Nutrition FAQ: What can I eat to increase my focus?

Sandwich and fruit in a lunch containerAround exam time, students commonly look for ways to increase focus and concentration while trying to carve out an extra hour or two of study time. There’s no magic food or drink that can do this for you, however, following the suggestions below can help you to make the most of the time you spend studying.

Eat regularly

Supplying your brain with enough energy affects your ability to focus. The brain is fueled primarily by glucose, which our body gets from digesting carbohydrates. Having a low blood glucose (also referred to as blood sugar) can make you feel mentally fuzzy or tired. Eating regularly, starting with breakfast and then every 3 to 5 hours throughout the day, is the best way to ensure that you will have enough glucose in your blood to fuel your brain. Numerous studies have shown that eating breakfast can improve attention and short-term memory and may enhance test performance. Choose foods that provide a slow, steady source of glucose such as 100% whole grain breads, cereals, rice, or pasta, fruits, vegetables, dairy products and beans or lentils. They deliver energy at a slower and steadier rate compared to refined grains and high sugar foods and drinks.

Choose a balanced diet

The best meals and snacks contain a balance of carbohydrate and protein to keep you energized. Pair the slowly-digested carbohydrates mentioned above with a source of protein such as nuts or seeds, meat, poultry, fish, eggs or tofu when planning meals and snacks. Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt, soy beverages and beans and lentils are good sources of both carbohydrates and protein. To power up your concentration, eat a hardboiled egg along with your breakfast bagel, tuna in your wrap at lunch, tofu and brown rice with your dinner veggie stir fry; have hummus with whole grain crackers, yogurt with frozen berries or an apple with peanut butter as a snack.

Drink plenty of water

Most adults should aim for 2 to 2 ½ litres of water per day, more if you are very active or during warm weather. Not drinking enough fluid can affect your energy level, mood, and ability to focus. Even slight dehydration may cause a headache. While sugary drinks provide a quick burst of energy, they often leave you feeling worse in the long run.

The same goes for caffeine; while it can help you to feel more focused, its Sandwich and carrots in a lunch containereffects are also short term. Found mainly in coffee, colas, and energy drinks, caffeine provides a quick energy buzz but also leaves you feeling jittery and uncomfortable if you overdo it. Moderate caffeine intake (no more than 400 mg/day) is not associated with adverse effects in most adults. This is the equivalent of about 2 large cups of coffee per day.

Steer clear of energy drinks, which are an expensive way to load up on a lot of sugar (up to 14 teaspoons per can) and caffeine. The safety, dosages, and effectiveness of other ingredients like taurine, glucuronolactone, and Gingko Biloba are unclear, especially when taken all at once or in combination with caffeine or certain medications.  The best way to maximize your energy is to eat well, be active most days, stay hydrated and get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.

To learn more about healthy eating, check out our Survival Guide to Healthy Eating.

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