Junk food, drinks and chemicals to which you are exposed can impact your memory in surprising ways. Students in particular are often guilty of these lifestyle choices and then struggle in class and exams. Cleaning up your act could make a big difference to how well you focus and remember stuff.
1. Junk the Junk
Don’t eat high fat high sugar junk food. Comfort food may provide you with immediate gratification but the let down is massive as insulin kicks in, giving you a post-sugar crash. You can find yourself feeling tired, anxious and unable to focus. Skip the greasy burgers and doughnuts and rather make yourself a good tuna salad sandwich with whole wheat bread or snack on unsalted almonds and walnuts.
2. Skip Starbucks and Cola
Caffeine in small quantities is good for a boost but in excess it makes you jittery, particularly if you have it on an empty stomach. You may be awake but if you are bouncing off the walls and can’t think straight, you are not going to learn much and would have been better off skipping the coffee and going for a nap! Soft drinks and sodas can contain surprisingly high levels of caffeine and sugar. Remember, tea also contains some caffeine.
The diet versions are no better as they replace the sugar high with a chemical cocktail of artificial sweeteners instead. Take a leaf out of the Mediterranean diet and learn to enjoy good black coffee in small measures as a morning or afternoon break rather than mindlessly slurping up a gallon of the vendor stuff from a sippy cup while doing something else. Think of a dainty cup of espresso or Greek coffee with a glass of water on the side instead.
The rest of the time, drink plain ordinary water to stay hydrated. If you tend to drink big buckets of coffee while studying simply because the act of drinking something is part of the ritual of studying, a jug of water will perform the same function.
Alcohol kills brain cells and also erodes your memory and thinking skills. Drinking vast quantities of alcohol to help you unwind and negate the after effects of too much coffee is not a recipe for success, despite millions of students who have tried to work their way through college on this combination. Coffee after a heavy night doesn’t make you sober, it merely makes you awake despite yourself! Keep a check on what you drink, how much you drink and how often.
4. Drugs – Legal and Illegal
Drugs, both prescription and the illegal kind can affect your thought processes and cognitive skills. Be careful of over the counter pain killers, cough remedies, antihistamines (anti-allergy remedies) and NSAIDs as they can also make you sleepy, unfocused and affect your short term memory. If you need to take any of these medications, check if you can rather take them at bedtime when a good night’s sleep is beneficial rather than in the morning when they can knock you out for class or impair your ability to write an exam.
Neurotoxins may not sound like something you normally run into but they include petrochemicals, solvents, pesticides and herbicides – things that you find in most homes, gardens and places of work in various forms. They can kill brain cells if you are exposed to them and may have serious long-term neurological consequences such as Parkinson’s disease. Wear protective clothing and a mask if you have to work with any of the above chemicals, avoid using them in a confined space and ask yourself if opening a window and taking out the garbage wouldn’t be a better way of making your room smell nice than squirting around the air freshener.
6. MSG and Artificial Sweeteners
Food additives such as Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial sweeteners are also damaging to brain cell operations. MSG occurs naturally in small quantities when cooking certain foods such as mushrooms and red meat and in that context is generally harmless but it isalso added in large quantities to junk food and processed food to boost the flavours of inferior ingredients and make them more appetising. Artificial sweeteners pop up in a lot of processed foods and drinks, whether labelled ‘diet’ or not so read the labels carefully for nutritional information and ingredients.
We can’t promise miracles – you still have to read the books, actually attend the classes and pay attention in order to learn but you can help your brain with the process by removing the things that can cloud your consciousness and impair brain function.