Five Foods for Focus

August 23, 2012
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It’s Back to School time again.  That means it is time to ditch the “summer brain” and get ready to focus and pay attention in class.  These 5 foods can literally feed our brains, boosting it’s functioning and focus to help kids stay on task at school.

1. Fish

One of the best sources of omega 3s is fish, especially fatty fish like salmon or tuna. Omega 3 fatty acids are brain foods, critical for healthy brain functioning and focus – and unfortunately, many Americans are deficient in omega 3s.  My kids love tuna salad for lunch, which offers a mid-day brain boost.  You can roll it up into a wrap, do a tuna salad with crackers, or I have even rolled it in seaweed to make “sushi.”  But big fish like tuna can be high in mercury, so we choose Wild Planet brand tuna, because it has half the amount of mercury (compared to conventional brands), and a higher omega 3 content.   Omega 3s not only help with brain functioning, but also are shown to boost mood, reduce inflammation, protect the heart, improve skin, and much more – one of the most important nutrients all Americans need.  Additionally, tuna is a good source of protein and B6. People with focus or sleep issues tend to be B6 deficient and can also benefit from B6.

Taking a fish oil supplement is another good way to get EPA and DHA omega 3s – in our house, we like Barleans Omega Swirls, which now is available in a convenient to go packet.  Omega Swirls 9 times more absorbable than other fish oil, and come in several delicious flavors.

2. Chia seeds

Walter Willet of Harvard Health recommends that we have fish or fish oils a few times a week, and a vegetarian omega 3 source every day.  My favorite vegetarian source for omega 3s are chia seeds – because in addition to the omega 3s, these little seeds offers so much more.  Chia seeds fill you up, offer lasting energy/endurance, and form a gel which helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. In addition, chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, antioxidants & minerals. Chia seeds are rich in the ALA form of omega 3s, which the body needs to convert to the EPA/DHA forms.  Chia doesn’t really taste like anything and can be easily added to many foods.  Top your oatmeal, boost your smoothies, or add to your baking. I also like to make a quick chia pudding – just add a couple Tablespoons of chia seeds to a half cup of your favorite non-dairy milk (I like coconut), add a little vanilla, and a touch of your favorite all natural sweetener (like agave or stevia), and let it thicken for a few minutes. Voila – you have a delicious & nutritious pudding!

Look for foods boosted with chia seeds, like San Diego based Whales Tails torchia chips, and Nuttzo peanut free multi-seed nut butters – both great additions to the lunchbox!

3. Cacao –

A recent study showed that eating chocolate helped people to perform math problems better.  Instead of a Hershey bar before math class, I recommend having something made with cacao, the key ingredient in chocolate that is good for our brains.  I like to add local brand Sunfood‘s raw organic cacao to smoothies (try this Choco Banana Smoothie), I also make raw energy bars with it, dark chocolate black bean brownies, and you could even make homemade chocolate almond milk, just add cacao and your favorite natural sweetener.  Cacao also is one of the best food sources of magnesium, which tends to have a calming effect on the nervous system, and introduces more oxygen rich blood to the brain. The majority of the population and up to 95% of kids with ADHD are magnesium deficient. Some signs of magnesium deficiency – poor memory/focus, headaches, dizziness, fear/anxiety/uneasiness, increased bone fractures, restless leg syndrome, hyperactivity, insomnia, constipation, apathy, and more.  Kids who tend to fidget or are hyperactive might benefit from taking magnesium before school, because it will help to calm them down and boost focus.  Another way to get magnesium is by taking a magnesium supplement, my kids like the raspberry lemon flavored Natural Calm. Too much magnesium can have a laxative effect, so start with the lowest dose possible.

4. Eggs

Protein-rich eggs offer lasting energy which is key for focus and attention.  Another focus-boosting nutrient that eggs offer is choline – which is important for brain development and memory.  Over 90% of Americans are estimated to be deficient in choline.  But don’t just eat the egg whites, because the choline and other important nutrients like lutein are all found in the egg yolks. I always recommend buying the organic or pastured eggs, which are naturally richer in omega 3s.  A 2010 Penn State University study showed that hens raised in pastures laid eggs that had double the vitamin E and 2.5 times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids compared to eggs from their caged conventional counterparts.  If you can’t find pastured eggs, go for organic eggs, or organic omega 3 rich eggs that come from Chickens that are fed flax.  Learn more about pasture-raised eggs, and read more about the many nutritional benefits of eggs.  You can find pastured eggs at your local Whole Foods market.

5. Berries

Rich in antioxidants, berries help to reduce oxidative stress in the body and the brain. Strawberries also contain a flavenoid called fisetin which can improve the memory. Blueberries have Vitamin K, manganese, and vitamin C and have been shown in lab tests to help improve the cognitive function of elderly lab rats.

Getting Back On task

Getting back into the swing of school after Summer break can sometimes require a short adjustment period.  Eating foods (or supplements) rich in Omega 3s, magnesium, zinc, antioxidants, protein and B Vitamins can help kids to focus and get on task throughout the year.  Also avoiding foods with artificial colors, preservatives and too much sugar is a smart strategy.  A supplement called On Task might be another option to consider for kids that continue to have trouble staying focused in school.  On Task contains magnesium, B vitamins, Vitamin C, and zinc, to help improve the brain’s ability to focus and stay on task.  Invented by parents whose child was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, and Tourette’s disorder, who were looking for a natural solution like On Task.  They could not find one, so they created On Task.  Read about their story, and some of the testimonials of customers.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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