Cheaper food suppliers could be the answer for unfocused students

When it comes to choosing between a few pints or the recommended five-a-day it’s a no brainer for many students. Limited funds mean cutting back on non-essentials, and unfortunately in comparison to a night out, healthy eating isn’t generally categorised as an ‘essential’.

It’s no surprise to discover that the majority of students have a pretty poor diet; in fact, medical studies suggest that only 19% of students display a ‘favourable eating behaviour’. Contributing factors including cost, lack of transport, inability to cook, lack of time and general disinterest mean that many students eat out of necessity and with little consideration towards nutritional value.

To find out more about students’ eating habits and how their choice of diet can impact on their studies, value retailer Approved Food decided to carry out some independent research. The research took the form of two independent surveys asking students what they would normally eat before a lecture, and what they found most difficult about lectures.

Here are the results:

What would you normally eat before a lecture?


27.5 %


23.2 %


18.4 %


12.5 %


7.1 %

Fast food

2.6 %


1.8 %

  • Over a quarter of students admitted they didn’t eat anything before lectures.
  • Those who did eat opted for foods with low nutritional value.
  • Porridge — a food renowned for providing slow releasing energy and boosting brain power— received the least votes.

What do you find most difficult about lectures

Maintaining concentration

72.4 %

Understanding the subject matter

13.3 %

Getting there on time

8.5 %

Remembering your equipment

1 %


0.4 %


4.4 %

  • Almost three-quarters of students find it difficult to maintain concentration in lectures.
  • The second highest response received only 13.3% of votes, (58.9 votes less than concentration) highlighting that other concerns were minimal.

Why these results matter

Looking at the results from both surveys, there is an obvious link between students failing to eat before lectures and their inability to maintain concentration.

This highlights the fact that it is imperative for students to eat — preferably nutritious, brain-boosting foods — prior to lectures to ensure that they get the most out of their studies.

Finding healthy ways to naturally improve concentration is currently a hot topic, as stories of students turning to ‘smart drugs’ (commonly prescribed for conditions such as ADSD and narcolepsy) to aid concentration and overcome fatigue have recently been hitting the headlines.

Opting for a ‘quick fix’ solution in the form of performance-enhancing drugs may seem like the only option to students struggling to wade through a heavy workload — especially on limited sleep due to the obligatory social life. However, a far healthier and more sustainable solution could be found simply by addressing their diet.

Top foods for boosting concentration

It is well documented that the following foods are rich in nutrients synonymous with boosting brain power and concentration:

Brain food

What’s in it and what does it do?


Naturally packed with vitamin K, vitamin B, vitamin C and folate .

Helps cognitive function, memory and concentration.

High in protein and low in sugar.


High in antioxidants.

Nitrates help blood flow to the brain, boosting energy and performance levels.


Highest antioxidant-rich food available.

High in vitamins C and K.

High in fibre.

Protects the brain from degeneration and stress.


High levels of vitamin K and choline.

High in vitamin C.

High in fibre.

Coconut oil

Natural anti-inflammatory.

Helps with memory loss.

Dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

Full of flavanols containing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Improves blood flow to the heart and brain.


Egg yolks contain large amounts of choline which breaks down bethane, a chemical that produces happy hormones.

Extra virgin olive oil

Contains polyphenols that help improve learning and memory.

Fights against ADDLs – proteins that are toxic to the brain.

Green leafy veg

Rich in vitamins A and K.

Rosemary oil

Carnosic acid helps protect the brain from neurodegeneration.

It also helps protect eyesight from deteriorating.


Rich in omega-3 fatty acids that prevent brain fog and improve memory.

It is also known to prevent ADHD


Helps boost antioxidants and improve the brain’s oxygen intake, keeping you alert and able to process information.


Improves cognitive health.

High levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals boost mental alertness. Vitamin E helps ward off Alzheimer’s.

Why is it so difficult for students to shop healthily?

