Everyone is aware that the over consumption of refined sugars and saturated fats found in junk food can lead to weight gain. They also cause the development of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. What they don’t know is that they can interfere with our mental processes as well.
Over the years, science has recognized that fatty foods can have specific detrimental effects on the brain.
Typically, hormones responsible for neuron growth, a process call neurogenesis, are secreted from body tissues and enter the brain. However, the proliferation of inflammatory molecules and triglyceride after the consumption of junk food block these hormones from entering the brain and doing their job properly.
Once neurogenesis is sacrificed, our memory and learning ability can be affected which in severe cases may lead to Alzheimer’s disease. The production of nerve cells is also important for the control of food intake in the brain and when altered may lead to larger food consumption.
The latest research
Recent studies bring us good news! Fish oils may put the brakes on the detrimental effects of some of the processes triggered in the brain by high-fat diets. Even though they don't appear to have a direct impact on weight loss, they seem to have a beneficial effect on the individual's ability to govern food intake and certainly be a positive step towards improved general health.
Fish oils may take the brakes off the detrimental effects of some of the processes triggered in the brain by high-fat diets.Racha Adib
The research has shown that fatty fish and fish oils can restore the normal function of the hormones by suppressing the growth of inflammatory molecules and triglycerides and allowing the hormones to enter the brain. The main component in fatty fish and fish oil held liable for this effect is “omega-3”, a fatty acid well known over the years for its abundant benefits, above all reducing inflammation in the body. In turn, its anti-inflammatory effect can reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Moreover, Omega-3 consumption can significantly lower depression levels commonly associated with bipolar disorders. Although not supported by current scientific evidence as a primary treatment for ADHD, autism, and other developmental differences, omega-3 fatty acids have gained popularity for children with these conditions. It also appears that omega-3 can have a positive impact on cognitive and neurological development in infants.
Some evidence suggests that people with certain circulatory problems, such as varicose veins, may benefit from the consumption of omega-3 as it may stimulate blood circulation. Finally, eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids appears to reduce blood levels of cholesterol and triglyceride, have mild antihypertensive effects, and decrease the risk of stroke. However more research needs to be done in order to fully confirm these claims.
Get more omega-3
The human body can synthesize most of the types of fats it needs. That isn’t the case for omega-3 however. Omega-3 is considered an essential fat—which means the body must obtain them from food.
Omega-3 is found in fatty fish mainly tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, swordfish and lake trout. Incorporate 100g of cooked fish 2-3 times per week. For vegetarians or those who simply think fish is too fishy, Omega-3 can be provided by adding walnuts, flaxseed or tofu to your salad, or adding canola oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil and soybean oil on top of food.
If you don’t have access to these foods, you can always resort to fish oil or krill oil capsules, the latest fads in the pharmaceutical world. Krill oil, logically enough, comes from krill, which are small, shrimp like crustaceans inhabiting the Antarctic Ocean. Krill oil appears to be more readily absorbed than fish oil, hence its price. Either way, makes sure not to take more than 2 grams of omega-3 as supplements without getting back to your doctor first.
What’s the catch?
Some types of fish contain mercury and other contaminants and hence intake should be limited by pregnant women and children. The older and larger fish are the ones with the highest levels of mercury such as swordfish and mackerel or tilefish. The types with lowest mercury levels are canned light tuna and salmon.
Racha Adib is a Beirut-based licensed dietitian who offers nutrition and wellness counseling to individuals and corporations. She graduated from the American University of Beirut with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics followed by a certificate in Essentials of Business. She is a member of the Lebanese Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics and the Lebanese League for Women in Business. She has also been frequently featured in media on MTV's “The Doctors,” LBC's “Mission Fashion,” and Orbit's “Ayoun Beirut” among others, and hosts a weekly radio program on the latest nutrition news and science breakthroughs. She can be found on Twitter: @rachaadib