Diets high in saturated fats aren't good for the brain, new research suggests. According to a study published in the Annals of Neurology, high amounts of saturated fat interfere with the brain's cognitive and verbal abilities, providing evidence that fat's effects on the body extend beyond the cardiovascular system.
Harvard University researchers designed a study aimed at understanding dietary fats' effect on the mental abilities of the elderly. To find the answer, they studied a subset of women who were participating in the Women's Health Study (WHS), a study implemented to learn ways to prevent heart attack and cancer in American women.
Olivia Okereke of Brigham and Women's Hospital led a research team which studied the effects of dietary fat intake on the cognitive abilities of 6,183 elderly women. Five years prior to the experiment, participants provided researchers with dietary information. Then, over the course of four years, investigators tested the women's general cognitive, verbal memory and semantic fluency abilities. Okereke's team then analyzed this data to calculate the adverse effects of fat intake.
The results of the experiment revealed that whereas polyunsaturated and trans fats had no effect on cognitive or verbal memory, saturated fats impaired participants' reasoning and verbal abilities. Conversely, women who consumed large quantities of monounsaturated fats experienced greater communicative and cognitive abilities. In other words, consumption of saturated fats dumbed women down, but consumption of monosaturated fats made women smarter.
Okereke and her colleagues reasoned that certain fats have bad effects on the brain, writing: "...different consumption levels of the major specific fat types, rather than total fat intake itself, appeared to influence cognitive aging."
People's cognitive abilities tend to decrease with age, and the results of the WHS study suggest that nutrition plays a significant role in this. Therefore, in addition to regular exercise, a healthy way to offset cognitive decline is to eat foods rich in monounsaturated fats.
Fortunately, lots of foods contain this type of healthy fat. Just for starters look at this short list:
- olive oil
- canola oil
- sesame oil
Although monounsaturated fats are good for you, make sure not to overdo it. For more information on healthy and unhealthy fats, read "Meet the Fats" an informational guide published by the American Heart Association.
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Okereke, O., Rosner, B., Kim, D., Kang, J., Cook, N., Manson, J., Buring, J., Willett, W., & Grodstein, F. (2012). Dietary fat types and 4-year cognitive change in community-dwelling older women Annals of Neurology DOI: 10.1002/ana.23593
"Diets High In Saturated Fat Make You Less Smart" copyright 2012 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy. All Rights Reserved.