Illustrations: Kim Wiens.
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With exam season creeping closer every day, it’s becoming increasingly necessary for students to take care of their physical and mental health.

Unfortunately, much of the traditional student diet is horrible for the brain during exam time.

Besides the obvious advice of “don’t knock back tequila shots before your tests”, below you’ll find a list of food items and ingredients that can really hinder your brain and body throughout this hellish time of year.

Avoid the following foods, and you might actually stand a chance of getting through the oncoming academic onslaught relatively unscathed.


WEB_FEA_Foods-to-Avoid_Hamburger_Kim-WiensOne thing you need to avoid to keep your brain healthy is foods that are high in trans fats.

A 2012 study in Neurology showed that eating large quantities of trans fat led to brain shrinkage and less processing power.

Additionally, a diet high in trans fat can increase the risk of depression by up to 48 per cent, according to a study published in PLoS ONE.

Foods that are high in trans fat include frozen pizza, coffee creamer, and microwave popcorn.

Replace it with: Foods with a lot of Vitamin K, which increases brainpower and cognitive function. Green vegetables like kale and broccoli are brimming with this brain-boosting vitamin.


WEB_FEA_Foods-to-Avoid_Sugar_Kim-WiensSugar, while sometimes stimulating, also hits the brain pretty hard (and not in a good way).

A 2015 study in Neuroscience proved that mice on a high-sugar and high-fat diet suffered cognitively. Not only was their long-term and short-term memory reduced, but their ability to solve problems also suffered.

What makes sugar even more inconspicuously harmful is how seemingly healthy foods—like yogurt, whole wheat bread, juice, canned tomato sauce, and dried fruit—is loaded with the stuff. So be vigilant with your meal selections.

Replace it with: A study at Tufts University showed that blueberries improve short-term memory by repairing damaged nerve cells. The study also said that strawberries and spinach provided the same effects to a lesser extent.


WEB_FEA_Foods-to-Avoid_Coffee_Kim-WiensGlorious, energy-producing caffeine is a staple in any university student’s diet. Unfortunately, the cost of consuming coffee, soda, or energy drinks to stay up during an all-night study session is high.

Caffeine creates energy by blocking the sleep-producing chemical adenosine from entering your nerves. While this works to provide a short boost of energy, its long-term effects can be harmful. The lack of sleep caused by caffeine may cause the body to undergo symptoms of anxiety, like heart palpitations, insomnia, and shaking.

Replace it with: Sometimes all you need is a little hydration to boost your energy and feel awake. Don’t hesitate to chug back a glass or two of water to hydrate and energize your cells.


WEB_FEA_Foods-to-Avoid_Tuna_Kim-WiensUsually, people consider fish to be a brain food. After all, the DHA fatty acid found in many fish has been linked to improving memory.

But since fresh salmon isn’t exactly in the average student’s budget, tuna is often seen as a viable alternative, since it is much cheaper. However, the reality is that tuna can severely damage the brain.


Years of industrial pollution has tainted oceans—and the tuna that live in them—with high concentrations of mercury. High levels of mercury in the body negatively impact cognitive function, and can also damage other organs like the heart.

Replace it with: If you really crave that DHA for some brain power, other fish like mackerel, salmon, and sardines offer high amounts of the fatty acid without as much mercury.

Fried food

WEB_FEA_Foods-to-Avoid_Fried-Food_Kim-WiensEveryone knows that fried food is bad for you due to their high levels of saturated fats and cholesterol. When you’re studying and don’t have time to cook, ordering some takeout or snacking on chips can be appealing. After all, you can just work it off later, right?

Unfortunately, junk food—especially fried foods—have a negative effect on the brain.

Dr. Martha Clare Morris told Huffington Post that saturated fats and cholesterol can block blood from entering the brain, reducing its power. Build-up of these compounds over a long period of time can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Even in the short term of exam season, fried foods should be avoided to keep the brain healthy.

Replace it with: A long-term diet high in folic acid and folate can improve memory and slow the aging of the brain. Some “folic-y” foods include citrus fruits, beans, lentils, and avocado.