Discoveries about how the human brain works are constantly revealing new clues to how we can tap into our greatest human potential, prevent and reverse disease, and enhance our emotional experiences. One thing that's certain: the spongy, coiled command center is as dependent on nutrition as the rest of our body. But it's often the last organ we think about eating to benefit. Strange, don't you think?
If you've ever experienced brain fog, difficulty concentrating and focusing, memory loss, depression and mood swings, you're not alone. Millions of Americans regularly experience issues like these, which may be symptoms related to a deficiency in essential fatty acids. It's a cycle: the greater the deficiency, the more we forget to eat the right foods in order to avoid it. Ah, if there's one thing a brain loves, it's a good irony.
Credit our shift to a highly processed diet over the last half-century for depleting us of a number of critical nutrients on a regular basis (and replacing them with chemicals, refined flours and sugars, saturated fats, and artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners…but, I digress). And fats, some of which we now know play a crucial role in our health, were harshly vilified over the last several decades, believed to be the main cause for our nation's expanding waistline (when, in fact, good fats actually help maintain healthy weight!). The massive move to the ubiquitous 'fat-free' category and away from healthy fats has become quite a challenge to correct, but it's ever so important that we understand exactly how to get healthy fats into our diet on a regular basis, and why they're so important, especially for our brains.
First, the why: EFAs (essential fatty acids) are "essential" because the body cannot make them and requires lots of them. They include DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and linoleic acids found in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. EFAs are critically important to our brain's function; they enhance the fluidity of cell membranes and improve cellular communication. The addition of EFAs to our diet has been cited as one of the reasons for the profound evolution of human cognitive development, according to experts Steven G. Pratt and Kathy Matthews (authors of Superfoods Rx).
When we're regularly consuming foods rich in healthy fats, concentration improves, and so does our memory. We're less prone to depression. Our focus and cognitive skills seem sharper. And it's not just our brains that benefit: the cardiovascular system needs EFAs for proper functioning. Balancing our Omega 3:6 ratio can help decrease inflammation. (Excessive inflammation is strongly connected to cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments including arthritis.) Our skin, hair, and nails rely on EFAs as well.
The Western diet's lean towards either zero fat or too many of the wrong kinds (a.k.a. saturated animal products, partially hydrogenated soy and corn oil) is a breeding ground for misinformation about which fats to eat, and how often.
Some Tips on How to Get Healthy Fats:
-Add Omega-fat rich oils into your diet daily: Include olive, flax, hemp, walnut and coconut oils. Try drizzling them on top of salads (not the coconut!), mixing into oatmeal, adding to smoothies, or use instead of butter on bread. Only coconut oil can tolerate being heated (light heat on olive oil is ok), and all provide your brain with healthy, nutritious fats.
-Supplement: If you're experiencing symptoms of EFA deficiencies, such as difficulty concentrating, depression, mood swings, and brain fog, you might want to explore a concentrated EFA supplement in addition to dietary changes. Local health food stores or a nutritionist are great places to start.
-Keep a journal: The brain is a dynamic and highly adaptable organ. But it's easy to forget exactly what it felt like to…forget, or to be depressed, unfocused, and all fogged up. As you're introducing healthy fats into your diet, keep note of how you feel. How long did it take your brain to "get going" in the mornings? Has that changed? What's your mood like? Have you been impressed with your memory lately? Measure the benefits of your brain on Omega fats by documenting the transition to a new you.
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Claims on this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We encourage you to do your own research.. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.
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