18 May For sharper focus in your Week 3 skip these foods
It’s no secret that you can feel mentally foggier on some days in your menstrual cycle, for example, your Week 3 (spanning the eight days after ovulation), which is when sedating progesterone settles a heavy blanket over your brain, or your premenstrual Week 4 (the final six days of your cycle) which is when plunging estrogen can make you feel mentally sapped. These are the cycle days when you’re probably doing everything you can to stay sharp, such as drinking caffeine, taking a brisk walk and opening the window shades to let in more energizing sunlight.
Well, a 2020 study reveals there’s another easy technique that can help you stay focused: Skip foods high in saturated fat (such as butter, cheese, coconut oil, fatty meat and whole-fat dairy milk) on these cycle days. Turns out, this type of fat temporarily impairs concentration–and its brain-clouding effects kick in after a single meal, reports the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.(1)
Saturated fat isn’t the only culprit to cut out on these days, though. Past research has also linked artificially created trans fat to lower concentration and memory.(2) This is the kind of unhealthy, fat that leads to clogged arteries that you might find in fried doughnuts and some processed foods that we should all be cutting out of our diets simply because it’s that bad for you. But, if you’re concerned about your ability to concentrate, then it’s even more motivation to check all nutrition labels for it. If you see “partially hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients, it means there’s artificially created trans fat in the food, regardless of whether the labels says it contains none. (A legal loophole allows companies to list it as 0 if it’s under 1 gram.) Natural trans fat–which is found in dairy and meat–doesn’t appear to have the same harmful effects.
The link between fat and focus
So, why do these certain fats that we eat in foods impact how we think? Researchers suspect they may be triggering inflammation in arteries leading to the brain. This, in turn, blocks blood carrying oxygen and glucose—your brain’s fuel—from reaching it. The result: Brain cells get a measly trickle of the “gas” they need to perform. When you skip these artery-swelling fats, you allow more blood to rush in, revving brain cells to the max.
But don’t give up all fats
While it’s smart to curb your intake of foods high in saturated and trans fats, don’t nix all fats from your diet. Your body actually needs a certain amount of fat for various processes, for example, to make hormones! Just stick to foods higher in healthier unsaturated fats, such as those found in extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and fish.
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(1) Annelise A. Madison, Martha A. Belury, et al., “Afternoon distraction: a high-saturated-fat meal and endotoxemia impact postmeal attention in a randomized crossover trial,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 12, 2020
(2) Carol Greenwood, Gordon Winocor, “Glucose treatment reduces memory deficits in young adult rats fed high-fat diets,” Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 75 (2001): 179-189