Want to think more clearly? Avoid this food.
“Fog” is not just a weather term. It is also used to describe cloudy thinking. And brain fog is something more and more people are talking about these days—not to mention trying to avoid.
“Brain fog is not a mental state,” explains Courtney Barth, RDN, LD, registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition. “But it’s become a popular topic, especially because of prolonged COVID-19 symptoms.”
Regardless of the source of the brain fog, COVID or otherwise, Barth says it’s important to talk and fight.
“Constantly feeling like you can’t focus or be productive can really take a toll on your mental health, so talking about this can help with general support,” explains Barth. “Brain fog can also interfere with work, school or just everyday life, which can be difficult.”
Believe it or not, diet can also play a role in brain fog. Barth has explained why and what food can increase the likelihood of brain fog.
Related: 6 Ways to Reduce Your Long-Term COVID Risk
Why is diet important for brain fog?
You might be surprised that what you eat can affect how you think. But Barth says it can, and a 2021 study cites nutrition as a factor in brain fog.
“Carbohydrates are the brain’s main fuel source,” says Barth. “It is recommended to consume at least 130 grams of carbohydrates per day for optimal brain function, focusing on complex carbohydrates for additional vitamins, minerals and fiber.”
Barth adds that other nutrients like vitamin B12 (found in animal protein) and omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon, olive oil, and avocado) can also help. Imbalanced blood sugar levels can also be a factor, especially if brain fog occurs as part of a daily “three-night slump.”
“Between 2 and 3 p.m., many of us start to feel brain fog or fatigue, which can be due to low blood sugar. Instead of drinking coffee, try a snack that’s high in fiber-rich carbohydrates with a protein source,” recommends Barth.
Finally, dehydration can affect brain fog.
“Fluid recommendations should be individualized, but in general, women need about nine cups of fluid a day and men need about 13 cups of fluid a day,” says Barth.
Related: What are the effects of prolonged COVID-19?
What is the worst food for brain fog?
Highly processed foods are the worst foods for brain fog, according to Barth. These types of foods include chips, candy, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and fries.
“These foods tend to be higher in saturated fat, sugar, and salt,” says Barth. “Overall, these foods offer little nutritional benefit because they lack important vitamins and minerals that support brain health. They can also cause inflammation, and chronic low-level inflammation can be harmful to the mind and body.”
Limit these foods if brain fog is a problem or if you’re trying to prevent it.
Related: You’ll want to add this spice to your pantry ASAP
What else to avoid if you’re fighting brain fog
Food is not the only factor to evaluate in your diet. You’ll also want to watch what you drink—especially alcohol.
“Alcohol itself provides no nutritional benefit to the body,” says Barth. “Drinking alcohol can limit cognitive focus and can increase the risk of dehydration.”
Barth points to the CDC’s guidelines for alcohol consumption: one drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men.
Barth says limiting artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, can also be a good idea.
“One study suggested that aspartame use might be responsible for behavioral and cognitive problems, but more research is needed,” notes Barth. “The FDA has determined that artificial sweeteners are safe for consumption, so I think more research on the amount and frequency of consumption would be helpful.”
What to do about brain fog
First, Barth says, focus on eating nutritious foods.
“Focus on foods that support brain health, such as antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains that support better blood sugar control, foods rich in vitamin B12, such as lean meats, fish and poultry, and foods rich in omega acids. – 3 fats like salmon, walnuts or olive oil,” she says.
Some of her favorite snacks to combat the 3pm slump are grated cheese and Greek yogurt with fruit. It’s not just about that what you eat though – that is when you eat too
“Skipping meals can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels, so it’s important not to skip meals,” says Barth. Aim to eat every three to five hours and always combine your carbohydrate sources with protein and fiber.
It’s also important to know the signs of brain fog so you can adjust or get help if needed. “Some signs may include fatigue, inability to concentrate, or just feeling fuzzy or cloudy,” says Barth.
Finally, take a holistic approach to your life: Focus on general healthy lifestyle habits, such as aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep a night, limiting screen time before bed, exercising and managing stress levels,” says Barth.
Next: The 11 Best Foods for Your Brain