Good Fat vs Bad Fat, and the Brain

A new Harvard University study found that women who eat a lot of “bad” saturated fat may be harming their brain function and memory. Alternatively, eating “good” monounsaturated fat may improve brain function and memory in women.  Saturated fat comes from animal fats such as red meat and cheese, while monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, seeds and vegetable products. The study involved more than 6000 older women who had participated in the Women’s Health Study. The women’s brain function was tested at the beginning of the study, at two years and then again at four years.  They completed detailed surveys of food intake throughout the study, as well.  The researchers found that the participants who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fat had the worst overall brain function and memory, in comparison to the participants who consumed the least. Further, those who ate the most monounsaturated fats had higher scores on brain tests over the four years of the testing.  The findings took into account several things that could affect the health of the women, such as age, exercise, education, drinking, smoking, medication use and health conditions.

Previous research has already connected saturated fats with an increased decline in brain function, as well as the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been associated with diabetes, some cancers, atherosclerosis, as well as increased belly fat–which is independently a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. To decrease saturated fat in the diet, the study authors suggest limiting red meat consumption, and instead eating more fish and skinless poultry.  When selecting dairy products, low or nonfat products are better options than those containing whole milk. Meatless meals featuring vegetables and beans are also good options to keep saturated fat consumption low.

Related Reading: Weight Loss after Gastric Bypass Decreases Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

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