Trans Fat Means Trouble for Your Memory

Medically reviewed in December 2020

Can’t seem to remember where you set you keys? Constantly forgetting to pick up the dry-cleaning? Well put down the potato chips and step away from the snack cakes, because your favorite processed foods could be the culprit. 

Memory Meltdown
A study by a team at UC San Francisco and released by the American Heart Association has revealed that foods high in trans fats, like French fries, chips and doughnuts, are linked to a decline in memory for men under the age of 45.

For the study, 1,000 healthy men were asked to fill out a dietary questionnaire allowing researchers to estimate their daily trans fat consumption. The men were then given a memory test, where they were shown 104 cards with words printed on them. The men had to state whether the word they were shown was new or duplicated from an earlier card.

Researchers found those who consumed the most trans fat remembered 10 percent fewer words than those who consumed less of the unhealthy fat, even after participants’ age, education, ethnicity and depression were taken into account.

Researchers concluded that trans fats were strongly linked to worsening memory in young to middle-aged men, though a direct cause-and-effect relationship couldn’t be established.

Trans fat consumption has also been shown to contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even certain types of cancer.

Secret Sources of Trans Fat
While we all know to pass on the fast food fried chicken and skip the packaged sweets, be sure to also steer clear of these trans-fat saboteurs:

  • Non-dairy coffee creamer – There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee, and non-dairy creamer may seem like a healthier choice when it comes to lightening up your cup – especially for those suffering from lactose intolerance. Be warned, though. This common coffee companion is actually full of partially hydrogenated oil, another name for trans fat. Opt for other dairy-free options like almond or soymilk, instead.
  • Pie and piecrusts – These are a convenient go-to for baking. Unfortunately, store-bought pies and piecrusts can have anywhere between 2 and 4.5 grams of trans fat per serving, thanks to the shortening they contain. Your best bet will be making your pie from scratch. You could even get the kids involved and make it a fun, family activity.
  • Pancake and waffle mixes – A common anytime breakfast staple, pancakes and waffles are part of morning traditions for many of us. The bad news? Pre-made mixes have up to 1.5 grams of trans fat per serving. This year, make your own mixes at home using simple, natural ingredients like flour, milk, unsalted butter and eggs.

If you aren’t sure whether or not your favorite products contain this type of fat, read the label. Many brands offer trans fat-free varieties, but keep an eye out for partially hydrogenated oils. This easy-to-overlook trans fat source is often hidden in the ingredient list. 

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