Do you find that your attention drifts off every once in a while? The ability to concentrate, focus, and stay on task is important for accomplishing anything. And when you consider cognitive functioning, the ability to pay attention and stay focused is the “gateway” to other cognitive functions – if you can’t pay attention to something, you can’t understand, learn, or remember it.
As we grow and develop, our ability to concentrate also improves. For instance, 6-year-olds can focus on a task for only about 15 minutes but by the time they are 9 years, they should be able to stay focused for around an hour.1 But if this is the case, why is it that we find our ability to focus floundering quite often? We find it difficult to concentrate for many reasons, including our interest in the task at hand, our physical and emotional state, our environment, our neuropsychological mapping, and our skill level vis-a-vis the task.2 A variety of physical and psychological factors can help enhance this ability – food is one such factor.
Foods To Improve Memory And Concentration
To improve your power of concentration, try these foods out.
Many of us start our day with a cup of coffee. And there’s a good reason why coffee works so well as an eye opener – caffeine! Consuming caffeine in moderate amounts can not only improve your ability to focus and concentrate, it can also make you feel more energetic and alert, quicken your reactions, increase accuracy, improve short-term memory, and increase your problem-solving abilities.3
But do keep in mind that the key word here is “moderate.” Too much coffee can leave you feeling jittery. It’s not a good idea to have more than 400 mg of caffeine in a day. An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains around 95 to 200 mg, so no more than 2–3 cups a day. Experts also suggest that pregnant women should either avoid caffeine or limit their consumption to 300 mg in a day.4
Yummy chocolate can also help improve attention and concentration. This is because cocoa beans are a rich source of flavonoids, particularly epicatechin and catechin which have antioxidant properties. Cocoa also contains caffeine. And according to research, cocoa can improve attentiveness as well as mood.5 So bite into a delicious dark chocolate bar or have an antioxidant-rich cocoa drink when you feel mentally fatigued and distracted.
Tea is said to the most commonly consumed beverage after water. Like cocoa, it is a great source of flavonoid antioxidants. Tea also contains the beneficial amino acid L-theanine, which can modulate certain aspects of brain function. Studies have shown that L-theanine significantly increases brain activity in the alpha frequency band. This means it can relax you without making you feel drowsy, promote mental alertness, and improve attention. No wonder Buddhist monks commonly use tea to help sustain attention over long periods of meditation.6 You too can try a cup of tea when you find that your focus is fading. But then again, no going overboard. Limit to 2–3 cups a day.
Blueberries are another food that can be beneficial for your brain. Researchers have found that sustained attention improves after having a blueberry drink. But blueberries don’t just help you concentrate, they may improve your memory too. Research suggests that the neural circuitry involved in sustaining attention is enhanced by ﬂavonoids present in blueberry may be responsible for these beneficial effects.7
Iron is a particularly important mineral for your brain. It plays a role in making dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is not only involved in attention but also memory, learning, stress responsivity, and hormonal regulation. Studies have found that when iron-deficient women were supplemented with iron, their cognitive performance as well as performance accuracy improved.8
Crabs, oysters, clams, and fish are all rich sources of iron. If you’re a vegetarian, lentils, kidney beans, raisins, and green leafy vegetables like spinach work well too. And do keep in mind that your body is able to absorb iron from plant sources better when accompanied by foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and sweet peppers that contain vitamin C.
Adult men need about 8 mg of iron per day while adult women need about 18 mg per day. About 45 mg of iron per day is the upper limit that can be safely consumed. Excessive amounts of this mineral can be harmful, so do run it by your doctor before taking supplements.9
6. Flaxseed Oil
Flax seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid. This essential fatty acid cannot be synthesized by the human body and has to be supplemented through diet. It is well known that alpha-linolenic acid is beneficial for your heart, but did you know it’s important for your brain too? One study found that when children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were supplemented with flaxseed oil and antioxidants in the form of vitamin C they were benefited. And symptoms like inattention, impulsivity, restless, and self-control were improved.10
But do keep in mind that it’s best to avoid flaxseed oil while pregnant or breastfeeding as it can have hormonal effects.11
|↑1||School-age children development. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑2||Hughes, Jennifer Page. Attending to Attention: Strategies for Focus and Concentration. Bureau of Study Counsel, Harvard University, 2014.|
|↑3||Glade, Michael J. “Caffeine—not just a stimulant.” Nutrition 26, no. 10 (2010): 932-938.|
|↑4||Caffeine. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑5||Nehlig, Astrid. “The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance.” British journal of clinical pharmacology 75, no. 3 (2013): 716-727.|
|↑6||Nobre, Anna C., Anling Rao, and Gail N. Owen. “L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state.” Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition 17, no. S1 (2008): 167-168.|
|↑7||How, Pauline S., Judi A. Ellis, Sara Neshatdoust, and Jeremy PE Spencer. “The impact of plant-derived flavonoids on mood, memory, and motorskills in healthy older UK adults.” The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 67, no. OCE8 (2008).|
|↑8||Murray-Kolb, Laura E., and John L. Beard. “Iron treatment normalizes cognitive functioning in young women.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 85, no. 3 (2007): 778-787.|
|↑9||Iron. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑10||Joshi, Kalpana, Sagar Lad, Mrudula Kale, Bhushan Patwardhan, Sahebrao P. Mahadik, Bindu Patni, Arti Chaudhary, Sheila Bhave, and Anand Pandit. “Supplementation with flax oil and vitamin C improves the outcome of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 74, no. 1 (2006): 17-21.|
|↑11||Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil. National Institutes of Health.|