Memories aren’t made of deep dish – trans-fat acids in processed foods impair mental recall, says Californian research team

Trans-fats have been the bogey men of nutritionists and fitness experts for some time now.

Essentially it is an artificial fat, created by putting oil through a process of hydrogenation to make it firmer ad easier to use in cooking, it is also known as ‘hydrogenated oil’ or ‘hydrogenated fat’ on some food labels although fully hydrogenated oil actually removes the trans-fats altogether.                                                            

The fatty acids produced by using tans-fats are much more prone to causing high cholesterol and high blood pressure and have been linked by numerous studies to high risks of cardio vascular disease and strokes.

They do occur naturally at low levels in some animal products, particularly meat and dairy, but it is their use in food processing that poses the biggest threat.

These fats can be used for frying or added to the food process as an ingredient to improve taste, texture and – perhaps most importantly of all for the manufacturers – shelf life.

You’ll find them typically present in margarine and mass produced cakes, pies, biscuits and frozen pizzas.

Thankfully they are not anything like as prevalent in the UK market as they are in the US and elsewhere; in fact the US Federal Drug Administration declared last week that trans-fats were not generally considered to be safe and have a three-year time limit for their removal from processed food.

This latest study simply underlines the dangers of consumption.

The researchers used a simple word-recall test to measure the subjects’ ability to retain and recall information in the short term and then correlated the responses against the individuals own record of how much processed or trans-fat heavy food they regularly consumed.

Since the vast majority of volunteers were men, the team focused on them and found that, on average, men aged 45 and below were able to remember and recall as many as 86 words.

Those with a higher intake of trans-fats, however, performed at a noticeably lower level to the point that the research team were able to track the loss of 0.76 words for every gram of trans-fat consumed daily.

Young men, who also showed the heaviest presence of ‘junk food’ in their diets, scored as many as 12 words less than contemporaries with healthier diets.

This correlation wasn’t present at all in the older men over 45, possibly because their already failing memories masked any negative impact from the trans-fats.

The San Diego team believes it is the first to chart a correlation between trans-fats and memory but, taken together with other studies already linking the consumption of these products to mood swings and behavioural issues, it would seem that there is an almost immediate effect on our brain chemistry which warrants further investigation,


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