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Brain Fog and our diet: How the foods we eat can clog our mental clarity

Food matters! Our dietary choices affect how our brains function.

Ever feel sluggish after a meal? Or get the amazing mental clarity that good food can provide? Here are some of the dietary considerations to fighting brain fog.

Our health is built largely from the various things we consume – air, food, water, attitudes, other beverages, etc. So, it only makes sense that our diet would have an impact on our cognitive abilities. We sometimes forget about the importance of staying hydrated for brain health as well. Our brains are approximately 60% water so getting lots of hydrating fluids is crucial: reach for water, tea, lemonade or sparkling water principally. Try to avoid consuming too much caffeine, sugary drinks or artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, etc.). If you need a natural source of sweetness, try honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, xylitol, monk fruit or stevia.

Beyond hydration, however, food does play a big role in how our brains function. One of the big culprits in impaired cognitive function is sugar. Our old friend sugar is something of a double-edged sword. Glucose (the most common form of sugar) is the brain’s preferred food source. If forced to, the brain can run on ketones (derived from fat) but it will always take the path of least resistance so if sugar is around, sugar will fuel it. 

The problem with sugar is that too much causes a sugar spike and a sugar crash. These fluctuations are bad for our energy and our ability to focus. So, a high-carb meal or food with a lot of simple carbs (white sugar, white flour, rice, potatoes) can cause this rollercoaster that will hurt our cognitive focus. Elevated blood sugar over time has also been shown to be problematic for cognitive function. Alzheimer’s disease is being called “Type 3 diabetes” by some health researchers because there are similar biochemical and molecular processes taking place.

This article discusses the process of insulin resistance affecting cognitive function and leading to Alzheimer’s in elderly individuals.

Further research suggests that low-quality fats like saturated and trans fats can be a big problem for cognitive function. Saturated and trans fats come primarily from highly processed foods. Trans fats are more shelf-stable and are used in food manufacturing. One study suggested a diet high in MUFA (mono-unsaturated fatty acids) decreased cognitive decline but found no association with trans-fat, saturated fat or total cholesterol on cognitive function. 

Another study talks about omega-3 fatty acids supporting cognitive function and a diet high in saturated fat decreases neurological function. Much research attention has been paid to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which is the most abundant omega-3 fat present in brain tissue. DHA is found in highest amounts in seafood and dietary intake is crucial as humans are not good at synthesizing DHA from other fatty acids. Studies have shown a correlation that countries with high amounts of fish consumption experience significantly lower rates of depression in the population. It is important to note that Western countries show increased consumption of trans-fat and saturated fat and much lower intake of omega-3 fatty acids in modern times.

Overall, what we eat provides the building blocks for every part of our body – brains included. Striving to consume a whole food-based, anti-inflammatory diet with a lot of variety is the best general way to support cognitive function and overall health. Aim for 4-9 servings of vegetables per day, 1-2 servings of fruit, whole grains and adequate protein from good sources each day. Cooking with spices like garlic, turmeric and rosemary can also support brain health. Stay hydrated. Stay active. Keep learning. The brain is an amazing organ and there are many ways that we can support its continued good health. Food is definitely an important one and every day we get to make choices that will either help or hinder our cognitive function.

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Dr. Jessica Keating
Owner & Physician , Willow Clinic of Natural Medicine
Jessica Lodal Keating graduated with her doctorate in chiropractic medicine from National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) in Lombard, IL in December of 2016. She graduated summa cum laude and salutatorian of her class. She completed a primary care internship at the in-house clinic in the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in downtown Chicago. There she was able to provide natural approaches to health and wellness to an under-served population. She also led efforts to solicit supplement donations from local doctors in order to provide these supplements to patients free of charge. During her time at NUHS, Dr. Keating also studied traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and became certified to perform acupuncture, moxabustion and fire cupping. She uses the wisdom of eastern medicine to complement her holistic approach to assessing each individual patient and treating the whole person. She participated in various other seminars and trainings over the course of her studies including MPI’s full-spine adjusting seminar and Apex’s Fundamentals of Functional Blood Chemistry. Dr. Keating also completed her Doctorate of Naturopathic medicine in 2018, graduating valedictorian and summa cum laude. Dr. Keating has worked in several natural primary care offices in the greater Chicagoland area. She is also a full-time naturopathic clinician at National University of Health Sciences. There she is able to help shape the next generation of naturopathic doctors. She has a home-call practice where she treats patients in the comfort of their own homes all around Chicagoland. Dr. Keating loves balancing private practice with teaching and clinical supervision. Dr. Jessica Keating received her bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon before deciding to attend NUHS. After her undergrad degree, she grew frustrated with the field of political science and sought a new career path. Her own health had been dramatically improved through diet, yoga and herbal medicine. Because of these experiences, she decided to deepen her understanding of natural medicine by pursuing a higher degree. Dr. Keating remains committed to her own health journey on a personal and professional level. She aims to help others thrive and maintain optimal health by guiding them down the same path and educating her patients by empowering them to take their health into their own hands. Dr. Keating practices holistic, natural primary care. She treats GI conditions, autoimmune disorders, women’s health, sleep issues, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, back pain as well as working with patients on weight loss and general wellness promotion. She treats pediatric, adult and geriatric patients using diet, lifestyle modification, herbal medicine, physical medicine and acupuncture. In her free time, Dr. Keating loves reading, biking, cooking and playing with her cats. Dr. Keating also enjoys yoga, tennis, rollerblading, going to the movies and travelling with her husband. She has been to 28 different countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
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