In an ideal world students would simply switch their diet to include all of these ‘superfoods’ to fast-track their way to the top grades. However, as highlighted earlier, cost and convenience are two of the main reasons behind their poor diets.

Limited access to transport massively restricts the choice of shops for students, especially as most budget supermarkets tend to be situated away from the high street and don’t deliver, making them inaccessible for day-to-day shopping. This often means that students are restricted to settling for a limited range of foods at inflated prices in their local convenience supermarkets or independent grocery stores.

Online shopping is the obvious solution, but as the budget chains don’t offer online services, customers are faced with high minimum spends and delivery costs on top of premium supermarket prices.

There is also the undeniable fact that the aforementioned ‘superfoods’ tend to be much more expensive than processed food. So, even if students want to eat healthily, finances generally dictate that menu staples consist of processed junk food, sandwiches, white pasta or high sugar cereals.

So, what can be done to help students eat well on a limited budget?

Get shopping savvy

There is a solution to smart online shopping, which allows students to stock up on high-quality, ‘brain-boosting’ foods for less — buying short-dated foods which are nearing, or past their best before date.

There is a misconception that once food has reached its ‘best before date’ it is no longer suitable for consumption; however this could not be further from the truth. As the name suggests, ‘best before’ means that the product will be at its peak flavour prior to the date, but once the date has passed the product is still perfectly good to eat. On the other hand, a ‘use by’ date indicates when products must be consumed by. This is often stated on fresh meat and dairy products highlighting that after this date the product may go off; therefore it is not advised to consume anything past its ‘use by’ date.

Approved Food — the UK’s largest retailer of short-date goods — specialise in sourcing and delivering a wide range of perfectly good, top brand foods and drinks that may either be short-dated or acquired as surplus stock. Sometimes stock is well within date but may feature last season’s packaging, or it may be a discontinued line, in which case the manufacturers sell it directly to Approved Food who are then able to sell it to their customers at discounted prices.

Smaller prices equal bigger variety

Retailers such as Approved Food open up a whole new avenue for students — low-cost food that can be delivered directly to their door. By being able to readily access a wider variety of affordable food, students can pay more attention to the range and quality of foods they are buying. Not only is it instantly easier to cover all food groups required for a healthy diet, inexpensive ingredients also encourage housemates to experiment with different recipes and menu ideas.

Smarter shopping also makes it possible to stick to a tight budget while filling a shopping basket with foods that are proven to improve concentration. Although some brain foods, such as fresh salmon, are unlikely to fit into a student budget, it’s not difficult to substitute a much cheaper, omega-3 rich alternative, such as tinned salmon, mackerel, sardines or omega-3 supplements — all of which can often be found on the Approved Food site — to achieve a similar nutritional benefit.

Other superfoods that are packed with nutrients and antioxidants that won’t be affected by ‘best before’ dates, include nuts and seeds, green tea, whole grains, high-fibre cereals and quinoa.

It is also much easier than you may think to swap everyday energy-zapping staples with brain-boosting options. For example:

Energy-zapping option

Swap for

Energy-boosting option

White toast, bagels and baked goods

Wholegrain toast, bagels and English muffins

Sugary cereals, especially those with a frosted or chocolate coating


Wholegrain, high-fibre cereals (such as Shredded Wheat and Bran Flakes)

Muesli with no added salt or sugar

Frozen fish fingers

Tinned sardines, mackerel or salmon

Milk chocolate and sugary sweets

Dark chocolate

White pasta and rice

Brown pasta and rice

Crisps and snacks high in saturated fat

Walnuts, almonds and seeds

Shop smart

As more and more savvy shoppers are discovering, healthy eating doesn’t have to go hand in hand with a hefty price tag. Selecting short-dated goods with high nutritional value is the perfect way to achieve increased levels of concentration without breaking the budget.

Smart shopping undoubtedly offers a win-win solution for students. Not only can they buy brain food for less, there is there every chance that there will be money left in the pot for that all-essential pint, which — for once — won’t be drunk on an empty stomach.

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