Over the last couple of years studies have suggested that junk food can be as addictive as heroine or smoking. This is because food can trigger feel-good chemicals in the brain such as dopamine. If greasy, sugary, processed foods can alter our brain then what happens when we eat healthy, nutritious food? Research suggests it can actually help, when it comes to our concentration.
Several studies show that certain food improves our mental focus, allowing us to get through the day without experiencing those foggy periods that interrupt our concentration levels.
Science and mental focus
Much of the research on food and mental focus has been done on rats; however, history has shown that rat behavior often gives us great insight into human behavior.
Last year (2014), researchers at the University of New South Wales, Australia conducted several studies to see how junk food would impact rats. They discovered just how addictive both sugar and salt could be. They learned that high calorie, high-fat food rewired the brain’s reward mechanism just like cocaine does. Interestingly, the more the rats had junk food, the less they turned to other foods, suggesting that unhealthy options also led the brain to turn away from trying new, possibly healthier foods. The rats soon became overweight and sluggish.
The popular theory is that both animals and human beings become sluggish, not only physically but also mentally, when they don’t eat nutrient-rich food.
Research scientists have taken a close look at what we eat and the impact it has on our brain. A study in Neurology showed that those who ate two or more daily servings of vegetables had the mental focus of people five years their junior.
Foods that can help you focus
Registered dieticians with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics agree that there are certain foods, as well as drinks, that can help you power through the day and give you more focus for whatever task is in front of you.
10 food and drink suggestions for better concentration:
- Fiber-packed oatmeal and protein-packed eggs – They offer us an abundance of energy.
- Dark-pigmented fruits – Blueberries can increase blood flow and thus oxygen to the brain, making mental tasks easier.
- Dark chocolate or cocoa powder – Both boost blood flow and stimulate the release of certain feel-good chemicals in our brain called neurotransmitters.
- Beets – They are filled with dietary nitrates that can increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
- Green Tea – It contains L-theanine, which is an amino acid that increases alpha brain waves. These brain waves are linked to relaxation and a focused calm feeling.
- Peppermint tea – Associated with reduced anxiety, a study in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that exposure to peppermint can enhance memory and processing speeds.
- Broccoli – A source of vitamin K, which is known to strengthen cognitive function and a source of Choline, which has been found to improve memory.
- Salmon – Fish contain Omega-3 fatty acids. Countless studies show Omega-3 helps brain function. In fact, some research suggests it improves learning and memory in children.
- Spinach – Leafy greens are rich in iron, which helps give us energy. It’s also a good source of potassium and magnesium, which boosts brainpower.
- Banana – Known as a good source of potassium, as well as vitamin B6, some nutritionists suggest we should eat bananas every day.
Supporting evidence that you can boost your brain by eating right
Experts at Harvard Medical School have also put food to the test when it comes to feeding the brain. They discovered that low-density lipoprotein, a cholesterol found in fatty food, speeds up the formation of plaques in the brain. The sticky protein clusters are blamed for the damage that takes place in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Women in the Harvard/Brigham and Women’s Hospital study who ate the most saturated fats from food, such as red meat and buttered foods, performed worse on cognitive and memory testing than women who ate the lowest amounts of these fats. The study was published in the May 17th online edition of the journal Annals of Neurology.
There is no cure for serious, age related memory loss problems like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but as you can see there are a lot of food choices to help improve our level of concentration. Many of us have the ability to stay on top of our mental game, if we just choose the right food.
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