The 9 Foods to Eat to Boost Focus and Productivity, According to Doctors
Your brain has 87 billion neurons and uses up 25 percent of your total energy and 50 percent of your body's oxygen, yet we rarely think about eating to "support" this vital organ. Though we often feel exhausted from doing nothing more than trying to focus for hours on end, it never occurs to us to fuel up our brains. Only when we experience "brain fog" or a lapse in concentration, productivity, creativity or sharpness, does it occur to us that our sluggish operating system may be in need of better fuel and a little maintenance care. Think of the last time you had an off day (couldn't find the right word, remember a name, get your project or tasks done). Chances are it coincides with a period of eating sugary junk food, sleeping poorly, or a day of not exercising and spent mostly in a chair or being sedentary.
Your brain deserves better. If you want it to charge up the output, you have to rethink the input. There is a simple solution to this brain performance deficit. The key is to eat brain-boosting foods that support the cellular processes that enhance your brain's ability to fire on all cylinders. That means foods that bring oxygen, nutrients, and high-quality fuel to your brain cells (and other organs) so that they can act as the jet pack rocket launcher that it is, to elevate your productivity, creativity, and focus, as well as your mood.
The right brain fuel may even go a long way to prevent diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's (which afflicts six million Americans yearly), as well as to help alleviate serious mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. "Diet can do all that?" you may wonder. Yes, is the emphatic answer of scientifically-backed research by Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, who happen to be married neurologists who have written the book that can change your brainpower and your life, by helping ward off diseases.
These well-known brain doctors have written a book that helps everyone eat to support better brain function, whether you're concerned about memory loss, full-blown Alzheimers, or anxiety and depression. Even before the pandemic, our collective brain function was suffering in this country, as more of us continue to reach for all the wrong foods as part of the traditional American diet, full of sugar and saturated fat that dulls and dampens our sharpness, often prompting us to reach for more junk food.
Now the recommendation of Drs. Sherzai, in their new book The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution, is to flip the switch on our brain-dulling eating patterns of stuffing ourselves with sugary snacks, salty chips, processed foods, simple carbs (cereal and bread) or saturated-fat loaded meats and dairy, and instead prioritize eating for brain health (which is also total body health) by focusing on better nutrition–which they have defined as a whole-food, plant-based diet, of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, as well as getting daily exercise, a chance to unwind and restore our emotional health by building on our personal relationships.
The Sherzais take a researched-backed dietary approach to cognitive health based on a body of evidence, mostly review studies of large populations known to live long, healthy, and sharp-as-a-tack lives, and incorporate the latest brain science into a dietary approach that tells us to skip meat and dairy and go all or mostly plant-based. They have identified the nine food groups to eat every day "The Neuro Nine," that will help our processing speed, our brains retain more information, make creative connections, and boost productivity, as well as stoke our emotional wellbeing.
The 9 foods to eat for better brain function and to beat brain fog
While brain health sounds like something that is impossible to control, much less reverse early memory loss or absent-mindedness, the Sherzais tell us that the brain is resilient, and will interact with every step you take to be healthier overall, including exercising daily, getting adequate sleep, living a purpose-driven life, and eating healthy whole foods, such as deep leafy greens, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
"The brain is incredibly resilient," they write. "Your cells rejuvenate, resist damage, and support growth at any age. Your neurons can make as few as two connections, or as many as thirty thousand; you have the ability to improve your brain function, to increase your neural connectivity...better yet you can profoundly improve your brain function starting right now."
The "Neuro Nine" best foods to eat for maintaining and improving your cognitive health, according to the Drs. Sherzai are these:
1. Green Leafy Vegetables: Eat 3 cups raw or 1.5 cups cooked daily.
These include spinach, arugula, kale, watercress, Swiss chard, collard greens, and any other deep green leafy vegetables you like to add to your salads or smoothies. "Greens contain antioxidants, folic acid, vitamin E, beta-carotene, all nutrients that support brain health," the doctors write. Pile them on.
