Likely, you've experienced it: You're sitting down to write a simple email when suddenly the words screech to a halt, as you struggle to grasp your own thoughts. Or perhaps you've had the irritation of just “drawing a blank” in conversation, like trying to name something obvious, such as the store you frequently shop at. Or maybe you've even walked into another room, only to forget why you went in there in the first place. Known as “brain fog,” this kind of temporary cognitive impairment or lapse in fluid thinking can be enormously frustrating, and is a common complaint amongst everyone from stressed students to busy professionals to retired persons.
There are many lifestyle factors that can be held responsible for the mental “sluggishness” we've come to dread in our demanding, high-performance schedules. Stress, lack of adequate sleep, and exposure to environmental chemicals and toxins like heavy metals, are some of the most common culprits. On the other hand, beneficial habits like practicing even small amounts of mediation regularly, setting a reasonable bedtime, using more natural body care and cleaning products, and intermittently checking living and working environments for mold buildup are just a few of the ways we can help alleviate some of these external negative influences.
But in addition to atmospheric factors, diet plays a paramount role in either hindering – or dramatically helping – brain function. Consuming large amounts of sugar, highly inflammatory ingredients like dairy or alcohol, artificial additives like dyes, chemical sweeteners, and MSG, or pesticide-prone non-organic or GMO foods, can greatly diminish the amount of energy your brain has, and impair how well your neurons are able to communicate with one another. The good news is, there is a plethora of truly brain-healthy (and whole-body-healthy, for that matter) ingredients to enjoy, which can both alleviate brain fog, and even prevent it from happening in the first place.
Small Steps With Big Results
To easily boost your mind through your diet, look to include plenty of the “FAM's”: Fats, Antioxidants, and Micronutrients. First, consider that your brain tissue is composed of at least 60% fat, and in order to feed these cells, as well as protect, repair, and build new ones, consuming quality fat is imperative. Although there are many forms of brain-healthy fats, omega 3's (including those found in flaxseeds), monounsaturated fats (such as those found in olive oil), and medium chain triglycerides (also called MCT's, often sourced from coconuts) are some simple, thought-enhancing ingredients to add into your diet.
Second, antioxidants are also a wonderful tool to help reduce damaging stress in the brain which can hinder your ability to think clearly. The polyphenols in berries such as blueberries, for example, have been well-studied to improve memory; turmeric's curcumin content is widely lauded for its inflammation-reducing abilities; and green tea and matcha contain an antioxidant compound called EGCG, which may enhance learning and the ability to process information. Look to include antioxidant-rich foods whenever you can.
Lastly, there are many vitamin and mineral micronutrients that can optimize brain performance as well, from the choline found in cauliflower, to the magnesium found in cacao nibs (and dark chocolate), all of which can greatly influence your brain function, mood, and ability to think clearly. A vegetable-rich, plant-based diet can offer many of the nutrients your brain craves, naturally.
A final note: if you're a coffee-devotee, you may want to reconsider your habit. While the large dose of caffeine in coffee can temporarily stimulate brain activity, it also leaves your neurotransmitters (your brain messengers) depleted as soon as the initial wave of “energy” wears off. That means that ultimately, your brain has to work on repairing itself, instead of consistently functioning in a balanced manner. Try to wean yourself onto smaller, less-frequent doses of coffee to avoid addiction, and boost your brain activity with truly supportive “FAM”-packed drinks instead, like a matcha latte. By integrating a few new habits, you can beat the mental fog once and for all, and enjoy the excitingly productive potential that only a happy, well-functioning brain can offer.
Originally published in Mother Earth Living Magazine as part of Snacks To Combat Brain Fog, September 2018, by Julie Morris