Did you know that every seven years, the cells in your body are completely renewed? This means that you are literally not made of the same stuff you were seven years ago. Your entire body has been built and rebuilt over and over, throughout your life. Kind of mind-blowing, right?
What I find even more fascinating is that the foods we consume are actually the building blocks of this cell renewal process. “You are what you eat” is not just a saying – it’s the truth! If your daily diet consists of donuts and coffee for breakfast, a fast food lunch, and processed convenience foods for dinner, those are the materials your body is trying to renew itself with. On the other hand, a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables gives your body a wide range of important vitamins and nutrients that it needs to stay physically healthy, to sustain energy levels, and to maintain good cognitive functioning.
It might be time to examine your diet if:
- You consistently feel sluggish or exhausted during the day
- Your mind seems to be “foggy” or unfocused
- You have difficulty completing basic daily tasks
- You find yourself getting sick often
Be brutally honest with yourself. Self-deception is not uncommon when it comes to diet – it’s awfully easy to convince yourself that you’ve been eating well when you haven’t been. I’ve certainly been guilty of this, and I know many others who are prone to doing this as well. “But I eat a salad every day!” “I only drink diet soda” “Lean Cuisine IS healthy!” The rationalizations are endless, but you get the picture.
Eating to improve your energy and concentration doesn’t mean you need to renounce pizza and ice cream and live exclusively off of kale, tofu and brown rice forever. It’s not a good thing to obsess over what you eat. Too many people approach dietary changes with an all-or-nothing attitude. This almost always leads either to giving up because you’re burned out, or developing an unhealthy relationship with food. Try to avoid labeling foods “good” and “bad” and instead think about how your food choices will nourish your body and mind. You can (and should!) still enjoy your less-healthy favorite foods in moderation.
Here are some specific foods that you should eat more of if you want more energy and focus:
- Fat is your friend! The good kind of fat, that is. Eat lots of fatty fish, such as wild salmon, for omega-3 fatty acids that play an important role in keeping your brain healthy. Other good-for-you fats come from sources, such as, nuts and avocados. Remember: Fat is critical to the functioning of your body and brain.
- Complex is better. Carbs get a bad rap, but it’s not because they’re all bad. Your body needs carbohydrates to use for energy. Where we run into problems is with the refined carbohydrates, which spike your blood sugar and then cause energy levels to plummet. Unfortunately, refined carbs are found in a lot of our favorite foods (Basically anything made with white flour counts as a refined carb.) Fortunately, there are lots of delicious options for whole-grain, complex carbohydrates. (Quinoa and farro are a couple of my personal favorites.)
- Greens and blues. Of course, you should eat all the fresh produce that you can for optimum health, but leafy greens and blueberries in particular contain antioxidants and other compounds that improve concentration and focus.
- A better caffeine source. We may be a nation of coffee addicts, but centuries of wisdom and decades of scientific research that have shown the benefits of drinking green tea. Not only do you get a little boost from the caffeine, but green tea also contains antioxidants and the compound L-Theanine, which help to ease stress and improve focus and energy.
- Remember not to diet. Well, not in the traditional sense anyway. Sure, you want to improve your diet. But if you’re serious about eating in a way that aids cognitive functioning and increases energy, the LAST thing you want to do is “go on a diet.” Research has shown time and time again that diets aren’t effective – eventually, most dieters revert back to their old ways. Even if your goals do involve weight loss, it’s best to simply start incorporating nutritious foods into your meals and snacks, rather than counting calories or declaring certain foods off-limits. Once you notice how much better you feel with proper nutrition, you’ll likely crave “junk food” less and less.