Protect Your Brain by Eating More Healthy Fats
Not too long ago, the words “healthy” and “high fat” were seldom seen together in a sentence. But not because science hadn’t already proven that fat was not the enemy. This information has been around for decades. In fact, fat is in important part of dietary health with a long list of impressive benefits. However, just like carbohydrates, there are good fats and not so good fats. A good way to judge the difference between a good and bad fat (and carbohydrate, for that matter) is how processed the food is.
Choose Your Fats Carefully
Generally speaking, foods that come in their natural form are best.
These foods include:
- Coconuts (oils, butter, milk, etc.)
- Almonds (oils, butter, milk, etc.)
- Grass fed butter and cheese
- Pasteurized eggs
- Wild fish
- Cold pressed, extra virgin oils such as olive, walnut, coconut, flax seed and hazelnut
Processed foods, including packaged and fast foods, are usually deep fried or contain additives that are converted into sugar and stored as fat in our body.
It’s important to note that not all food is digested the same. In this form particularly, processed fat can lead to clogged arteries, high cholesterol and blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and so on.
Health Benefits of Fat
Fat tissue is frequently the largest organ in humans (Tchkonia 2010). It is involved in longevity, age-related diseases, inflammation and metabolic dysfunction. Fat is needed to store energy, and is important in immune and endocrine function.
Fatty tissue, which is located underneath the skin and surrounding organs, helps prevent infection and trauma. It also acts as an insulator to keep us warm. So, to eat a diet low in fat is to deny your body the fuel it needs for proper basic function.
Role of Dietary Fat and Aging
Dietary fat has been identified as a nutrient that can affect neural pathways in the brain. Specifically, omega-3 fatty acids are vital for normal function of cell membranes.
Omega-3 deficiency has been linked to memory loss, learning disabilities and in increase in mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, dyslexia, dementia and schizophrenia (Gómez-Pinilla 2010). Consequently, studies have shown that a diet high in “junk food” (foods high in saturated fat and sucrose) have a negative effect in cognitive function in as little as three weeks of eating a poor diet. Fatty acids are associated with decreasing inflammation also, a common cause in brain dysfunction.
During the aging process, the brain is also susceptible to oxidative damage, which occurs when accumulation of pathological protein, or bad cells, congregates in vulnerable regions and restricts antioxidant flow to the brain, such as in the case of Alzheimer's disease.
DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is essential for brain health. In a double blind study, omega-3 phospholipids demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity and have been shown to have a positive effect on ADHD symptoms.
Other Health Benefits of Fat
Along with brain health, dietary fat plays a role in many other health functions. For example, individuals diagnosed with diabetes are often associated with eating a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.
Fish oil has been shown to reduce triglycerides in the blood and decrease thrombosis. Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with the decrease of cardiovascular disease and may be beneficial in the prevention of liver cancer.
DHA can be used as an effective treatment of inflammation, oxidative stress, fibrosis and hepatic damage.
How to Boost Good Fat Levels
Switching your cooking oil to coconut oil is a good way to increase fatty acids in your diet and to boost brain health.
Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides, which are metabolized by descending straight from the liver to the digestive tract, where they are absorbed and immediately utilized for energy.
Coconut oil is also anti-inflammatory. When digested, it forms a monoglyceride called monolaurin, which can kill pathogens such as bacteria, fungi and viruses (Gunnars 2013). Coconut oil can be added to baked goods, smoothies and desserts in place of vegetable oil or margarine and has a very mild nutty flavor.
Grass Fed vs. Conventional Dietary Fats
As stated before, not all fats are treated the same. When consuming any animal product, such as milk, cheese and butter, be sure to look for grass fed products, which do not contain added hormones, steroids or antibiotics.
Grass fed animals are pasteurized and consume a diet of naturally growing plant foods, which are high in CLA and brain developing omega fatty acids. Compared to their grass fed counter partners, conventional farmers often use harsh feeds, antibiotics and steroids to bulk up production and health of their animals.
There may be a positive association between many Westernized diseases today and the way most animal products are raised, including the rise of autoimmune diseases, which have no cure and no known cause.
Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2010). Brain Foods: The Effects Of Nutrients On Brain Function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 568-578.
Gunnars, K. (2013, July 8). 10 Proven Health Benefits of Coconut Oil (No. 3 is Best). Retrieved January 12, 2015, from http://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/
Tchkonia, T., Morbeck, D., Zglinicki, T., Deursen, J., Lustgarten, J., Scrable, H., ... Kirkland, J. (2010). Fat tissue, aging, and cellular senescence. Aging Cell, 667-684.
For more information on Fish Oils, click on the links.