Improve your concentration, eat Smart!
Have you ever eaten a good meal and felt great or mentally healthy afterward? If your energy feels really good after eating certain foods then this is a good indicator that you are eating the right stuff!
Brain foods have constituents that support brain function. These foods often contain ‘smart nutrients’. The right combination and quantity of nutrients is what orthomolecular (nutrient correcting) treatment is all about.
Dietary intervention has benefits and also limits in terms of correcting mental health conditions that are moderate to severe. The nutrients derived by supplements (B-vitamins, minerals, etc) often sway the balance to a degree that would not be easily achievable with our current poorer quality food supply and certainly not with the current carbohydrate and processed food dominant North American diet. If you really want to address concentration, especially if you suffer from schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar, ADD, or OCD, we recommend our targeted orthomolecular treatment protocol as this is the Cadillac version of assessment and treatment.
Smart Food Principles to Consider
Many of the principles discussed are described in my Top Orthomolecular Syndromes webpage.
Consume caffeine in moderation
Caffeine is OK in the morning in moderation if tolerated. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea (even green tea), chocolate, some medications, and energy drinks. Caffeine reflexively releases cortisol, that sympathetic hormone that makes you run away from a tiger, the ‘fight or flight’ hormone. Caffeine is therefore a stimulant. Caffeine has been shown to boost IQ, increase alertness, and help people focus. Some people however do poorly with caffeine in my experience and these are usually those who are over-stimulated in the morning or have high morning cortisol levels. Again targeted lab testing would be necessary to rule out this possibility. If caffeine is used in excess this reduces the adrenal glands ability to regulate stress responses and you get jittery and hypoglycemic. In these cases, adrenal adaptogens or tonics may be more beneficial than caffeine. Caffeine should be consumed before 4pm to avoid overstimulation at night.
Consume sugar in moderation
Sugar, as supplied by dietary protein gluconeogenesis, provides brain cells with fuel all day. In Oriental medicine, it’s best to eat sweets in the morning when digestive processes are more receptive to assimilating sugars, not later in the day. If you have night time sugar cravings it’s often a sign that you have poor protein intake. High quality protein is simply meat (poultry, fish, beef, occasional pork) and eggs.
Eat protein for breakfast
Yes, this seems intuitive but many people negate breakfast and opt for quick alternatives that contain little, if any, protein. I assess many cases with poor diets and the number one trend is low protein intake with especially poor intake at breakfast. Many even skip breakfast. Students perform better when they eat breakfast meals and studies show better attention and short-term memory. I always ask clients how their brain can make adequate neurotransmitter without protein. As mentioned above, meat and eggs are your best bet as whole grains, fruit, and dairy are high in sugar. If you aim for every meal to provide 40% protein, 40% carbohydrate, and 20% fat, you are doing well.
Don’t eat foods that make you sick
It is possible to benefit most by eating food items that your immune system tolerates well (i.e. not foods that you react to such as gluten or dairy) and is supported by, versus meals with food intolerant substances that tax your immune system and pass toxins to the blood stream and brain and make you feel worse. The corollary of this scenario is that some people really love foods that they may be intolerant to and this reinforces their need to continue eating that substance but, with continued exposure delayed responses occur unbeknownst to most that can present in various ways either affecting the physical body and/or mental state.
These are high in antioxidants to thereby help prevent brain cell membrane breakdown from free radicals such as heavy metals (mercury, copper, lead, aluminum, cadmium, etc). Blueberries are beneficial in Alzheimer’s and improve our ability to learn.
Fish are high in omega-3’s (DHA, EPA) which are flexible essential fats (EFA’s) that sit in brain cell membranes and provide the anchoring structure to which protein receptors (neurotransmitter receptors) attach thereby exposing them adequately to the environment. You have lower risk for Alzheimers, age-related memory decline, and strokes if you have adequate omega-3 intake. Of course some people have mercury toxicity and added mercury load from fish can aggravate their condition so in such cases I often limit fish intake. The mercury testing that I do can tell you if the mercury you have comes from organic sources such as fish or inorganic sources such as dental amalgam fillings or immunizations. In either case, an elevated mercury level warrants dietary elimination of fish until it is corrected. Otherwise, two servings of fish a week are recommended. Tuna contains vitamin B3 but we would need to eat a lot of tuna to get high levels to address conditions such as schizophrenia. Vitamin B3 opens up brain circulation and is associated with reducing mortality. Salmon and cold water small fish with teeth are the best fish to eat.
Seeds and Nuts
Nuts are high in plant based essential fats which are useful. The body needs to convert this good fat into a useable form which is an added step but still helps. Nuts are also high in vitamin E which is a great antioxidant for the brain and enhances cognition. Protein derived from nuts and seeds are helpful but are not as high quality as are proteins derived from meat or eggs.
Dark chocolate (high cocoa butter content) has flavonoids that reduce vitamin E breakdown. Caffeine in dark chocolate has benefits as mentioned above but should be eaten before 4pm to avoid night time overstimulation.
I love avocados. Avocados are high in good fats that reduce cardiovascular risk and therefore indirectly improve blood flow. High unsaturated fat content in avocados offers a slow sugar release profile which is an added benefit here as well.
Shellfish and avocados are high in copper which is needed for catecholamine neurotransmitter production of adrenaline which is essential in the frontal cortex for executive functions, planning, memory, etc.