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How trans fat affects brain function

You know trans fat is the worst type of fat for your heart (in fact, the Food and Drug Administration is requiring companies to phase it out of processed foods in the next three years), but did you know trans fat may also negatively impact brain function?

A recent study from University of California, San Diego, found that men under age 45 who consumed foods rich in trans fat exhibited:

  • Decreased memory
  • Worsened moods
  • More aggressive behavior

"The study showed statistical significance between recall memory and the consumption of trans fatty acids in men less than 45 years of age," explains Gathline Etienne, M.D., a neurologist at Piedmont.

While no studies have proven trans fat affects women in the same way, "this could be because only a few women less than 45 years old were involved in the study," says Dr. Etienne.

How trans fat affects the body

If decreased brain power isn't enough, there are plenty of other reasons to avoid trans fat at all costs.

"Dietary trans fatty acids have been linked to poor lipid profiles, inflammation and insulin resistance, which increases your risk for metabolic syndrome," says Dr. Etienne. "Metabolic syndrome, which includes diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, is the main risk factor for heart attack and stroke."

Foods that contain trans fat

While some fat is good for you, experts agree trans fat has no health benefits. Not only does it increase bad cholesterol (LDL), it decreases good cholesterol (HDL). It is most commonly found in processed, packaged foods, such as:

  • Canned chili
  • Processed meat sticks
  • Breakfast sandwiches
  • French fries or fried foods cooked in hydrogenated oil (many restaurant chains have stopped using this type of oil, but some still do)
  • Biscuits and rolls
  • Crackers (watch out for hydrogenated cottonseed oil)
  • Frozen meals
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Crunchy Asian noodles
  • Creamy beverages
  • Margarine and shortening
  • Non-dairy creamers
  • Waffle or pancake mix
  • Packaged pudding cups
  • Store-bought pie and pie crust
  • Store-bought cake mixes and frostings (even if labeled trans fat-free, they could contain trace amounts if shortening is an ingredient)
  • Store-bought cookies and cookie dough

As you can see, trans fat can be found in many different foods. The best way to avoid this dangerous type of fat is to read nutrition labels (even if something is labeled "trans fat-free," check for hydrogenated oils and shortening), eat as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible, and make baked goods from scratch so you control the ingredients.

For more health and wellness tips, click here.

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