Ever have those days when you feel like you’re just not “with it?” You’re usually so efficient. You always remember appointments and tasks. But today, you forgot you were meeting a friend for lunch and you can’t seem to finish that work project that was meant to take an hour. Perhaps it’s time for a brain fog diet….
Impaired Cognitive Function: What Is Brain Fog And What Might Be Causing It?
Brain fog presents exactly as it sounds. Your brain just feels cloudy and muddled. In one particular study, participants described themselves as feeling “forgetful,” “cloudy,” and having “difficulty focusing, thinking, and communicating.”1
You may also feel as though:
- Your short-term recollection doesn’t seem to be working as well.
- Everyday tasks seem more difficult and stressful.
- You can’t seem to think straight or form proper thoughts.
- You get muddled by simple things.
- You’re having difficulty carrying on conversations.
- Your thoughts are hard to recall.
- You find it hard to focus and concentrate on the simplest things.2
What Might Cause Brain Fog?
To start with, brain fog is far more common than you might think, so don’t be too alarmed. It’s often caused by common triggers that you easily have control over. What do these triggers all have in common? They can be found in your diet.
1. Sugar and Refined Carbs
Refined carbs are carbs that have had the bran and germ extracted, transforming them into what we know as white flour. But this centuries-old obsession with immaculate white bread never did take into account the loss of fiber and nutrients during this process. Nor the way the body breaks down refined carbs.
You see, the body breaks down refined carbs much quicker than whole grains and so blood sugar levels rise much more quickly. And, blood sugar levels are tightly connected to brain function. If there isn’t enough, communication in the brain breaks down.3 But if there’s too much, it can actually set off that “foggy” feeling.4
Tip #1: Limit refined carbs.
2. Not Enough Healthy Fats
Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acids, are absolutely essential for brain performance. These fatty acids are found in fatty fish and egg yolks, and the body requires them for:
- Optimal brain function
- Neurotransmitter production
- Protection of the brain’s neurons5
So, if you think you’re not getting enough essential fatty acids, and you’re suffering from persistent “brain fog,” it might be time to get some more fatty fish into your diet. Or, at the very least, a good supplement.
*Avoid or limit fish that can be high in heavy metals like mercury, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.6 Heavy metal toxicity can also lead to brain fog.7
Tip #2: Eat more healthy fats.
3. Not Enough Protein
Another key nutrient that your brain absolutely depends on for optimal brain and cognitive function is protein. Proteins contain amino acids that assist in many bodily functions, including the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain (which deliver the brain’s signals).8
Healthy proteins should be low in saturated fats. So a good protein-rich diet will include fish, lean cuts of meat, milk, nuts, and seeds.
Tip #3: Eat more healthy proteins.
4. Could You Be Gluten-Sensitive?
“Brain fog” is incredibly common in those who are gluten-sensitive. We still don’t know why but researchers believe it’s linked to inflammation. And, a gluten-free diet in those who are sensitive does appear to greatly improve mental clarity.9
If you’re struggling with “brain fog,” you should talk to your doctor about gluten-sensitivity testing.
Tip #4: Cut back on gluten, especially if you have a sensitivity.
5. Caffeine And Alcohol
The ironic thing here is that most people reach directly for coffee when they’re feeling the effects of brain fog. And, it may appear to help at first. However, it will wear off and you’ll need to drink more and more coffee to feel like you have a “clear head.” And, coffee can bring its own set of issues.
In one study, researchers looked at caffeine withdrawal symptoms. They found that 72% of volunteers reported symptoms like difficulty concentrating, drowsiness, and a foggy head.10
Then there’s alcohol. Hangovers always bring a foggy head. Drinking even just a small amount of alcohol can leave some people feeling foggier in the morning.
In cold, hard factual form: Studies have shown that hangovers can result in a 5-10% drop in one’s ability to recall information and can increase error commitment by a whopping 30%.11
And, don’t forget that some alcoholic drinks – like beer – also contain gluten.
Tip #5: Limit or cut out coffee and alcohol.
The Brain Fog Diet: Consume More Healthy Fats And Less Gluten
So, if a poor diet can potentially lead to brain fog, what does a good diet look like? If you’re suffering from recurrent brain fog, you may want to ask your doctor if following a “brain fog diet” is right for you. This diet includes plenty of:
- Healthy Fats – Nuts, healthy oils (extra-virgin olive, avocado, or coconut oil), and omega-rich oily fish (salmon is a great one) help support optimal brain function.
- Vitamin B Foods – Eggs, green vegetables, and whole-grain bread can help support the brain and production of red blood cells.
- Broccoli – It’s high in vitamin K, which may support the mind.
- Dark Chocolate – It’s rich in antioxidants that help to prevent oxidative stress from free radicals.
- Turmeric – Rich in antioxidants, it may support healthy brain function.
- Lean Proteins – Fish, lean cuts of meat, milk, nuts, and seeds help to create neurotransmitters in the brain.
- Fermented Foods – Gut health is key to a healthy brain because of the blood-brain barrier, and friendly bacteria help to restore good health for both the body and brain. So, foods like kimchi, miso soup, sauerkraut, yogurt, and tofu.12,13
It’s also important to note that if you’ve just started following a ketogenic diet, your brain fog may be related to this. Often dubbed “keto flu,” it’s a response to the stress of sudden carbohydrate restriction.14
Feeling Lack Of Mental Focus Or Chronic Fatigue? See Your Primary Care Physician ASAP
Of course, if you feel like you’re having persistent brain fog or chronic fatigue and nothing seems to help, you should talk to your doctor.
They may wish to put you on an elimination diet to further check for food allergies and intolerances. But they will also be able to diagnose any serious issues that may be at play related to cognitive function, stress, or cognitive decline.
Intermittent Fasting: Benefits And Potential Risks
Gardening And Mental Health: Your Brain And The Great Outdoors