Feed Your Brain With “Good” Fats

Cognitive decline, from “senior moments” to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is linked to cerebral circulation – the blood supply to the brain. Good cerebral circulation improves cognitive function, including memory, and reduces the risk of strokes. It supplies the brain with more oxygen and glucose and protects neurons from free-radical damage.

The single best dietary change you can make to improve cerebral circulation is to reduce the amount of unhealthy fat you eat and switch to healthy fats in your diet. Too much unhealthy fat also creates free radicals through oxidation, which is especially bad for your brain, as it is composed largely of fat.

There are three types of fat commonly found in your diet: Saturated fat (most harmful), polyunsaturated fat (less harmful) and monounsaturated fat (least harmful). Saturated fat does not dissolve easily in your body and can build up on the walls of your blood vessels, causing heart attacks, strokes and reduced cerebral circulation. Saturated fats are found in margarine, shortening and animal fats.
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Polyunsaturated fat is not quite as bad as saturated fats, but can still cause high levels of oxidation and free radical damage in your body. Corn oil, safflower oil and soybean oil are examples of polyunsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats are the least harmful, because they are more stable than other fats and don’t become free radicals as easily. Monounsaturated fats also increase the efficiency of “good” cholesterol and keep “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidizing.

Here’s a list of common monounsaturated fats, by fat percentage:

  • Extra virgin olive oil – 8%
  • Flaxseed oil – 16%
  • Canola oil – 22%

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, are full of health benefits and can reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary artery disease, strokes and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Probably the easiest way to use more healthy fats and less unhealthy fats is to shift to a more “mediterranean” diet, which emphasizes fresh, healthy food, more vegetables and grains and less meat.

Following a Mediterranean diet is easy for most people, because, unlike most diets which focus on “no” (no carbs, no fat, no meat, no sugar), the focus is on “yes.” It focuses on what you can have – high quality, fresh, healthy food. The healthy fats in a Mediterranean diet from fish, nuts and olive oil keep you feeling full longer, so you’re not tempted to eat as much or snack between meals.

The healthy fats found in the Mediterranean diet are the key to preventing Alzheimer’s disease and other circulatory health issues. It’s a rich menu of choices, with the monounsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts and avocados, and the omega-3 fatty acids from cold-water fish like salmon, tuna and sardines. By eating fresh, and avoiding as many processed foods as possible, unhealthy fats, such as trans-fats, are reduced, which is great for your cardiovascular health.

Olive oil is used in almost everything prepared and eaten in Mediterranean countries, from pasta to vegetables to salads. Dip your bread in extra-virgin olive oil as a chip or cracker substitute, or use it to make a fresh pesto sauce for pasta. Why is olive oil so good for you? Researchers have found that a compound in olive oil, olecanthal, helps reduce inflammation, helping to prevent heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Other research supports eating the Mediterranean way, with healthy fats. A study of 2500 people found that, after 12 years, those following the Mediterranean diet reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 40%.

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