Why a Low-Fat Diet is Dangerous
The human body was designed to love fatty foods in part because of the needs of the brain. We should choose the “good” kinds of fats, skipping the dangerous ones and adding plenty of brain-healthy ones.
The brain is made mostly of fat, which not only forms the membranes around cells that regulate what gets in and out of them but also insulates the bundles of nerve fibers that act as high-speed communication cables in the brain. It shouldn’t be too shocking, then, to learn that fat is the single most important nutrient for protecting and preserving brain function. Eating a low-fat or, worse, a no-fat diet is actually the worst thing you can do for your brain. What the brain craves most are the omega-3 fats. They turn on the genes that determine how the brain develops, repair and preserve brain cells, enable the cells to deliver signals efficiently, and may even facilitate the growth of new cells. Studies show that without enough omega-3s, the brain can’t function properly. Over time, lack of omega-3s may even contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, most people don’t eat nearly enough of these good fats.
Types of Omega 3s
Omega-3s come in three varieties: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Brain cells need all three kinds to maintain their structure and avoid premature aging, though the body has a much easier time using DHA and EPA than ALA.
ALA: Research suggests that ALA helps to protect brain cells and is involved in neuron-to-neuron communication.
EPA: Seems to act as an antioxidant and may help prevent brain cell damage during aging. But DHA is the brain superstar.
DHA: This fat concentrated in the frontal lobe of the brain and is critical for clear thinking, organization, alertness, learning, and reasoning. Low levels have been linked to memory and learning problems and even Alzheimer’s disease. When scientists added DHA to the diets of mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s disease, the mice had less of the brain plaques associated with the disease than mice who didn’t get the DHA.
Omega-3s also help prevent blood clots, which reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, two conditions that affect brain health. When you consider that omega-3s could cut your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by more than half, it may be worth adding some of these foods to your weekly shopping list
Eat fish twice a week
You don’t need to spend a lot of time, money, or effort to get there; even canned tuna and canned salmon count. (Choose canned light tuna rather than albacore; it comes from a short-lived fish that accumulates fewer toxins than long-lived albacore.) Fish is a perfect weeknight meal because it’s ready in as little as 10 minutes. When possible, buy wild fish when it’s available or, if you choose farmed, opt for organic farm-raised fish if you can afford it; it may contain fewer contaminants like mercury. Incidentally, canned salmon is made from wild fish-a bonus!