WARNING: This post includes shameless bragging by a proud papa.
A reader sent me this picture, snapped by his son during a nutrition class at the University of Missouri:
So a high-fat/low-carb diet will not only give you heart disease, it’ll damage your brain as well, eh? My goodness. Is there any research out there to support such a dire warning?
Turns out there is …
EATING too much fatty food causes brain damage linked to obesity, according to new research. US scientists found a sudden change to a high-fat diet triggered inflammation in a key area of rodent brains responsible for regulating body weight.
The inflammation produced distinctive scarring similar to that seen in stroke patients – and that brain scarring was then observed in humans who were overweight. While the research does not unequivocally prove brain damage caused by fatty food is linked to obesity, it provides strong indications for further research.
“It would be unlikely you could injure that part of the brain and not affect the level of bodyweight, because that’s what that area does,” said Michael Schwartz, who is the director of the University of Washington’s Diabetes and Obesity Centre of Excellence.
My conclusion is that humans probably shouldn’t eat the crappy high-fat rodent chow (which is also high in sugar) scientists feed to rats in these experiments.
But since I have growing children, I was of course concerned by these warnings of impending brain damage. My girls don’t consciously limit carbohydrates like I do, but we don’t keep cereal or bread in the house, they don’t eat sugar except on rare occasions, and on many days they’re perfect happy to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, cheese and almonds for snacks, and some kind of meat with vegetables (usually drizzled with butter, cheese, sour cream or olive oil) for their other meals. Their is diet definitely high in fat, and often ketogenic simply because of the choices they make.
So when Sara brought home her last report card, I opened it anxiously, looking for signs of brain damage. And there it was. Yes, she’d earned straight A’s, but she only got a 98 on her last math test.
“Sara, come here.”
“Did you miss a question on your math test?”
“Yes, Daddy. I missed one.”
“Then you need to start eating Honey-Nut Cheerios for breakfast and drinking low-fat chocolate milk with your lunch. This is not acceptable.”
“But Daddy, I’m the youngest kid in third grade, remember?”
I’d forgotten about that — probably because of my own brain damage. Sara’s birthday is in November, and she started kindergarten in California as a four-year-old. When we moved to Tennessee, where the laws are different, she had to pass a reading test before the school would allow her to start first grade as a five-year-old. Many kids in her third-grade class are a full year older and therefore have an extra year of brain development.
My concern over the missed math question was partly alleviated when the results of her government-mandated reading and comprehension test arrived in the mail. The government folks informed us that she reads just a bit below the seventh-grade level. Considering that she spends hours and hours with her nose buried in some book, I’m glad to know she’s not just wasting her time.
My concern over the missing math question was fully alleviated when we were out for dinner one night and she began doodling on the paper tablecloth, drawing various shapes and quizzing me to see if I could identify them … squares, parallelograms, triangles and trapezoids.
Was I aware that the angles in a square are all 90 degrees and so all four angles add up to 360 degrees? Yes, I assured her, I knew that.
I then drew (not very well) a parallelogram and informed her that the angles in a four-sided shape always add up to 360 degrees, square or not. She told me that’s cool.
Then I drew a triangle. “Sara, what do you think the angles in a triangle add up to?”
She looked at it for about two seconds. “A hundred and eighty degrees.”
“That was quick. How did you figure that out?”
She began drawing a second triangle next to mine.
“Well, Daddy, if I put two triangles together like this, that makes a four-sided shape, and you already told me the angles in a four-sided shape add up to 360 degrees. So I just figured a triangle must be half of that.”
“That’s my girl!” I said this a little louder than I intended and drew a few looks from other dinner guests.
I’m pretty sure if we don’t start feeding her laboratory-grade rodent chow, she can avoid the brain damage – in spite of her high-fat diet.