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.

 

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