For me one of the most interesting things about food is how various ingredients interact with my body and brain. What you eat is not just important for proper functioning of your body, but also for your energy, mood, focus, brainpower and your ability to handle stress.
We all know those days too well, when we just can’t think straight and focus on work. Had one of those days quite often the last few weeks? Watch your diet!
There is a direct correlation between what we put in our mouths and how well we can perform in terms of thinking and with memory tasks. Eating too much saturated fat, for example, causes damage to neurones that control energy and appetite. Not to say saturated fat is bad in general though. The amount makes the poison.
Why our brains needs so much energy
The brain controls all thoughts, movement, sensations and stores an unimaginable amount of data every second. It's constantly working, even when we are asleep and its consuming more than 20% of our caloric intake.
Because of that, the brain needs more energy than any other organ. Plus, it needs a constant supply of energy (in form of glycogen or fat) to work properly.
Running on sugar doesn’t mean you can eat junk food and highly processed food all day in order to think straight. Doing so would cause overly high blood glucose levels and sugar spikes, which damage brain cells, cause low energy and low productivity because of the blood sugar crash.
When it comes to an optimal performance it is necessary to focus on both, what we eat and when we eat it. Our brains work best with 25 grams of glucose circulation in our blood stream, which is comparable to the amount found in a banana.
But what does my focus have to do with the foods I eat?
You already know, foods get processed mostly in the gut. Besides that, our gut helps to keep the immune system work properly and inflammations under control. Hence, gut hormones which enter the brain or are produced in the brain can influence our cognitive ability, such as understanding, processing information and staying focused.
It is crucial to make the right food decisions when you seriously want to perform at your best at work. Focus on foods, that provide more sustained energy, such as low glycemic carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as lean protein and healthy fats. That’s how you provide a steadier supply of energy for your brain.
Use saturated fats in moderation, but still add them to your diet (especially coconut oil). Trans fats are the ones you should absolutely avoid. Found in hydrogenated vegetable oils, they raise LDL-cholesterol, damage heart and brain, contribute to obesity and diabetes. For those reasons, trans fats are a absolute no-no.
Which foods should you eat
Your diet can make you smarter. Or dumber for that matter. Simply add the foods listed below to your diet and boost your memory and encourage good blood flow to the brain.
This fruit is simply one of the healthiest ones you can add to your diet and it’s one of my all-time favourites. Avocados provide a huge amount of monounsaturated fats, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which increase the blood flow in our brains. Besides that, this superfruit contains a lot of vitamin K and folate, which helps to improve cognitive function for memory and concentration, by preventing blood clots in the brain (even protecting against stroke).
Oats are broken down by our system very slowly. Again, our brain runs on glucose (or mostly on fat/ketones, if you're on a ketogenic diet) to function properly. Our bodies convert carbohydrates into glucose. By eating oats you allow your brain to get a steady glucose supply over several hours, because the glucose is slowly released.
Oats for breakfast are perfect for the morning difficulties you have to face!
They are so small, but provide so many great health benefits. Blueberries are one of the highest antioxidant-rich foods you can find out there and include vitamin C, vitamin K and fiber. Plus, they will boost concentration and memory for up to five hours, because they stimulate the blood flow and the oxygen in your brain.
Furthermore, they are also rich in gallic acid. Gallic acid is known to protect the brain from degeneration and oxidative stress.
Just add one cup of them to your oatmeal, it will taste fantastic, like an all-natural candy. Other berries can be used as well by the way.
Both the oil and the herb provide lots of health benefits. The key role here plays carnosic acid. This is one of the main ingredients in rosemary and helps to protect the brain from neurodegeneration, by protecting the brain against chemical free radicals.
That isn’t all. Rosemary also improves memory and cognitive function, blood flow to the brain and mood.
Loaded with lots of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and iron, spinach helps by bringing enough oxygen to the brain, which improves cognitive control.
Adding spinach to your plate will improve learning capacity and motor skills significantly. Hence, spinach can prevent or delay dementia, because of the nutrients preventing a damage in the DNA. So, Popeye was right with his spinach obsession!
Alaskan wild-caught salmon is probably one of the most nutritious brain foods you can eat. Its omega-3 fatty acids will prevent you from brain fog, improve your memory, mental performance and behavioural function.
Feeding kids salmon can also help to prevent ADHD by improving their focus. If you are pregnant, you should consider to eat more fatty fish, such as salmon, in your third trimester. Your baby will more likely perform better on cognitive tasks down the road.
Keep in mind, these benefits are not the case for farm-raised and regular wild-caught salmon, because they can be filled with mercury and toxins.
Green tea will help you for two reasons: The caffeine boosts your focus and improves your alertness, and the theanine will increase your alpha-wave-activity, which increases tranquility and releases the caffeine more slowly.
Perfect to get over that afternoon hungover!
Foods to avoid
Of course, there are also foods which slow down your productivity.
Soda, candy and other sugary foods
Sure, we all love the feeling when we take a bite of our favourite candy bar, me too. The sugar will give you a fast spike in energy, but it will also raise your blood sugar levels, which leads to a release of insulin and a rapid drop in your glucose levels. This will leave you feeling unfocused, hungry, tired and it makes it also more difficult for you to deal with thoughts and emotions.
Eating fried food means making your digestive system work twice as hard, because it has to process all the fats. Your body will feel overworked, exhausted and sleepy, which decreases your productivity tremendously.
Processed foods, which are high in saturated Fat
Foods that are high in saturated fat build up cholesterol plaques in brain blood vessel, which can damage brain tissue. Brain cells need oxygen-rich blood to function properly. Having a lack of this can compromise thinking and memory. And it can make you process information more slowly, longer to react and have trouble remembering things.
The most important part is, that we are in full control of how we release glucose to our blood and brain, so take advantage of that. Certain foods release glucose really quickly, while others do it more slowly.
For example: You have a 8-hour work-day. After eating a donut, glucose will be released very quickly into your blood. That will give you 20 minutes of alertness, after that your glucose level will drop rapidly. The result is you are unfocused and easy to distract. Eating oats on the other hand, will give you a steady glucose level. Steady glucose levels mean better focus and no carb coma.
It’s all up to you. Try different foods and see how you feel and react to them, minutes and hours after you ate them. Experiment.