Just as your heart, muscles, skin and hair require nutrients from food to function to their fullest, so does your brain. If you have a big presentation, test or mental task ahead, focus on eating certain foods for concentration.
Foods for Concentration and Focus
You may be feeling a little off, when it comes to focus and concentration, due to a lack of sleep, an impending illness, lifestyle factors or hormones. But, often times, when you're feeling spacey and mentally off, it could be rooted in your diet.
Food plays a role in brain health. When you eat the right nutrients, you encourage good blood flow to the brain. Eating the right kind of carbohydrates is key. Low-glycemic foods improve attention, memory, and functional capacity, explains research published in Nutricion Hospitalaria in September, 2018.
High glycemic foods that compromise your attention and concentration include simple sugars, such as refined carbohydrates, soda, and sugary snacks. These foods don't offer the nutrients your brain needs for optimal function.
The types of fat you consume also affect brain function. High intake of saturated fats, usually found in full-fat dairy and meat, correlates with poor cognitive performance, while eating more polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in walnuts, salmon and sunflower seeds, boosts your mental capacity.
Other nutrients key to boosting brain health and function include vitamins B1, B6, B12 and B9, vitamin D, choline, iron and iodine. You also protect your brain from cognitive decline when you consume plenty of antioxidants, such as Vitamins C, E and A, as well as zinc, selenium, lutein and zeaxanthin.
A simple way to promote brain health, focus and concentration is to consume plenty of fruits, vegetables and water, while minimizing intake of saturated fats and refined sugar. The addition of specific nutrients also helps.
Brain Food: Caffeine
A cup of coffee can really give you a pick-me-up when you need it. Caffeine is also present in chocolate, energy drinks and some medications.
Research published in Practical Neurology in April 2016 explains that although caffeine can disturb sleep and cause anxiety in sensitive people, the compound overwhelmingly has a positive effect on alertness, concentration and moodiness. Consuming up to 200 milligrams of caffeine in a single sitting, which works out to about two and a half cups, is considered safe, as long as you don't consume more than 400 milligrams (or five cups) per day. Over-consumption can cause the jitters, and make you feel more distracted than focused.
If you make coffee a part of your daily habit for life, you have a lower risk of cognitive decline and reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and stroke.
Brain Food: Fatty Fish
Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are touted for the omega-3 fatty acids they supply to your diet. These fatty acids are key for brain health — they literally feed your brain cells. When you include them regularly in your diet, about two servings per week, you're less likely to experience dementia and stroke, and will see a slower mental decline. As you get older, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish enhance your memory, too.
The journal Current Neuropharmacology published a paper in May 2017 confirming that omega-3 fatty acids in fish are ideal for enhancing cognitive function. The nutrients may even discourage depression, and promote healthy aging.
Fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids known as EPA and DHA. ALA is another kind of omega-3, one found in plant-based foods, such as walnuts, chia seeds, soybeans and flaxseeds. ALA, or alpha-lipoic acid, does have similar benefits on cognition as DHA and EPA, explained research published in December 2017 in a Frontiers in Pharmacology review article.
Brain Food: Green Vegetables
Green vegetables are an excellent food for concentration boosting. Think cruciferous types, such as broccoli and cabbage, as well as other dark leafy greens, including kale, arugula and collard greens, when you want the best brain function possible.
Consumption of green leafy vegetables is a valid way to slow cognitive decline. Researchers in a January 2018 issue of Neurology assume this is because of the large amounts of lutein, beta carotene, folate and phylloquinone — nutrients that boost brain power — contained in the greens. The paper's conclusion was that adding a daily serving of green leafy vegetables is a simple way to contribute to brain health.
Read more: List of Dark Leafy Green Vegetables
It's easy to fit leafy greens into your meal plan; you just have to get a little creative. Add chard or kale to soups and stews. Wrap tacos in collard greens instead of tortillas. Include broccoli in a stir fry. Use spinach on sandwiches in lieu of, or in addition to, lettuce.
Brain Food: Berries
Berries, specifically a mixture of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, contain numerous antioxidants and flavonoids that promote brain power. A small study of 40 participants published in Nutrients in November 2019 showed that berries, when consumed in a smoothie, improved mood, fought fatigue and increased attention over a 6-hour period. After drinking the berry smoothies, participants demonstrated better accuracy on cognitive tasks for the entire day as compared to those who had a placebo.
Read more: The 9 Best Foods For Your Brain
In this study, the mixed combination provided a valuable impact. However, individual berry types can also be beneficial, so if you can't find a mix of blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, you still get benefits from eating one, or a few, types. A smoothie isn't the only way to deliver berry deliciousness. Try adding them to cereal in the morning. Snack on them with some nuts between meals, or stir them into baked goods. Choose fresh or frozen berries over dried ones, which contain more calories due to their concentrated sugar levels.
The benefits of berries aren't isolated to your brain's ability to focus and concentrate either. The nutrients in berries contribute to good heart health, explains Johns Hopkins Medicine.
- Nutrition Hospitalaria: "Nutrition Strategies that Improve Cognitive Function."
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "4 Types of Foods to Help Boost Your Memory"
- Practical Neurology: "Effects of Coffee/Caffeine on Brain Health and Disease: What Should I Tell My Patients?"
- Nutrients: "Flavonoid-Rich Mixed Berries Maintain and Improve Cognitive Function Over a 6 h Period in Young Healthy Adults."
- Neurology: "Nutrients and Bioactives in Green Leafy Vegetables and Cognitive Decline"
- Current Neuropharmacology: "Functional and Structural Benefits Induced by Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids During Aging"
- Medline PLus: "Polyunsaturated Fats"
- Frontiers in Pharmacology: "Potential Therapeutic Effects of Lipoic Acid on Memory Deficits Related to Aging and Neurodegeneration"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Berry Good for Your Heart"