Much of today’s diet is highly processed and comes with an abundance of high fat, sugar and salt all beautifully packed up for us in fancy enticing packaging whether its energy drinks, ready meals, protein shakes and so on. So many of these products contain a list of ingredients and chemicals we’d struggle to read, let alone process in our bodies. We know that junk food and foods with chemicals and E numbers have been linked to ADHD and memory issues. You’ll be pleased to know that what we call “brain foods” are actually just regular old ‘real’ food that we were eating before the 1900’s. Something similar to our evolutionary diet as hunter gathers is perfect fodder for our brains eg. Meat, fish, nuts, seeds, berries, fruit and vegetables, we’ve evolved to also enjoy eating grains too. Ironically these types of foods are the foods that allow are body to operate at full capacity aka what you call “brain foods”!
If you can’t catch or gather/grow it, you don’t eat it!
Food is the fuel that regulates your energy and mood, both of which can significantly affect your focus. Just as you shouldn’t put olive oil into your car to make it run, you shouldn’t put highly processed junk foods into your body to make you run. Food has the incredible ability to affect your mental clarity, mood, memory, and ability to focus, so if you’re looking to boost your focus, one of the places you should start with is what you’re eating.
There are a lot of foods you can eat at each meal and throughout the day to feed your brain right and optimize your cognitive performance. The key is to make sure you get these nutrients consistently, i.e. every single day.
Tip: Don’t skip it! This is the first meal of the day you’ll need in order to make it through tough study sessions. So, don’t just starve yourself or have coffee as a meal replacement. Make it a priority to eat.
Oatmeal: mixed with 1 tablespoon flaxseeds, 1 teaspoon peanut butter, sliced banana or other fresh fruit and some walnuts or almonds on top. Flaxseeds are an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a healthy fat that boosts cerebral cortex function.
Simple fruit, yoghurt and nuts: Layer 1/2 cup of yogurt, 1 tablespoon granola, 1 cup fresh fruit (sliced or diced) and a spoonful of nuts such as walnuts and almonds. Almonds are beneficial for increased attention and awareness necessary for learning, as well as restoring memory and cognitive function.
Eggs: Eggs are a powerful mix of B vitamins (they help nerve cells to burn glucose), antioxidants (they protect neurons against damage) and omega-3 fatty acids (they keep nerve cells functioning at optimal speed). How many? Two should be enough.
A beet and berry smoothie: The natural nitrates in beets can increase blood flow to your brain, which improves mental performance. In a blender, combine 1/2 cup of orange juice, 1 cup frozen berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries), 1/2 cup diced beets (raw or roasted), 1 tablespoon granola, 2–3 dates, 1/4 cup coconut water or plain low-fat yogurt and 3 ice cubes. Blend for one minute.
Tip: Stay away from fast food; it’s typically greasy and loaded with carbohydrates, which can fill you up quickly, but you’ll feel a slump later (and may even feel groggy or sleepy in the afternoon). Opt for a lighter lunch instead. Aim for one third protein, one third complex carbs (eg brown bread, rice, pasta or pulses) and one third fruit or grown over the ground vegetables.
A wild salmon or mackerel sandwich: Layer tinned salmon or mackerel with slices of avocado, then squeeze some lemon juice on top on open rye or granary bread. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are responsible for improving brain cell communication and regulating neurotransmitters that boost mental focus. You can pack this sandwich ahead of time and bring to school if you know you’ll be out all day.
A big salad with protein, fresh spinach and lentils: Some good protein options are grilled chicken, tuna and salmon (which is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids). Lentils are rich in vitamin B, which can help improve brainpower, while dark leafy greens such as spinach may reduce cognitive decline. This is another option for a to-go lunch; just prep everything in an airtight container with a lid and bring with you to school.
Tip: At some point in the afternoon, it’s normal to feel tired and reach for something sweet to get an instant sugar rush. Instead of chocolate and sweets, think of other options that you can have as a quick snack.
Walnuts: This powerful brain food improves cognitive function and can even reduce memory loss. You need less than a handful for maximum effect.
Fresh fruit: Rich in vitamin C, fruit boosts mental agility and reduces decline in the brain’s cognitive abilities. Eat it whole (apple, banana, tangerine, pear, peach) or dice several different types of fruit and eat as a fruit salad (watermelon, papaya, mango, berries, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple).
A fruit and nut mix: This mix of dried fruit and nuts can be prepared ahead of time, it’s portable so you can bring it with you to school or work, and it’s especially good for an energy boost when you feel that mid-afternoon slump.
Tip: Eating pasta, pizza, potatoes, fried food and similar heavy dinner options are OK if you have them occasionally. However, if you’re focusing on studying (and especially if you’re preparing for an upcoming exam), you’ll want to have dinner that will fill you up while also giving you energy to keep working for a few more hours. Another tip: Make your own salad dressing with fresh lemon juice and olive oil–it’s rich in polyphenols, supports brain function.
Seafood: Grill, bake or sauté some salmon, mackerel, kippers or trout. These are considered oily fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that contribute to healthy brain function and reducing memory loss.
