Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on
May 20, 2022
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on:

“Mens sana in corpore sano”. The Roman poet Juvenal, and many after, already understood that “a healthy mind starts with a healthy body.”

A healthy brain doesn’t only support our mental health and mental clarity. It also helps the rest of our body’s functioning.

After eating or drinking some foods, we feel energized. At the same time, other foods make us feel slow and foggy.

Let’s take a look at the foods that cause brain fog and the alternatives you can have to ensure a sharp cognitive function. 

What is brain fog, exactly? 

Brain fog or mental fog is a term that people use to describe a hazy, sleepy feeling in the brain. People describe brain fog as a mist in the head.

Brain fog makes it so you can’t concentrate, remember well, or might feel mental fatigue.

It can impact your daily life, your academic achievements, and your work drive. In turn, this could lower your motivation or mental state.

Common Causes of Brain Fog 

You are here because of a foggy brain. Many people experience this difficulty at some point in their lives. While the causes can vary, some culprits are more common than others.

Discover below the possible cause of brain fog so that you can solve this issue. Further below, we will discuss ways to alleviate the fog and ways to avoid the fog.

Stress 

While stress can keep us on our toes, too much stress might not give you the results you desire.

Stress keeps our body and system alert. Too many stress hormones in our body activate a surviving mechanism.

As a result, the brain has no mental space left for (delayed) memory retrieval and cognition.

Lack of Sleep 

Sleep could recharge our brain and body. Many have personal experience with feeling foggy when tired.

Research also confirms that a lack of sleep negatively affects our brain functions. Sleep issues (particularly obstructive sleep apnea) significantly affect our memory, attention, planning capabilities, and overall verbal functioning.

This should come as no surprise. We have felt or seen someone “sleep drunk.” We won’t be so alert or fast when we need sleep.

Medications 

Chemotherapy, or chemo, is usually used to treat cancer or certain autoimmune diseases. Chemo supports the treatment plan for certain diseases.

However, it is also associated with brain fog. People refer to “chemo fog” after or during their treatment.

Allergy medication is also described as sedating. While you might be free of allergies, your brain might get a sleepy feeling.

This, and other sedative medications, could affect your cognitive function and your response time.

Research shows that truck drivers, especially, should keep their eye on this issue.

Medical Conditions

People who have COVID, cancer, hormonal changes, fibromyalgia, or other issues might be more at risk.

Age might also contribute to a higher risk of increasing brain fog. 

Diet 

Poor diet might not give you the expected brain performance.  A brain that lacks energy, vitamins, and minerals can’t possibly keep going at full speed.

A Mediterranean diet is recommended. This diet is rich in leafy greens, nutrients, and omega-three fats known to support brain health.

10 Foods that Cause Brain Fog and What to Eat Instead 

Dietary patterns could impact your brain health. Those eating a diet full of processed foods have a higher chance of getting dementia (Alzheimer’s disease mainly) or cognitive impairments.

Usually, such an eating pattern consists of more of the following:

Aspartame

While aspartame and artificial sweeteners were long a trendy “no sugar” alternative, it is not clear how safe they are for consumption.

Aspartame seems correlated with behavioral and cognitive issues, such as learning difficulties, headaches, seizures, migraines, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. 

Interestingly, aspartame negatively impacts our happy hormones and increases our stress hormones.

Taken this information together, it seems like aspartame makes us more sensitive to oxidative stress and takes away our regulation capabilities.

Instead: 

If you feel the need to sugar your drink, we recommend thinking twice.

As a last resort, honey might provide an alternative. This is still sugar, so diabetes patients might want to think twice.

Honey has been a staple medicine in many ancient cultures. It has anti-microbial properties, nutrients, and much more.

Refined carbs 

Refined sugars are associated with lower cognition. A processed diet usually looks like eating more desserts, sugar beverages, chocolate, sweets, and biscuits.

Instead: 

These tasty treats surely satisfy your sugar craving. Choosing fruits instead of dessert or candy could be a part of another lifestyle for you.

Grains and gluten 

People with a pattern of processed eating seem to choose refined grains more than whole, unprocessed grains.

Refined grains get processed and sometimes bleached for shelf life and texture. Leaving you with white rice, bread, or flour and also removing some nutrients in the process.

