Many people, particularly those concerned with weight loss or heart disease, are fearful of fats. Low fat diets – which cut down drastically on all types of fat regularly eaten – run a risk of creating the condition for mental distress.
Fats are very important with regard to emotional and mental health, with low levels in the diet being associated with symptoms that range from anxiety and depression to hyperactivity and schizophrenia. Furthermore, in an editorial in The British Journal of Psychiatry, Malcolm Garland explained:
‘...the essential fatty acids (EFAs) are LC-PUFAs obtained exclusively through diet…comprise 15–30% of the brain’s dry weight.’
When you realise that ‘the mammalian brain is approximately 80% lipid’ it appears to make sense to include some fat in the diet, and the right type of fat is essential for the proper structure and functioning of the brain.
Many women, for example, have found that by including more of a particular type of essential fat in their diet they have been able to reduce, or remove altogether, the difficult emotional symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, conducted by Edilberto A Rocha Filho et al. found that ingesting an increased daily amount (2 grams) of polyunsaturated fatty acids reflected a noticeable improvement in symptomatology.
Any dietary deficiency of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids has adverse consequences on brain development, disrupting the activity of enzymes and decreasing efficiency in learning and memory. This can be seen in recent research, where J.M. Bourre concluded:
‘The polyunsaturated fatty acid requirement of the human brain is considerable during the neonatal period and remains high throughout life, in order to ensure turnover of cell membranes and to preserve the integrity of cell functions, otherwise the ageing process would be accelerated.’
Published in Brain Research, a study conducted by Sheila M. Innis suggests that decreased omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in the developing brain impairs nerve cell generation, disturbs neurotransmitter metabolism, and retards learning and visual function.
In another research paper, Innis outlines that fatty acid dietary deficiencies alter behavioral performance.
So, not all fat is to be avoided, and some fats are even to be encouraged.
When looking at all the different types of food that a person eats, moderation and balance between the different types of fats and oils is recommended. The modern Western diet, however, tends to favour certain fats over others with the result that some fats, that are essential to emotional and mental health, can be overlooked completely.
Sources of beneficial omega-3 fats:
- oil rich fish
Vegan sources of beneficial fats:
- hemp seeds
- linseed (flax) oil
- pumpkin seeds
- rapeseed oil
- rice bran
- Dieting: is it Really Worth the Sacrifice?
- Taking the Fat Out of Processed Foods
- Saturated Fat, How Much is Too Much?
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