Yesterday I read an article that brought on one of those epiphany moments, when you say, “So that’s why I feel that way!” I now understand why I no longer have Sugar Brain Fog and how I lost it. Well, you ask, what is Sugar Brain Fog? Jonah Lehrer provides the biological reasons behind it in his article Why Sugar Makes Us Sleepy (And Protein Wakes Us Up). It’s about how the orexin system works causing us to want to sleep after a high carb meal. The orexin system regulates “an astonishing array of mental properties, from sleepiness to hunger.” When we eat sugars/carbohydrates we decrease the orexin levels in our bodies which makes us feel “rundown and tired.” Because we’re tired we reduce our activity levels, which may even help explain why eating a high sugar/carbohydrate diet leads to obesity. Knowing how this orexin system works in our bodies helps me understand why I felt so different when I changed from a high carbohydrate diet to a high fat/low carbohydrate diet several years ago. When I changed my diet I noticed right away that I was more aware of everything around me–what I saw, what I thought, what I heard, what I felt–everything. The awareness and clarity seemed to go hand in hand with increased energy, positive outlook, and enthusiasm for life. Now I know the reason–I had lost my Sugar Brain Fog.
Here’s what my diet was when I had Sugar Brain Fog: Just like most Americans, I had listened to, believed, and followed the nutrition advice continually spewed out by nutrition “experts” in all types of media, official government recommendations, and even doctors’ dietary concerns. I ate very little red meat and avoided fats, and, although I never entirely gave up butter and cheese, I just tried not to eat too much of them. We rarely ate junk foods or went to fast food restaurants. We ate organic produce and whole grains, but I didn’t know how to prepare my food, and I ate way too little traditional fat. So, while I was probably eating better than a lot of Americans, my diet was still not very good–way too high in sugar and total carbohydrates and way too low in overall nutrition, good fats, and quality proteins.
Why did I want to change my diet? Often, I didn’t feel good after eating. That feeling was probably caused by eating too many carbohydrates and the resulting flow of insulin, but I didn’t know that then, I just knew I wanted to stop or reduce that bad feeling. I read some books that opened my eyes and pointed me in the right direction: Dr. Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Life Without Bread by Allan and Lutz. These three, and others I read later, explained, in detail, what was wrong with the “experts” advice about cholesterol, saturated fats, and carbohydrates and what I needed to do to feel better. It became quite obvious that all the dietary guidelines I had been following were not just wrong, they were actually harmful.
What did I change? First, I cut out foods like sugar, breakfast cereals, and refined carbohydrates. Then I significantly reduced the other carbohydrates, such as breads, other grains, starchy vegetables, and high sugar fruits. What foods did I add? I began drinking raw goat milk kefir, fresh raw cow milk, and kombucha. I stopped holding back on red meat, butter, and cheese and added organ meats like liver, heart, kidney, and chicken gizzards. I began taking fermented cod liver oil (I started with a good quality cod liver oil then switched to fermented) and high vitamin butter oil. My breakfast changed from boxed ‘organic’ cereal to a kefir smoothie with raw egg yolks, coconut oil, and a small amount of fruit, sweetened with stevia. Of course not all of these changes were made at once, but within a few months I had cleaned out my pantry and refrigerator and was eating a very different diet. That’s when I noticed how much more energy I had and how much more aware and alert I was. I had overcome the Sugar Brain Fog.
The experiments with the orexin system found that if proteins are eaten with the sugars the sleepy effect is somewhat lessened, but when the sugars are eaten after the proteins, such as a hefty dessert, the orexin levels go down. There’s even some evidence that if the levels of orexin are low for long periods, it can cause depression. In any case, low orexin levels will make you feel bad, and who really wants to have Sugar Brain Fog?
Update 12/13/11: Sugar Brain Fog is also known as hypoglycemic glucose nadir, per William Davis, M.D., author of Wheat Belly.