Eating to beat the brain fog

After such a stressful year, it’s no wonder that more of us than ever may be experiencing moments of ‘brain fog‘ – but can anything be done to help us think more clearly?

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful

Imagine going about your day with a mist swirling around in front of you; you’d probably struggle to concentrate or think clearly. Well, that’s what living with ‘brain fog’ is like. There might not be an actual fog around you, but it certainly feels like there is. You might find yourself desperately searching your brain to locate information you’re sure you knew yesterday. Or perhaps, at work, you find yourself struggling to take in a presentation, or grasp lengthy instructions.

There are many reasons for brain fog, which is a collection of symptoms rather than a medical condition, so it’s important to speak to your GP who may do some tests to see if it could be caused by other issues, such as thyroid problems, anaemia or autoimmune disease. However, once those are ruled out, it could certainly be worth looking at your diet, too.

While brain fog can’t be cured just by the foods we eat, nutritional deficiencies can cause similar symptoms, so addressing these can really make a difference. Certain foods and supplements may help with things such as memory, clarity of thought and dealing with stress – which can exacerbate your symptoms.

The sunshine vitamin

In the winter months, with fewer daylight hours and chances to soak up the sun outside, the NHS recommends that everyone take a vitamin D supplement to compensate for the lack of sunlight.

“The current government advice is to take 400mg vitamin D between October and March to keep bones and muscles healthy, although some individuals may need higher doses,” explains registered nutritional therapist Valentina Cartago ( “Low vitamin D levels are common in those who spend a lot of time inside, which could certainly apply to many of us at the moment! The sun is our best source of vitamin D, but potential food sources include oily fish and egg yolks. Those on a plant-based diet may want to consult a practitioner to find a suitable supplement.”

A 2019 study from Rutgers University, New Jersey, found that those who supplemented vitamin D noted an improvement in their memory, so it is well worth considering.

Tuck into oily fish

Oily fish are packed with omega 3s and fatty acids, yet many of us, an estimated two thirds in fact, fall short of eating the recommended two portions a week – but if you’re not tucking in, you’re missing out! Studies have shown that the omegas found in oily fish are crucial in helping with things such as mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.

“Our cells’ membranes, including in our brains, are made of fat, and omega 3 can help to keep them healthy, optimising cognitive function as a result,” explains Valentina.

To get the most benefit, it’s best to opt for wild oily fish, such as trout and salmon, but there are vegan sources, too. Valentina suggests trying seaweed, algae, walnuts, linseeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds, among others.

Could you be B12 deficient?

B vitamins are really important for the nervous system, so low vitamin B12 can leave you struggling with extreme fatigue which can contribute to symptoms such as poor concentration, along with problems with your memory and understanding. It’s relatively rare to be B12 deficient, but it does get more common as you grow older. B12-rich foods include red meat, poultry and eggs – or nutritional yeast, and fortified cereals for vegans.

Up your hydration

One of the simplest things you can do for brain fog is to make sure you’re well-hydrated. When you’re dehydrated, it can even impact your attention span and cognitive ability. “Your brain is around 75% water, and dehydration has been linked to issues such as fatigue and brain fog, to name a few. Ensuring that you are keeping hydrated throughout the day is key,” Valentina explains. “As a general rule, it can be useful to monitor your urine colour throughout the day, ensuring that it is pale yellow.”

It might surprise you to know your morning cup of coffee doesn’t have to go out of the window; some studies have found that caffeine can actually have a positive effect on energy levels, concentration and cognitive ability – but drinking more than a few cups a day could be detrimental.

“Caffeine can have some benefits if used responsibly; these include increased alertness and cognitive ability. However, for sensitive people, and those constantly relying on it throughout the day to keep going and stay focused, it could lead to issues including sleep disruption and anxiety,” advises Valentina, who suggests avoiding coffee after 4pm.

Herbal teas can be a great alternative, and they have their benefits, too. A study at Northumbria University found that peppermint tea enhanced cognition by helping to improve both memory and alertness.

Try a Mediterranean diet

Most people will have heard that a Mediterranean diet – which includes a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and fish – can be good for your body, but did you know that it can be good for your brain, too?

“I’m Italian, so when I was young we would snack on olives and raw vegetables dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, not knowing we were fuelling our bodies with the healthy fats and anti-inflammatory compounds that support brain health!” says Valentina.

There’s plenty of science behind this, too; sticking firmly to a Mediterranean diet has been associated with a slower cognitive decline, as revealed by a study published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care.

Diets that focus on vegetables and wholegrains could help support your blood sugar balance as well. “Following an anti-inflammatory, Mediterranean diet could help support blood sugar balance due to its fibre, protein and healthy fat-rich meals, which help keep blood sugar balanced because the body takes longer to break them down. As a result, focus, mood and energy can all be balanced for longer!” adds Valentina.

Whether you opt to cut out the caffeine, stock up on fish, or ditch the sugar, the important thing is to find a solution that works for your body and your mind. Since we’re all so different, working with a qualified nutritionist or dietitian can be really helpful in working out what triggers your brain fog and, hopefully, help it become a thing of the past.

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