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The low-fat diet craze has been popular since the ‘70s when scientists linked a diet high in saturated fat to raised cholesterol levels, and a low-saturated fat diet was found to be protective against heart disease. Somehow, because of the unhealthy qualities of this one type of fat, the entire fat category got a bad rap. Thus began the low-fat diet craze (which actually became the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet craze that continues to contribute to the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease we have ever seen).

The truth is we need fat. It’s one of the three main macronutrients—fat, carbohydrates, and protein—that provides fuel for our body and keeps us running. Every cell in the body is enclosed in a membrane made up of fats. Without fat, our cells cannot run efficiently. But certain fats are better than others, as scientists learned in the early studies investigating fat and heart disease.

The one fat you want to completely eliminate from your diet is processed trans-fat. The trans-fat found in hydrogenated oils (common in processed foods) has been linked to a number of health conditions. It’s best to cut this one out completely. The fat you want to greatly reduce is saturated fat. Although a natural fat, its saturated nature means that it is a stiff molecule, and stiff fats make for stiff cell membranes. This reduces the ability of the cell to maintain fluidity—an important characteristic of a healthy cell.

You don’t have to eliminate saturated fats, but be sure to eat them in moderation. Even better, obtain your saturated fats from coconut oil, a medium chain saturated fat considered a healthy saturated fat due to its shorter chain length and rapid metabolism.

The fats you do need to eat—probably more than you already do—are monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil) and the omega-3 fats (found in fish oil, flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts). These fats are unsaturated, and contribute to the fluidity of cell membranes, as well as to the regulation of inflammatory response—all health-promoting actions.

A recent study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research highlighted the importance of eating fats along with vegetables. The researchers found that the carotenoid nutrients (beta carotene is a carotenoid) found in salads were best absorbed when eaten in combination with monounsaturated fats as opposed to saturated or even polyunsaturated fats. If you have been passing on salad dressing because you want to cut down on fat, you’re better off adding fat—use a vinaigrette made with olive oil. This week, add some extra virgin olive oil to your veggies and remember that fat is a nutrient—not the enemy. Just choose the right fats.

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It is no secret that sugar is unhealthy. From high blood sugar to diabetes and heart disease, a diet high in sugar has far-reaching effects. But did you know that sugar is also bad for your brain? A recent study published in the Journal of Physiology found an interesting connection between a diet low in omega-3s and high in the sugar fructose, and poor memory and brain function. The researchers stated, “Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage.”

In the animal study, one group was fed a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids, and another group was fed a diet high in omega-3s from flaxseed and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The omega-3 deficient animals were found to have poor memory function when compared to those fed a diet rich in omega-3s. The negative effects of a low omega-3 diet were exacerbated when high amounts of fructose were added to the diet. In the group receiving sufficient omega-3s, however, a high fructose diet did not have the same negative effects on memory and neuron function, suggesting that omega-3s have a protective effect against the brain dysfunction caused by a high fructose diet.

It is well known that a high sugar diet increases blood sugar and insulin resistance in the bloodstream. This is the hallmark of the metabolic syndrome, an increasingly common condition that precedes type 2 diabetes. This study suggests that not only can a high sugar diet have effects in the bloodstream, but that it can also have similar effects in the brain. The study found disrupted insulin receptor signaling in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory function. Insulin and fructose are both known to cross the blood-brain barrier, where they can interrupt neuron function.

The findings of this study are not surprising. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is also known as type 3 diabetes. The fact is, the amount of sugar—and even carbohydrates, for that matter—in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is alarmingly high. ReNew Life founder Brenda Watson will be debuting a new PBS show in the fall on this very topic. The show, called The Heart of Perfect Health will air nationwide in November. Stay tuned to our blog for more information on show times.

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