There's a reason "brain food" is listed in the urban dictionary—what we eat fuels not just our body but our minds too, including our moods and how we think and feel. Brain fog might feel like it’s all in your head, but our bodies are complex, and one part is not disconnected from another.
Brain fog doesn’t have a medical definition, which makes it harder to truly define the feeling and symptoms for everyone. For some people, it can be an annoying buzz and haziness, whereas for others the moodiness, forgetfulness, distraction and fatigue surpass frustration. You might think that a couple of energy balls later and you’ll be firing at all cylinders but that's often only a quick fix.
Keep scrolling to give your mind a long-lasting hit of energy and sustenance with the brain foods I've listed below.
Think: Anchovies, salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout and fresh tuna
We all know that oily fish is a brain food; ever since we were little, we are encouraged to eat it in fish fingers and various child-friendly guises. Although now considered a “superfood,” oily fish is still relatively unfashionable, but including it in your diet up to three times weekly is the long-term game to improving your mental cognition and prevent an ageing brain as well as keeping brain fog at bay.
Oily cold-water fish provides us with a collection of omega-3 fats. There's a lot of research on these particular long-chain fatty acids that associates them with protective properties for our mental health and heart health. The compounds reduce inflammation and become part of the brain cell’s membranes, adding to their flexibility and fluidity. This helps the transmission of chemical signals from cell to cell, keeping us alert and engaged.
Our diets are generally low in omega-3s in the Western world, and our bodies cannot synthesise these fats from other foods, such as carbohydrates and proteins, meaning they are essential in your diet. You can also get omega-3 fats from plant-based sources, such as walnuts, rapeseed oil and hemp. However, these are in their short-chain form which is harder for our bodies to convert, compared to the fats from oily fish.
Protein at Breakfast
Think: Eggs, yoghurt, nuts, seeds, meats, fish, tofu, beans and legumes
It seems strange to me that breakfast foods are so clearly defined compared to what we eat at other times of the day. Often carbohydrate-focused and sugary foods dominate our breakfast selections, meaning we are missing out on getting enough protein at the start of the day.
Protein is made up of essential amino acids which are the building blocks of our muscles, organs, blood cells and hormones. They provide us with the fuel to move and help regulate our hormones. Proteins help create our neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, which are the hormones that control our mood, mental clarity and memory. So we need protein for a healthy, alert and functioning brain throughout the day.
Think: Spinach, beans, legumes, wholegrain bread, eggs, milk, green vegetables, and Marmite
For example: At breakfast, make a spinach-and-greens frittata, scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast or even Marmite on wholegrain bread.
B vitamins are used constantly to power our brain and bodies, working to convert nutrients into useable fuel. They are often the unsung heroes of our nutrient requirements and vital within brain function. They provide the energy required in our signalling patterns, DNA synthesis and how we metabolise and break down chemicals. Our bodies do not effectively store B vitamins, so we need to absorb it from our diets, and we can feel sluggish and fatigued without the right levels. B vitamins can be quite powerful, so including them in the morning as part of your breakfast provides you with a boost for the day.
Think: Quality wins over quantity here, with the darker the better
Dark chocolate contains active cocoa flavonols. Flavonols, a type of antioxidant, are an active compound that works in many ways, including enhancing blood flow, bringing more oxygen to the brain, boosting mood and cognition, with long-term neuroprotective and brain modulating properties. Cocoa also has a small amount of natural caffeine giving a lift of energy and downplays any tired brain patterns.
Dark chocolate has a much higher cocoa content and fewer filler ingredients and sugar than milk or white chocolate. Dark chocolate also contains magnesium, our relaxation nutrient, which helps ease our muscles and promotes dopamine production, our happy hormone.
Think: Fermented foods—sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, soya sauce, and tofu
There’s long been an understanding of the brain-gut connection, which is why stress and other emotions affect our gastrointestinal systems, but now there is more and more indication that this is a two-way street.
Our guts are colonised by layers of healthy bacteria called our microbiome, and the live cultures serve a multitude of functions in our digestion, hormone production and immunity. With the gut microbiome influencing the production of our neurotransmitter hormones, in particularly serotonin, our bacterial balance is significant because it influences the way other pathways within the body work, including our brain.
What we eat greatly affects our gut flora, and we need a healthy, varied diet full of fibre to help it thrive. Probiotics through fermented foods contain live cultures that feed our gut’s friendly bacteria and help balance our mood, brain function and our behaviour.
Brain fog isn't just about food
Brain fog is different for us all; it’s really a collection of symptoms caused by multiple root issues and a million different triggers. If you’re healthy and without any other conditions but feel that your brain blur is becoming part of your day-to-day, start by addressing your health with proper nutrition, but also get enough sleep and tackle stress. Committing time to de-stressing is so important. And remember to drink water! Even mild dehydration impairs our alertness and makes us feel tired, anxious and irritable.
If you’re still concerned about your brain fog and its impact, do consult with a health professional or your GP.
Antonia Magor is a London-based nutritionist. She works with individuals on their specific conditions, health goals, or as part of their medical treatment. Follow her on Instagram @antoniamagor and check out her website antoniamagor.com.
Next up, are your hormones making you gain weight? Find out why.