We eat because our brain and body have requirements for energy, tissue protection, repair and building. We eat to help the structure and functioning of cells, particularly in the brain. We eat to provide the vitamins and minerals to maintain the functioning health of our brain and blood vessels. In short, our brain and body have functioning requirements that are supported and maintained by the foods we eat and drink.
Unfortunately, our culture seems to have lost sight of those needs. We eat foods that are easily available and promoted on TV. Consequently, we consume an inordinate amount of simple sugars, foods with added sugars and saturated fats.
In “Why Do We Eat-Part 1” I highlighted the need for water and the problem with red meats easily available to us in supermarkets and fast food restaurants. In “Why Do We Eat-Part 2” I highlighted simple sugars. “Why Do We Eat?-Part 3” highlights the fats, or fatty acids, we ingest. It all starts with understanding the difference between non-essential and essential fats., or fatty acids.
NON-ESSENTIAL FATS are those fatty acids that our BODY PRODUCES. Saturated fatty acid and cholesterol are non-essential fats our body produces. We need saturated fatty acid and cholesterol to build and repair tissue. Cholesterol is a steroidal fatty acid and comprises about 10% of all the tissue in our brain and body.
We produce approximately 75-80% of all the saturated fatty acid and cholesterol our brain and body need. Saturated fatty acid does not contain cholesterol. But, when we consume foods with saturated fat our body produces cholesterol.
Saturated fatty acid that’s not needed is stored someplace in the body. That leads to increased body mass (BMI) and weight. Eating foods high in saturated fats will increase body mass and weight while producing unhealthy levels of cholesterol that get deposited on blood vessels affecting brain function.
ESSENTIAL FATS are those fatty acids that our body DOES NOT PRODUCE. Essential fatty acids are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The foods that you eat have to provide them. Essential fatty acids are UNSATURATED FATS which are useable anywhere in your body with the exception of your brain. Your brain is fussy. It can’t store fuel or materials so it requires an unsaturated fatty acid that it can use pretty much as it’s received. That unsaturated fatty acid is Omega-3 fatty acid.
There are actually four Omega, unsaturated, fatty acids; Omega-3, Omega-6, Omega-7 and Omega-9. Omega-7 does not play a role in brain function. Omega-9 is a non-essential fatty acid that the body produces when Omega-3 is unavailable. Although a substitute, Omega-9 is a very poor substitute for Omega-3 fatty acid. The receptors used by brain cells to receive Omega-3 fatty acid are the same as those used to receive Omega-6 fatty acid, but Omega-6 serves a different purpose. Omega-6 fatty acid helps to ensure that the blood in the brain and body will clot when exposed, but does not contain an anti-inflammatory like Omega-3. FOODS RICH IN OMEGA-3 FATTY ACID …
Foods rich in Omega-6 unsaturated fatty acid are processed food, fast foods, vegetable oils, and farm (pen) raised, grain fed beef. These are the foods that comprise a good portion of the western diet.
Although the brain cell receptors are the same for Omega-3 and Omega-6, the amount of Omega-6 fatty acid in the normal western diet blocks brain cell reception of the much needed Omega-3 fatty acid. Blocking Omega-3 from cell receptors in the brain can have a significant impact on brain health and brain function. First, without the anti-inflammatory in Omega-3 inflammation flourishes blocking cell function. Second, preventing, or minimizing, the receipt of Omega-3 fatty acid reduces the availability of much needed material for the repair and building of brain tissue. The combination of these two things lets tissue inflammation run wild in the brain interfering with cognitive functioning.
Foods rich in Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid are cold water fish (e.g., salmon, herring, tuna, halbut, cod, sardines, mackerel and trout), ground flak seed, walnuts and almonds, green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale, broccoli and darker colored lettuce, pok-choy), legumes (kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, lima beans and peas), summer and winter squash, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, zucchini, citrus fruits, melons and cherries.
Remember, your brain is incredibly resilient. You can regain and maintain a healthy, effectively functioning brain at any age. What you eat and drink is a great place to start.
Make water your drink of choice and stay properly hydrated. Minimize your intake of simple sugars and saturated fats. Eat whole grain breads and brown rice. Eat foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acid. Build your brain’s defense force and help prevent inflammation by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Make sure you get a good amount of protein daily, but if you’re going to eat red meat make sure that it’s free range and grass fed.