Why a low-fat diet is dangerous
The human body is designed to love fatty foods, in part because of the brain’s needs. We should choose the type of fat that is good, skip the dangerous fat, and increase the amount of fat that is good for brain health.
The brain is mainly made up of fat, which not only forms the membrane that regulates the flow of cells in and out of the cells, but also isolates the nerve fiber bundles in the brain as a high-speed communication cable. So it shouldn’t be too shocking to learn that fat is the most important nutrient for protecting and preserving brain function. Eating a low-fat diet or worse, not eating fat, is actually the worst thing for your brain. The brain craves most omega-3 fats. They open genes that determine how the brain develops, repairs and preserves brain cells, allowing them to transmit signals effectively and possibly even promote the growth of new cells. Studies have shown that the brain does not function properly without omega-3s. Over time, the lack of omega-3s may even lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, most people hardly ever eat enough of these good fats.
Types of Omega 3s
Omega-3s are available in three varieties: DHA (docosaesaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Brain cells need all three types to maintain their structure and avoid premature aging, although the body has a much easier time using DHA and EPA than ALA.
ALA: Research suggests that ALA helps protect brain cells and is involved in neuron-to-neuron communication.
EPA: It seems to act as an antioxidant and can help prevent damage to brain cells during aging. But DHA is the superstar of the brain.
DHA: This concentrated fat in the frontal lobe of the brain is critical for clear thinking, organization, attention, learning and reasoning. Low levels have been linked to memory and learning problems and even Alzheimer’s disease. When scientists added DHA to the diet of mice raised to develop Alzheimer’s disease, the mice had less of the brain plaques associated with the disease than mice that did not get DHA.
Omega-3s also help prevent blood clots, which reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, two conditions that affect brain health. If you consider that omega-3s could reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by more than half, it might be worth adding some of these foods to your weekly shopping list
Eat fish twice a week
You don’t have to spend much time, money or effort to get there; canned tuna and canned salmon also matter. (Choose light canned tuna over white tuna; it comes from a short-lived fish that accumulates fewer toxins than long-lasting white tuna.) The fish is a perfect meal during the week because it is ready in just 10 minutes. When possible, buy wild fish when it is available or, if you choose to breed, opt for organic farmed fish if you can afford it; may contain fewer contaminants such as mercury. By the way, canned salmon is made with wild fish – a bonus!
Prepare a non-tuna salad
Tuna is not the only fish that can be used in salads. Try this basic recipe, and add your own personal touch: flakes or dice about 1 cup of any cooked fish leftover. Add 1/2 cup of each three chopped vegetables, such as carrots, celery, peppers, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers or broccoli. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise. Season to taste with cracked pepper, red pepper flakes, turmeric or fresh herbs. Mix well, and serve over a bed of lettuce or use as a filling for a sandwich.
Fill your freezer with frozen fish (not breaded)
Make it thaw in the fridge, and you’ll have dinner ready without having to go to the fish counter.
Use oils lightly when cooking, generous when eating
Some of the health benefits of oils are affected when you heat the oil (never heat flaxseed oil as it can form harmful compounds). So cook with the minimum amount of oil required – often no more than 1 tablespoon per pan. Instead, be generous with oils as a spice or when preparing sauces or garnishes.
Switch to olive oil
If you have the choice of eating butter (full of artery clogging saturated fats), margarine (many brands are loaded with toxic trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oil) or olive oil, which plays an important role in the Mediterranean diet, then choose olive oil! Olive oil is a powerful antioxidant that also helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body, including the brain. Its anti-inflammatory effect is even so strong that experts compare it to aspirin.
Olive oil also protects the membranes of brain cells and can help prevent age-related dementia. And it’s good for your cholesterol levels (which in turn makes it good for your brain). One study found that 28 men and women recorded a 16 percent decrease in LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) when they added 2 tablespoons of olive oil to their diet every day. If you want a milder taste or an oil that can withstand heat better than olive oil, opt for rapeseed oil; it is a much healthier choice than corn, thistle or sunflower oil, which you should all avoid as they can promote inflammation.
Add walnuts to everything
They are ideal for salads, as an addition to baked goods and as a side dish to muesli or even low-fat ice cream.
Invest in a bottle of walnut oil
This nut oil has a clean, delicate, slightly sweet taste that is perfect for use in homemade salad dressings. However, do not use it as cooking oil as it decomposes and becomes bitter in heat. You can also throw noodles with it. Or halve a piece of fruit, such as a peach, and sprinkle with a combination of walnut oil and honey, then fry or grill it and serve with yoghurt. Oils, especially nut oils, become slightly rancid when exposed to light, heat and air. They should therefore be stored tightly closed in a cool, dark place and disposed of after 6 to 12 months.
Keep a bottle of flaxseed oil ready
The taste is strong and slightly bitter … a little goes very far! Use flaxseed oil as a nutty flavor enhancer and finishing oil on vegetable sandwiches and other raw foods, or instead of margarine or butter on steamed vegetables and other cooked foods (but sprinkle only after the food has been placed on a serving plate; when heating flaxseed oil, harmful compounds may develop).
Add some flaxseeds to your spice mill
Buy whole flaxseeds in a natural food shop and grind them in a spice mill. The whole seeds last longer than ground seeds. (If you eat all the seeds, your body won’t digest them and they come out as they went in). Sprinkle them over your breakfast muesli, lunch salad or smoothie. Or put them in the pancake or muffin dough. If a recipe requires 1 cup of flour, use 3/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup of flaxseed flour instead. Be sure to keep the seeds in the fridge, otherwise they will quickly become rancid.
Seed is packed with good fat, protein and vitamin E and can even help you lower your cholesterol levels. Here’s a great way to enjoy it along with another brain-healthy food, fish: sprinkle thin fish fillets (or chicken schnitzel) with a mixture of crushed sunflower and pumpkin seeds and fry them in the pan. Chopped seeds are also an interesting, crispy addition to hot or cold grains.