One of the strangest memories that I remember from my childhood is being force-fed my daily dosage of cod liver oil. Does this sound familiar? My mother was very diligent about it, every morning before breakfast she would pour a spoonful of cod liver oil down my throat. She used to say,” Son, these Fatty acids will protect you from the cold and make your brain work better”.
Fast forward 40 years…. I now firmly believe my mother was right and come to realise the massive importance of the” Fats” we consume when it comes to fueling our brain.
That’s right, in today’s blog I will share with you “what everyone ought to know about Fatty acids”.
I first understood the importance of consuming the right fats whilst listening to Dr Cate Shanahan, author of the book Deep Nutrition, who believes that a diet high in “ crappy fats” like the vegetable oils and trans fat found in french fries, doughnuts and most packaged processed foods is far worse than a diet high in sugar. Her point is that you can always lower your sugar spike, by going for a run, dropping down to do some burpees, consuming some bitter melon extracts or apple cider vinegar... you get the point! However the same cannot be said about getting rid of those crappy fats.
Needless to say, I was intrigued and extremely surprised!!!
What are Fatty Acids?
Fatty acids can be divided into four general categories: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Saturated fatty acids and trans fats are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, although these associations are not uniformly supported in the literature. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid, have been studied as a potential therapy for a variety of medical conditions because of their suspected anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to provide some benefit to patients with cystic fibrosis and may have a protective effect against dementia.
So why are fatty acids so important?
You have probably heard people say “ you are what you eat” and if you follow that concept the next step is to say “ you are fat”, not literally, but you are made of fat.
Every living cell in our body is surrounded by a membrane responsible for allowing compounds to move freely in and out of the cell so it can function properly. These membranes are primarily formed from the fats we consume. This means that how flexible and permeable these membranes are, depend on the quantity, but most importantly the quality, of the fats you consume.
So if your diet is high on damaged fatty acid like those found in canola, corn or sunflower oil, or any oil that is rancid and exposed to too much light and heat, then those damaged fats get incorporated into the building block of your cells. In other words, your cells take the damaged fats, incorporate them into the membrane that wraps around the cell. And that’s how you become what you eat! Think about it for a minute, as this principle also applies to your brain!
Why is this so crucial for proper brain function?
There are copious amounts of fats in the brain. In fact, the brain is composed of and uses so much fat ( approximately 60% of the brain is fat) in a vast array of functions.
- Insulating the brain
- Protecting the brain from shock
- Helping the brain maintain a healthy temperature.
- Helping in the proper electrical signal transmission across the neuron synapses
Here’s the scary part, these” bad fats” get incorporated into your cell membrane whether you exercise or not. So a diet that is low-fat or fat-free or that consists of bad fats can significantly damage your brain health. So what’s the answer?
A good brain fuelling strategy starts first with the complete elimination of every source of damage, highly reactive fats that are found in most brands of potato chips, french fries, fried packaged foods, fatty foods that have been heated at too high a temperature or exposed to too much pressure for the fat to retain its natural structure.
The second part of this strategy is to increase your consumption of healthy fats from natural and whole food sources. So where do these healthy fats come from?
Here is a list of foods rich in healthy fats!
One 201 gram (g) avocado contains approximately 29 grams (g) of fat and 322 calories. It is high in a monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid. The vitamin K in avocados helps prevent blood clots in the brain and been shown to improve spatial working memory and attention span.
Avocados are high in fibre, with one fruit providing 13.5 g of the recommended 25 grams for females and 38 grams for males per day. Avocados also contain a substance called lutein, which may be necessary for eye health and are a rich source of potassium.
Beet juice contains concentrated nitrates that decrease blood pressure and improve cognitive performance. In addition, the nitric oxide contained in beet juice helps increase neurovascular function and circulation in the brain.
Beet juice may also help your stamina when you exercise. In one study, people who drank beet juice for 6 days had better stamina during intense exercise.
Blueberries, cocoa, extra virgin coconut oil.
These are all bundled in the same category as they all contain high levels of flavonoids and flavonols which can help the brain with oxidative stress. Coconut oil can also prevent age-related memory loss.
Eating just 1 oz of dark chocolate can be enough to stave off sweet cravings, while providing a good amount (9 g) of healthy fat, as well as other nutrients, such as potassium and calcium. Dark chocolate also contains 41 milligrams (mg) of magnesium, which is approximately 13 per cent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adult females.
Bone broth contains a high level of glycine, a nonessential amino acid that can improve neurological function by enhancing memory.
Egg yoke contains choline which helps improve both verbal and visual memory.
