FAT: A scary 3-letter f-word from which you might be running away. “Fat” has gotten quite a bad rap over the last few decades, causing many to turn to high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets. Yet, over the last 5-10 years, many studies continue to show how vital healthy fats are to your health, including your mental well-being.
Truth is, your brain is approximately 60-70 percent fat, so consuming the right fats is imperative to brain function and mental wellbeing.
What we’ve come to learn is that diets high in trans fats, especially, lead to a higher risk of dementia, depression, and cognitive deficits, while those rich in monounsaturated and certain unsaturated fats are associated with both a lower risk for mental health issues and improved cognitive function.
Fatty fish, such as wild salmon, sardines, and herring, provide brain-boosting omega-3 essential fatty acids (essential because these fats are not produced in the body and we must get them through our diet). Through their role in the production and maintenance of brain cells, omega-3s are especially helpful in lowering risk of dementia, depression, and cognitive decline, and improving focus and memory.
Fish is the best source of Omega-3s, as it contains both EPA and DHA forms, both of which are less available in plant sources. And, for an added bonus, consuming shrimp and other shellfish also tend to be rich in vitamin B12, which is important to healthy nerves and brain cells and is linked to preventing depression
Avocados and olives (both fruit!), and their respective oils are rich in monounsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats help maintain the structure of the brain cell membranes, and they promote healthy blood flow, which increases oxygen to the brain and lowers blood pressure, both of which are important to cognitive function.
Go Nuts: Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds, both high in fat, are also rich in Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin rich in free-radical–fighting antioxidants, which have been shown to boost cognitive function. And, for an added bonus, go for the walnut, which is rich in plant-based omega-3 fatty acids
Moderation is Key
When consuming foods rich in healthy fat, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil, remember that they are also rich in calories, so consuming them in moderation is key. Typical serving sizes are about an ounce of nuts or seeds (no more than a quarter of a cup), a quarter or half avocado, or a tablespoon of olive or avocado oil.
When preparing a meal, avoid the temptation to enjoy all of these in one sitting, as the fat content can add up very quickly.
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Adapted from 52 Small Changes for the Mind by Brett Blumenthal, on shelves December 8th, 2015. Used with permission from Chronicle Books & author Brett Blumenthal.