Eating to Improve Focus and Concentration
Did you know that was even possible?! Yup, it is! What you eat, or in most cases what you are not eating, has an impact on focus and energy levels. If you’re feeling foggy-headed, fatigued, or struggling to keep your concentration, continue reading to see what may be missing from your eating pattern that could help.
First things first, you need to ensure you are “CPF-ing” your meals and snacks. Hmm, ok that sounds a little inappropriate, but it really just means having a balanced eating pattern! CPF stands for carbohydrate, protein, and fat, the three macronutrients crucial in keeping the body functioning effectively and keeping blood glucose (sugar) levels balanced. When blood glucose levels are balanced, we feel good, are not hungry, have energy, focus, and the brain is receiving fuel. So where are these macronutrients found and how do they affect blood sugar levels? Here is a quick breakdown:
– Carbohydrates like whole grains, fresh fruit, legumes, dairy products, and starchy vegetables fuel the body with the energy needed to function. They also influence the “feel good” neurotransmitter, serotonin, in our brain. When serotonin is in adequate supply, we tend to feel relaxed, soothed, calm, we sleep well and we do not crave foods. However, if carbohydrates are consumed alone, the energy given is momentary as the body’s blood glucose levels fall about an hour after eating them. So while they can be satisfying in the moment, we need other macronutrients to help maintain blood glucose in balance.
– This brings us to protein which will be found in foods like meat, fish, nuts, seeds and beans. Protein tends to raise dopamine levels in our brain which is the “energy and focus enhancer” neurotransmitter. So, when it is in adequate supply, we tend to be more awake, alert and able to focus. Protein also helps to mute the release of glucose from carbohydrates consumed, so it slows the rise and drop of glucose.
– Lastly, we have fat. Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts and seeds will help delay the glucose rise over a longer period of time, thus it helps keep us more alert and focused.
If you want to learn more about how “CPF” works, check out our blog post about the topic here.
Now that you know how important the “macro” nutrients are, we cannot leave the “micro” ones behind because they are just as important! Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids) facilitate functions happening in our body 24/7. There are too many of these little guys to go into too much detail, but here are some main ones to have on your radar:
1) B-vitamins include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, B6, and B12. The B- vitamins are known for their supporting role with energy. Good thing is you are likely getting most of them as much of our food supply is fortified with B-vitamins. Protein sources such as beef, chicken, and fish as well as leafy green vegetables are the highest natural sources for B-Vitamins
2) Minerals like magnesium, zinc, and iron support the body’s nerve function as well as immune system, and most people aren’t getting enough of these micronutrients. Foods like dark leafy greens (spinach, swiss chard), cocoa, pumpkin seeds and legumes are rich in these nutrients.
3) Omega 3s are essential, meaning they body does not produce them on its own, therefore we must get them from our food or quality supplementation. Omega 3s keep our cells permeable, so nutrient transfer in and out of the cell is more efficient. Best sources of these fatty acids comes from fatty fish- salmon, cod, sardines, or mackerel. Foods like walnuts, chia, flax, and hemp seeds are also good sources of Omega 3s.
4) Antioxidants such as beta carotene found in pumpkins and carrots, lycopene found in tomatoes and watermelon, vitamin E found in avocado and nuts, and flavonoids found in green tea, play a role in not just in preventing disease, but also enhancing brain function.
5) Probiotics are last, but certainly not least. Aside from being vital for the health of our digestive system, they also produce chemicals that stimulate parts of the brain responsible for attention and memory, as well as certain microorganisms that help produce neurotransmitters. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, our gut is directly connected to our brain! Fermented foods will be the best sources of probiotics: plain organic yogurts, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, apple cider vinegar, organic tempeh. Supplementation may also be recommended, and a nutrition expert can guide you to the best options.
In a nut shell, if you are feeling groggy and brain-fogged, double check that you are “CPF-ing” your meals and snacks and make sure that what you are eating is nutrient dense. Minimally processed foods will get you the most bang for your food buck when it comes to getting necessary nutrients needed to keep you energized and alert!
And for those looking for a quick and convenient way to incorporate what we talked about today, check out this simple breakfast option for Cinnamon Coconut Chia Pudding.
Or, try our 5-minute recipe for Avocado Toast. If you are not part of the Avo Toast trend yet… you are totally missing out, just sayin’!
Basilia Theofilou is a contributor on our blog as well as one of the nutrition advisors here at PreviMedica. You can read more about her here.