There’s no question that what we eat affects our mental clarity. There’s no other way to say it: If you’re powering through your day with sugar-laden toaster pastries, after-lunch doughnuts, and caffeinated sodas loaded with high fructose corn syrup and artificial colorants, you’re hobbling your brain.
Consider this: A 2019 study of 1,209 older adults in Malaysia found that the participants who reported the most sugar consumption (including sugar-sweetened drinks, cakes, and desserts), scored most poorly on cognitive tests.
Other research, from the Framingham Heart Study, followed more than 4,250 participants, testing them for memory and mental acuity. The 2017 study, published in the journal “Alzheimer’s & Dementia,” found a correlation between poor memory and reduced brain volume with consumption of sugary drinks.
Though the sugar high you get from eating sweets will give you some fleeting energy, eating calorie-packed sugary foods can lead to too much glucose in your brain, which in turn leads to cognitive dysfunction and memory loss.
Artificial sweeteners, associated with a host of poor health outcomes, are also bad for your brain, according to peer-reviewed research published in 2017 in the journal Stroke.
So what should you eat and drink to maximize your brain capacity and enjoy a clear mind throughout the day?
Change Your Breakfast to Heal Your Brain
According to Dr. Kelly Brogan, a holistic psychiatrist and author of “A Mind of Your Own,” increasing healthy fats can help you stabilize your blood sugar, improve your mood, and add to your mental clarity.
Brogan recommends a diet rich in protein, antioxidants, and healthy fats. In fact, she says you can heal your brain by changing your breakfast, and recommends drinking a morning smoothie made from organic coconut water, coconut oil, nut butter, grass-fed collagen, eggs yolks, and frozen berries.
And when you’re craving treats later in the day, try eating an apple, which is high in vitamin C and fiber, or a handful of dates, which are sweet and tasty and packed with nutrients. Or distract yourself from your sugar craving by taking a walk around the block or doing some jumping jacks, stretching, or yoga poses. The extra oxygen in your blood from even just a minute or two of exercise will also help you clear your brain.
Julie Wells is a stay-at-home mom of three in Wilmington, North Carolina. She’s found that her ability to concentrate has worsened in the last year and a half. It’s sometimes difficult to keep her train of thought or find the words she’s looking for, she says. Wells has also noticed that the higher her anxiety levels the worse her brain fog.
“It’s frustrating because I’ll be stumped in mid-sentence,” Wells says. “I know what I’m trying to say but I can’t think of the right word.”
Though she has a sweet tooth and loves chocolate, Wells says that eating sugar not only increases her mental fog, it also gives her headaches. Sometimes the ill effects on her brain of bad food choices don’t show up until the next day. Wells notices a drastic improvement in mental clarity when she avoids sugar and gluten, makes sure she gets enough sleep, turns off the TV news, and reminds herself that she and her family are all okay.
“I’ve become really disciplined,” she says. Though she misses the chocolate cake and the cookies, she’s grateful for the clarity of mind.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning science journalist and co-author of “The Addiction Spectrum.” Learn more at: JenniferMargulis.net