FATS TO FUEL THE BRAIN

Written by: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, AdvDip NutMed) 

Our brains are primarily made of fats, in fact the brain is 60% fat! (Chang, Ke & Chen, 2009) and these fats are required through dietary sources to maintain structure of the brain, help with development through times of growth and to form the fibres of nerves to enable nerve transmission. This is important for cognition, balanced moods, memory, learning and vision (Kidd, 2007; Haast & Kiliaan, 2015).

Effects on the brain

Essential fatty acids, our Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are essential as they must be obtained through diet as they cannot be synthesised by the body (Chang, Ke & Chen, 2009).

DHA is especially important for the brain. The structure of DHA is rather unique and its functions are involved within nerve synapses in the brain (Paxton, 2015, pp.89-92). Brain tissue has a high concentration of DHA, as well as the retina, testes and sperm. DHA protects the brain against oxidative damage, it aids nerve development and enhances transmission. It is particularly important during times of rapid growth and development, as in pregnancy, new-borns and infancy. Breast milk contains large amounts of DHA as it is vital for the development of the baby’s central nervous system (Chang, Ke & Chen, 2009).

Phosphatidylserine a component of cell membranes and part of the phospholipid family is also another major player when it comes to brain health and function. Phosphatidylserine is particularly concentrated within the regions of the brain. It forms part of the myelin sheath of nerves as well as having a role in cell communication and the transmission of biochemical messages within the central nervous system (Paxton, 2015, p.100). It also regulates the functions of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine which are all involved in promoting a good mood and help with concentration and memory (Purves, Augustine & Fitzpatrick, 2001). Phosphatidylserine is also involved in glucose utilisation in the brain as well as displaying antioxidant activity (Paxton, 2015, p.100).

Fats are of particular benefit when it comes to brain health and most certainly not to be feared. All macronutrients serve a purpose within the body and restrictions of some may effect other systems or the body in its entirety. Pease consult a trained professional before making major changes to your diet.

Yours in health,

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References

Chang, C. Y., Ke, D. S., & Chen, J. Y. (2009). Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta Neurol Taiwan18(4), 231-41.

Haast, R. A., & Kiliaan, A. J. (2015). Impact of fatty acids on brain circulation, structure and function. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids (PLEFA)92, 3-14.

Kidd, P. M. (2007). Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Alternative medicine review12(3), 207.

Purves, D., Augustine, G.J., Fitzpatrick, D. (2001). Biogenic Amines. Neuroscience 2nd edn. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11035/

FAST FACTS ON FATS

Written By: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, Adv Dip Nut Med)

Not to be feared! Yes, there are an overwhelming variety of different types of fats & oils but by choosing the right kinds you can open yourself up to a whole host of health benefits!

To put simply, eating the right fats will help:

  • Keep your skin glowing

  • Reduce inflammation

  • Support immune system

  • Optimise gut health and digestion (our gut bugs ‘feed’ on unabsorbed lipids in the colon)

  • Improve sleep quality

  • Brain growth & development (therefore being essential for babies, children, pregnant & breast feeding women)

  • The absorption of certain vitamins (known as your ‘fat soluble vitamins’) these are vitamins A, D, E and K

  • Maintain heart health - reduce risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome

  • Keep bones strong through calcium absorption

  • Synthesise hormones, cholesterol & vitamin D

  • Cell structure

  • Insulation and protection

  • Keep you feeling full and reducing unwanted cravings

  • Help with weight loss – yes weightLOSS (the right fat does NOT make you fat)

  • AND, give the best flavour to your foods!

A basic breakdown of fats

You’ve got your saturated fats – solid at room temp, these are stable and not effected by oxidative damage causing free radicals, this makes them great uses for cooking at higher temps. Animal fats, full fat dairy, coconut oils, butter and lard all fall into this category.

Unsaturated fats are your monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fats are more unstable and can be oxidised, creating an inflammatory oil. These are liquid at room temp and include vegetable oils, canola oils and margarine.

Monounsaturated fats include things like olive oil and flaxseed oil. These are anti-inflammatory, containing high amounts of your omega 3 fats (these fats are essential fatty acids as they cannot be made in the body and therefore needed to be consumed through foods).

Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are these essential fats we need through diet. However, we need these in a correct ratio (3:1). The standard westernised diet is loaded with omega 6 fats, and yes these are still required in the body for many processes, but in such a large number are created much more inflammation and other conditions than we need. Reducing omega 6 intakes (from grains, animal meats that were fed grains and corn) and increasing omega 3’s from oily fish (salmon, sardines), chia seeds, walnuts, olive oils, avocado, flaxseeds, organic eggs and meat to get our ratio right!

My diet personally is made up of omega 3 fats, some monounsaturated (think olive oils, walnuts, oily fish, avocado, chia seeds etc) & saturated fats *pours coconut oil over entire life*.

Saturated fat sources are from organic and sustainable meats, where possible, from local farmers. This is purely because the animals aren’t living in such a stressed state, are free from hormones & antibiotics as well as being raised on their correct diets, and not force fed fattening, inflammatory grains (creating more omega 6 fats). Plus, local support, having built that relationship with the farmer and seeing their business flourish is a good thing!

Unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, canola oil or margarine should not be included in the diet. These are processed, bleached, hydrogenated, inflammatory and artificial to the body – trans fats cannot be metabolised by our bodies, they are foreign, man made products that are rancid and increase free radical production when heated – these are to be avoided, thankfully now more & more people are coming to learn and be educated on the issues around margarine (which contains trans fats) & GMO foods and better choices are coming from this – swapping back to the butter as our grandparents did!

How to get your fats right

Eat whole-foods, in their natural state. Using unsaturated fats at cool/low/room temps, cooking with saturated fats - using butter or coconut oil to flavour your vegetables, making fresh foods more flavoursome. Snacking on raw nuts and seeds, or sprinkling them over foods. By avoiding processed foods and packaged ‘convenience’ foods you will drastically reduce your exposure and intake to inflammatory fats and oils and will see a massive improvement in overall health, with increased omega 3s!

Think ‘SLOW foods’: Sustainable, Local, Organic & Whole

For more guidance please feel free to reach out to me.

Yours in health,

 

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