2. Whole Grains: Eat 3 servings. 1/2 cup oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole-eat pasta.
"Oats serve as a prebiotic and are an amazing source of soluble fiber called beta-glucan," the book tells us. This helps reduce bad cholesterol, feed good bacteria, and increase feelings of fullness, making weight loss easier, they explain. If you love an oatmeal breakfast you are well on your way. these whole grains keep your blood sugar from spiking and add necessary fiber to your diet.
3. Seeds: Eat 2 tablespoons (2 servings) a day.
Look for ground flaxseeds and chia seeds, sunflowers seed, all of which are loaded with nutrients. These are high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber, minerals such as B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. The omega-3 fats especially provide support to neurons, the doctors tell us. And flaxseeds have lignans, which help protect against degenerative changes in the body and brain, the book explains. Add them to your oatmeal or salads, smoothie, or as a garnish on anything you like.
4. Legumes: Eat 3 servings or 1-2 cups of beans or tofu/tempeh or 1/4 cup of hummus.
Beans deliver fiber, protein, and vitamins. Choose chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, lentils, edamame, tempeh, and tofu. "Beans contain resistant starches, fiber, plant-proteins, antioxidants, phytonutrients, iron, and other minerals," the books says. "They help lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar and increase longevity, and reduce risk of stroke."
5. Berries: Eat 1/2 cup a day of blueberries, blackberries, strawberries.
"On the anti-inflammatory index of foods, blueberries stand tall, even in such good company as blackberries and strawberries," the doctors write. Colorful berries supply antioxidants and vitamins that help your body and your brain function at their highest level, keeping circulation healthy, boosting immunity and cell function. "Studies have shown that people who regularly consume blueberries experience improved learning, better recall, and reduced symptoms of depression," the authors explain.
6. Nuts. Eat 1/4 cup or 1 serving a day, especially walnuts.
"Although all nuts are good for you, walnuts are the best when it comes to brain health," according to the doctors, because of their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA." Look for walnuts, almonds, cashews, and other nuts you enjoy. Nuts are calorie-dense, but they are full of healthy fats, antioxidants, and fiber, which all help circulation and support brain health.
7. Cruciferous vegetables: Eat 1 cup or 2 servings a day.
Broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts contain sulforaphane, "which can cross the blood-brain barrier and actually reverse damage caused by free radicals and even normal aging," according to the doctors. These vegetables have so many health benefits that you can't eat enough. Add them to your salads and meals as often as possible.
8. Tea: Drink at least 1 cup daily, especially green tea.
"Green tea contains catechin, a polyphenol that activates toxin-clearing enzymes," the doctors write. It's a potent anti-inflammatory, and research shows that consuming 1 to 2 cups daily lowers your risk of Alzheimer's and stroke due to the powerful flavonoid EGCG, which helps prevent the buildup of a protein called amyloid in and around the brain cells that can clump and tangle together, causing the potential for trouble. Green tea may have the most EGCG but by drinking all tea–green, white, black, brown, or Oolong–you deliver healthy compounds that help increase circulation, support healthy cell function, and have also been linked to healthy weight loss.
9. Herbs and Spices: At least 1/4 teaspoon a day.
Whether you like "cilantro, dill, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, mint, or parsley, each contains ten times the antioxidants of nuts and berries," the doctors tell us. So pour them on! "Spices contain the highest amounts of antioxidants per ounce compared with any other food, and are excellent at supporting the brain's innate detox systems," they write. Add turmeric and sumac, sage, gooseberry, and saffron to make meals full of vegetables tastier, but also to support brain health now and over time.
Eat a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet and Your Focus Will Improve
These are the nine foods that have the highest impact on your brain health, Drs. Sherzai tell us. For still more great information about all the other plant-based foods to add to your daily diet for brain health, check out the full list of 20 foods that support your healthy brain (soy, sweet potatoes, olives, avocados, mushrooms, beets, cacao, and more).
How, and why, to get them into your diet is the subject of their book, including recipes and daily tips that also include a review of the latest research and recommendations that we avoid all foods high in saturated fats, including meat and dairy. Eat this way for 30 days, they suggest, and your brain will fire on all cylinders (not a scientific term) and you'll also lower your risk for every lifestyle disease, including Alzheimer's.
For their complete plan and recipes, buy the book here.