If your house is anything like mine, it’s full of revising students. And if they’re constantly on their screens, you might want to tell them about a new study from the University of Tokyo which found greater memory and recall when we write on paper rather than tapping onto a laptop. The researchers think that ‘the unique, complex, spatial and tactile information associated with writing by hand on physical paper’ helps us encode information more deeply and thoroughly in our brains.
The same study found that people taking notes on paper were also faster by almost 25%, confounding the notion that screens enable us to be more efficient. It’s all about the pen and paper (a stylus and digital tablet wasn’t the same either).
Using MRI scanners the researchers were able to see exactly what was happening as the volunteers took notes (or tapped notes). Those working with pen and paper showed more brain activity in areas linked to language, imagination and the hippocampus – the brain part crucial for memory and navigation. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the richer spatial details offered by paper seemed to make it easier remembering – an hour later – what had been written. This is the beauty of real paper: We can visualise corners turned over, scribbled notes, under-linings, and so on. These extra details help our memory navigate through all the other information it stores on our behalf.
Nor did Professor Sakai, the neuroscientist author of the study, stop there. He believes that creativity is also enhanced when we work on physical paper: ‘For art, composing music, or other creative works, I would emphasize the use of paper instead of digital methods,’ he added.
So for any of us writing – be it to-do lists, a journal or notes for an upcoming exam – ditch the screen and return to pen-and-paper if you want to remember it. You can read the study here.
There are lots of other ways of improving recall, from moving frequently, to napping (20 minutes deep rest after learning something accelerates our ability to recall it, says Andrew Huberman) to stoking up on particular foods like blueberries, oily fish, mushrooms and dark chocolate – all of which appear, in studies, to support long and short-term memory.
If you missed our quick hacks for getting more movement into your life, you can see them on Noon’s website here.
Other than exams, the thing on my mind recently has been (sadly) cancer. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have three friends awaiting scans or treatment, all exacerbated by the past year during which time many of us missed routine appointments.
So when a meta analysis of mushroom-and-cancer studies dropped into my inbox I read it avidly. Since then we’ve been eating mushrooms most days – often prepared in an edited version of an Ottolenghi dish (see below). A meta analysis is a study of studies, and this one examined 17 studies produced between 1966 and 2020, pulling together the findings from 19,500 cancer patients – and finding a clear association between eating mushrooms and a lower risk of cancer. Particularly breast cancer. For daily mushroom eaters, the risk fell by a staggering 45%.
So what is it about mushrooms? Mushrooms contain an abundance of nutrients, but researchers believe it’s an amino acid known as ergothioneine that helps protect against cancer. When it comes to ergothioneine not all mushrooms are equal: shiitake, oyster and maitake contain the most. But all mushrooms contain some. People regularly eating any mushrooms – including button and Portobello – were able to lower their risk of cancer. Those eating 18 grams a day achieved the best results. That’s about 2 mushrooms, depending on their size.
According to Penn State College of Medicine – who did the meta analysis – ergothioneine is ‘a unique and potent antioxidant and cellular protector’ and mushrooms are its highest dietary source. If you like mushrooms, incorporating them into a daily meal is no hardship. Otherwise organ meats like liver and kidney contain ergothioneine, as do black beans and kidney beans.
Mushrooms are also good for the brain, and you can read our post on improving cognition here, along with a recipe for Italian mushroom salad. Another of my favourite mushroom recipes is Italian Beans with Rosemary and Mushrooms, which is redolently rich with rosemary – also proven to aid memory in certain studies. And for all-round goodness, you could try Farro, Watercress and Mushroom salad.
But the dish we’ve eaten three times in the last four days was inspired by a recipe in Ottolenghi’s Simple. It’s very easy, works with whatever mushrooms you have and can be played around with, according to the contents of your fridge and larder. Ottolenghi uses chestnuts but I prefer butter beans (cheaper too). He also uses shallots, but I prefer red onions for their additional anthocyanins.
MUSHROOMS WITH ZA’ATAR (serves 2-4)
- Mushrooms (as many as you like, they shrink considerably), cut into 3 cm chunks
- 2 red onions cut into thin wedges
- Handful of sage leaves, roughly chopped
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 can butter beans (or use a bag of chestnuts / miss out the beans)
- 1 tbsp za’atar
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
Mix the first five ingredients, season, and spread onto parchment paper in a baking tray and put into an over at 180.
Roast until soft and caramelised (around 40-50 minutes). Add the butter beans and return to the over to heat through.
Add the za’atar and lemon juice, drizzle with extra olive oil. And serve…
Want to remember this recipe? Write it out with pen and paper. Bingo!