Saturated fats could be bad for your brain

May 23, 2012, 1:07 p.m.

Over-consumption of the saturated fat in foods like butter may be as bad for your brain as it is for your heart, according to a new study. (Credit: Mark Binder/Flickr Creative Commons)

What do butter, red meat and potato chips have in common?

They're all high in saturated fat, and eating too much of them is particularly bad for your heart – and now, scientists say, possibly your brain, too.

A new study appearing in Annals of Neurology has found that high saturated fat intake was associated with "worse global cognitive and verbal memory trajectories" – or, in laypeople's terms, was bad for brainpower.

The good news is there's a flip side: Eating monounsaturated fats – which can be found in olive oil, avocados and nuts – can increase the quality of your cognitive function.

In their evaluation of more than 6,100 older women over four years, researchers found that it wasn't the amount of fat that women consumed that seemed to matter, but the type. Those who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fats performed worse overall on the researchers' tests of cognitive function, while women who ate more monounsaturated fats did better.

Study author Olivia Okereke told TIME that there are important relationships between fat intake and heart health, which is associated with brain aging.

"We wanted to look at how this relationship and these fats influence cognitive function," she said. “People will want to think about substituting out saturated fat in favor of monounsaturated foods ... Making that substitution might be a way to prevent cognitive decline in older people.”

Samantha Heller, a dietician, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., gave HealthDay the following tips for decreasing saturated fat intake.

"To lower your intake of saturated fat, choose low or nonfat dairy foods such as fat-free milk and yogurt," she said. "Stick with skinless poultry and fish. Limit red and processed meats such as beef, pork, lamb, hot dogs or bologna, to a few times a month. Experiment with meatless meals such as veggie burgers, spinach-eggplant lasagna, or black bean, corn and avocado tacos."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has more about eating healthy on a budget.

Photo by Mark Binder via Flickr Creative Commons.

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