If your productivity wanes in the afternoon, consider what you eat for lunch. According to researchers from Ohio State University, eating just one meal high in saturated fat can hinder your ability to concentrate.
While previous research has linked a long term high-fat diet to impaired cognitive function, this new study found that eating a single high-saturated-fat meal also has cognitive consequences.
About the study
The study published last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, compared how 51 women, average age 53, performed on an attention test after they ate a meal high in saturated fat or unsaturated fat.
Saturated fats are found in animal foods such as meats and fatty dairy products, as well as some plant oils, including coconut oil and palm oil. Unsaturated fats come from vegetables, seeds, nuts, olives and fish.
At the outset of the study, all women completed a “continuous performance test”, a tool that measures sustained attention, concentration and reaction time based on 10 minutes of computer activities.
Participants then ate a fatty meal designed to match the fat and calorie content of a fast food meal (e.g., cheeseburger and fries). The two test meals each contained 60 g of fat, one from palm oil (saturated) and the other from sunflower oil (unsaturated).
Five hours after eating a test meal, the women took the attention test again. A few weeks later, each participant completed the same protocol but ate the other high-fat meal.
After eating the high saturated fat meal, women had more difficulty performing the attention test than they did following the meal high in unsaturated fat.
When consumed in excess, saturated fatty acids can cross the blood-brain barrier and interact with brain cells, triggering an inflammatory response which could impair concentration.
Your diet can affect mental effectiveness by supplying nutrients and phytochemicals necessary for brain function.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), found in oily fish like salmon, trout and sardines, is the dominant omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain. There, it has anti-inflammatory effects and keeps brain cell membranes flexible so memory messages can easily pass between them.
A higher intake of this B vitamin-like compound has been tied to improved memory performance in healthy adults. It’s needed to produce acetylcholine, a key brain chemical for mental focus and learning.
Good sources include egg yolks, soybeans, beef, chicken, cod, red potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, kidney beans, quinoa and yogurt.
As an antioxidant, vitamin E plays a key role in protecting brain cells from free radical damage. High blood levels of vitamin E have repeatedly been associated with better cognitive performance.
Almonds, hazelnuts, wheat germ oil, frozen spinach, sunflower oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil and peanut butter are excellent sources.
Growing evidence suggests that these phytochemicals may benefit cognitive function by suppressing inflammation and fending off free radical damage in the brain.
Flavonoid-rich foods include berries, red grapes, red cabbage, pears, green tea, cocoa, onions, kale, broccoli, citrus fruit, parsley, celery and soybeans.
This unsaturated fat helps reduce inflammation in the body; consuming mainly monounsaturated fat versus saturated fat has been associated with better cognitive scores among women.
Good sources include olive oil, olives, avocados, peanuts, peanut oil, almonds, cashews, pecans and pistachios.