New research has suggested that eating just one meal that is high in saturated fat can limit our ability to concentrate. At a time when people are working at home due to troubled times, that is not great news for those whose diets have taken a turn south during the COVID-19 pandemic!
The study which was led at The Ohio State University, compared how 50 females performed on an attention test following a meal high in saturated fat or the same meal made with sunflower oil which is high in unsaturated fat.
The women’s performance was worse following the high fat meal as opposed to the meal which contained a healthier fat. This signaled to the research team a link between the brain and fatty food.
The team additionally looked at whether a condition known as leaky gut which will allow intestinal bacteria to enter the bloodstream, had any effect on concentration. Participants who had leakier guts performed worse on the attention test assessment no matter which of the meals they had consumed.
The loss of concentration and focus after just one meal was eye opening to the team. Earlier work looked at the causative effect of the diet over a period of time. The current research on consuming just one high saturated fat meal showed a remarkable difference on focus.
The team also noted that the meal that used sunflower oil which is low in saturated fat, still contained quite a bit of dietary fat. Because both of the meals were high fat and possibly problematic, the high saturated fat meal’s cognitive effect may be even greater if compared to a lower fat meal.
The women who participated in the study completed a baseline assessment of their attention while at a morning visit to the research lab. The tool used which is called a continuous performance test, measures sustained concentration, attention and reactive time based on 10 minutes of computer based activities.
The meal included biscuits, eggs, gravy and turkey sausage and contained 60 grams of fat – either a palmitic acid (a type of saturated fat) based oil high in saturated fat or the lower saturated fat sunflower oil. Both meals contained 930 calories and were designed to copy the contents of a variety of fast food meals.
Five hours after the participants consumed the meal, they retook the continuous performance test. Between one to four weeks later, they repeated the steps, however eating the opposite meal of what they consumed the first time.
The research team also analyzed the participant’s fasting baseline blood samples to see whether they contained an inflammatory molecule which will signal the presence of endotoxemia – the toxin that escapes from the intestines and then enters the bloodstream when the gut barrier is compromised.
Following the meal high in saturated fat, all the women were on average 11% less able to detect target stimuli in the attention assessment test. Lapses in concentration and focus were also apparent in the participants who had signs of leaky gut. Their response times were more erratic and these participants were less able to sustain their attention during the 10 minute test.
If any of the participants had high levels of endotoxemia, that also wiped out the between meal differences. These women were performing poorly no matter which type of fat they consumed.
Although the study did not determine what was happening in the brain, earlier research has suggested that food which is high in saturated fat can increase inflammation throughout the body and possibly even the brain. Fatty acids can also cross the blood brain barrier. It may be that fatty acids are interacting directly with the brain. What it does indicate is the power of gut related deregulation.
The team’s statistical analysis did account for other possibly influences on cognition including symptoms of depression and the participant’s average dietary saturated fat consumption. The women in the recent study consumed three standardized meals and fasted for 12 hours prior to each lab visit in an effort to reduce diet variations that might have affected their physiological response to high fat meals.
The team’s findings do suggest concentration and focus could be even more impaired in people who are feeling stressed due to the current pandemic and are turning to fatty type foods for comfort. What is known is that when people are more anxious, a good subset will turn to high saturated fat foods more enticing that say broccoli. It is known from other research that anxiety and depression can interfere with attention and concentration. When that is added on top of a high fat meal, the real world effects can be even larger.
To view the original scientific study click below