Have you ever put your wallet in the freezer? Lost your car in a parking lot?
We all suffer from it: We enter a room and wonder why we walked in or what we might be looking for. We can’t remember simple things unless we write them down.
What is going on? Is it just life? Being too busy and over-scheduled? Is social media turning our brains to mush?
Often chalked up to aging, this pervasive “brain fog” seems to be taking over modern society—for everyone from the young to the old. And let’s face it: Now, more than ever, we need to be on our toes and at our best.
What is going on with us?
It’s the food, silly.
We’ve heard a version of that concept before: From gluten to artificial sweeteners, preservatives to artificial coloring, sugar to coffee, we search for the one demon ingredient that is destroying our collective wellness. The bad news is that there’s no Darth Vader of food hiding in the pantry. Our ability to think clearly is rooted deeply in how well and strong we feel. Think about it: On those days when you feel less than stellar, are you able to solve complex issues and engage in critical thinking? No. Ah, but the days when you feel like your own personal superhero, you take on challenging tasks with ease and vitality.
While certain foods obviously steal our vitality: junk food, artificial sweeteners, etc., other foods are naturally associated with feeling sharp—like coffee or black tea. But should we have to rely on caffeine to feel focused? Isn’t clarity something that should come naturally to us?
Eating a diet of whole and unprocessed foods fuels our brains by keeping our blood glucose levels stable. When our brains have the glucose they need, they’re sharp and focused like heat-seeking missiles.
Rather than give you advice in broad strokes like “eat whole grains,” here are some specific foods to include as part of your healthy diet to keep you sharp and at the top of your game.
Lucky us: they are delicious!
These gorgeous babies are rich in oleic acid—a fatty acid that plays a role in protecting our neurons—along with other omega fatty acids that help make up the myelin sheath. This lining on neurons helps information travel at great speeds in your brain. Avocados contribute to healthy blood flow, which promotes increased brain acuity too. And avos are the most delicious “medicine.” Toss some avocado on your salad, spread some on your sandwich or make a richly flavored chocolate pudding with avocado as a base and kiss brain fog goodbye.
Steven Platt, MD (author of Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods Proven to Change Your Life) calls blueberries “brainberries” because they have some of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of all fruits and vegetables. Reputed to improve memory and cognitive function, these little berries have a serious memory-protecting compound called, “vaccinium cyanococcus.” Associated with the study of Alzheimer’s Disease prevention, blueberries are more than just sweet and juicy. Simply add some to your breakfast, smoothie or salad and you may not feel so much like the absentminded professor anymore.
Simply stated, beans help stabilize blood sugar levels. We think of them as sources of plant-based protein and fiber, which they are. But they are so much more valuable to our brains. Beans slow the process of assimilating carbohydrates, which means our brains receive a steady stream of the glucose they need to function best. When we add more beans—like lentils, cannellini, black or kidney—to our diets, we get the best of all worlds: the fiber, protein, complex carbs and essential micronutrients that we need to stay sharp, focused and strong.
4. Nuts and seeds
A mere ounce of nuts and seeds a day can help reduce inflammation and the cloud of brain fog. A great source of protein and fiber, nuts and seeds are powerhouses of minerals, vitamins and brain-loving essential fatty acids. And they satisfy our appetites so we don’t overeat and feel lethargic. Grab a handful of almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds or swirl a tablespoon of chia seeds into water or a smoothie for deliciously clear-thinking.
5. Leafy Greens
It is easy to be green. Our brains benefit significantly from sharp-tasting greens. Kale, collards, watercress, escarole, arugula, bok choy, dandelion and spinach are like magic for clear-thinking. Lutein—a carotenoid found in dark green vegetables—helps to preserve cognitive function and mental sharpness as the brain ages. A study published in Frontiers for Aging Neuroscience revealed that lutein accumulates in the brain, where it likely plays a neuroprotective role. The nutrient is stockpiled over an entire lifespan, so it may be a factor in lifelong brain health.
6. Dark Chocolate
There’s more to dark chocolate than rich creaminess. The sweet treat’s powerful antioxidant properties, along with some natural stimulants, help improve our focus and ability to concentrate. Dark chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, which support brain health and improve our mood. Indulging in a mere two ounces a day will help you think more clearly and cheer you up. So don’t waste time feeling guilty reaching for that decadent treat!
In addition to indulging your brain with these gorgeous foods, consider a diet rich in whole grains, beans and plenty of veggies—and, of course, water to stay hydrated. Oh, and ditch refined sugar and processed foods completely.
Remember that the food we eat informs and affects our cells, blood, body tissue, moods and thoughts. Poor-quality foods cause us to feel lethargic, foggy, numb and low-energy. Good-quality foods help us to feel light, clear, sharp and ready to take on all of life’s adventures.
Here’s a delicious recipe that incorporates a few of my favorite of these brain foods:
Avocado Salad with Black Olive Vinaigrette
Loaded with EFA’s, fiber and antioxidants, avocados are a true gift to our well-being. A wee bit calorically dense, they are a valuable addition to a healthy diet in reasonable quantities.
Makes 6 Servings
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 2-3 tablespoons black olive paste or finely minced pitted black olives
- 2 shallots, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh basil
- pinch sea salt
- 1 large bunch watercress, rinsed well, stems trimmed, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 oranges, peeled, sectioned
- 3 ripe avocados
- Make the vinaigrette by simply whisking ingredients together, adjusting seasoning to your taste. It should be strong and slightly salty. Set aside.
- Halve, pit and peel avocado.
- Thinly slice them lengthwise, keeping them intact.
- Divide watercress and orange sections among 6 salad plates.
- Using a spatula, carefully transfer an avocado half onto each plate, pressing gently to fan the slices.
- Spoon dressing over each plate and serve at room temperature or chilled.