You probably know that eating foods high in trans fats can raise your “bad” cholesterol level, lower your “good” cholesterol numbers, and increase inflammation in the body. But a recent study uncovered another reason to cut trans fats from your diet—they could have a negative impact on your memory.
The study, led by Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, included more than 600 healthy men who were age 45 or younger who had taken part in a previous study on the side effects of cholesterol-lowering statin medications. The participants completed a survey about their eating habits, then took part in a memory test. During the test, each man was shown 104 cards with a single word on each card. In the pack of cards, there were 22 cards that repeated a word on another card. For each card shown, the men were asked if this was the first time they saw the word during the test.
The researchers filtered the results for other factors that can affect memory, such as age, depression, and education level. Men 45 or younger were able to correctly recall 86 words on average. However, for each gram of trans fat they ate daily, their ability to correctly recall the words fell 0.76 words. Those whose diet included approximately 16 grams of trans fat a day remembered 12 fewer words, while those who ate 28 grams of trans fat a day recalled 21 fewer words.
Because of its design, the study does not show a direct cause and effect relationship between consuming foods that contain trans fats and poorer memory, but it does show an association. The researchers believe that the association could be caused by a number of factors, including increased inflammation in the body that damages cells and interference with the body’s ability to produce the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids the brain needs to function properly.
Take steps now to protect your memory throughout your life
Even if you never eat doughnuts, you might be eating more trans fats than you realize. In fact, one in 10 packaged foods, such as salad dressings, canned soup, chips, cookies, cake mixes, non-dairy creamers, microwave popcorn, and baked goods, contain several grams of trans fat per serving.
To lower your intake of trans fats, read labels carefully, checking for ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oils and choose fresh, non-processed foods rather than prepared or frozen foods. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your daily trans fat consumption to no more than two grams a day, the amount of naturally occurring trans fats found in the meat and dairy most people eat.
Eating a healthier Mediterranean diet can not only lower your risk of heart disease, it can also help protect the health of your brain. Taking part in regular aerobic exercise is another proactive step you can take to protect your brain health now and in the future. A personal health advisor can also be a good resource and can help you develop a healthy living strategy that includes nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management.