It is that time of the year again, those of us studying have exams creeping up and this makes it a key time for our memory to be in tip top form. In fact Memory and Concentration is not only an issue for students but pretty much anyone in the modern world – especially those with jobs that require deep focus and a sharp mind.
Sadly with modern lifestyles more and more people are suffering from poor memory, concentration and a generally foggy mind from time to time. Now this is due to various factors and not only down to nutrition – yet what we eat can have a huge effect on how the brain works and how sharp you feel and function mentally. It is like the classic analogy of Junk in=Junk Out in that if we put rubbish on the tank (refined foods, sweet drinks and artificial foods) leaving our bodies unable able to function optimally physically or mentally. In this article we are going to look over some of the tips I have found to help improve your mental function with simple nutrition changes.
Balance Blood Sugar – Seems the key to good mental function. When our blood sugar drops (when we don’t eat in a while) or when we eat too much (especially refined foods) this can have a severe effect on our mental function – making us feel tired, lethargic and irritable. These are all things we want to avoid when working on something, ideally you should be feeling calm, relaxed and focused. All things that happen when blood sugar stabilises.
Start the day with a Solid Meal – Combine Protein, Unrefined Starch and Good Fats in order to set yourself up for the day. Try something like a bowl of oatmeal with coconut oil mixed in and some eggs or yoghurt and fruit – it may seem like a big meal for some but it will work to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the morning, the time when you are most productive.
Avoid too much Coffee – Caffeine whether it’s from Tea and especially Coffee seems to have a really odd effect on blood sugar. I know that when I drink too much my blood sugar is not quite right throughout the day, making me feel irritable, hungry at weird times and restless. This is not the case for everyone, but the majority of people will benefit in the long-term by reducing caffeine – although it works as a short-term memory booster caffeine is nothing more than a quick fix.
Snack on Fruit - If you are hungry between meals snack on low impact fruit, things like Apple’s and Berries. The sugars from the fruit will keep stress hormones down and blood sugar up, the beauty of fruit is that it provides the majority of its carbohydrates to the liver in the form of glycogen. This is the go to spot for your brain for energy – and as you can imagine working, thinking and studying makes the brain very glucose hungry.
Eat Food That Is Easy to Digest – When we eat heavy, rich foods our mental function sees an immediate decline. We have all been there before, sleeping or napping after a large meal. This is because the digestion takes most of our blood flow and energy to the stomach to deal with the food. One of the keys to keeping our mind in focus is to eat light and easily digestible meals, this doesn’t mean eating small portions but rather focusing on stuff that digests well.
Soups and Stews – Are great as they are almost pre-digested, they save the stomach all the hard work of breaking down the meal. Therefore maximizing nutrient uptake.
Don’t Go Crazy on the Fat - There is nothing wrong with fats, in fact they are essential for the body to function correctly. The only problem comes when we eat too much which can make meals heavy and hard to breakdown. Use fat as something to give food taste and texture but not as a mainstay of your meals – Cooking with coconut oil is a great idea for mental function as it is full of MCT (medium chain triglycerides) which are used directly as energy.
Graze – While studying or working some people find it better to graze on smaller meals and snacks throughout the day. This goes back to staying light for concentration, give it a try it works better for some people. Make sure you are sticking to healthy food though….
Accept Concentration Dips - We cannot be expected to hold concentration and have a faultless memory at all times. Our bodies are not machines after all. Most people will find that they have better focus and memory at certain times of the day and at other times things go down hill. This is totally normal, just go with it and take advantage of times when you are feeling sharp.
If you can manage to set up for the day of work with a good solid meal you will probably find that things take care of themselves. For the rest of the day it is worth trying to emphasise easy to digest and energy rich foods, unrefined foods. This will give your brain a drip stream of energy to focus on the task in hand.