Small Changes, Big Results Series
Part I: Healthy Fats
Every January, many adults make resolutions to get healthy by eating better, exercising more, and getting more sleep.
We seem to know that these things are important to our own health. And yet, the impact that diet, movement, and sleep have on attention and learning is frequently overlooked. As a parent or teacher, it isn’t too late to think about adding these things to your student’s daily routine (or even yours). Small changes today could bring about major changes in your child’s life.
In this series of blog posts, Small Changes Big Results, we will discuss some small changes you can make that can positively impact your child’s learning and behavior. We will begin by looking at the importance of healthy fats to your child’s brain.
Feeding Your Brain
Studies have shown that what we eat affects how we feel, how we think, and how much energy we have. Memory, thinking, and attention are strongly influenced by food. Optimal nutrition is the most important factor in keeping your brain healthy. Because of this fact, small changes to our children’s diet and nutrition is a great place to start making big impacts.
Let’s Look at Healthy Fats First
Believe it or not, the most important nutrient for the brain is fat because the brain is actually made up of fat. Omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, are essential for brain function. In fact 60 percent of the brain is made up of DHA. DHA is essential for the brain cells’ ability to transmit signals to one another. This is what makes learning and memory possible.
Studies have shown that dopamine activity, which is critical for brain function, is improved with essential fatty acid consumption. A study from UCLA published in the May 15, 2012 edition of the Journal of Physiology showed that fatty acids can counteract the disruption in memory and learning causing by diets high in fructose. Another study published in Plos One in June 2013, showed that lower levels of DHA were linked to poorer reading and working memory performance as well as behavioral problems in healthy school aged children. Research has also shown that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to have low omega-3 fat levels.
In the last 150 years, our fat intake has greatly changed. We need to make sure that we are consuming the best fats for brain health. For instance, if the majority of our fat intake is from trans fats and beef fat, our cell membranes become stiff and hard like lard. This makes it difficult for information to pass from one cell to the next. However, if they are made from omega-3 fats, our cell membranes will become fluid and flexible, allowing easy communication between cells.
Where Do We Get Healthy Fats?
Omega-3 fats come from wild things, which can be hard to find in today’s society. Our bodies can’t produce enough DHA, so we must supplement through diet. The best sources of DHA are cold water fish (salmon, sardines, herring, halibut), walnuts, omega-3 eggs, and flaxseed. Dr. Daniel Amen, author of many books, including Healing ADD Revised Edition: The Breakthrough Program that Allows You to See and Heal the 7 Types of ADD, recommends supplementing dietary intake of omega-3s.
It is important to realize that not all supplements are created equal; it is important to choose quality products. Third-party testing for independent verification of active ingredients and contaminants is crucial. Also, consider from where the products are sourced.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you already take essential fatty acids? Are you considering adding them to your diet?
Fats are just one piece of the “nutrition puzzle.” For Part II of the Small Changes Big Results series, we will look at the importance of protein to brain health — Protein for Improved Focus and Attention .
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