Due to the coronavirus emergency, many of us are now working from home with the so-called smartworking. However, this is not always easy, it is necessary to establish timetables, find a place where you can work without being too disturbed and you need to be able to concentrate. Well, diet also plays a significant role in the ability to focus your attention, as emerged from a recent study published in the journal The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by a team of the Ohio State University (Madison et al, May 2020).
The researchers started from the consideration that in a period of great stress and worries, such as the period we are experiencing, it is easier to resort to comfort foods rich in carbohydrates and saturated fats. The researchers thus studied the effect of a meal of this type on the ability to concentrate. A group of 51 women were asked to undergo a ten-minute computer test aimed at understanding the duration of the concentration and the reaction times. They were then divided into two groups. To one group was served eggs, bacon, sausage and gravy sauce containing 60 grams of fat in the form of a palmitic acid based-vegetable oil rich in saturated fats. To the other group was served the same meal in order to guarantee the same calorie intake but this time the fats were in the form of sunflower oil, rich in unsaturated fatty acids. The women were asked to repeat the concentration test and all those who had eaten the meal rich in saturated fatty acids had difficulty in concentrating and in keeping the attention high for ten minutes, with a drop of 11% in performance. The test was repeated a few weeks after exchanging the groups and the results were confirmed. It is still unclear how a meal rich in saturated fatty acids can affect concentration but researchers speculate that saturated fats can increase the level of chronic inflammation in body and brain, that, in this way, isn’t put in the best conditions to work.
As indicated by the same authors of the study, the research was performed using two very caloric meals as a comparison, which differed in the type of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Researchers expect to observe significantly larger differences by comparing the effects of a high calorie, fat and carbohydrate meal with a lighter meal. So, to increase concentration and improve mental work, a good choice would be to prefer unrefined foods, fruits and vegetables, staying away from comfort foods.