One meal high in saturated fat is enough to hinder your ability to focus

A research from Ohio State University suggests that eating just one meal high in saturated fat can hinder our ability to concentrate.  The research was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In this study, the researcher compared how 51 women performed on an attention test after they ate either a meal high in saturated fat or the same meal made with sunflower oil, which is high in unsaturated fat.  Before the meal, women in the study completed a baseline assessment.  The tool, called a continuous performance test, is a measure of sustained attention, concentration and reaction time based on 10 minutes of computer-based activities.

After the baseline assessment, each participate ate a high-fat meal including eggs, biscuits, turkey sausage and gravy containing 60 grams of fat in the form of either a palmitic acid-based oil high in saturated fat or the lower-saturated-fat sunflower oil.  Both meals totaled 930 calories and were designed to mimic the contents of various fast-food meals such as a Burger King double whopper with cheese or a McDonald’s Big Mac and medium fries.

Five hours later, the participants took another continuous performance test. Between one and four weeks later, they repeated these steps, eating the opposite meal of what they had eaten on the first visit.

After eating the meal high in saturated fat, all of the participating women were, on average, 11 percent less able to detect target stimuli in the attention assessment.  Their performance on the test was worse after eating the high-saturated-fat meal than after they ate the meal containing a healthier fat, signaling a link between that fatty food and the brain.  

Researchers also looked at whether a condition called leaky gut, which allows intestinal bacteria to enter the bloodstream, had any effect on concentration.  Researchers analyzed participants’ fasting baseline blood samples to determine whether they contained an inflammatory molecule that signals the presence of endotoxemia — the toxin that escapes from the intestines and enters the bloodstream when the gut barrier is compromised.

It was noted that participants with leakier guts, meaning high levels of endotoxemia, performed worse on the attention assessment no matter which meal they had eaten.  Concentration lapses were apparent in the women with signs of leaky gut: their response times were more erratic, and they were less able to sustain their attention during the 10-minute test.

Though the study didn’t determine what was going on in the brain, previous research has suggested that food high in saturated fat can drive up inflammation throughout the body, and possibly the brain.

OSU researcher further noted that the meal made with sunflower oil, while low in saturated fat, still contained a lot of dietary fat.  Because both meals were high-fat and potentially problematic, the high-saturated-fat meal’s cognitive effect could be even greater if it were compared to a lower-fat meal. 

It seems that eating healthy not only matters to your waistline, it matters to your brain health too.

Thanks for reading.

Journal Reference: Janice K Kiecolt-Glaser, Michael T Bailey, William B Malarkey, Megan E Renna, M Rosie Shrout, Rebecca Andridge, Martha A Belury, Annelise A Madison. Afternoon distraction: a high-saturated-fat meal and endotoxemia impact postmeal attention in a randomized crossover trialThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2020; DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa085

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