Brain fog is a frustrating occurrence that makes it difficult to focus on tasks, recall facts and think clearly and critically. It can strike anyone at any age and can stem from a variety of factors including lack of sleep, stress, depression or anxiety, migraines, hormonal changes during pregnancy or menopause and other conditions.
Combating it often requires a multipronged approach, and embracing a healthy diet particularly rich in certain nutrients can be part of the solution.
Omega-3 fatty acids
There are three main forms of omega-3 fatty acids and two of them, DHA and EPA, are found in the membranes of brain cells and are crucial to communication between and healthy function of these cells.
They also have been shown to protect the brain’s overall structure and protect it from shrinking in physical size over time. Fatty fish are the best source for DHA and EPA as they are loaded with these compounds and your body can easily access them.
The third fatty acid, ALA, is a nutrient found in some plant-based sources including dark leafy greens, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts; the human body is not very efficient at converting them to the other forms but it is still beneficial.
Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant that excel at fighting inflammation throughout the body and are believed to have multiple positive effects for the brain including increased blood flow feeding new cell growth, repelling free radicals from attacking brain cells, and possibly reducing buildup of beta-amyloid plaques, considered a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
These compounds are found in many plant-derived foods but are especially prevalent in berries, grapes, red cabbage, onions, kale, parsley, tea and dark chocolate.
It’s a lesser-known nutrient but choline is essential for many bodily systems including mood, memory and muscle function. It’s broken down by the digestive system into acetylcholine, which binds to nerve cell receptors and promotes the formation and retention of working and long-term memory.
Choline is most abundant in eggs, beef, chicken breast and some fish species including cod. It’s also present in shitake mushrooms, beans, peanuts, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin B12 is a key to nerve and brain function, as it’s involved in the production of serotonin and dopamine and is a necessary component of myeline, which insulates nerve fibers and enables faster transmission of electric impulses.
This nutrient is found mostly in animal products, with the highest levels found in beef, lamb or veal liver, clams, sardines, beef and steak. Fortified cereal, nondairy milks and nutritional yeasts are the primary vegan sources.
Known more for its role in forming blood cells, abnormally high or low levels of iron have been associated with disruptions in nerve function that affect memory, attention span and other cognitive functions in children and adults.
Meat, fish and poultry are better sources of iron, but it’s also present in fruits, vegetables and nuts.