If you’re struggling to stay alert during team meetings, conversations or while learning new drills, it might be time to take a look at the food you’re putting into your body. Poor food choices, inadequate fuelling and fad diets can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which saps us of energy and makes it hard to concentrate. But by simply including more minimally processed wholefoods into your diet, you can have a significant impact on your ability to focus. In fact, you could enjoy a mental boost simply by adding these six foods to your weekly meal plan.
Starting your day with blueberries has been found to keep your brain active throughout the afternoon. According to British researchers, it’s the antioxidants in blueberries that provide the brain boost, as they stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain making it easier to concentrate. These antioxidants may also help fight against premature ageing of brain cells by helping to slow the ageing process and reduce inflammation in the brain, thereby starving off memory decline. Enjoy blueberries on top of your muesli, whizzed in a smoothie or combined with nuts as a snack.
2. Green tea
Suffering from the 3pm slump? Skip the sugar fix and grab yourself a green tea instead. According to research published in the academic journal Psychopharmacology, green tea enhances cognitive functions. It does this by increasing the brain’s ability to communicate between its different areas, leading to an improvement in working memory. Working memory is important for reasoning and guiding decision-making and behaviour, helping us perform better and get the job done. So, anyone for a cuppa?
3. Leafy greens
Slowing cognitive decline could be as simple as adding more leafy greens like spinach, kale, collards or mustard greens to your diet. Researchers from Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago tracked the diets and cognitive abilities of more than 950 people for five years and found that compared to those who didn’t eat green leafy vegetables, those who ate one to two servings each day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger. Leafy greens are rich in vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta-carotene and it’s these nutrients that are most likely to keep the brain healthy.
4. Beetroot juice
You don’t need to be an athlete to reap the benefits of beetroot juice, with research showing it can increase blood flow to the brain, sharpening the mind and potentially safeguarding against dementia as you age. Beetroot juice is rich in nitrate, which is turned into nitrite in the body. Nitrite helps to open up blood vessels and as a result improves blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Almost 500ml of beetroot juice was used in the studies, but you could also look for a concentrated beetroot juice like Beet It that provides the same amount of nitrates in just one 70ml bottle.
5. Sunflower seeds
Often a forgotten food, seeds like sunflower seeds might be small but they pack a nutrient-rich punch. Sunflower seeds are rich in the antioxidant vitamin E, which mean they work against the damaging affects of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are responsible for many aspects of ageing, including the ageing effects on the brain. While sunflower seeds make a good snack on their own, they also make a tasty addition to many meals. Include them in your morning muesli, toss them through your favourite salad or add them to homemade burgers or meatballs.
6. Atlantic salmon
There’s a reason why fish is called brain food – it’s packed full of essential healthy fats that our brains need to function at there best. Oily fish like Atlantic salmon contain omega-3 fats known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA is important for mood and behaviour, while DHA is needed to help brain cells communicate with each other. Omega-3 fats have been linked to improved focus, better memory and a lower risk of dementia.
For a tasty salad with beetroot and leafy green salad, try this Beef, Beetroot and Sweet Potato Salad.