Fatty food may feel like a friend during troubled times, but new research suggests that eating just one meal high in saturated fat can hinder our ability to concentrate.
The study compared how 51 women performed on a test of their attention after they ate either a meal high in saturated fat or the same meal made with sunflower oil, which is high in unsaturated fat.
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 were also looking at whether a condition called leaky gut, which allows intestinal bacteria to enter the bloodstream, had any effect on concentration. Participants with leakier guts performed worse on the attention assessment no matter which meal they had eaten.
The loss of focus after a single meal was eye-opening for the researchers.
“Most prior work looking at the causative effect of the diet has looked over a period of time. And this was just one meal — it’s pretty remarkable that we saw a difference,” said Annelise Madison, lead author of the study and a graduate student in clinical psychology at The Ohio State University.
Madison also 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,” she said.
The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.