By the year 2050, the United States will have 14 million people in need of full-time care for Alzheimer’s disease, a number equal to the populations of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago combined. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, and issues like brain fog are finally being taken seriously. Taking care of our brain health is more urgent than ever, so we’re spending the next 10 days at mindbodygreen talking about our brains and what we can all do to protect our mental health. Follow along here at #mbgbrainhealth and on Instagram and Twitter. And be sure to sign up for our FREE brain health webinar with 11-time NYT best-selling author and pioneering functional medicine doctor Dr. Mark Hyman.
Max Lugavere is a science journalist and the best-selling author of Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life, all of which is to say, if anyone can HELP solve our brain fog problem, it's him. The problem, Lugavere says, starts with identifying what brain fog itself is. "Brain fog isn't a technical medical condition, but on the other hand one in seven people from ages 18 to 39 deal with memory problems," he explains. "There are also plenty of anecdotal stories backing it up."
All of this means that when we want to avoid brain fog, we shouldn't simply focus on it but rather the network of symptoms in the body that lead to these feelings. "We tend to think of our brain function as being fixed, an immutable characteristic that we’re born with, but at the end of the day, our brains are highly responsive to our bodies," Lugavere says. "It's very important to remove the toxins that inflame your body and brain and to give your brain the building blocks it needs to create healthy cells and connections."
Most mbg readers have likely already eliminated the major culprits, so we asked Lugavere to share a few of the so-called healthier foods contributing to the problem:
1. Grapeseed oil
According to Lugavere, grapeseed oil (which many consider a "healthy" alternative to canola) promotes inflammation because of its skewed omega-6 to omega-3 ratio—70 percent of the fat in grapeseed oil comes from omega-6s. Omega-6s aren't bad in and of themselves, but they tend to be overconsumed in the standard American diet, leading to an inflammation-promoting imbalance. "The inflammation promotes brain fog by activating your immune system," Lugavere explains, "which creates a sense of brain fog because the brain feels like it's being attacked." He recommends cooking with extra-virgin olive oil, which contains anti-inflammatory phenolic compounds, with avocado oil as a secondary good option.
Lugavere recommends avoiding all grains—even gluten-free ones—to people who are suffering from brain fog. "They’re very energy-dense and usually packed with starch," he explains. "They’re also relatively nutrient-poor."
While it's definitely convenient to be able to find bananas in New York City in the winter, Lugavere cites it as a problem for our health. "We've lost any sense of seasonality," he says. Fruits also contain quite a bit of sugar. He calls out health-world darling dates as one of the worst culprits. "Dates are perceived as being a free pass, but they contain 25 grams of sugar per date, so it's very easy to overconsume them." He explains that the sugar spikes your blood sugar, leading to a later crash that gives the sensation of "hanger." "You're hungry, and you can't focus on anything but replacing the sugar," Lugavere says. "It's the perfect recipe for brain fog."
4. Certain almond milks
The problem here isn't the almonds but the emulsifier. "Many almond milks are made with emulsifiers, which are shown to promote inflammation through the gut axis, which is connected to the brain," he explains. "I try to avoid almond milks that contain polysorbate 80 and carboxymethyl cellulose, as both have been shown in animal models to have a pretty big impact on the gut."
Ready to learn more about how brain fog and your diet are intimately connected? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Dr. Mark Hyman, where you’ll learn how to banish that brain fog for good.