After being misled for years, we now know healthy fats are not only good for us, they’re essential for a functioning brain and body.
In this second and final look at fat, we discuss more specifically why it’s important for those on the autism spectrum (or anyone with a brain😉) to include healthy fats in their diet.
One should eat to live, not live to eat.
Eating is always a decision, nobody forces your hand to pick up food and put it into your mouth.
Action Ideas (Ideas to get ya thinkin’. Not medical advice.)
The unbalanced state of Omega-3, -6 and -9 fats
Omega-3s and omega-6s come from what we ingest. Omega 9s can be manufactured within the body so it isn’t of the same concern.
Omega-3s helps support mental health and fight chronic inflammation. Omega 3s, combined with omega-6s, support brain function when kept in balance. ‘When kept in balance’ is where the problem lies.
The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 should be 1:2 – 1:4. But, if you’re eating a Western diet, it’s probably 1:10 – 1:50. Not good. Our omega-3/omega-6 ratio is out of balance.
Since the omega-3s and omega-6s are related to brain functioning, I’m sure you’re not surprised, some research has shown the addition of omega-3s reduces symptoms of autism.
You’ll also not be surprised to hear, omega-6s are often found in processed foods like snack foods, baked goods, and fast foods.
See Part 1 why getting your omega-3s from fish oil pills, as is commonly suggested, might not be as good as getting them from whole foods. Better to reduce the amount of omega-6s by reducing processed foods.
The detrimental effects of poor-quality fats on the brain
As we know from last week, good quality fats help our basic building blocks, the cells, to work as they are meant to.
Eating poor quality fats produces chronic inflammation. In the brain, chronic inflammation causes overactivated neurons, which leads to cognitive, mood, and memory impairment. It can also reduce the process of neurogenesis, i.e. the process of making new neurons. Finally, it inhibits neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to repair and/or reorganise itself to adapt and learn.
You now understand the importance of anyone with a neuro-condition to eat healthy fats. Especially when people autism spectrum have been found to have up to 70% less fatty brains.
The detrimental effects of poor-quality fats on the gut
Our gut has been called our second brain because of its direct back-and-forth communication with the brain and because it’s also responsible for producing some of the brain’s neurotransmitters.
Unfortunately, bad fats also affect our guts, which in turn, affects our brains.
If we look at our microbiome, we can see if our gut is supporting our brain health or not. For more details on this topic, check out a recent article of ours.
Two relevant facts here. First, flora diversity is important in a healthy gut. Bad fats reduce its diversity of good bacteria and promotes the proliferation of bad bacteria. Good fats, on the other hand, support gut flora diversity.
Second, an unhealthy microbiome often leads to many other conditions that are related to impaired brain functioning.
- Obesity. Dr. Daniel Amen talks about eating our way to or out of a dinosaur brain, as he likes to call it. As our bodies get bigger, our brains get smaller. Also, the bigger we are, the less likely we are to move our bodies. The brain likes movement to encourage a variety of neural connections and to increase oxygen.
- Malnutrition. Nutrients are essential for a functioning brain.
- Anemia. Low iron is related to cognitive impairment and mood disorders. People on the autism spectrum have a higher rate of anemia compared with the general population.
- Sleep disturbances. Sleep is needed for almost every aspect of life. In addition, poor sleep habits often impact other members of the household.
- Mood disorders. This factor is one of the symptoms of autism.
For decades, we were misled about fat. We now know the intake of fat is vital, the type of fat matters, and also, it’s not the primary reason for becoming overweight.
Two common-sense recommendations:
- Add more whole foods to your diet, specifically veggies. After you’ve increased your food options, have upped your nutrition, and have broken out of your old eating routine, then reduce the number of processed foods.
- Follow the healthy fat chart (found at the end), shifting your choices towards the left.
- A bonus suggestion: If you’ve been avoiding fats for fear of weight gain, add some healthy fats into your diet but don’t eat them at the same time you eat your carbs.
Sleep is essential to making healthy decisions. When we’re overtired, we tend to do what’s easy instead of what’s best for us. Like eating junk food. Try one of our large and luxurious 10 lb weighted blanket. Give your brain a chance to heal as you feed it what it needs (the brain does most of its healing and cleaning during sleep. It works hard as we snooze).
Join me this week in becoming a fathead.
Providing calmness & comfort, learning & laughter,
P.S. Low-fat foods that have been promoted as healthy not only don’t include healthy fat, they also include more salt and sugar. To create a pleasing flavour, food companies adjust the triumvirate of fat, sugar, and salt. When one goes down, the other two go up. Low-fat means higher salt and sugar.
P.P.S. Until recently, we've always included all of our sources. We will be including them again soon as we finalize our new format.
If you would like all of our sources for this article and Part 1, please send an email to info<@>innovaid.ca.
Thanks for your patience!