New Study: Eating Certain Types of Fats May Benefit Memory, Cognition

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Thinking about how to protect your brain as you age? New research that’s just been published in the Annals of Neurology is suggesting that eating the monosaturated fats that are part of a heart-healthy diet may also protect your brain.

    The new study out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital focused on a group of 6,000 women over the age 65 years old who have taken part in the Women’s Health Study. reporter Alexandra Sifferlin reported that these women took cognitive-function tests at the start and end of the study, as well as during the mid-point of the four-year study. They also completed questionnaires about their diets and how often they ate during the initial part of the study.

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    The researchers found that women who ate the most saturated fat performed worse on cognitive function tests during the four-year period. However, women who ate the most monounsaturated fats actually displayed better cognition and memory.

    These results provide yet another link between heart health and brain health. “Previous literature shows there are important relationships between fats and cardiovascular health,” Dr. Olivia Okereke, the study’s lead researcher, told “Cardiovascular health is also associated with brain aging, so we wanted to look at how this relationship and these fats influence cognitive function.” She hypothesized that these different fats may modify the body’s inflammation levels and that the fats’ influence in overall cardiovascular health may be linked to the differences in cognitive levels.

    As part of their analysis, the researchers also took into account other factors that could influence the findings, such as age, education, exercise, smoking, drinking, medications and overall health. “This is done to ensure that the findings are not due to better health behaviors among certain women,” stated.

    So what exactly are saturated fats? According to the American Heart Association (AHA), these fats “have a chemical makeup in which the carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.” Consuming foods that contain these types of fats increases blood cholesterol levels which, in turn, increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Many of these foods also are high in saturated fats, which may increase cholesterol even more. You will find saturated fats primarily in foods from animals, such as meat and dairy products. These foods include fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with the skin, beef fat, lard, cream, butter, cheese and dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk. High levels of saturated fats are also found in many baked goods and fried foods, as well as in palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil.

    If you’re a cheese addict like me (or if you regularly consume one or more of the other items on the list), you’ll want to know how much you can eat on a daily basis. The AHA recommends that you limit the amount of saturated fats consumed to less than seven percent of total daily calories. So if you eat 2,000 calories a day, you can eat 140 calories from saturated fats.

  • Now that you’re thinking about what foods you shouldn’t consume, let’s talk about the type of fats that actually may benefit your brain – monounsaturated fats. The AHA defines these as “simply fats that have one double-bonded (unsaturated) carbon in the molecule. Monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled.” These fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in the blood, thus lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide important nutrients that are critical to the health of the body’s cells, including vitamin E which is an important antioxidant vitamin. Foods that have high levels of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, avocados, peanut butter and many nuts and seeds.

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    So how much of these fats should you eat? “The fats in the foods you eat should not total more than 35-35 percent of the calories you eat in a given day,” the AHA recommended.  These fats should primarily be monounsaturated fats and/or polyunsaturated foods (such as soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, fatty fish and some nuts and seeds).

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    American Heart Association. (2010). Monsaturated fats.

    American Heart Association. (2010). Polyunsaturated fats.

    American Heart Association (2010). Saturated fats.

    Sifferlin, A. (2012). Fat in red meat and butter may hurt your brain.

Published On: May 21, 2012