Better Eating Habits: I Can't Focus!

If you're having trouble focusing during the day, your dietary habits may be to blame.

Many people find that at some point in the day they have trouble staying focused on their tasks. Their mind wanders, and they might notice themselves reading their friends' updates on social media sites, instead of focusing on the work that needs to be done.

If this describes you, and you’re already getting enough sleep and exercise, the problem could lie in your diet. You may be getting an insufficient amount of essential nutrients or too many fats and simple sugars; consider the following helpful tips to improve your focus and concentration:

Practice Good Eating Habits

  • Getting enough food: The brain needs energy to function properly. We get the energy we need through calories, so the first step in improving your concentration is eating a well-balanced diet. Make sure you get at least three healthy meals a day.
  • A healthy breakfast: Starting your day with a good breakfast is the best way to make sure your body has the energy it needs to keep you focused and alert throughout the day. A report by the British Associate Parliamentary Food and Health Forum recommends eating a high protein breakfast with a low glycemic index. Low glycemic basically means eating few simple sugars and lots of fiber and whole grains. Simple sugars will cause your blood sugar to spike and fall quickly. Fiber and whole grains will help regulate your energy and keep you alert and energetic longer. One example to try is organic eggs with a side of fruit or a bowl of fortified whole grain cereal.

Specific Nutrients To Look For

The following nutrients have been shown by studies to be helpful for increasing focus and concentration; they won’t give you an instant boost like caffeine or a healthy breakfast, but a deficiency in any of them will cause problems over time.

  • Fatty Acids: Omega-3,6 and 9 fatty acids are healthy unsaturated fats that help improve brain function. Getting enough of them will help you concentrate throughout your life and will be particularly helpful in maintaining your cognitive functions as you age. Good sources of these include: fish, leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.
  • Beta-carotene:This is a great example indicating that a proper diet and healthy lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint. An 18-year study showed that in the long run beta-carotene can improve cognitive function, but it took nearly two decades to take effect: there was no statistical benefit after only one year. So, make sure you get your fair share of carrots and sweet potatoes—and don’t stop eating them after a week, a month or even a year.
  • B Vitamins: Scientists and doctors have done a pretty thorough job in showing a link between B vitamins, specifically B12 and B9 (folic acid) and cognitive function; B9 can be found in a wide variety of foods, including: avocados, broccoli, asparagus, citrus fruits, whole wheat, milk and almost any kind of meat. B12 only comes naturally in meat products, but can also be found in enriched breakfast cereals.
  • Iron: Doctors have also discovered a direct link between iron deficiency and decreased cognitive functioning. In a study of women with various levels of iron in their blood, there was a correlation between proper levels of iron and brain performance. Some of the women who were iron deficient at the beginning of the study were given iron supplements, which generally improved their mental performance. Meat is a good source of iron, but if you have already had your daily fill of fats you might try soy beans, black beans, lentils or fortified oatmeal.
  • Caffeine: OK, caffeine isn't a nutrient, but we can't talk about improving focus and concentration without mentioning it. One cup of coffee or tea can perk you up for up to six hours. Just avoid drinking too much or drinking it too late in the day. Drink too much and you will be too jittery to focus; drink it too late and you will be up all night, which will keep you from being able to focus the following day.

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