Control Your Brain Fats and Improve Your Mood
These days we know quite a lot about fats. We know, for example, that Western diets contain too much in the way of saturated fats. Saturated fats come mainly in dairy products like cheese and butter and we know these aren't good for us. Perhaps less well known is the fact that saturated fats are in probiotic full-fat yogurts and even in intensively farmed animals where they have a significantly higher ratio of saturated fat to protein.
Processed food should be another no-go area. By processed, I'm referring to things like fast foods, cakes, pastries, biscuits, dressings and spreads of the sort you can find in any store. The manufacturing process often uses a form of fat (‘trans' fat) that prolongs shelf life. The problem is their effect on the body, one of which is to inhibit the enzymes that convert omega-3 and omega-6 into a form the brain can utilize.
The brain needs essential fatty acids in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 and these can only be obtained though our diet. Insufficient levels negatively affect the cell membranes and the functioning of neurons. Levels of serotonin decrease and blood flow in the brain is less effective. Appropriate levels by contrast may even protect brain cells from damage or death, a feature of chronic stress, and help prevent and treat depression. Various studies have demonstrated improvements in mood from high doses of omega-3 in patients who failed to respond to fluoxetine (Prozac).
What does all this mean to the likes of you and me? Well, the dietary side of things appears self explanatory, but it's not really as simple as eating more oily fish. If you planned to increase your levels of omega-3 through fish consumption alone you're looking to a minimum intake of 400g of fresh tuna a day. You also need to factor in the very real issue of fish contamination. The FDA warns pregnant mothers to consume no more than 300g per week; around half a can of tuna, because of fish contamination from dioxins, mercury and other pollutants.
You could of course check every can, packet and bottle for its contents and weigh up whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Many people do put the time and effort into this but most of us (myself included) have neither the time nor the inclination. There are simpler and safer ways to nourish your brain, but it's likely you will need to change your habits. A safe source of nutrition for the brain comes from purchasing ultra-purified fish oils and/or marine algae. You can also change dietary habits in the form of reducing or stopping your intake of processed foods. Where you can, grill or steam food instead of frying it. Use olive oil for frying and dressings. If your budget allows, go for organic or free-range meats. Look for substitutes to dairy foods (milk, cheese, butter, ice cream) this can be in the form of soya, tofu and vegetable substitutes.