Fat is one of the three main macronutrients (along with carbohydrates and protein) that our bodies need to function and survive.
Getting enough healthy fats is essential for growth and development, especially for kids.
Why do we need fat?
- To build the brain. Fat gives the structure to cell membranes and myelin (the fatty sheath surrounding nerve fibres which helps with nerve transmission).
- To help with cell signalling and repair.
- To produce hormones
- To absorb fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K).
- For healthy skin.
- To maintain body temperature.
- Its provides a source of fuel for the body.
- It protects vital organs by holding them in place and cushioning them.
Plus many more important roles!
This article is going to focus on the benefits of fat for the brain.
First of all, let me explain a bit more about the different types of fat we can eat.
There are 3 main categories of fats: unsaturated, saturated and transfats.
This category of fat can be broken down further into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
- Canola oils
- Omega 3 fatty acids: Seeds and oily fish such as tuna and salmon
- Omega 6 fatty acids: Nuts, seeds, vegetable oils (corn, safflower)
This has been generally simplified to include the following foods
- Dairy foods; butter, cream, full fat milk and cheese.
- Palm and coconut oil.
However the reality is a bit more complex. Most foods contain a mix of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
Dairy will generally have more saturated fat than unsaturated fat, but meats will generally have more unsaturated fat. And an organic, free to roam animal will have a much better fatty acid profile than a caged or intensively farmed animal.
- Packaged and processed foods i.e. fast foods, deep fried foods, baked goods.
- Trans fats are often hidden on food labels with terms such as ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’, so be cautious!
The foods we eat have a big impact on the structure and health of our brains.
Eating healthy fats daily can help nourish, protect, and support optimum brain function.
The best fatty foods to give your child a brain boost
Oily fish: These fish are one of the highest sources of omega 3 fatty acids which help to build membranes around brain cells and improve the structure of brain neurons. They also play a role in brain development and reducing inflammation.
Salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna and sardines are great sources and essential brain foods.
Eggs: A high source of B vitamins – B6, B12, and folic acid, known to reduce levels of homocysteine, which is important for good capacity to think clearly.
Egg yolk contains high amounts of choline which is essential for the memory-boosting brain chemical called acetylcholine.
The saturated fat in eggs helps to boost memory skills and overall brain health.
Avocados: Avocados are a rich source of healthy monounsaturated fats, helping to lower the risk of brain issues by promoting healthy blood flow throughout the body and brain.
Increased blood flow to the brain equals a more functional brain!
Nuts: Nuts contain a great amount of unsaturated fats (including omega 3’s and 6’s) and vitamin E. These help your brain function better.
Great nuts to include in your child’s diet include almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and pecans.
Unsalted, raw nuts are best, and a great snack or salad addition.
Seeds: Chia seeds and flax seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants. The omega 3s work to protect the blood vessels and may reduce inflammation in the brain. They also play a role in brain development.
Pumpkin seeds are a high source of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills. They also contain magnesium, B vitamins and tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin (the happy chemical) in the brain.
Olive oil: A rich source of monounsaturated fat which helps to improve memory and protect the brain. You can easily add olive oil as a salad dressing, or use as a cooking oil.
Dark chocolate: Perfect as a treat or dessert. Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant, which are essential for brain health. Antioxidants work to reduce oxidative stress in the highly susceptible brain, helping to prevent cognitive decline and brain illnesses.
Dark chocolate is also seen to improve brain plasticity, a crucial aspect of children’s learning ability.
Always make sure to choose high quality chocolate with at least 70% cocoa.
Cooking oils: Coconut oil, butter, and ghee are sources of saturated fats which are good for cooking as they are heat stable.
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a fatty acid that is readily used by the body and brain for energy.
Butter and ghee contain linoleic acids, associated with metabolic health promoting properties.
Ghee may be a good option for some dairy free or casein free diets as the milk proteins are removed.
Fats to limit in the diet
Industrial seed oils such as soybean, canola and corn oils. These oils imbalance the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio in the body, and are often full of additives. Instead, choose traditional fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and ghee.
Trans fats: should be avoided completely. These include processed/packaged foods and fast foods.
Fat is not the enemy.
Fat is a critical macronutrient, just like carbohydrate or protein.
The type of fat matters, and the most important thing to remember is to avoid transfats. This is the fat in processed food and takeaways.
Do you feel overwhelmed about what to feed your child. Do you feel like you need more personalised guidance?
I would be happy to work with you and your family to make sure what you are eating is feeding your brains!