Tomato and kale salad: Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may protect our cells against damage from free radicals which are linked to memory loss. Kale (as well as other dark leafy greens such as chard and spinach) is considered a superfood: it’s rich in many vitamins including A, C, and K, and promotes the resilience of brain cells; it can also positively impact our memory, attention and verbal abilities.
Sweet potatoes: They are rich in the powerful antioxidant beta carotene, which has been linked to a boost in the brain’s cognitive function. You can steam or boil them much like regular potatoes, or you can cut them into strips and bake in the oven to make sweet potato fries (spice them up with crushed or smoked paprika, pepper, thyme, oregano).
Whole grains: Rich in complex carbohydrates, fibre and omega 3 fatty acids, whole grains release glucose slowly into the bloodstream so that your brain gets a steady boost of energy. They can also promote mental alertness and improve your overall mood. Try steaming or preparing them in a rice cooker. Some examples include bulgur, brown rice, barley, whole-wheat couscous and quinoa (which is technically a seed but is prepared like a grain such as rice).
Broccoli: It is an excellent source of vitamin K, which is responsible for boosting brain power and cognitive function. Steam it for 5 minutes, just enough for it to soften without losing its rich green colour, then drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, or add a spoonful of plain Greek yogurt on top for a boost of calcium.
Carrots and squash: Much like sweet potatoes, carrots and all types of squash (spaghetti, acorn, butternut) are rich in beta carotene, which helps improve memory and verbal skills. You can eat carrots raw, or you can steam or bake them. Squash is easiest to bake in the oven, either by slicing in half or cutting into large cubes and sprinkling with spices such as oregano, paprika, rosemary or whatever your own spice preference may be.
Dark chocolate: Good news, right? There’s a reason for it! Cocoa is rich in flavonoids, which are compounds that have been linked to boosting cognitive performance. Have a couple of squares of a good dark chocolate after dinner, instead of other desserts that may be overloaded with sugar and saturated fats (included in candy bars, cakes, doughnuts).
Below are 9 foods that will help you improve your focus.
Studies show that blueberries boost “concentration and memory” for up to five hours because “the antioxidants in blueberries stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain – and keep the mind fresh”. Blueberries also contain a “cocktail of anti-oxidants including anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, resveratrol and tannins”, they have been shown to boost focus.
Green tea helps you focus for two reasons: one, it contains caffeine, and two, it contains L’theanine. There is no doubt that caffeine helps you focus and improves your alertness. L’theanine “increases alpha-wave activity”, which increases tranquillity and releases caffeine more slowly, instead of all at once, which can lead to you crashing. The two ingredients also combine to “produce a better ability to focus attention, with improvement of both speed and accuracy”. If you’re able to handle the caffeine content, introducing green tea into your diet is pretty much a no-brainer, however if you have problems sleeping I’d recommend you choose decaffeinated after midday.
Every organ in the body depends on blood flow, especially the heart and brain, and avocados enhance blood flow, offering a simple, tasty way to fire up brain cells. Avocados are also “loaded with fibre (11 to 17 grams per avocado), which helps keep hunger pangs at bay.
Leafy green vegetables
Leafy green vegetables are full of antioxidants and carotenoids, which boost your brain power, and help protect your brain. (A good, general tip: the greener a leaf vegetable is, the better.) Leafy green vegetables are also full of B-vitamins, which are proven to help your memory, focus, and overall brain health and power. They also contain folic acid, which improves your mental clarity.
Fatty/oily fish contains omega-3 fatty acids which “aid memory, mental performance and behavioural function”. People who are deficient in omega-3’s are more likely to have “poor memory, mood swings, depression and fatigue”. Fish has also been proven to improve your concentration and mood. The main sources of fatty fish are “salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kipper”. Aim for 3 portions a week, tinned fish is fine too.
If you want to improve your focus, you need to drink enough water. Water gives the brain the electrical energy for all brain functions, including thought and memory processes, and it has been proven to help you think faster, be more focused, and experience greater clarity and creativity. Every single function of your body depends on water, so it is critically important that you get enough of it. Even a 2% drop in hydration can affect your concentration.
Dark chocolate (dark chocolate, not the sugary, milky kind) can help you focus for a number of reasons. First, it contains a small amount of caffeine, which has been proven to heighten mental alertness. It contains magnesium, which helps you de-stress, and it also stimulates the release of endorphins and serotonin, which make you feel good and heighten your mood. This doesn’t mean you should eat a huge brick of chocolate every day, but it does mean that a few pieces each day can significantly boost your focus and mood. Go for 70% or higher.
Like a few of the foods listed already, flax seeds are high in magnesium, B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and fibre, all of which aid with mental clarity and focus. Flax is no doubt a super food. Just make sure you grind them after you buy them (so your body can digest them). Unlike the other items on this list, flax seeds can’t be eaten alone, but they’re great sprinkled on cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, salad, and more.
Nuts are great for your body full stop. Nuts and seeds are powerhouses of antioxidant vitamin E and lots of minerals, they are also rich with essential oils and amino acids that aid your focus. Just a palm size handful a day of unsalted mixed nuts will do the job.