When you need to concentrate, it’s easy to pour another cup of coffee. But you can make yourself more focused by feeding your brain food containing valuable nutrients, says Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist, farmer, and coauthor of “The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body.”
“The smallest choices each day can make a real difference in improving mental and emotional well-being, stabilizing your moods, and improving your focus,” Ramsey says. “It begins with avoiding the processed and fried foods that are primary players in the Modern American Diet and stocking up on foods rich in omega 3s fatty acids, magnesium, and other vitamins and nutrients.”
Ramsey finds these brain-healthy nutrients in whole foods from the sea (vitamin B-12, omega-3 fats), leafy greens and lentils (folates and magnesium), whole grains and nuts (certain forms of vitamin E that protect brain fat), and tomatoes and sweet potatoes (top sources of lycopene and other carotenoids, fat soluble antioxidants that decrease inflammation).
You may be avoiding some of the foods he recommends, such as eggs and beef. Ramsey recommends eating products from pasture-fed chickens and cows.
Why eat eggs? They’re a great source of choline, a precursor to the brain chemical acetylcholine, which is essential for learning, Ramsey argues, and, yes, he’s a fan of eating the yolks. If you’re worried about cholesterol, ask your doctor how many eggs are safe to eat. Cholesterol in your diet does not have a big effect on blood cholesterol levels. Ramsey recommends up to 12 eggs a week, or 2 eggs every morning except one. Besides choline, eggs are rich in B-9 (also known as folate) and B-6 and B-12. Three large eggs will give you half of your daily B-12 requirement.
Even a mild deficiency of B-12 can blur your concentration. If you’d rather stay away from eggs, seafood like mussels and clams both provide B-12, and oysters and anchovies are also rich in helpful nutrients, Ramsey says.
Grass-fed beef is more expensive, but you don’t need big quantities. Eat it once or twice a week in stews with vegetables, rather than as the main event in a meal. Beef is a source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which counters the effects of stress hormones. You’ll get twice to three times the CLA from an animal that grazed rather than dined on grain. Vegetarians can get CLA from black beans.
Eggs and beef are staples in American diets, but few of us eat as much cruciferous vegetables as Ramsey recommends: two cups a day. These vegetables include kale, Brussels sprouts, purple cabbage, arugula, bok choy, cauliflower and collard greens. They contain valuable sulfur based compounds. Sulforaphane, for example, can improve memory and learning after a brain injury, and may help protect you against cancer, too.
Ramsey is a big fan of kale: At just 33 calories, a cup of raw kale will give you a big dose of vitamin C (134 percent RDA) and vitamin A (206 percent RDA), protein, iron, folate, and vitamin B6 — plus tons of vitamin K (684 percent RDA), which Ramsey describes as a “key co-factor” in the fats that structure brain cells.
Add turmeric and black pepper to your food for even more brain-boost. As Hippocrates said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”
March 14, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN