. 135-143

  14. Poulose, S. M., Fisher, D. R., Larson, J., Bielinski, D. F., Rimando, A. M., Carey, A. N., Schauss, A. G., & Shukitt-Hale, B. (2012). Anthocyanin-rich açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) fruit pulp fractions attenuate inflammatory stress signaling in mouse brain BV-2 microglial cells. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 60(4), 1084–1093. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf203989k

  15. Ware, M. (2017, September 5). Everything you need to know about blueberries. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/287710

  16. 18 Health Benefits of Avocados and Avocado-Pudding Recipe! (Non-dairy, Paleo). (2017, March 19). Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.waterandrockstudio.com/18-health-benefits-avocados-avocado-pudding-recipe-non-dairy-paleo/