Five Foods to Sharpen Your Focus

Usually, I’m a pretty detail-oriented person. Maybe that’s part of being an introvert. But there are days when every little thing in the world distracts me and my brain is like a freaking hamster on a wheel that fell off the spikes. You know how it goes: you want to finish an assignment by a certain time but then the mind minutia rolls in. Did I pack everything for my son’s lunch? Did I put away that thing before I left the house this morning? Do I have time to do that thing in the evening?

What I’ve found is that it is helpful to give myself little ten-minute breaks throughout the day. Then I’m able to refocus and follow through on my main priorities. The other thing is just to appreciate small things in nature. It sounds corny as hell but sometimes just staring at a succulent plant or listening to a bird chirp for a couple of seconds can provide newfound energy for anything that you need to do. Most importantly, don’t forget to hydrate yourself with water throughout the day (believe me, I have to remind myself too :)). Dehydration has been linked to poor mental performance. Here are some other things that helped me to firm up my focus:

Rosemary

I love the smell of rosemary. During the Thanksgiving season, I love to put huge amounts of fresh rosemary on my stuffing. But I usually settle for dried rosemary during the rest of the year. Some studies suggest that rosemary is a powerful antioxidant and antidepressant. In addition, some research indicates that the aroma of this herb may enhance alertness and cognitive function. I like to toss some rosemary on a bowl of potatoes when things start getting a little tense during the afternoon or evening.

Cashews

Cashews, like many nuts, are rich in the antioxidant vitamin E. Cashews are also a great source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that serves as a precursor to the production of that feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. Diets that have a significant level of antioxidants and tryptophan may have a positive impact on mood and cognition. My husband and I love to snack on cashews. They are creamy and buttery delicious. Also, we enjoy Miyoko’s Creamery cheeses*, which are made primarily from cashews. For those of you who are newly vegan, I implore you to please, please try her products because some vegan cheeses can be scary and just…meh. These cheeses are the truth. When I first tried Miyoko’s, I got really scared because I thought I ate dairy. It’s that good, ladies and gentlemen.

 

Lentils

Lentils are one of the best plant-sourced proteins that you can get. These legumes also contain magnesium, which along with folic acid and vitamin B12 helps increase the level of the amino acid tyrosine in the brain. Tyrosine is eventually converted to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which promotes mental energy and alertness. Lentils are a staple on my weekly dinner menu. Why? Because they are hella-easy to prepare. Red lentils do not require any soaking at all and take thirty minutes in the rice cooker if I’m in a hurry. But other times, I will pick up prepared lentils from the supermarket and use them for tacos.

 

 

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are chock full of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) the precursor to omega-3 fatty acid. ALA is converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You can read more about it here. DHA is essential for brain plasticity, maintenance of learning and memory, and neurological development. Some studies indicate that low levels of DHA may be linked to cognitive decline in older adults. So we want to consume as many healthy fats like this one (BTW: walnuts and flaxseeds are wonderful sources too). My all-time number one breakfast is chia pudding because it is so simple to make. I mix in things like oats, pumpkin seeds, pineapple—you name it, if I want it, then it’s all up in there! On days when I really need that extra boost of energy, I will throw in a little protein powder like this one.

 

Broccoli

Broccoli was one of the few vegetables that I liked eating as a kid. I remember my mother would buy the frozen rectangular packs from the supermarket for our side dishes during the week. You know the ones where the broccoli is drenched in cheddar cheese sauce because that was the only way that my brother and I would eat it. It took many years for me to really learn how to prepare and appreciate this wonderful vegetable. Broccoli is high in vitamin C, an antioxidant and free radical scavenger that promotes brain function. Despite my scary introduction to this vegetable, I am blessed to say that I am now mature enough to enjoy broccoli without a darn thing added to it.

Those are just some of the foods I enjoy for boosting my mental energy. What are some foods that you enjoy?

*Please note the opinions are my own. I was not paid to plug Miyoko’s cheeses.

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Five Great Ways to Fight Fatigue

This past week has been really really challenging: my son was off for spring break, the neighbors were especially noisy (#livinginNY), and we experienced indiscriminate weather changes like dry heat/low humidity one minute then moist air/high pollen count the next minute. Not to mention other personal or self-employment stresses. Just make ya wanna holla. So, getting a good night’s rest can be an issue. But I know that when these situations pop up, the very first thing I need to do before I employ any sort of natural remedy is to give thanks for the things that I do have. I have a healthy family, a place to sleep, and food to eat. And believe me, that is a lot! Gratitude must be the foundation for any true healing to begin. Okay, enough preaching—here are some of the things that I use to combat fatigue:

Ashwagandha

I have recently started using this adaptogen and it is bananas how well it works. Adaptogens allow us to handle environmental stressors without further damage to our bodies. This differs from a stimulant, which can decrease brain catecholamines like dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Various studies indicate that ashwagandha has antistress, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. When I feel especially exhausted, I combine the suggested dose with a glass of water before breakfast. Please note that some studies indicate that ashwagandha may alter thyroid function and testosterone levels, so please consult a doctor if needed.