While older studies have suggested that eggs increase cholesterol, newer research disputes this. A 2018 study carried out on Chinese adults, for example, reported that up to 1 egg a day might lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Kale and Romaine lettuce
The nutrients in kale and romaine lettuce can be beneficial in preventing cognitive impairment and dementia.
Olive oil and nuts
Nuts have many benefits, according to several studies. They are rich in healthful fats, protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytosterols that may help prevent cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
There is approximately 14 g of fat in 1 oz of almonds, 19 g in Brazil nuts, and 18.5 g in walnuts. It is best to eat a variety of unsalted nuts to reap the benefits, as each type of nut has a slightly different nutrient profile.
One of the minor constituents of olive oil is oleocanthal, which reduces the neuron damaging effects of ADDLs (amyloid beta-derived diffusible ligands, found in many cosmetics, plastic products and putties). These ADDLs can be a major contributing factor when it comes to increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and both olive oil and walnuts can help in protecting against ADDLs induced oxidative stress and cell death.
Extra-virgin olive oil is full of monounsaturated fats that are good for heart health. It also contains vitamin E, vitamin K, and potent antioxidants. Extra-virgin olive oil has an association with a lower risk of heart disease and death in those with a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Rosemary extract, found in fresh rosemary or rosemary essential oil can help with chronic neurodegenerative diseases.
Fish packed with healthy fatty acids!
Fatty fish are packed with unsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids that play an important role in heart and brain health. The American Heart Association recommends that people eat 2 servings of fatty fish each week. Options include:
- fresh (not canned) tuna
Salmon is naturally high in omega 3 fatty acids and boosts the layer encasing each neuron, thus strengthening the membranes of the cells in your brain and the connection between the neurons themselves. What if you don’t like fish? Or you are a vegetarian or vegan?
Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids for vegetarians and vegans
Other sources of omega 3 fatty acids; Seaweed and Algae
Seaweed and algae are important sources of omega-3 for people on a vegetarian or vegan diet, as they are one of the few plant groups that contain DHA ( is an omega 3 fatty acid that is critical for brain development in infants and proper brain function in adults) and EPA (Another omega 3 fatty acid essential in protecting your cells and particular your neurons).
The DHA and EPA content varies depending on the type of algae and the particular product.
There are many ways to include these foods in the diet. For example:
- Nori is the seaweed that most people use to wrap around sushi.
- Seaweed is a tasty, crispy snack.
- Chlorella and spirulina make a healthful addition to smoothies or oatmeal.
Seaweed is also rich in protein, and it may have antidiabetic, antioxidant, and antihypertensive properties.
More Fatty acids in Chia seeds
Although they are small in size, chia seeds are rich in several nutrients. One ounce (oz) of the seeds contains 8.71 g of fat, much of which is made up of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are, in fact, one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3.
Chia seeds also provide antioxidants, fiber, protein, iron, and calcium.
Chia seeds are an excellent plant-based source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds contain 5.055 g of ALA per 1-oz serving.
People can use these seeds as an ingredient in granola, salads, or smoothies, or they can mix them with milk or yoghurt to make chia pudding. Mixing chia seeds with water also creates an egg substitute that vegans can use. Carry on reading for more seeds!
Hemp seeds contain 2.605 g of ALA in every 3 tablespoons (tbsp).
They are also rich in many nutrients, including:
Research suggests that hemp seeds are good for a person’s heart, digestion, and skin.
Hemp seeds are slightly sweet and make an excellent addition to granola, oats, snack bars, salads, and smoothies.
Flaxseeds provide omega-3 fatty acids and a healthful dose of fiber at the same time. Each 2-tablespoon serving contains almost 9 g of fat, which is almost entirely unsaturated, and 5.6 g fiber.
Flaxseeds are one of the most healthful seeds that people can eat. They are rich in many nutrients, including:
These seeds may reduce blood pressure and improve heart health.
As with chia seeds, people can mix flaxseeds with water to create a vegan egg replacement. It is also easy to incorporate them into the diet by adding them to oatmeal, cereal, or salad.
Now it’s your turn,
Let’s recap, now that you are equipped with a full shopping list, you can seek out the healthy fats from natural sources, avoid damaged or unstable fats ( usually in packaged or processed foods) and give your brain the fuel it needs.
This is just one of the long list of strategies and tactics to live to 100 in a happy, healthy and fulfilling way. Keep in mind, some simple tactics we have seen before like fasting, ketosis, feeding your gut bacteria, exercising, etc…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
More next week, until then, take care my friends.
Smart Living To 100.