Eat Healthy Fats for a Healthy Brain

By Allan Warshowsky FACOG, ABIHM

 

Alzheimer’s disease is primarily the result of increased brain inflammation. This has been referred to as “the brain on fire.” To maintain our brain health and cognitive abilities, we need to make dietary and other lifestyle choices that will reduce inflammation and put out the fire. Maximizing healthy fats in the diet optimizes brain health.

There has been much controversy about which fats to include in a healthy diet that would help us to avoid or reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s or  other chronic diseases of aging like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, osteoarthritic conditions, autoimmune disease, and cognitive decline.

Not All Fats Are the Same

  • Trans fats are the synthetic fats we find in our food that are often identified as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
  • Naturally occurring fats and oils found in food are further categorized as:
    • fish oils (deep sea cold water fish)
    • saturated fats, found in coconut, grass fed/finished red meats, and deep sea cold water fish
    • mono-saturated fats, found in In olive oil
    • polyunsaturated fats, found in soybean, canola, cottonseed, corn and peanut oils

Saturated fats are the least flexible and are therefore solid at room temperatures, while polyunsaturated fats, being the most flexible, are liquid at room temperatures.

The solid saturated fats (coconut, ghee, organic butter) are best for cooking because they can withstand higher heat and not “burn,” and create free radicals which cause the body to break down and age more quickly. Mono saturated fats (olive oil) and nut and seed oils (flaxseed, walnut) work well on salads and vegetables.

The Role of Omega Oils in Inflammation

Fats and oils found in foods can be inflammatory or anti-inflammatory depending on whether they are primarily omega 3 or omega 6 oils. The “trans” fats (partially hydrogenated) are inflammatory and need to be 100% removed from the diet.

Omega 6 oils are more inflammatory, while the omega 3 oils are anti- inflammatory. We find Omega 3 oils  in fruits, seeds and nuts, vegetables and legumes, grass fed meats and pasture-raised poultry, specific fish, dairy in the form of ghee and organic butter, and coconut.  See below for more specific information on what oils are healthiest to consume.

Guidelines for Brain Healthy Oils

  • Avoid oils that are high in the inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. These include soybean, canola, cottonseed, corn sunflower, safflower, sesame, and peanut oils.
  • Include all of the omega 3 anti-inflammatory fats and oils in your diet to maintain a healthy brain. These include pacific salmon, sardines and mackerel, grass fed and grass finished red meats and “pastured” poultry, ghee and organic butter, flaxseed and walnut oil, coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil.

When the brain is inflamed it cannot utilize its usual energy source which is glucose or sugar.  Coconut oil has the added benefit of providing the brain with its preferred energy source, ketones.  Ketones supply brain cells (neurons) with the energy they require to heal. Add 2-4 tablespoons of coconut oil to your food daily.

Eating healthy fats for a healthy brain requires that you be aware of which fats and oils are increasing inflammation and which fats and oils are putting out the fire.  By making the choice to consume more healthy fats and eliminating those that cause inflammation, you are increasing the likelihood that your brain will remain healthy throughout your life.

 

Eating Healthy While Eating Out

by Priscilla Warshowsky, CHHC, & Myra Oney, CHHC

Take Healthy Eating Habits on the Road

A healthy lifestyle takes planning and a consistent routine for shopping and preparing meals. An impromptu meal out with friends, extended family or coworkers is also good for the body and mind because it is a great way to relax, socialize, and sometimes try new foods. But when eating out derails your healthy eating habits every time, you may want to consider some of the suggestions below:

Q:  When I attend group social events, I often eat and drink more than I should. What can I do differently next time?

A: This is a common problem because the food and beverages seem to be within arms’ reach the entire time. Do not say yes to every passed hors d’oeuvre offered to you. Instead of the food circulating, make sure you’re also spending time walking around and socializing. If it is a seated dinner, ask someone to switch places with you for a bit so you can talk to people at another part of the table and you are no longer sitting in front of your own plate or glass. When you know you have had enough, you can avoid further temptation by taking the salt or pepper shaker and using it generously on the food that remains on your plate to resist the next bite.

Q: Should I eat something at home first before attending social events?

A:  Eating a light snack of protein and healthy fats like a handful of nuts, a protein smoothie, slices of avocado or hummus or nut butter on veggie sticks can help keep blood sugar levels stable and cut down on the desire for starchy carbs. It will be filling enough to stave off mindless snacking and prevent refills at the buffet.

Q: What are the healthier options on a typical restaurant menu?

A: First, consider declining the bread basket before your server puts it on the table. Water, tea and sparkling water are lower in sugar and calories than alcohol or soda. There are usually healthy fish and chicken dishes on the menu. Wild salmon and organic chicken, if available, are excellent choices.  Request that they be prepared simply e.g. in a light lemon/white wine sauce, or order sauce on the side. Avoid fish that is high in mercury like tuna, swordfish and bluefish. Instead of potatoes, pasta or rice, ask for an extra serving of vegetables. If others are ordering dessert, see if a cup of tea will satisfy.  If not, end your meal with a refreshing bowl of berries or seasonal fruits.

Q: I travel a lot so I eat the majority of my meals away from home. How do I make better choices?

A: When traveling, choose a local restaurant that serves healthy, preferably locally-sourced proteins and fresh vegetables. A hotel concierge can recommend local markets where you can go to stock your hotel room with pieces of fresh fruit, healthy snacks, nuts and seeds. Hint: Pack some reusable containers and baggies in your suitcase to keep your snacks fresh longer, and you will be less likely to seek out the quick convenience of drive-thrus. While you are at it, consider adding berries, protein powder, travel-size non-dairy milk and a shaker cup to your suitcase, and refrigerate the milk and berries when you get to your room.

Q: What are some examples of healthy snacks I can pack for road trips to keep my energy up and limit the temptations of convenience store “junk food”?

A: Healthy travel snacks include: Roasted chickpeas, baby carrots or other raw vegetables, raw almonds and walnuts, healthy nut butters with Mary’s Gone Crackers or Simple Mills crackers, apple slices, cooked sliced sweet potatoes or high protein, low sugar (7 grams or less) bars made with mostly nuts and seeds. Follow Your Heart provolone “cheese” slices made from coconut are another healthy choice.

When eating away from home, don’t be afraid to try unfamiliar dishes that are prepared with lighter, healthier ingredients. There is always going to be that person in the car who steers you toward the drive-thru or the boss who decides to order appetizers or desserts “for the table.” Just remember, you do not have to feel obligated to eat everything, and you CAN take your healthy eating habits with you.

Sharp Again Naturally’s Road Map to Clarity tips:

Eat Healthy When Eating Out

  • Ask how food is prepared (avoid foods fried in vegetable oils except coconut oil.)
  • Order sauces and dressings on the side so you consume only what you want.
  • Send the bread basket back – it is like eating straight sugar.
  • Eat until you are 80% full. Then, stop eating and take the rest home.

Go to https://sharpagain.org/nutrition/ for the full Road Map.