A recent study found a diet high in trans fats shrinks the brain and increases the risk of dementia. Trans fats are found in fast foods, processed foods, margarine, shortening, chips, flaky pastries, many fried foods, and many popular convenience foods. They can be identified in a list of ingredients as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil.
Diet high in vitamins, omega 3s protect brain
On the other hand, study participants who ate diets high in vitamins B, C, D, and E and omega 3 fatty acids were found to have larger, healthier brains than their junk-food eating counterparts. These nutrients are found in a diet high in vegetables, fruits, fish, and raw nuts and seeds.
Even small amounts of trans fats damaging
Although a few studies in the past have examined the link between brain health and trans fats, this study by Oregon Health and Science University in Portland was the first to measure blood levels of trans fats in relation to brain volume using MRI brain scans.
The most sobering observation was that blood levels of trans fat levels were not that high, a testament to the damage they cause even in small amounts.
Researchers suggest that trans fats in the diet replace healthy fats in the brain’s cell membranes, which affects the ability of the brain to function properly.
Brain is made of mostly fat
Cell membranes communicate with other cells and determine what is allowed to enter and exit the cell. Fatty acids make up a significant portion of cell membranes, brain tissue, and myelin sheaths, which protect neurons that communicate with one another. In fact, about 60 percent of the brain is made up of fat, coming from fats in the diet.
Trans fats replace good fats in brain
When trans fats become part of the cells and nerve sheaths they replace vital brain fats, such as DHA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid. As a result, cellular communication suffers, the cells degenerate, brain volume shrinks, and memory and cognition suffer.
Trans fats restrict blood flow to brain
Trans fats also contribute to the clogging of veins and arteries, which affects blood flow to the brain. Constricting blood flow to the brain robs the brain of oxygen and vital nutrients, another factor that degenerates, or shrinks, the brain and affects function.
The good news is that a diet high in vitamins B, C, D, and E, and omega 3 fatty acids protects the brain from shrinkage and decline. The study subjects who ate a diet abundant in these nutrients consistently scored better on mental performance tests and showed less brain shrinkage.
Eating to protect brain health
Trans fats are closer to plastic than food, significantly impacting brain health, and it’s best to strictly avoid them.
Instead, aim for a brain-friendly diet that includes leafy green vegetables, seafood, eggs, olive oil, nuts, avocadoes, colorful fruits, nuts, and meats.
Also, eliminating all sweets and sodas, minimizing starchy foods (grains, potatoes, legumes, etc.), and eliminating foods to which you are intolerant (gluten and dairy, for example) will reduce inflammation, another factor that shrinks the brain and steals memory. An allergy-elimination diet is a good way to ferret out which foods may be causing inflammation.