Fat: What was once the ugly stepchild of the dietary world is now being heralded as the savior of humankind. OK maybe that’s taking things a little too far. But fat does offer great benefits for our bodies—and our minds. Read on to learn how to make fat work for your brain.
Is Fat Really Good for My Brain?
Yes. Believe it or not, our brains are composed of 60 percent fat. 2 That being the case, it should come as no surprise that our brains need fat to work correctly. And even though the brain accounts for such a small portion of our bodyweight, it utilizes 20 percent of the body’s metabolic energy.
Good nutrition in general is key to maintaining a healthy brain (and keeping the rest of you healthy!). In fact, studies show that nutrition affects brain development and function throughout our lives. Fueling your brain with fat, in particular, encourages ketosis, which provides energy to the brain and helps protect against brain diseases, among other health benefits. A diet high in monounsaturated fats can also increase production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in learning and memory.
Top 3 Dietary Fats for Your Mind and Body
1. Polyunsaturated Fat
Polyunsaturated fats contain the essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-3 and omega-6. Our brains need these fats to function properly (studies also show that eating high quantities of omega-3 fatty acids are linked to reduced rates of major depression, but our bodies are unable to produce them. This means it’s important that we include these fat sources in our diets.
An omega-3 fatty acid, DHA has been shown to help brain functions like memory, speaking ability, and motor skills. Increasing dietary levels of omega-3s has been shown to help improve conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD.
3. Saturated Fat
Saturated fat is actually one of the main components of brain cells, and is therefore necessary for healthy brain function. In one study, it was found that people who ate more saturated fat reduced their risk for developing dementia by 36 percent. Saturated fat also provides benefits for the liver and immune system and helps maintain proper hormone balance.
6 Foods Packed With Healthy Fats
The monounsaturated fats in avocados benefit brain function and promote healthy blood flow—and a healthy flow of blood to the brain means a highly functional brain. The creamy green superfood is also good for your heart. Their hefty dose of monounsaturated fatty acids can help lower cholesterol levels and may help prevent blood clotting. They also contain potassium, which may help control blood pressure, and magnesium, which has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease in men.1
Salmon contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is best eaten steamed or lightly grilled in order to preserve the integrity of the omega-3s. If you’re a sushi fan, you’re in luck: Omega-3s are also present in raw fish.
4. Whole Eggs
Eggs contain both saturated fat and choline, which can boost memory skills and overall brain health.
5. Olive Oil
A healthy fat that can be added to almost any meal, olive oil can help to improve memory and protect against dementia and cognitive decline.
6. Coconut Oil
The Takeaway: Making Fat Work for You
The trick to finding a happy medium between eating too much and too little fat is to seek out whole, unprocessed food sources of healthy fats and eat them in moderation. By embracing healthy sources of fat, you can help to ensure optimum brain function for years to come.
- Essential fatty acids and human brain. Chang, CY, Ke, DS, and Chen, JY. Acta Neurologica Taiwanica, 2009 Dec;18(4):231-41