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.