For a long time we have been advised against eating saturated fats for the fear that they might lead to bad cholesterol, obesity and other problems. Indeed, fat is super high in calories (more so than carbohydrates) and certainly doesn’t feel healthy to eat. There are nine calories in a gram of fat, which is compared to only four in the same amount of carbs. That’s pretty damning!
In reality though, fat actually is not the enemy and there’s a growing suspicion that we may have had it wrong all along. For starters, it’s important to consider that calories are only one small factor to consider even when we’re talking about weight loss and gain. What’s more important is ‘glycaemic index’ or how quickly the sugar is released into the blood. In order for calories to be stored as fat there needs to be an insulin response, and for this to happen there needs to be a sudden increase in blood sugar. That sudden spike only comes from carbs, because fat gets digested more slowly and the sugar is released gradually. Carbs then will get stored as fat and they will make you quickly crave more food. On the other hand, fats will gradually fuel you throughout the day.
But more to the point, fats also have a ton of important roles around the body and are crucial for a huge number of our biological functions. And many of the most critical of these jobs occur in the brain. The moral of the story is that saturated fat won’t make you gain weight, but it may help to boost your brain power. Let’s look at how…
First of all, saturated fat provides a steady flow of energy as we have already discussed. This is highly important for your brain function, because your brain requires so much energy to run. If you rely on carbs for your energy supply then your brain will get constant spikes and troughs in its energy supply which leads to fluctuations in performance and your ability to concentrate and problem solve throughout the day. Not good. Furthermore, studies suggest that too much glucose can end up causing a type of ‘burnout’ in the brain cells which leads them to become intolerant. So swapping some of your carbs for saturated fats will right away give your brain a slower and more stable supply of energy which is precisely what it wants.
Better yet, if you eat a type of fat called MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides) which is found in coconut oil, then your body will produce ketones which are a high-energy fuel that is designed specifically for the brain. Ketones are preferred by the brain for a range of functions and thus can lead to a further improved cognitive performance. You can also get ketones from fasting, but adding coconut milk to your morning coffee seems like a more delicious and pleasant way to go about it.
For Building the Brain
Essentially our brains are obese. The human brain is made up of 60% fat, which as you might imagine suggests that dietary fat might support its composition. A lot of this comes from saturated fats, so if you don’t eat your fat then you’re neglecting your brain of crucial building blocks.
For Brain Function
For energy and brain composition, it seems that saturated fat is highly important. This may come as a surprise to some, but what isn’t a surprise is the importance of unsaturated fats. One study published in the Journal of Neurochemistry shows just how important dietary fat is for brain function. Here, participants had monounsaturated fats from canola oil and other sources added to their diets and saw changes in their brain that improved memory and learning. This was due to an increased production of acetylcholine – one of the vital neurotransmitters used in forming memories. The powerful effects of polyunsaturated fats omega 3 and 6 on the brain have long been known and may help to combat age-related cognitive decline.
Your mood and hormones play a huge role in your productivity as well as your general wellbeing and happiness. This is another very important reason to get more fat in your diet, as this is what we use to build many neurotransmitters and hormones. Particularly those fats found in butter, lard, palm oil and coconut oil play crucial roles in regulating the release of insulin, while cholesterol is used to create steroid hormones like testosterone which aids in drive and determination.
In other words then, fat is highly important for the brain and that includes saturated fat. While institutions like the NHS continue to advise minimising saturated fat in the diet, a huge number of other experts and researchers advise the precise opposite. It’s no coincidence that the highly popular ‘Bulletproof Coffee’ aimed at enhancing brain function involves adding a lump of butter to your coffee in the mornings.
Why not try increasing your intake of saturated fat and essential fatty acids and see what it does for your brain function? You may be surprised…