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The Best Foods for Your Brain (And Why We Might Owe Fat an Apology)

Believe it or not, eating fat is essential for short- and long- term brain health. Here's the real deal on how fat benefits our brains, which types of fat are best, and the best foods to eat for the most brain-boosting benefits.
Dietary Fat and the Brain
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Dietary Fat and the Brain

Fat: What was once the ugly stepchild of the dietary world is now being heralded as the savior of humankind. Okay, so 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 [1]. 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.

The Top 3 Dietary Fats for Better Brain Health

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.

2. DHA
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.

Which Foods Can Help Brain Function the Most?

Dietary Fat and the Brain

1. Salmon
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.

2. Avocado
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.

3. Nuts
Nuts are a great source of unsaturated fats and vitamin E, both of which contribute to better brain functioning. Almonds, pecans, and walnuts can also help protect against cognitive decline.

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
In addition to containing Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT), which support fat loss and build lean muscle tissue, coconut oil may help to regenerate and heal nerve function inside your brain.

The Takeaway: Making Fat Work for Your Brain

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.

This post was written by David Landau, the co-founder and COO of 8fit, a mobile app that helps people get in shape with highly efficient exercise and nutrition plans and high-quality, research-backed education through trainers and a personalized advice. David is an avid martial artist, meditator, transhumanist, and weight lifter. He regularly writes for the 8fit blog and lives in Palo Alto, CA, where the perfect sunshine is always inviting another bike ride. Reach David or the 8fit team by email, Twitter, or Facebook.

Works Cited +

  1. Essential fatty acids and human brain. Chang, CY, Ke, DS, and Chen, JY. Acta Neurologica Taiwanica, 2009 Dec;18(4):231-41

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