Nothing you put in your mouth is as agreeable or disagreeable to the intricate structures of your brain cells as fat. Your brain is the body’s fattiest organ-60 percent is made up of lipids (various types of fatlike substances).
The chemistry of that fat can profoundly influence the very architecture of your brain cells, the profusion or scarcity of all-important dendrites and synapses—the linchpins of intelligence, learning, memory, attention, concentration, and mood. Fat molecules also help determine how much of which type neurotransmitters brain cells make and release—whether they switch on genes and hormones that make you feel good or bad or harm or benefit your brain.
Bad Fat, Brain Breakdown
Unless you feed your brain its required quota of the right fat and withhold the bad fats, it can become inefficient and possibly dysfunctional. There is no question about it. Denied the right fat molecules and flooded with the bad ones, your cerebral tissue may become partly starved—not a pretty picture. The outer membranes of your brain cells may stiffen and shrivel; the dendritic tentacles that reach out to form patterns of communication with other cells may become stunted; the rich chemical flood of neurotransmitters may dry up or become short-circuited, unable to gain entry to neurons and carry messages from neuron to neuron.
It is a mess that nature never intended. Yet, that is the state of many people’s brains.
Scientists used to think that eating fat had virtually no impact on the functioning of adult brains—that it was essential only to the developing brains of infants and children. Dogma held that the one chance to build a great brain ended by adolescence because by that age the brain was fixed and unchangeable, incapable of further growth. Now we know that neurons can continue to grow and expand at all ages, even into old age. Such growth requires supplies of fatty acids. Thus, the fat you eat throughout life is constantly molding your brain. It’s an exciting but sobering thought, considering the low-quality fat most of us feed our brain cells.
Bottom line: The type fat you put in your brain from birth to death is one of the most critical decisions you can ever make for the good or detriment of your brain.
GOOD AND BAD BRAIN FATS AT A GLANCE
Brain boosting fats:
• DHA: The top gun omega-3 type brain fat. You get it from eating seafood, or taking supplements.
• EPA: The other high potency omega-3 brain fat comes from eating fish or taking fish oil.
• Linolenic acid: The short-chain omega-3s that your body must transform to long-chain omega-3s to be beneficial to your brain. You get it in green leafy vegetables, nuts, and flaxseed.
• Monounsaturated fat, as in olive oil: Contains some antioxidants, does not increase vascular threats, and has been found to benefit memory.
• Saturated animal fat: Meat, whole milk, butter, cheese.
• Hydrogenated vegetable oils: Margarine, mayonnaise, processed foods. Check the label.
• Trans fatty acids: Margarine, processed foods, fried fast foods, such as french fries.
• Overloads of omega-6 vegetable oils: Processed foods; vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, and sunflower oils.