PUMPING IRONY: Does This Make My Brain Look Fat?

A new study out of Denmark tells me I need to fatten up my brain if I want to live longer.

Scheibye-Knudsen
Scheibye-Knudsen: Feed your brain.

I mentioned a few weeks back how people smarter than me have been counseling geezers to cut their calories in order to extend their lives. I haven’t taken their advice because, like most people, I seldom pay attention to any opinion that doesn’t validate my worldview. And I figure the 2,000-or-so calories I sock away each day has worked out pretty well for me so far.

For a handful of very lean years in the hazy ’70s, I declared myself a vegetarian. All my cool friends were meat-free at the time; it was more of a political statement than a dietary regimen. I remember taking a nutrition class at the University of Minnesota at the time in which we were required to run a nutritional analysis of our diet (involving a very large IBM computer and punch cards!?!). The results were intriguing, if not surprising: The majority of the 1,200 calories I was consuming in a normal day were coming from a healthy intake of cold beer.

That phase of my nutritional life lasted for about five years, until something shifted in my brain (or stomach) one glorious summer evening when I suddenly found myself hitting the drive-thru at McDonald’s. Never — before or since — has a bad burger tasted so good.

High-Fat Food = Healthy Brain

That about did it for me on the whole sans meat thing, and though I’m not a big burger fan (and avoid the Golden Arches and their ilk), I’ve never been afraid of dietary fat. So you can imagine my reaction to a new study from the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Healthy Aging and Denmark’s National Institute of Health, suggesting that a high-fat diet is actually good for the aging brain.

Some of this is just common sense: Your brain — and I mean this in the nicest possible way — is mostly just a big blob of slimy fat surrounded by your skull. It needs a steady supply of healthy fats to keep it from losing its intellectual heft. (Check out this piece in EL for more on this angle.)

The new study is a bit more specific, noting that a high-fat diet — especially foods containing medium chain fatty acids, such as coconut oil — seems to actually postpone the aging process in the brain. As Morten Scheibye-Knudsen of the National Institute of Health explained it in a statement released by the University of Copenhagen, our brain has a constant need for fuel and, when that fuel is not forthcoming, it starts to break down fat cells. This is an obvious problem for your big fat brain.

“Aging is a result of the cell repair mechanism being constantly active,” Scheibye-Knudsen said. “It eats into the resources and causes the cell to age very quickly. We therefore hope that a diet with a high content of coconut oil or similar fats will have a beneficial effect, because the brain cells are given extra fuel and thus the strength to repair the damage.”

And anyone whose brain is getting plenty of fuel knows that you don’t have to tuck into a ribeye every other day to deliver the goods to the command center in your head. There are plenty of sources of healthy fats in a vegetarian diet as well. I’m smart enough now to know that beer does not count.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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