Concentration is the key to learning, whether you are studying hard in preparation for IIT JEE, CAT (or any other entrance exam) or just wish to focus better on your work. In this day and age of multi-tasking, it is a struggle to focus for a long period of time. We need all the help we can get, to navigate through the many distractions technology throws at us.
Believe it or not, it does come down to eating right. What we eat throughout the day determines how active or lazy we are going to be; you eat a heavy lunch and there is no saving you from feeling lethargic and sleepy. Dieticians also believe that if you skip your breakfast, one tends to feel tired and may find it difficult to focus throughout the day. So, it is important to eat right, as what we consume has a direct effect on our mood and energy levels.
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Here's what you must include in your diet, which will help you boost brainpower and concentration.
Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? According to Dr. Simran Saini, Nutritionist at Fortis Hospital, New Delhi, "Breakfast is extremely crucial for children who are going to school or preparing for an exam. When you sleep, you're essentially fasting which means your sugar levels drop. So when you wake up in the morning, if you skip breakfast and start to study, sugar is not passing into your brain which will eventually make you feel tired or sleepy. Your energy levels will drop drastically as well. This is why eating something is important. It'll boost your glucose levels and allow you to concentrate better."
Whole grains found in breakfast cereals and oatmeal are the best ways to get complex carbohydrates into your system. They keep you full, as it takes longer to digest the complex carbohydrates, and as a result, they provide energy throughout the morning, helping you focus better.
According to Dr. Ritika Samaddar, Dietics, Max Hospital, "We usually recommend foods that help produce more of Serotonin, which is the calming hormone. Whole cereals, whole grains or other complex carbohydrates contain amino acids that help trigger this hormone. They also help reduce stress levels considerably."
Fish is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which helps in keeping your brain healthy and making your memory sharper. Salmon and mackerel are known to be the best sources of omega-3. So a light salad or a quick stir-fry with either of them are great lunch options. Walnut is another source of omega-3 rich food. It's resemblance to the human brain in appearance may be a coincidence but it happens to be very good for the brain's development.
Dark chocolate can be very helpful if taken in small amounts. "Countless studies have proven that the plant compound called flavanols - found in cocoa beans, which are used in making chocolates - can improve your heart's health and help ease stress," says Joy Dubost, R.D., a dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Lesser stress helps you focus better and concentrate on your studies or the task at hand.
Rich in antioxidants, blueberries are known to give you a memory boost, among other benefits, and help pacify those incessant sugar cravings. "In addition to their now well-known antioxidants effects, dietary supplements with berry fruits have a direct effect on the brain," writes researcher Marshall Miller, of the USDA-ARS Human nutrition Research Center on Aging, and colleagues in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. So how about starting your morning with a blueberry shake?
All around the world, coffee is popular as a wake-me-up. Nothing makes you more alert and attentive then that fix of caffeine. But make sure you don't go over-board, as that might leave you restless and jittery. Many studies have proven that coffee in right doses is good for concentration. In his research paper, Florian Koppelsttter, M.D., Ph.D., radiology fellow at Medical University Innsbruck in Austria says, "We were able to show that caffeine modulates a higher brain function through its effects on distinct areas of the brain".
Dr. Ritika Samaddar says "A cup or two a day will definitely keep you alert but you must be careful and not have too many cups a day. It can't become a habit because too much coffee isn't healthy and in fact might cause insomnia later in life."
Alternating your second cup of coffee with green tea can be a great idea, as green tea not only has caffeine but polyphenols and antioxidants too, which are beneficial in aiding brain function and help fight cell degradation. "Green tea has no caffeine and also works to remove anti-oxidants from the body. This does not necessarily help you stay alert but definitely helps you manage your stress levels" said Dr. Ritika Samaddar.
In order to focus well and concentrate throughout the day, you should stay hydrated. The importance of water cannot be emphasized enough. "Think of water as a nutrient your body needs which is present in liquids, plain water, and foods. All of these are daily essentials to replace the large amounts of water lost each day," says Joan Koelemay, RD, dietitian for the Beverage Institute.
All of these play a role in helping you concentrate better. A balanced mix of the above shall go a long way in helping you prepare for your entrance exams or focus on your daily work.