Fat is good for your brain.
You need fat in your diet.
What’s good for your heart is good for your brain.
But everyone knows that fat is bad for your heart … so are these statements contradictory?
On the surface maybe – but dig deeper and it becomes clearer.
Did you know that the brain holds about 25% of the body’s cholesterol and that…
the brain requires that cholesterol to help neurons form connections with other neurons.
These neuron connections are the vital links that underlie memory and learning. Therefore, the more neurons you have connecting with other neurons, the healthier your brain will be.
Muscles are stronger with a well-developed network of blood vessels. A well-developed set of neurons makes the brain stronger. A stronger brain is better able to buffer against disease or recover from trauma.
Cholesterol is also important for brain health. It is an important raw material from which your body makes Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fundamental nutrient for brain function. Vitamin D facilitates neuron growth and recent studies have linked a deficiency in Vitamin D to an increased risk for dementia.
So while you may have thought that lowering cholesterol was good for your heart, it’s not always great for your brain.
Including more fat in your diet, however may feel like a bit of a dilemma. Should you choose low cholesterol for your heart or high cholesterol for your brain? Having to make this choice raises an obvious question.
What is the right choice?
The PURE study is changing the answer to this question. When we first looked at this problem two years ago the dilemma seemed unanswerable. The PURE study found that a high rate of fat intake, including saturated fat, was linked to a reduced rate of mortality.
The study concluded that low rates of saturated fat may even be detrimental to your health.
Because our brains are very fatty and need fat in order to function well, it is important to understand…
what type of fats are conducive to brain health and which fats are bad for our brains.
The healthy fats help the brain function more efficiently. They are characterized as omega-3 fatty acids. Healthy fats are typically found in fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines. So including fish at least twice a week in your diet is a good step forward for brain health.
Avocados, nuts and seeds contain good unsaturated fats.
Some unsalted nuts, such as peanuts, cashews, pecans, and almonds, also contain good or healthy fats.
Vegetable oils like canola, olive, sesame and sunflower oil also have ‘good fats’ in them.
When it comes to saturated fats, one of the clear winners is coconut oil. While there are no studies done on coconut oil, it has been getting good press through anecdotal evidence.
Saturated fats found in meat and dairy products were once considered bad fats. But a 2013 study from the Mayo Clinic suggests that individuals consuming a diet high in saturated fats reduced their risk of dementia by 36%. Layer this with the PURE study and consuming meat should become a part of eating healthy for you.
But choose your saturated fats wisely and with moderation you can,
put grass fed beef, free range chicken eggs and coconut oil back into your diet.
But trans fats are still out – so no indulging in deep-fried, super delicious poutine … well at least not too often.
So what about heart health and cholesterol?
There is lots of research about heart health and cholesterol. it sounds like a movie – the good, the bad and the ugly. I wrote previously about the raging debate between the American Heart Association and other medical professionals about what the right approach to cholesterol is. I predicted that one of the takeaways from all of this is going to be balance. Balance in your diet – with plenty of variety and moderation in everything.
The PURE Study backs up the call for balance. I almost laughed out loud when the lead researcher described showing the results to his mother. She asked him why he bothered doing the study, since this was common knowledge that she had received from her grandmother.
Glucose and Insulin
Interestingly, elevated levels of insulin is showing up as a real culprit in heart disease. Therefore, managing your glucose levels is becoming increasingly important for heart health.
So while eating good fat is important for brain health, the brain-heart connection is apparent again in being aware of your levels of glucose or sugar intake. Higher levels of glucose in the blood, even when an individual does not have diabetes, can have a negative impact on the brain. Research has shown that individuals with high levels of glucose increase their risk of dementia. This occurs whether or not they actually had diabetes.
A possible reason is that individuals suffering from long-term insulin depletion, caused by uncontrolled (or undiagnosed) diabetes, may also cause permanent damage to the myelin sheaths that cover the neurons.
Damage to the myelin sheath affects the brain’s ability to move information quickly and effectively throughout the brain. It become more difficult for your brain, for example, to process information and tell you to move your foot.
The conclusion is that a good diet can make a tremendous difference in brain health. Our diet is an important factor in staying both brain and heart healthy as we age.
So the take away on fat?
Put good fats into your diet in order to embrace a brain health lifestyle and reduce your dementia risk.