Healthy Fats + Protein: The real food brain boosters

It's 2pm. You have important projects left to do today, but you're feeling that classic afternoon slump coming on - foggy mind, heavy eyes, wondering where the focus and productivity you had this morning disappeared to. Before you reach for a sugar-packed energy drink or let your brain slide into some mindless scrolling, consider one of the best options in your productivity toolbox - food!

For years, we've all heard different takes on fat - limit all fats, avoid specific fats, don't eat fats from specific sources. However, hundreds of clinical trials in the last few decades have failed to confirm that all fats are correlated with disease or weight gain. In fact, many studies are now showing promising benefits of healthy fats for everything from heart health to brain function. 

Quality is Key

This leads us to the most important point: when it comes to fats (and food in general), it's less about unsaturated vs saturated or more vs less and more about quality. Many past studies that link fat to life-threatening health conditions use low-quality fats for testing purposes. As fats are altered through the manufacturing process using heat and chemical solvents, they can lose many of their nutritional properties, which can make it difficult for our bodies to recognize and process them. Since fat has been able to put its best, minimally-processed, high-quality foot forward in more recent nutritional studies, researchers have been able to debunk some of the misconceptions around fats and have even discovered new benefits to eating quality fats.

The Ultimate Brain-Boosting Combo: Fats + Protein

When you keep the focus on eating quality, nutrient-dense foods, protein and fats are the ultimate combo to conquer that mid-afternoon brain fog.

  • Fat is the main component of brain cells, and is thus necessary for healthy brain function.

  • While your brain cells are made up of mostly fat, they communicate using proteins. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which we have to get from food since our bodies can't store them up. Protein sources with all 8 essential amino acids can be used by our bodies to manufacture neurotransmitters and perform other essential functions. 

  • Together, fat and protein are a great source of long-lasting energy and help you feel full by slowing sugar absorption after a meal (Mercola). This is important because when our blood sugar spikes, our bodies respond by creating insulin, which floods our brains with hormones that drain our energy. (Ever felt sluggish and unproductive after a big meal?) On the other hand, meals high in protein and fat result in lower insulin production

  • The protein and fat combo also seems to have long-term protective benefits for brain function. A recent study in Australia showed that a higher-protein diet lowered participants' Alzheimer's risk significantly, and some studies suggest that omega-3's are associated with a reduced risk of developing dementia, while also helping protect blood vessels and reducing inflammation in the brain. (Research is continuing into the role of omega-3 fats in the brain, so stay tuned!)

So next time you're feeling the workday fog, try reaching for a nutrient-dense, real-food snack that will give your brain and energy level lasting benefits rather than a quick spike and crash. A few good options are Ona Bars and Cookies, yogurt topped with berries, nuts, and seeds, a leafy green salad with a healthy protein and fat (think quinoa and an olive oil dressing), a hard-boiled egg, or veggies with hummus. Your brain - and your productivity - will thank you!

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