Student hack: how eating can improve mood and productivity

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Did you know that what you eat impacts productivity and mood? You can use what you eat to boost energy, improve sleep and essentially for students: increase productivity when studying. As your parents or teachers probably told you, a processed diet and unhealthy snacks won’t provide the nutrition your brain needs to perform optimally. So, as a university student, developing a balanced diet and even taking on board a few small nutrition changes could enhance your studying and your grades. It’s important to remember healthier eating is not an all or nothing way of living, and we should enjoy it in a balanced way without giving up foods we love. So here are some food and nutrition tips specifically relevant to you students!  ?? 

Disclaimer: this article is supported by health websites and studies but if you have serious issues concerning your health, gut and food please contact your doctor.  

Your gut health ... (2019) suggests that gut health links to your mood and found in studies that those suffering with depression or low mood were often missing a couple of key gut microbiomes.  

When we consider the connection between the brain and the gut, it’s important to know that 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut. (Health Harvard) 

Another study outlines an Antidepressant Food Scale, which lists 12 antidepressant nutrients related to the prevention and treatment of depression. Some of the foods containing these nutrients are oysters, mussels, salmon, watercress, spinach, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, and strawberries. 


  • Yogurt – ones with added probiotics like Activia aid your gut health 

  • Sourdough – more digestible than regular bread for some people 

  • Almonds, pistachios – probiotic properties, high fibers 

  • Bananas, raspberries, apples - full of the fiber that good bacteria enjoy 

  • Kombucha – can even be used in cocktails! 

  • Ginger – helps production of stomach acid and regulation of digestive system 

  • Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir – fermented foods are rich in bacteria that can benefit your health 

  • Whole grains – fiber and carbs that promote growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut 

  • Peas 

  • Broccoli 

  • Lentils 

  • Artichokes 

Incorporting more of these foods into your diet could gradually improve your gut and overall mood, however it is important to listen to your body and what works for you. 


Foods that boost productivity ...

The World Health Organisation,  suggests that you can boost brain power up to 20% with the right foods. And is it a coincidence that some of the same foods here are the ones that improve gut health? 

  • Avocados 

  • Berries 

  • Bananas  

  • Eggs 

  • Salmon 

  • Yogurt 

  • Dark leafy greens 

  • Eggplant 

  • Dark chocolate 

  • Green tea 

  • Whole grains like brown rice 

Foods that slow productivity ... 

  • High fat and calorie fast food options like hamburgers and fries can leave you feeling sleepy and slow you down as your body takes a while to process it.  

  • A high amount of meat and protein in one sitting can be heavy on your body and require a lot of energy to digest (why you may need to lie down after a roast dinner). 

  • Eating too little can leave you feeling tired and lead to slow processing. 

What can caffeine do for me?  

Research shows small amounts of caffeine can enhance mood, and temporarily boost productivity and many of us can’t last the morning without some, but it’s useful to consider how it might affect your overall mood and study. It can reduce your sleep quality because it is a stimulant for the brain, so avoiding it in the late afternoon and evening may improve this for you. Some suggest not to drink it too early, as this is when your cortisol is already high and the caffeine won’t have optimum effect – so a mid-morning cup, or a few hours after you wake up may be the answer.  

Don't forget coffee isn’t the only form of caffeine that students heavily consume – energy drinks and pre-workout products often contain caffeine as well as vodka red bulls or jägerbombs you may enjoy on a night out – just worth thinking about if you suffer from mood crashes or poor sleep. (Arguably the alcohol in the last two could also cause this, but I don’t expect you to give up that and caffeine).  

The three vitamins students need! 

Students often lack these three vital vitamins according to The GP Service (2019). 

  • Iron – a lack of this can lead to feeling tired and catching colds often. A good source = spinach, can wilt down to almost nothing to easily be added to any pasta dish. 

  • Vitamin D – can cause tiredness and fatigue. Good sources = fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified foods with Vitamin D such as orange juice. Don’t forget getting outdoors in the sun also helps! 

  • Vitamin B12 – can cause weakness and light-headedness, many vegans may lack B12 and need to take supplements. Good sources = fish, poultry, eggs and milk. 


What to do now? Try these mood boosting meals!  

Read about the Top 10 foods to boost brainpower...  

 (image from Pixabay)

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