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Foods for Better Concentration

Focusing on the types of foods that you eat may boost performance.

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One of the investigators, Gordon Winocur, PhD, senior scientist for the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, says the research demonstrates that a high serving of glucose may have a fast, short-term benefit on mental ability.

"With older people, in particular, where glucose metabolism isn't very efficient, if you do something to increase the glucose uptake, it seems to translate into improved memory function," says Winocur.

Paul E. Gold, professor of psychology and psychiatry in the neuroscience program at the University of Illinois, has done a number of studies on the effect of glucose on learning and memory. He says the compound can, indeed, boost memory and thinking processes in the brain.

Yet he does not recommend it for the public, because he says a number of factors can interfere with the process, such as stress levels, and differences in how people metabolize glucose.

The variables make it hard to tell how much glucose will help with memory, says Gold. Plus, he says, there is the "inverted U" effect to consider.

"The inverted U means that as you increase the dose, the effects on memory, for example, will get better and better and better," he explains. "But, then, after some peak dose, they begin to get worse and worse and worse."

With really high doses of glucose, memory could actually be impaired, Gold explains.

The protein versus carbohydrate battle seems to be in the limelight these days, especially with high-protein, and low-carb diets inching their way into weight-conscious homes.

As a source for brainpower, however, neither carbs nor proteins appear to play a direct role on a person's ability to concentrate.

Carbohydrates convert into glucose in the body, but Wilson says that process may take a while. Carbs usually aren't available for the body to use until after at least two to four hours, she says, while proteins aren't usually available until after at least four hours.

But, even then, it's not guaranteed that the mix of foods will target the brain and make it more alert, or that one single nutrient will improve concentration and memory in the long-term.

Experts do know, based on scientific research, that whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains support health in general.

"If an individual consistently eats a healthy diet, their level of performance will be enhanced," says Wilson, "If not, it might decrease ability to concentrate."

How Much Is Enough?

Other factors that might interfere with a person's focus include eating too much or too little.

A heavy meal right before an important affair might make a person feel lethargic, says Wilson, primarily because blood is being diverted from the brain to the stomach for digestion.

On the other extreme, people who don't take in enough calories because they skip meals or are on a restrictive diet may experience hunger pangs -- which could certainly be distracting.

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