Let’s say you’re a student gearing up for end-of-semester tests. Or a professional going over the latest reports. Or you’re drafting a talk or a presentation. You have to cram these preparations into a busy schedule. How can you stay alert and get the most out of the time you spend researching, reading and taking notes? Traditional Middle-Easterners eat za’atar to improve memory (and here’s our famous za’atar pesto recipe), but there are many other things you can do to keep going .
Well, you might say, I stay up late and drink lots of coffee.
But while coffee might keep you bug-eyed until 3 AM, it doesn’t help you study. What caffeine does is stimulate release of adrenaline, which prepares you for “fight or flight,” a reaction that keeps you awake, makes your heart bang harder (and makes you run to the toilet), but doesn’t help you focus.
There’s a better way to stay smart: eat smarter.
Carb-heavy junk foods bog you down and make you sleepy. Before you settle down to a day or session of serious studying, take a few minutes to line up healthy meals and snacks. The time spent preparing them will pay off in improved ability to focus and more endurance to keep going.
It’s as easy as spooning some granola over yogurt.
There are many other healthy options. Consider these:
Have ready in the fridge vegetable sticks, or even better, a quickly-made mason jar salad. Wash your favorite fruits and put them in a bowl; set it on a table nearby to grab a sweet snack when you need it. Think you’ll need a hit of candy at some point? Eat two squares of chocolate, at least 60% cacao and preferably 70 or even 80%. Keep it in the fridge, because you know, chocolate…you can absent-mindedly finish off an entire bar if it’s sitting right there on your desk.
Hard-boil a couple of eggs. Sprinkle salt and pepper into a bowl and put the eggs on top. It’ll take a minute to peel the eggs and season them when you need to eat. Pour a half-cup of almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds into another bowl and nosh on nuts. Fix a sandwich or two made of whole-wheat bread filled with hummous, cheese, tuna, or avocado. My current favorite quick meal is soup and an avocado-and-tomato-sandwich. These body-loving foods support your mind instead of degrading your ability to work.
As for drink, keep a bottle of plain water on your desk and drink from it, very often. It’s easy to get slightly dehydrated, even in the winter, and dehydration makes the brain go fuzzy. Coffee? One or two cups won’t hurt, unless you’re drinking it to stay awake. As I wrote above, it’ll keep you awake, but it won’t help you study. Still need to sip at something different than water? Select a caffeine-free tea or make this delicious cold hibiscus brew. Rosemary tea definitely keeps you awake and aware, but pregnant women shouldn’t drink it (small culinary amounts of rosemary won’t hurt pregnancy, but concentrated amounts, as in tea, might stimulate miscarriage).
If you feel you’re going to need a hot meal at some point during your study session, take the time to cook yourself a pot of soup. A sturdy, warming one like our Moroccan chickpea and spinach soup will put the heart back into you. Feel like you don’t have the time to cook? Think of it like this: in the time you’re waiting for a pizza delivery, you can make your own, nutritious, inexpensive soup.
And don’t forget to get up once in a while to do some stretches, take a shower or a short walk. Even doing something as mundane as washing a load of laundry or tidying the place up will stimulate your blood circulation and refresh your mind.
Finally, take your meal to the table. Eating away from the computer, with the food on a dish and your drink in a glass, makes a break, gives you a breather, and sends you back to the books refreshed.