Senior Living



Study: Focus falters after meal high in saturated fats

By Nancy Clanton, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Senior Living Features

Many of us are turning to comfort food while staying home during the coronavirus pandemic. Burgers, fries, chips and candy are all helping us deal with uncertainty and self-isolation.

Unfortunately, a new study suggests, those foods might sabotage your ability to work well from home.

Researchers at Ohio State University found that eating just one meal high in saturated fat can hinder our ability to concentrate.

The study, Science Daily reported, compared how 51 women performed on a test of their attention after they ate either a meal high in saturated fat or the same meal made with sunflower oil, which is high in unsaturated fat.

The women performed worse after having a meal high in saturated fats, suggesting a link between fatty foods and an ability to concentrate.

"Most prior work looking at the causative effect of the diet has looked over a period of time. And this was just one meal - it's pretty remarkable that we saw a difference," said Annelise Madison, lead author of the study and a graduate student in clinical psychology at OSU.

The women in the study ate the same meal: eggs, biscuits, turkey sausage and gravy containing 60 grams of fat. Part of the meals were prepared with a palmitic acid-based oil high in saturated fat and the rest with lower-saturated-fat sunflower oil. Both meals totaled 930 calories and were designed to mimic the contents of various fast-food meals, such as a burger and fries.

The women completed a baseline assessment of their sustained attention, concentration and reaction time based on 10 minutes of computer-based activities.


They completed the assessment again after eating.

After eating the meal high in saturated fat, the women were, on average, 11% less able to detect target stimuli in the attention assessment.

"Because both meals were high-fat and potentially problematic, the high-saturated-fat meal's cognitive effect could be even greater if it were compared to a lower-fat meal," Madison said.

Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology, and director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State, said the findings suggest concentration could be even more impaired in people stressed by the coronavirus pandemic who are turning to fatty foods for comfort.

"What we know is that when people are more anxious, a good subset of us will find high-saturated-fat food more enticing than broccoli," she said. "We know from other research that depression and anxiety can interfere with concentration and attention as well. When we add that on top of the high-fat meal, we could expect the real-world effects to be even larger."

The study was published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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