Food For Thought

By Catherine McNulty

July 27, 2016 4 min read

From the moment you wake up, the bombardment begins: emails, social media, messages, texts. There's just so much information at all times. It doesn't stop once you make it to the office and, meanwhile, work keeps piling up. At a certain point you need to buckle down and focus. But there's always one more Google search, one more tweet to see what's trending in the world. Distraction is one of the plagues of the 21st century. So how can you combat it?

There are plenty of experts offering tips: to meditate, allow yourself X minutes of freedom for every Y minutes of work, etc. All of that is excellent advice. But have you given thought to how what you're putting into your body is affecting your focus? Because it's true: You are what you eat. And what you eat can help you focus or keep driving you to distraction.

It's easy to dose yourself with caffeine or sugar when your start to feel your mind wander, and that may give you a short-term boost, but it could lead to long-term stagnation. The best way to keep focus is to start off right, with a healthy breakfast. Eating breakfast has been proven to help short-term memory. Steel-cut oatmeal is a great breakfast, as it's low in calories but will fill you up. Resist the urge to dump sugar on it. Instead, sweeten it with agave or honey and add some blueberries, which contain antioxidants that help boost memory.

You can keep yourself on track with a healthy lunch. The key is to get your fill without overfilling. Too much food -- even the good, healthy stuff -- will make you tired. To maximize focus, eat a leafy salad. Like berries, greens contain antioxidants. Add some salmon or avocado for healthy fats, which will fill you up. Monounsaturated fats (such as those found in avocados) help with blood flow to the brain.

When you feel yourself starting to lag in the day, don't reach for food; reach for a big glass of water. Often, the more sedentary your job is the less you notice how dehydrated you get. Drinking water not only helps flush out toxins from your body and keep your skin looking good but also energizes you and boosts productivity.

Later in the afternoon, when you feel like a snack, grab a handful of almonds and a couple of pieces of dark chocolate. Almonds and other nuts contain amino acids and vitamin E, which can help prevent age-related cognitive decline. Dark chocolate contains caffeine, which will help stimulate your brain. It's also a good way to satisfy sweet cravings and can boost serotonin levels in your brain. But that doesn't mean you should eat a pound of each. A quarter-cup of nuts and about an ounce of dark chocolate should curb your cravings and give you all the benefits these foods supply. If you prefer savory to sweet, some lightly salted air-popped popcorn is an excellent snack.

If you need more caffeine to keep yourself focused, smaller doses of caffeine are fine, like the amount your get from a small cup of plain coffee or green tea. Plain lattes and cappuccinos are also OK. The trouble starts when you add tons of sugar to coffee beverages. This will cause a spike in your alertness, but it will quickly be followed by a crash.

Research has shown that people who chew gum tend to focus more and do better on cognitive tests. The drawback is that chewing gum does not look professional. If you have a private office, give it a try. Otherwise, leave the Bubble Yum at home.

Congratulations -- you made it through the day! Just because you're home doesn't mean you should drown yourself in sugar and fried foods. Keeping your brain sharp is an ongoing process. What you eat at night affects you in the morning. That means your dinner should contain whole grains, fresh veggies and plenty of water. The best defense in the war against distraction is a healthy, balanced diet.

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