Eat to Boost Mental Alertness

The right diet can help keep you on your game

By Star Lawrence
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

Do you drag through the day, plodding through your tasks with barely an original thought, much less a creative brainstorm? Whatever happened to mental alertness -- that zippy, observant, "on top of it" feeling?

Some experts believe your diet -- what you eat and how much -- plays a big role in your mental alertness.

Mental alertness can be especially important for schools that depend on their students' achievement test scores for more funding. One researcher -- David N. Figlio, PhD, Knight-Ridder professor of economics at the University of Florida in Gainesville -- believes some schools try to get an edge by boosting carbohydrates and calories in their lunch menus on test days.

To prove his theory, Figlio looked at 23 school districts in Virginia, and found that those schools most likely to hike calories on test days were in districts where funding was threatened by bad test performance. On average, the lunches served on test days had 863 calories, up from 761 calories before the tests and 745 afterward. Indeed, test scores in those districts did rise, by 6-11%.

Though Figlio admits this is a small study, he says it's clear that by serving corn dogs instead of regular hot dogs, along with higher-calorie desserts and higher-carb pizza, school lunch workers were giving the kids more sugars and simple carbs on test days.

"Carbohydrate boosts last a reasonable amount of time," Figlio tells WebMD. "Certainly the 90 minutes to a few hours it takes to test."