Just one meal high in saturated fat may affect your concentration

Just one meal high in saturated fat may affect your concentration

We all know limiting foods high in saturated fat is healthier for us. Saturated fats are considered bad fats and can adversely affect our cholesterol and increase our risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

But what about indulging in just one high-fat meal? One juicy bacon cheeseburger and a few French fries couldn’t be that bad, right? Especially in these times when we’re more at home and may be craving some fatty comfort food.

You may want to think again. And “think” is the key word here.

Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that eating just one meal high in saturated fat may alter your focus and concentration.

A total of 51 women, average age 53, participated in the crossover study. They completed a concentration test one hour before eating either a high-saturated-fat meal or a high-sunflower-oil (good fat) meal. The women took the test again five hours after the meal. A few weeks later, the women did the same thing but ate the other meal.

The concentration test measured sustained attention, concentration and reaction time based on 10 minutes of computer-based activities. Meals consisted of eggs, biscuits, turkey sausage and gravy, but varied in the type of fat. Both versions contained 930 calories and 60 grams of fat with 60% of total calories from fat, simulating a fast-food meal.

After eating the meal high in saturated fat, all study participants on average performed 11% poorer on the concentration test.

“These findings seem to show that a single meal high in saturated fat can impede a person’s attention compared with an identical meal high in monounsaturated fat,” says  Dr. Manju Kanikunnel, a family medicine doctor from Aurora Health Center in Sheboygan, WI. “And because each participant consumed both meals during the study, variability between individuals or genetics did not come into play.”

The researchers also analyzed the participants’ blood for signs of endotoxemia. Sometimes referred to as leaky gut, endotoxemia is an inflammatory condition caused by toxins seeping through the intestines into the bloodstream.

Women with signs of endotoxemia performed poorly on the concentration test no matter which meal or type of fat they ate. Their response times were more erratic and they were less able to sustain their attention.

“These results support previous studies that report routinely eating a high-fat diet can impair a person’s cognitive ability,” Dr. Kanikunnel says. “Incorporating more vegetables and fruits and less fat in your meals is not only healthier for you physically, but it may mentally as well. And during these times with many people stressed or working from home, it may help you stay more focused.”

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  1. After reading this article I’m confused. I was lead to believe that trans fats are bad for you. Saturated fats are used for our cellular membranes and in turn cognitive function. There is a reason kids with epilepsy are treated with very high fat diet. Fat is a superb source of fuel, it takes time for your body to adapt as glucose is a much easier source to convert to energy.

  2. I agree with Cory regarding saturated fats and the brain. (I know it’s not popular within medical circles but) I follow KETO and I’ve never been more focused and alert….

    That being said, if a person consumes “One juicy bacon cheeseburger and a FEW FRENCH FRIES” (emphasis mine)
    Trust, it’s the CARBS from the bun and the fries that are making people tired, sluggish and less alert.

  3. I completely agree with Nicole and Cory.
    Since putting more healthy saturated fats such as organic 100% grass fed beef into my diet, my focus and energy have increased dramatically. High carbs will put me into a “fog”.

  4. I agree with all of the commenters before me. This is a ridiculous article because what was served to the individuals was both high fat AND high carb. The people involved were not reacting well to the fat because they were unable to use it as a fuel source / their bodies preferred the glucose from the fries and hamburger bun. However, don’t let that make all saturated fats evil. When fully fat-adapted, the keto diet offers greatly ENHANCED mental / concentration levels.

  5. Why were the subjects of the trials exclusively women?

  6. I also completely agree with the above comments. We’ve learned that it’s sugar and processed carbs that spike your insulin and make you feel sluggish; fats are good for you! Healthy fat is not the enemy.

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About the Author

Mary Arens
Mary Arens

Mary Arens, health enews contributor, is a senior content specialist at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has 20+ years of experience in communications plus a degree in microbiology. Outside of work, Mary makes healthy happen with hiking, yoga, gardening and walks with her dog, Chester.