There are days when we expertly — and effortlessly — rattle through our to-do list and head out the door early, soaring with energy. And other days? Well, let’s just say Facebook gets far more attention than our email, and excuses to go off task are plenty. Though there is no sure-fire, no-fail way to improve our concentration, what we put in our bodies can have an impact. There’s a reason why the saying ‘we are we eat’ continues to be shared, after all.
One way to motivate yourself to focus is by filling your diet with superfoods. As a certified holistic health coach and co-founder of Raw Generation, Jessica Rosen explains, this family of veggies, fruits, spices and more are naturally-occurring foods that possess powerful health-boosting properties. “They can have a powerful impact your well-being when consumed habitually and can also enhance longevity and youthfulness. These are foods that are particularly rich in nutrients beyond ordinary foods. Because they are such a potent source of nutrients, they help amp up your metabolism,” she explains.
While the scientifically-proven impact of superfoods is still being studied — and you should always speak with a trusted expert before radically changing your diet — it is worth a bite to this brain grub into your diet. Here, experts share their best recommendations:
Matcha Green Tea
It will be taxing to break up with your coffee, but consider having an affair with matcha green tea. Rosen explains this variety is packed with 137-times the antioxidants of regular green tea and provides an abundance of antioxidants, most notably ‘EGCG.’ This nutrient helps us to burn calories, amp our metabolism and defends our body against free radicals that age us.
And unlike coffee — which can make us shaky if we drink too much of it — Rosen says matcha green tea provides a more relaxed, focused energy. “Matcha increases the amount of happy neurotransmitters in your brain. Thus, drinking matcha helps you to feel chilled out, yet alert. It’s no wonder it has a traditional history of use by Zen Buddhist monks and Samurai warriors,” she adds.
Great on their own, added to rice or on top of pizza for those with a quirky palette, holistic health counselor Holly Harding, INHC, AADP says everyone’s favorite yellow fruit is a smart choice if you wake up and just-can’t. How come? Pineapple is rich in manganese, an antioxidant-rich trace mineral that creates strong bones, increases collagen production, and has a load of vitamin C and B1 vitamins that produce healthy cell function and metabolism. But for your noggin’? “The most important health benefit of pineapple is its digestive enzyme known as bromelain. This enzyme breaks down protein molecules and has been determined to aid digestion and decrease inflammation,” she explains. When this happens, your body is functioning more effectively, making it less likely that you’ll be distracted by a 10-minute ‘bathroom break’ to scroll through Instagram.
You don’t need to rationalize eating more avocados, but now you have a reason: health researcher Mara Woloshin gives these green beauties lots of brain-boosting kudos. This potassium-rich food might be heavy on the budget, but they help to feed oxygen to our brains, improving our ability to process thoughts. “It’s not just the potassium in avocados, the fruit also increases blood flow, feeding more oxygen to your entire brain but perhaps most importantly, the prefrontal cortex — near your forehead, the area of the brain responsible for planning and critical thinking,” she explains. Paired with some baby carrots, call this a just-about-perfect afternoon desk snack.
When you’re feeling out of the zone, it’s likely because your brain is missing out on something it needs. One way to improve your cognitive function is to add a handful (or three) of hemp seeds to your diet, Rosen says. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and per gram, they pack more protein and iron than beef. As a flexible topping, you can add these to oatmeal, rice, vegetables, hummus and a plethora of other meals and snacks. “They’re one of the most nutritionally complete foods in the world, giving you a healthy dose of essential amino acids your body needs to function optimally,” Rosen says.
It’s easy to love sweet potatoes — on their own, paired with veggies and a lean protein, in chip form or when paired with another superfood, avocado. This makes downing them easier — and recommended by Woloshin. “As a natural anti-inflammatory, this potato helps your memory. Sweet potatoes are chocked full of B vitamins and folate, all of which are cognitive boosters, especially as we age,” she explains.
As a bonus, sweet potatoes also slow down the conversion of foods to glucose — a.k.a., sugar — and thanks to its high quantity of fiber, they also help to preserve your memory and reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease.
No, you don’t need to be a sea creature to benefit from the healing — and helpful! — properties of algae. More specifically, Harding says red algae is a strong antioxidant that naturally reduces free radicals and improves your heart health through increased circulation. For those days when your mind is foggy and you’re feeling less than your best self, red algae has also been shown to boost your immune system when you need it. Not sure how to um, eat it? It comes in a variety of forms — dried, powdered or capsulated — and you might recognize a-top your sushi next time you order takeout. Consider having a container of red algae spice at your desk to sprinkle when you need a little pick-me-up in the afternoon.