Listen to the buzz about foods and dietary supplements and you’ll believe they can do everything from sharpen focus and concentration, to enhance memory, attention span, and brain function. But do they really work? There’s no denying that as we age chronologically, our body ages right along with us. The good news is that you can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain — if you add “smart” foods and beverages to your diet.
Caffeine Can Make You More Alert
There’s no magic bullet to boost IQ or make you smarter — but certain substances, like caffeine, can energize and help you focus and concentrate. Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, and some medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable wake-up buzz — though the effects are short term. And more is often less: Overdo it on caffeine and it can make you jittery and uncomfortable.
Sugar Can Enhance Alertness
Sugar is your brain’s preferred fuel source — not table sugar, but glucose, which your body metabolizes from the sugars and carbohydrates you eat. That’s why a glass of something sweet to drink can offer a short-term boost to memory, thinking processes, and mental ability.
Consume too much, however, and memory can be impaired — along with the rest of you. Go easy on the sugar so it can enhance memory, without packing on the pounds.
Eat Breakfast to Fuel Your Brain
Tempted to skip breakfast? Studies have found that eating breakfast may improve short-term memory and attention. Students who eat breakfast tend to perform significantly better than those who don’t. Foods at the top of researchers’ brain fuel list include high-fiber whole grains, dairy, and fruits. Just don’t overeat; researchers also found high-calorie breakfasts appear to hinder concentration.
Fish Really is Brain Food
A protein source associated with a great brain boost is fish — rich in omega 3 fatty acids, essential for brain function and development. These healthy fats have amazing brain power: higher dietary omega 3 fatty acids are linked to lower dementia and stroke risks; slower mental decline; and may play a vital role in enhancing memory, especially as we get older.
For brain and heart health, eat two servings of fish weekly.
Add a Daily Dose of Nuts and Chocolate
Nuts and seeds are good sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which is associated with less cognitive decline as you age. Dark chocolate also has other powerful antioxidant properties. And it contains natural stimulants like caffeine, which can enhance focus and concentration.
Enjoy up to an ounce a day of nuts and dark chocolate to provide all the benefits you need without excess calories, fat, or sugar.
Add Avocados and Whole Grains
Every organ in the body depends on blood flow, especially the heart and brain. Eating a diet high in whole grains and fruits like avocados can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and lower bad cholesterol. This reduces your risk of plaque buildup and enhances blood flow, offering a simple, tasty way to fire up brain cells.
Whole grains, like popcorn and whole wheat, also contribute dietary fiber and vitamin E. Though avocados have fat, it’s the good-for-you, monounsaturated fat that contributes to healthy blood flow.
Blueberries Are Super Nutritious
Research in animals shows that blueberries may help protect the brain from the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Studies also show that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved both the learning and muscle function of aging rats, making them mentally equivalent to much younger rats.
Benefits of a Healthy Diet
It may sound trite but it’s true: If your diet lacks essential nutrients, it can decrease your ability to concentrate. Eating too much or too little can also interfere with your ability to focus. A heavy meal may make you feel lethargic, while too few calories can result in distracting hunger pangs.
Benefit your brain: Strive for a well-balanced diet full of a wide variety of healthy, wholesome foods. Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements?
Store shelves groan with supplements claiming to boost health. Although many of the reports on the brain-boosting power of supplements like vitamins B, C, E, beta-carotene, and magnesium are promising, a supplement is only useful to people whose diets are lacking in that specific nutrient.
Researchers are cautiously optimistic about ginseng, ginkgo, and vitamin, mineral, and herb combinations and their impact on the brain.
Get Ready for a Big Day
Want to power up your ability to concentrate? Start with a meal of 100% fruit juice, a whole grain bagel with salmon, and a cup of coffee. In addition to eating a well-balanced meal, experts also advise:
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Stay hydrated.
- Exercise to help sharpen thinking.
- Meditate to clear thinking and relax.
REFERENCES: Morris, M. Archives of Neurology, Oct. 10, 2005 online edition; vol 62. News release, American Medical Association. Noralyn L. Wilson, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Gordon Winocur, PhD, senior scientist for the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto. Paul E. Gold, professor of psychology and psychiatry, neuroscience program, University of Illinois. Steven Pratt, MD, author, Superfoods RX: Fourteen Foods Proven to Change Your Life. Rampersaud, G. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, May 2005; vol 105(5): pp 743-760. Mathematica Policy Research: “Universal-Free School Breakfast Program Evaluation Design Project – Review of Literature on Breakfast and Learning.” Michaud, C. Journal of Adolescent Health, January 1991; vol 12(1): pp 53-57. Ann Kulze, MD, author, Dr. Ann’s 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss and Lifelong Vitality. University of California Berkeley Guide to Dietary Supplements