Saturated fat needs a better publicist. Already seen as the villain for its role in “bad” cholesterol, now it is taking a beating for a suspected link to accelerating brain aging. And once again, those wonderful monounsaturated fats get all the glory for slowing brain aging.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital studied more than 6,000 women over 65 for a period of five years. Their results were recently published in the Annals of Neurology. The study attempted to related the type of fat intake to brain aging, using self-reported diet information and cognitive function tests.
|The Good Fats|
Some types of fat didn’t seem to affect the rate of brain aging at all. Total fat intake seemed harmless, as did eating polyunsaturated fats. Even the dreaded trans fats seemed to have no effect on how quickly the brain aged.
Women who ate a lot of saturated fat (red meat, cheese, most fried foods) had brains that functioned 5 or 6 years older than their actual age, based on the cognitive function tests. Women who ate a lot of monounsaturated fat (think olive oil and avocados) had brains that functioned 6 or 7 years younger than their actual age.
This research merely observed a correlation between fat intake and brain age. There was no attempt to put women into balanced groups with specific dietary instructions. There were other differences between the women in the study, such as tobacco and alcohol use, overall health, and other dietary differences. It may turn out that people who eat monounsaturated fats also eat something else that is actually responsible for slowing brain aging. The researchers were quick to point out that more study is warranted.
So what can you do to keep your brain young? It does seem that saturated fats are bad for your brain, just as they are bad for your heart, lungs and other organs. Monounsaturated fats are good for your brain, and the rest of your body.
The study seems to indicate that a small change in eating habits can pay big dividends in brain age. A 5% shift in fats calories from saturated fat to monounsaturated fat appears to deliver a 50% improvement in brain aging. Seems like a good time for a big bowl of guacamole!