A question I’m often asked is what foods are the best to support concentration, mood and focus. After all, we are made of what we eat. And yes, supplements can be great, but we’d rather have fun in the kitchen than feel like we’re dependent on a bottle of pills.
The best foods for mood and focus increase energy production, support neurotransmitter pathways, and regulate our metabolism. And no matter what supplements you want to take, cooking your own meal is always more satisfying. Let’s look at some ways you can start cooking for mood and focus today.
To boost cellular energy production, we must look at mitochondrial function. You may know that the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, but with the brain being so energy-demanding, it’s the powerhouse of joy and problem solving too.
Mitochondria-supporting foods include citrus fruits, like lemons and limes; as well as Himalayan Pink Salt, which helps out with its mineral content. Turmeric is a much-loved anti-inflammatory and may protect the mitochondria through its antioxidant abilities. Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, and rosemary work through similar pathways that involve stimulating the body’s own antioxidant defenses.
If you’re starting to think of pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes, you’re in luck; these can all be included in your food. Some, including ginger and rosemary, may stimulate circulation, which could be another reason why they support energy generation.
Focus and Mood
The multi-beneficial herb, rosemary, has been used for many years as a remedy to improve memory and focus. Did you know that in ancient times, students were instructed to wear a sprig of rosemary behind their ear when studying? That tidbit was shared with us in medical school too (which wasn’t so ancient times)!
Of course, that’s not all. Other memory and mood-supporting foods are those high in tryptophan, vitamin B6, and omega-3 fatty acids. Tryptophan is used to make serotonin, while vitamin B6 is a cofactor in neurotransmitter production too, and gets depleted with many medications. Omega-3 fats provide anti-inflammatory and structural support for the brain tissue.
Tryptophan-rich foods include warm milk, which we were often given as kids before bed. This is because serotonin has relaxing effects. Others include turkey; cottage cheese; seafood, including tuna, salmon, halibut, and shrimp; other meats, including pork and chicken; some nuts, such as cashews; oatmeal; avocados; collard greens and spinach. Eggs are great too, with the yolk being a rich source of choline too. Choline is a nutrient needed for memory and cognition that’s often included in prenatal supplements. Sweet potatoes provide both tryptophan and improved blood sugar stabilization thanks to their complex carbohydrates.
As for vitamin B6, some foods overlap with your tryptophan sources. Turkey, chicken, halibut, tuna and avocados contain high levels of both nutrients. Other sources include watermelon, bananas, and some beans. However, it’s important to be mindful if you have peanut allergies, as legume allergies can overlap with beans.
Omega-3 and other anti-inflammatory fatty acids can be found in a number of nuts. Brazil nuts also have selenium, which supports thyroid function. You only need three or four Brazil nuts for your daily value of selenium. Some oils high in omega-3 fats include flaxseed and black currant oil, as well as avocado and olive oils. Avoid processed vegetable oils such as canola; these are a little more inflammatory, thanks to being more processed and having high GMO content. Coconut oil works too, but watch out for allergies.
Improving your metabolism for mood and focus involves both supporting blood sugar regulation and detoxification.
If you have cravings, think about blood sugar support. Ditch (or dial down) your intake of sugary foods, and eat more foods with complex carbs. Before bed, your last meal or snack of the day should be protein-rich, such as nuts, eggs, or a nut butter spread with carrot sticks. You should only eat carbs with a protein source at night, to assist in blood sugar stabilization. This helps you to sleep better by lowering cortisol, so you’re less likely to wake up at night and can enjoy a stronger immune system. Avoid sodas and commercial juices, especially those with high-fructose corn syrup, and eat whole fruits instead.
As for detox support, certain foods can add to the benefits of avoiding environmental toxins, such as pesticides and plastics, to the best of your ability. Root vegetables such as beets, carrots, and parsnip, as well as artichokes and Burdock root can help. Burdock root is a traditional detoxifier, while some root and cruciferous vegetables provide support for specific detoxification pathways.
There is so much we can do for our brain health when we focus on whole foods. However, everyone is different, so some of the suggestions here may not be best for you, while others are. For personalized support, contact me here to learn more or book a consultation.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can food make my mood better?
Answer: Yes, food can definitely make your mood better. In fact, your mood and mental state are significantly influenced by your metabolism and the health of your natural nervous system.
When you eat processed foods that are high in sugar, chemicals, or artificial ingredients, it throws off your metabolism and messes with the communication between your gut bacteria and your brain. This can lead to inflammation, weight gain, sugar cravings, mood swings, and depression.
On the other hand, when you eat whole foods that are low in sugar and rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics, it helps to balance out your metabolism and restore communication between your gut bacteria and brain. This can lead to decreased inflammation
Question: Is food affecting my ability to focus?
Answer: Yes, quite possibly. A diet low in omega-3 fatty acids and high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids can lead to problems with focus and cognitive function.
A recent study showed that children who had lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood performed worse on tests of cognitive function than those who had higher levels. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain development, and a diet low in these fats can have negative consequences for learning and memory.
Anti-inflammatory foods like fish oil, olive oil, nuts, and seeds can help to reduce inflammation in the body, which may help to improve cognitive function.
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