The ability to think critically is of the utmost importance when you’re running a business or an organization. Although it's rarely given the attention it deserves, the food choices that you make every day affect your critical thinking skills, and determine whether you can make important decisions when it really counts.
There’s no magic pill that will make you a great critical thinker. However, you can make some easy diet changes that can improve your brain health and optimize your ability to think critically.
As a former management consultant, I learned this the hard way, through much trial and error. Now as a full-time entrepreneur, I’ve mastered the simple diet changes that keep my critical thinking skills sharp, so that I can perform my best, no matter what challenges come my way!
1. Have coffee, but not too much.
Caffeine really perks you up, but it doesn’t really give you energy. It’s actually a drug -- a stimulant -- that’s been shown to increase thinking ability and attention. Most research into caffeine’s effects on thinking are done with 200 to 300 mg. of caffeine, about the amount that you’ll get in one to two cups of coffee. Anything more than that, and your thinking ability might go south. Too much caffeine is associated with anxiety, rambling thought and speech.
If you find yourself hitting up the coffee pot several times in the morning, remind yourself to slow down. Make sure to eat something along with your morning coffee, and stop at just a cup or two.
I personally find drinking green juice (a blend of dark leafy greens, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger) to be very energizing and mind-enhancing. Give it a try!
2. Lay off the "sugar bowl."
If you eat cereal for breakfast and wash it down with some orange juice, you’ll be sure to get a sugar high. After that buzz wears off in an hour or two, your thinking ability will drop off, possibly dramatically, and you’ll experience the dreaded crash and burn. That’s because simple carbs are quickly digested, spike your blood glucose and energy levels, and then falls like a rock. Your brain function can be dulled and it can be impossible to remember anything.
To combat this, it’s best to limit sugary foods in your diet, which will train your body to start craving healthier foods. Make sure to combine any sugar intake with some protein and fiber. Protein will slow down the digestion, protecting you from a blood-sugar surge. Fiber helps to slows the rate of sugar entering your bloodstream. It’s a good idea to make sure every meal contains some fiber, mainly from raw vegetables and fruit.
If you’re craving something sweet, grab an organic honeycrisp apple and some almond butter. Eat some raw veggie sticks before lunch and dinner and you’ll easily add more fiber to your diet.
3. Go nuts.
Nuts and seeds have all been shown to help keep your brain in tip-top shape, along with being a good source of vitamin E, which is associated with less cognitive decline. In particular, walnuts have been shown to increase inferential reasoning skills, fundamental to critical thinking. Not only are they delicious, but they make quick and easy snacks that you can pack on your way to the office or wherever you’re headed.
Don’t be afraid of fat, it keeps hunger pangs at bay and will help you stay focused for hours.
4. Don’t overdo it.
Overdoing it in your life -- whether it’s work, sleep or exercise -- can backfire. In particular, simply overdoing it by eating a huge lunch before a major project can keep you from thinking clearly. When you eat too much, you decrease the blood flow to your brain as it’s preoccupied with your digestive system.
You don’t want to skip meals, but keep them reasonable in size, eat slowly and stop eating when you are full. I like to eat a simple bowl of lentil soup with a salad, which keeps me full for hours without draining my brain power.