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Sunlight and Vitamin D supplementation

Soak up as much sun as possible when you can. Consistent fatigue may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. Older adults, those with increased skin pigmentation (e.g. African Americans like me), those that are obese, and those on medication are especially at risk for deficiency. When possible, I try to work sitting near an open window but this can be difficult during the colder months. So, I supplement with a multivitamin that contains 1,000 IU of vitamin D. The daily recommended dose is 600 IU for those age 1 to 70 years and pregnant or breastfeeding women. You can find out more about it here. In addition, many fortified foods like milk and orange juice contain vitamin D. Again, please consult your doctor if needed.

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Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin D, vitamin B, fiber, selenium, zinc, and iron. They are also antimicrobial. What’s more, some research suggests that these mushrooms may boost energy, which is a godsend for us tired folks. I like to drizzle olive oil on shiitake mushrooms and scallions and bake them in an oven for about 8 to 9 minutes. You can toss in a nervine herb like rosemary to ward off any issues associated with fatigue like sadness. (BTW, this is a pic of some random fungi that I took while I was walking but it looks similar to shiitake so enjoy😉)

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Tomatoes

Sometimes, I’ll indulge in a small plate of chopped tomatoes on a veggie burger sans bun for lunch to prevent that midday slump around 3:00 or 4:00 pm. Tomatoes are one of many vegetables that contain tyramine, an amino acid that encourages the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant. Enjoy some tomato salsa with fresh cilantro when you need that extra boost of energy.

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Ginger

Ginger is an absolute staple in our home. We use it for colds and digestion issues and, unfortunately, there are plenty of that in our household! Ginger is a circulatory stimulant that can increase blood flow to extremities like hands and feet—a definite plus when you’re fatigued. I like to have a cup of green tea with a splash of ginger juice first thing in the morning. I also like to have a few ginger slices with my avocado toast.

These are some of the tips I use to fight fatigue. What are some ways that you handle it?

 

How I Manage Stress–And You Can Too!

Confession time: I am not always great at managing stress. In fact, there are times when I get angry and just like most people and say the wrong thing or slam a door or two. But there are times when I’m aces at handling stress. I’ve found that when unexpected situations pop up I can usually deal with them just fine. The situations that are difficult involve times when I go against my personality or nature. For example, I am an introvert, so I energize by being alone in quiet settings. So a challenge might be dealing with a person who is the opposite (i.e. an extrovert) in a confined setting. Or another stressor might be when I push myself into a decision to do something that I honestly don’t believe in. The lesson is to be as authentic as humanly possible in everything that you do.

But I digress, here are a few of the stress-relieving tips that have helped me:

Pumpkin seeds

Okay, let’s just pause for a second so I can just explain how much I love pumpkin seeds!

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Pumpkins seeds are just crunchy and satisfying and wonderful! One cup of pumpkin seeds equals a whopping 168 mg of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is tied to stress. I like to sprinkle some in my morning chia seed pudding of coconut milk yogurt and oatmeal. Occasionally, I’ll put a small amount in my homemade protein balls made from shredded coconut, almond flour, and carob powder. It is simple and delicious just the way I like it.

Coconut oil

Yes, I know, I know, *cue yawn*. What can’t coconut oil do? Coconut oil is a MCFA (a medium-chain fatty acid). Some of you may know that this MCFA promotes better calorie burn in the body because most of it goes to the liver instead of the muscles or fat like other saturated fats. But did you know that coconut oil can also be an antistress oil too? A 2014 study showed that mice treated with virgin coconut oil exhibited increased levels of antioxidants in the brain, which may prevent further neuronal damage. I like to put a teaspoon or so of coconut oil on my morning avocado toast. I am able to start my day off in a calm and energetic mood.

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Lavender essential oil

This oil has been a godsend for myself and my family. Lavender oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties. Whenever a cold is about to hit one of us, we sprinkle a few drops in a steaming shower and we are good to go. In addition, I use lavender oil in my homemade hair leave-in spray of amla powder and aloe vera gel. But studies have also shown that lavender oil may also induce sleep and reduce anxiety. Mix 3 to 4 drops with a carrier oil like olive oil or jojoba oil for a soothing neck massage.

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These are just some of the ways that I manage stress—what are a few ways that work for you?