What about brain fats? Well, these days we know quite a lot about fatty diets but maybe not so much about what the brain needs. We know, for example, that Western diets contain too much in the way of saturated fats. Saturated fats come mainly in dairy products like cheese and butter and we know these aren’t good for us.
What your brain doesn’t like
Your brain is a bit picky as to what it actually needs. You might think that your daily intake of probiotics is doing the business? But maybe you don’t know that saturated fats are in probiotic full-fat yogurts and even in intensively farmed animals. In other words, they have a significantly higher ratio of saturated fat to protein.
Processed food should be another no-go area and it says a lot about our relationship with food that we consume too much. By processed, I’m referring to things like fast foods, cakes, pastries, biscuits, dressings and spreads of the sort you can find in any store.
The manufacturing process often uses a form of fat, ‘trans’ fat, that prolongs shelf life. The problem is their effect on the body, one of which is to inhibit the enzymes that convert omega-3 and omega-6 into a form the brain can use.
What your brain really likes
The brain needs essential fatty acids in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 and these can only be obtained though our diet. Insufficient levels negatively affect the cell membranes and the functioning of neurons. Levels of serotonin decrease and blood flow in the brain is less effective.
Appropriate levels by contrast may even protect brain cells from damage or death, a feature of chronic stress, and help prevent and treat depression. Various studies have demonstrated improvements in mood from high doses of omega-3 in patients who failed to respond to fluoxetine (Prozac).
What does all this mean to the likes of you and me? Well, the dietary side of things appears self explanatory, but it’s not really as simple as eating more oily fish. If you planned to increase your levels of omega-3 through fish consumption alone you’re looking to a minimum intake of 400g of fresh tuna a day. You also need to factor in the very real issue of fish contamination.
The FDA warns pregnant mothers to consume no more than 300g per week; around half a can of tuna, because of fish contamination from dioxins, mercury and other pollutants.
Easy ways to feed your brain
Simpler and safer ways to nourish your brain comes from purchasing ultra-purified fish oils and marine algae. You can also change dietary habits in the form of reducing or stopping your intake of processed foods. Where you can, grill or steam food instead of frying it. Use olive oil for frying and dressings.
There are various healthy eating shortcuts. If your budget allows, go for organic or free-range meats. Look for substitutes to dairy foods (milk, cheese, butter, ice cream) this can be in the form of soya, tofu and vegetable substitutes.