To protect your brain function as you age, consider cutting down drastically on saturated fat. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that women who ate more monounsaturated fat had brains that appeared much younger than their biological age. On the other hand, women with a high intake of saturated fat experienced a much earlier onset of age-related cognitive decline.
Fats and brain health
The evidence is mounting against consuming saturated fat. It’s well known that a diet heavy on red meat, butter and other animal-based protein, fats and oils will increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Now a report published online in the “Annals of Neurology” seems to make it clear that what’s bad for the heart is bad for the brain.
To investigate fats and their impact on brain health, Harvard researchers collected data on more than 6,000 women over 65 who took part in the U.S. Women’s Health Study. The women completed dietary questionnaires and then underwent tests to measure cognitive function every two years over an average of about four years.
A fat fountain of youth
To ensure their findings weren’t skewed by such variables as lifestyle, the researchers accounted for factors like age, education, exercise, smoking, drinking and medications in their scoring. During the time period analyzed, women who ate the highest amounts of saturated fat scored the worst on brain function and memory, compared to the women who ate the least. What’s more, women who ate the most monounsaturated fats had higher scores.
Women who had a high intake of saturated fat had brains that appeared 5 or 6 years older than their biological age, according to study author Dr. Olivia Okereke. Those with the highest intake of monounsaturated fat had brains that were about 6 or 7 years younger.
Increasing monounsaturated fats
Many dietary studies have found a lot of evidence in favor of avoiding saturated fat and choosing monounsaturated fats. Rich sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, nuts and fish. Okereke said her team’s analysis suggests that you can lower your risk of age-related cognitive decline 50 percent by substituting 5 percent of your saturated fat calories with monounsaturated fats.
Cutting your saturated fat intake is an easy way to make a personal stand against cognitive decline. It can be as simple as choosing low-fat or non-fat dairy foods, limiting your red meat to a bi-weekly treat, taking the skin off your poultry and eating more fish.
Take things a step further and try using olive oil instead of butter on your toast. Okereke suggests experimenting with meatless meals such as veggie burgers, spinach-eggplant lasagna, or black bean, corn and avocado tacos.