It’s not often that ingredients in foods you eat are wholly bad for you, but trans fat certainly meets the criteria. Cooking oils containing trans fat are already banned in many areas, like New York City and California, and the USDA recommends eating as little as possible.
The most common reason to avoid trans fat is it’s deleterious effects on our cardiovascular system and the increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. New research has found a yet another sinister way in which trans fat affects us: it can cause memory loss. And not just in your twilight years.
Researchers working out of the University of California-San Diego presented the results of their study at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014. Coauthor Beatrice A. Golomb, M.D., Ph.D., and professor of nutrition at UCSD stated, “Trans fats were most strongly linked to worse memory, in young and middle-aged men, during their working and career-building years.”
That’s an important point to note. Trans fat affects your brain even more when you’re under 45.
Golomb and other researchers tested participants by presenting them with a series of 104 flashcards. Subjects were asked to state whether each new card showed a word written on a previous card or a new one. The scientists found that for every gram of trans fat added to the diet of a working-age male, they remembered about one word less. The effects of trans fat on memory were the most significant with this age group.
In the worst cases, involving participants eating high amounts of trans fat, memory test scores were about 10% lower. The average score for others was remembering 86 cards out of 104. High trans fat diets created average scores of about 75.
While trans fat may not be nearly as common as it once was, it is still in many surprising products. Trans fat is used as a preservative in many baked goods, chips, snacks and frozen foods as well as margarine and coffee creamers. Processed foods are notorious culprits. Luckily, the USDA requires manufacturers to say how much trans fat in particular is in their products, meaning you can always check the Nutrition Facts to see if it’s present.
According to Dr. Golomb, “As I tell patients, while trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, they reduce the shelf life of people.”
While the latest study on trans fat finds links between its consumption and memory loss among men, it has yet to be seen how it affects the memory of premenopausal women. However, that’s no reason to think it might be OK to eat. Trans fat will always be associated with obesity and heart disease; either of which should be another reason to avoid it. Memory loss is just the latest entry on the list.
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