Why healthy fats need to be on your back-to-school shopping list

What to Eat for Brain Health

Back-to-school shopping is upon us, and in addition to stocking up on pens, pencils, notebooks and lunch boxes, you should also be grabbing some healthy fats!

Believe it or not, the human brain is composed of about 60% fat, so it only makes sense that our brains need healthy fats to function properly, right? Find out what Dr. Shawn Talbott has to say about sending your kids off to school with lunches packed with fat in our Q&A with him below!

We hear a lot about the importance of eating healthy fats as adults, but are healthy fats important for kids, too? Why?

An adequate dietary intake of healthy fats is vitally important for adults to help calm excessive inflammation that often comes with aging and which can raise the risk for a range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and dementia. For kids and teens, healthy fats not only help to maintain healthy levels of inflammation and hormone balance, but also set the stage for optimal growth and function of the brain and entire body. Since every cell in the body, and especially nerve cells in the brain, are comprised of a fat-rich cell membranes (lipids and phospholipids), growing kids and developing teens need a constant supply of healthy fats to power their mental and physical performance.

How much healthy fat is too much? How do we know how much to include in our diets and our kids' diets?

A wide range of scientific organizations, including the American Heart Association, recommend keeping fat intake to around 30% of total calories for kids, teens, and adults. Depending on individual body size, growth rates and physical activity levels, that can mean dietary fat needs might range from 360 calories (40 grams) to 900 calories (100 grams) per day. The best way to incorporate healthy fats into your diet is to add foods like fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. When choosing healthy vegetable oils, try to avoid those with a high content of "inflammatory" omega-6 fatty acids (corn, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed) and instead choose oils from coconut, avocado, olive and palm. In particular, extra virgin olive oil is a great choice for "low-heat" situations (such as salad dressings and dipping bread), while Malaysian red palm oil is an excellent choice for "high-heat" cooking (such as sautéing, frying, baking, or grilling). Look for non-GMO certified sustainable Malaysian palm oil, which is also naturally trans fat-free.

What are the best dietary fats for the mind and body? Are certain fats better for the mind vs. the body? If that's the case, which fats do you recommend for focus, and which fats do you recommend for energy?

Research studies have shown healthy oils like olive oil to be associated with overall heart health and improved cardiovascular function, largely due to the anti-inflammatory nature of the monounsaturated fatty acids found in olives. Sustainable Malaysian red palm oil has also been shown in numerous studies to be associated with cardiovascular benefits (lower cholesterol and improved blood flow) as well as neuroprotection (brain and nerve protection) and chemoprevention (anti-cancer), likely due to the unique collection of anti-inflammatory fatty acids and phytonutrients found in red palm fruit. Among those phytonutrients, are tocotrienols (sometimes called "the other vitamin E), vitamin A, and antioxidants such as carotenoids and flavonoids, which contribute to the vibrant red color of the oil.

Dr. Talbott is the author of over 200 articles and 10 books on nutrition, fitness, and wellness. He has served as a nutrition educator for a variety of elite-level athletes including professional triathletes, NBA basketball players, and members of the US Ski team, the US Track & Field team, and the US Olympic Training Center.

Incorporate good fats into healthy cooking with these recipes below:

How to incorporate good fats into everyday cooking
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How to incorporate good fats into everyday cooking

Sea Bass En Papillote with Lemon Dill Butter

As Chef Billy Parisi notes, an easy way to use good fats in your cooking is to make an herb buttery spread. Coupling Sea Bass with plant-based oils is fantastic way to get delicious flavor.

Get the recipe: Sea Bass En Papillote with Lemon Dill Butter

Photo Credit: Billy Parisi

Southwestern Quinoa-Egg Bake

This egg bake from contributor Hello Natural gets a protein boost from quinoa, and some spice from cumin and chili powder.

Get the recipe: Southwestern Quinoa-Egg Bake

Photo Credit: Hello Natural

Baked Garlic Cheesy Rolls

Contributor Organize Yourself Skinny swears by these rolls. They're easy to make—and come together in less than 40 minutes!

Get the recipe: Baked Garlic Cheesy Rolls

Photo Credit: Organize Yourself Skinny

Chopped Chicken and Avocado Salad

This salad from contributor The Idea Room includes avocado and nuts. For your dressing, use one that has plant-based oils in it.

Get the recipe: Chopped Chicken and Avocado Salad

Photo Credit: The Idea Room

Spring Vegetable Frittata

frittata is the perfect dish for any meal of the day, and this version from contributor Whipperberry is super quick and simple.

Get the recipe: Spring Vegetable Frittata

Photo Credit: Whipperberry


More in back to school:
11 tricks for saving on back-to-school supplies
5 tips to get your family to eat right during the school year
The 10 best and worst ways to pack a school lunch

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