Why Low-Fat Diets Wreck Your Brain Health + What to Do About It
These days, we’re struggling with an undeniable epidemic of brain problems.
Anxiety, brain fog, fatigue, depression, ADD, autism, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Multiple Sclerosis — the long list of conditions affects nearly everyone in some way.
And with more people than ever before battling these brain issues, we have to ask ourselves: why?
While there are many complex reasons for the decline in brain health in the modern world, let’s talk about what I feel is one of the main culprits.
The Fear of Fat: Why we’re Missing Out On Crucial Nutrients
For years, fat and cholesterol have been demonized in our diets. Since the latter part of the 20th century, we’ve been told these nutrients would clog our arteries and cause us to gain weight, and we’ve avoided them.
Even today this belief remains — but its days are numbered. One 2014 study in the medical journal Neurology found that, contrary to popular belief, there might actually be no association between high total cholesterol and stroke risk. In fact, other research has shown that low cholesterol may actually increase the likelihood of death. At the same time, some of the many side effects of statins — cholesterol-lowering drugs — include memory loss and brain dysfunction.
The truth is that as the fattiest organ in your body, your brain is composed of 60% fat, and as much as 25% of your body's cholesterol is found in the brain.
So why deprive your brain of the very nutrients it is made of?
Consuming cholesterol and fat is critical to the health and function of the brain — but for years we've been starving our brain from its favorite food.
Sugar Vs. Fat: What Should You Fuel Your Brain With?
Today the standard Western diet centers on many forms of the very same thing: sugar.
From the refined carbohydrates of junk foods to breads, pastas, fruit and juices, sugar makes up most of what we're eating. But is it the best form of energy for your brain?
One 2013 study found that higher blood sugars in non-diabetics decreased function in areas of the brain affected by Alzheimer's disease (AD). It's one reason why AD is now often referred to in the medical literature as "type 3 diabetes."
On the other hand, a ketogenic diet — where fat, not sugar, is your primary source of energy — has been shown to do some remarkable things for your brain health.
And healthy fats are a slow, sustainable form of energy, unlike the sugary roller coaster many find themselves on. After all, biology knows best: as babies we were all born relying on fat in the form of breast milk for brain development and energy.
Bottom line: For our brain to work properly, it requires a lot of energy. And from a biological and evolutionary perspective, the most sustainable form of energy for optimal brain health is good fats.
What Now? 3 Ways to Better Your Brain Health
1. Conduct Health Labs
There are many great lab tests that I recommend to help determine if your brain is healthy or not. For example, look into having homocysteine and fasting insulin tests done. These labs can give your insight into your specific case, as well as where to go from there.
2. Feed Your Brain Good Fat
Changing the way you view fat and cholesterol can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve spent years of your life avoiding them.
So, start by educating yourself on the best sources of fats for your brain. And be sure to learn about which fats are most effective at decreasing inflammation, which is linked to just about every brain problem.
For example, arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acids are two forms of fat that play an important role in brain health. The most bio-available sources for these brain foods? Grass-fed meats and wild caught fish.
Coconut oil is also a wonderful plant-based fat source for your brain: the MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil found in coconut oil has been shown to improve cognitive function. Monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil and avocados are also beneficial to your brain.
Be sure to start adding in fat slowly. After years of low-fat diets, it’ll take your system a while to adjust to eating healthy fats.
3. Consider Personalized Functional Medicine Care
Functional medicine realizes what works for one person may not work for you. In general, adding in more healthy fats is wise move. But how much is right for you?
The ideal ratio of fats, carbohydrates and proteins should be determined on an individual basis. Some people don't do well on ketogenic diets, for example, and targeted brain natural medicines depend on your unique needs.