Instead: 

An alternative for those that like bread, rice, or other grains is to choose whole grains.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are excellent sources of nutrients like potassium, fiber, iron, B vitamins, magnesium, folate, and selenium.

Cheese and dairy 

High-fat dairy usually is part of a highly processed food diet. It is unclear if high-fat dairy and cheese have a negative effect on cognitive decline in older adults.

What the research on highly processed food might pick up is the way dairy is consumed.

Cognitive decline and dairy could be correlated when consumed in the form of high intakes of dairy desserts and ice cream.

Instead

Those eating a healthy and balanced diet tend to choose the low-fat alternative. If you want to consume dairy, choose yogurt instead of ice cream.

Foods high in trans fat 

Foods high in fat, such as fried foods, high-fat takeaway, meat pies, sausage rolls, or other savory pastries, pizza, and hamburgers, are a regular part of those with a highly-processed diet.

Trans and saturated fat intake is associated with dementia, cognitive disorders, and cardiovascular diseases.

Instead: 

It is recommended to consume as little as possible trans or saturated fats.

Most of these could be found in cakes, cookies, crackers, animal products, margarine, fried potatoes, potato chips, popcorn, and household shortening.

Limit these, and try to replace them with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.

That would look like: soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, walnuts, flaxseed, safflower oil, canola oil, olive oil, high oleic safflower oil, and sunflower oil and nuts.

Omega 3 fatty acids, found in shellfish and fish, are also a great source of fat.

Highly processed meats 

Highly processed meats and high consumption of red meats are associated with an unhealthy, processed dietary pattern.

The amount of consumed meat does not seem to directly predict our cognitive decline.

Children might see a more direct impact of overconsumption of processed meats and red meats.

Instead

Giving the children a great example of a healthy eating pattern might profit your health and the brain health of the child.

Instead of only eating processed or red meat, try to also include fish or poultry in the diet.

Fish high in mercury  

Consuming high amounts of mercury is not a great idea. Mercury is associated with memory and learning problems.

It also can have more serious consequences such as motor issues, deterioration of visual and tactile senses, and paralysis. 

Mackerel and tuna are popular commercial fish high in mercury.

Instead: 

Avoid high consumption of these fish, and choose other fish such as salmon, sardine, herring, or others such as listed by the FDA.

Alcohol

Alcohol appears bad for the brain in all quantities. The hippocampus, the center of our memory, shrinks for moderate and very light drinkers (1 – 6 units a week).

The higher the alcohol consumption, the worse the state of your brain on a long-term scale.

High alcohol consumption also shows less white matter integrity and other issues. What that means is that our brain connections are breaking down more, having an impact on how fast, good or slow we think.

Instead: 

Abstaining seems the best way forward for brain health.

How to Combat Brain Fog With Your Diet 

Brain fog can be a debilitating condition; if avoiding the above foods does nothing for you, try the below changes in your diet.

Eat brain-friendly foods

Brain-friendly foods are described in the Mediterranean diet. That would be a diet filled with the following:

  • vegetables
  • red meat
  • fruits
  • fatty fish
  • legumes
  • nuts
  • whole grains
  • moderate alcohol
  • and a ratio of monounsaturated-to-saturated fats.

Incorporate energy-boosting foods into every meal

The brain consumes a high amount of energy. You might feel foggy, as it is trying to survive instead of thriving.

The main source of energy for the brain is mostly derived from glucose. Those sugars are basically carbohydrates.

Maybe you are not consuming enough, the right kind, or are on a keto process.

Whatever the case is, a hungry brain might protest by not functioning how you want it to.

Try foods rich in choline.

Foods rich in choline are cruciferous vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

As described above, these are a part of a healthy and rich diet. Choline is also rich in choline, and other dietary sources of choline include nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Choline serves a critical role in neurodevelopment and communication within our brain. You don’t want to lose out on its positive effects.

The Bottom Line

You are what you eat, and that goes for your brain as well.

A healthy diet is essential for a healthy brain.

The foods we have listed above can have adverse effects on the brain, impacting your memory and mood and increasing your risk of dementia.

Luckily, you can help reduce your risk of the disease by cutting certain foods out of your diet.

This article reveals the worst foods for your brain and their alternatives. Try incorporating these changes into your diet to boost your brainpower! 

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