This month we are taking a look at “brain fog” and share five of our favourite food items to help you to combat brain fog, to leave you clear of thinking, feeling bright and ready to play!
What is brain fog?
“Brain fog” is not a medical condition. However, at some point in their lives, most people can experience symptoms of brain fog, which can include:
- Fuzzy thinking
- Poor memory or being forgetful – forgetting peoples names or where you put the house keys
- Lack of focus or concentration – staring at a computer screen unable to remember what you were just about to do
This brain fog can last for a few hours, a day, a few days or longer.
Here at La Crisalida Retreats, we encourage you to listen to the messages that you body is giving you. So, next time you notice that your brain feels foggy and your thinking is fuzzy, stop for a moment. Brain fog might be a sign that your body, or your life, is out of balance.
What causes brain fog?
There are many lifestyle and other factors that can lead to your fuzzy thinking, including:
- Diet – what you eat or do not eat
- Stress – too many things going on in your life or trying to do too many things at once
- Lack of sleep
- Medication (a side effect of some medication, eg anti-depressants)
- Lack of exercise
- Underlying health issues
- Menopause / pregnancy (hormone changes)
I know I sometimes experience a “woolly head”, where my brain feels like it is stuffed full of cotton wool. This is usually after a really busy time, when there is a lot going on, when I have not slept very well (or not long enough) and have spent most of my time working (with little exercise, or relaxation). When I worked in an office, it usually occurred around 3pm in the afternoon – after my “healthy” (not really) sandwich lunch sat at my desk working.
In this article, we are not going to cover medication or underlying health issues, so just a word of caution as we start. If you have any medical concerns, or maybe you experience other symptoms (muscle pain, numbness, tingling etc) we strongly recommend that you speak to your health care provider. They can check you out fully. If you are taking medication and regularly experience brain fog, it might be worth speaking to the doctor who prescribed your medication, to see if there are any alternatives which might suit you better.
How diet can “cause” brain fog
Sometimes, what we eat can “cause” brain fog. There are a number of foods which might trigger an episode of fuzzy thinking:
- Processed sugars
When we eat foods that contain high amounts of processed sugars, our body responds with a high (a peak or rise in energy), however soon after there is a drop or a low. These rapidly changing levels of blood sugar can create a brain fog. Think about those mid afternoon slumps at work – reaching for cake or chocolate is a short term answer, you might find you suddenly feel brighter or have more energy, however soon after you will feel tired and foggy again.
- Processed foods
You might also wish to consider excluding or reducing the amount of white bread, white rice, and white pasta that you eat. These are all quite highly processed foods, which some authors claim can increase brain fog.
- Food allergies
Food allergies might also contribute to that foggy thinking – wheat, gluten and soy are common culprits, as they are found in so many foods. You can go for a food intolerance test, either with the doctor, taking a hair sample or using an energy based or bio-feedback method. Alternatively you could cut these items out of your diet for a period of time (4-8 weeks) and notice how you feel – any changes (i.e. less) brain fog? Then, reintroduce the items one by one and notice how your body responds – does your brain fog increase again?
- Nutritional deficiency
Our bodies need vitamins and minerals for our cells to function, particularly our brain cells. Sometimes a sign of nutritional deficiency is regular episodes or long lasting fuzzy thinking. As a vegan or vegetarian, it is difficult to find a dietary source of the vitamin B12, so you might want to consider taking a vitamin supplement, either B12 on its own or a multi-vitamin (including other B-vitamins). You might also want to check how much iron you have in your diet (remember, you need vitamin C to help your body to absorb iron).
Five foods to combat brain fog
The best approach to keep your brain cells in tip top condition is to eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, plus whole grains, with nuts and seeds. Fruit and vegetables in particular contains lots of antioxidants – which helps to protect our cells from free radical damage and helps to cleanse our whole body.
Our five favourite items to eat to combat brain fog are:
Avocado is a mighty powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. Of particular help for our brain cells is oleic acid – a type of fatty acid which helps with building and maintaining brain cells. We suggest that you include avocado in your diet a few times each week, either by including it in your juice or adding it to a salad or other dish. You can read our earlier article “amazing avocados” and try our wonderful guacamole recipe. We also include avocados in our morning juices, try this months recipe Juicy morning. Don´t be put off by the high calorie content of avocados – all the fats contained in avocado are used by the body.
Beans release energy slowly, so that your energy levels stay more constant (unlike eating sugary snacks which cause peaks then a fall). For vegans and vegetarians, they are also a good source of protein, although you do need to combine beans with something else (like brown rice, or broccoli) to consume a complete protein. Most beans contain a good source of B-vitamins. Try our bean burger recipe or bean quesadillas.
This delightful and aromatic herb grows abundantly in Spain and other Mediterranean countries and is commonly available in dried form in the majority of supermarkets worldwide. It tastes wonderful, bringing flavour to any dish. At the same time oregano various scientific studies have shown that consuming oregano can improve our mood and also protect against neuronal damage, due to its antioxidant properties. Oregano also contains manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium and vitamins A, C and B6, all of which contribute to brain health. Add a teaspoon of oregano to any dish (cooked or raw), or you can drink it as an infusion in warm water.
We are a great fan of carrots here at La Crisalida Retreats and include them quite regularly in our plant-based meals or fresh juices. Eat them raw or cooked (steamed is the best way to eat cooked carrots), as they are packed with antioxidants and taste. Try this months juice: Juicy morning.
5. Aubergine (also sometimes called “eggplant”)
Aubergines contain lots of vitamins and minerals, including many of the B-vitamins. The deep purple skin is a sign of a high nasunin content, which is a type of antioxidant. Research has shown that nasunin can protect the lipids (fats) in the membranes (outer edge) of brain cells. This means that our brain cells can function more effectively – letting in nutrients, letting go of waste and keeping out free radicals. You can try this months creole aubergines recipe for a tasty dish.
Other lifestyle tips to combat brain fog
- Healthy snacks
If you know you regularly get hungry in the afternoon, bring some healthy snacks with you – a combination of nuts and seeds can give you a boost, or maybe some hummus with celery and carrot sticks.
- Sleep well
Make sure you get enough good quality sleep. Read our article: Tips on getting good quality sleep.
- Get moving
Bring oxygen to the whole body and to the brain. Try rebounding, walking or dancing.
- Practice yoga and meditation regularly
Yoga and meditation can help to quieten the mind and body, reducing stress, which might help you to regain your balance and find clear thinking.
- Stay present
Stop planning all of the time! Maybe set aside a specific time in the day when you plan what you are going to do that day, or week. Making a list can help to plan and organise and free the mind up from continually reminding you that something needs to be done! For the rest of the day, remind yourself that you are living in the present; planning time is elsewhere.
- Vitamin supplements
Check that you are consuming sufficient levels of B-vitamins and also omega 3 oils. For omega 3 include things like flaxseed, chia seed and walnuts into your diet (fish oil for non vegan / vegetarians is a source of omega 3).
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).