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Too much 'bad' fat could harm brain health

May 22, 2012

There has been a considerable amount of research regarding how certain kinds of fat affect heart health, and now a new study suggests the kind of fat a person eats could affect the brain as well. Scientists discovered that women who ate the most "bad" fat - such as trans and saturated fat - had a greater amount of memory problems and brain function limitations.

The study, conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital, looked at data concerning more than 6,000 women over 65. In addition to taking three cognitive tests every two years, the participants also detailed their eating habits.

Over the course of the study, the team found that those who consumed lower amounts of saturated fats had better cognition and memory than subjects who ate more of the substance. The research may encourage some older adults who want to enjoy a healthy lifestyle for seniors to think carefully about what they eat.

"Our findings have significant public health implications," said Olivia Okereke, who works in the Brigham and Women's Department of Psychiatry. "Substituting in the good fat in place of the bad fat is a fairly simple dietary modification that could help prevent decline in memory."

Although people may be aware of the negative consequences of saturated fats, they may not know which foods have the highest amounts. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), foods such as fatty beef, cream, butter and cheese are among the worst options. Additionally, most fried foods and baked goods tend to have high levels of the substance.

Eating a lot of saturated fats could make healthy aging difficult. In addition to raising cholesterol levels and potentially increasing one's risk for developing heart disease, saturated fats may also impact a person's insulin levels, which could raise the risk of diabetes, cancer and other health problems, reports.

Certain fats may have negative health consequences, but that does not mean they are all bad. Specifically, monounsaturated fats, which are found in nuts, vegetable oils and avocados, hold numerous health benefits. The nutrient can help maintain healthy skin and offers plenty of vitamin E. According to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, monounsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease.