BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – While a popular song labels this season as the most wonderful time of the year, many people view it as the busiest.

Multiple gatherings with family and friends require hours of shopping and prep-work, not to mention travel. And then there are the gifts. So many to buy, on such a limited budget!

Juggling the tasks associated with the holiday season was difficult pre-COVID, but now that we’ve entered the pandemic era, an added responsibility rests on the shoulders of many holiday celebrants- the responsibility to maintain one’s own health and wellness while organizing seasonal activities.

This is especially difficult for people who’ve suffered from COVID and now deal with what researchers refer to as “Long COVID” symptoms, which more than 200,000 Louisiana residents may have been affected by, according to New Orleans City Business.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists “difficulty thinking or concentrating,” which is sometimes referred to as “brain fog,” as one of Long COVID’s neurological symptoms.

Imagine trying to plan an elaborate family gathering or shopping for multiple gifts while battling forgetfulness as well as an inability to focus your thoughts on anything for more than a few minutes.

The CDC says the best way to prevent post-COVID conditions like this is to “protect yourself and others from becoming infected. For people who are eligible, getting vaccinated and staying up to date with vaccines against COVID-19 can help prevent COVID-19 infection and protect against severe illness.”

But what if you suspect your brain fog isn’t tied to Long COVID?

Is there another culprit that could be responsible for hijacking your energy this holiday season?

According to a recent article from NBC’s Today Show, the “bad guys” just might be some of our favorite sweet and salty snacks.

The article says, “an unhealthy diet filled with heavily processed foods- foods with refined grains and excess added sugar or sodium- may speed up brain aging.”

Does this mean we can’t enjoy snack foods?

Thankfully, no. Health experts have not taken snack foods off the table. They simply recommend healthier options.

The same Today article states, “Numerous studies point to the fact that antioxidant-and-nutrient-rich whole foods play important roles in protecting your cognitive functions — abilities to think, learn, and remember.”

So, what kinds of snacks can help us stay sharp this holiday season?

Whole Grain Crackers

Experts say whole grain crackers can be a solid option for snacking. Today recommends checking the ingredient list to make sure that a whole grain, like whole wheat or brown rice, is the first ingredient mentioned.

For example, ‘Mary’s Gone Crackers’ is noted as a healthy snack choice as it is gluten-free, whole grain, vegan, and its first two ingredients are brown rice and quinoa.

Instead of pairing it with cheese, you might consider opting on either guacamole or hummus.

Walnuts

Enjoying a handful or two of walnuts on a regular basis is known as one way to improve brain function.

A 2021 article recorded in the National Library of Medicine refers to this, saying, “Substantial evidence from animal and human studies suggests that dietary consumption of walnuts (1–2 oz per day) can improve cognitive function and also reduce the risk of other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, depression, and type 2 diabetes, which are risk factors for the development of dementia.”

Blueberries

Blueberries not only taste great, but studies show they’ve been linked to slower rates of cognitive decline and improved memory.

If you’re not one to munch on a handful of raw blueberries, you might want to add them to a healthy smoothie or even serve them warm with a few apple slices that have been dusted with cinnamon.

Popcorn

If you’re feeling snacky and tempted to reach for your favorite chips, consider swapping the chips for popcorn.

As a whole grain, popcorn can help keep your mind at its best.

That said, when popcorn is full of butter, that’s not likely to be too helpful to one’s well-being.

Today suggests trying brands like Skinny Pop, which offers quick and easy healthy versions of popcorn that aren’t laden with butter, salt, or sugar.

So, one key way to avoid the extra stress of brain fog as you’re checking off item’s on this season’s ‘to-do’ list just may be to steer clear of heavily processed foods that have a lot of butter, salt, and sugar.

Instead, swap out unhealthy snacks for tasty versions of foods known to contribute to cognitive functioning.

Hopefully, the suggestions above will prove helpful after running them by your doctor.