Hold the fries! We now know the dangers of artificial trans fat – harmful fats found in processed baked goods, deep fried foods, frozen pizzas, coffee creamers, and other processed foods to help extend shelf life. They’re made by hydrogenation, a process that turns liquid vegetable oils into solids. Trans fats have been shown to have a detrimental impact on heart health and are also linked to higher body weight. Just last year, the FDA began steps to remove trans fat from the “generally recognized as safe” (or GRAS) list for use in food. Now, a new study has also linked trans fat consumption to diminished memory in adults.

Presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014, the study included about 1,000 healthy adult men. Participants completed a dietary questionnaire from which trans fat intake was estimated, and a memory test, comprised of a series of 104 word cards, was administered. Men were asked to indicate if each word was new or if they had already seen it on a previous card. Researchers found among men under age 45, having a higher intake of trans fats correlated with worse performance on the memory test. For every additional gram of trans fat reported, men recalled 0.76 fewer words correctly. Men who ate the most trans fat showed a 10% decrease in memory compared to men who ate the least.

Researchers postulate that diminished memory with trans fat intake is related to oxidative stress and cell energy. Trans fats promote cell oxidation which may kill off important brain cells related to memory. Memory impairment could also be due to the energy-zapping effects of trans fats which can make brain cells less responsive.

Simply put, there is no place for trans fat in the diet. Until the FDA is successful in completely removing artificial trans fats from the food supply, eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits is a good way to avoid this harmful ingredient. Choose healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats from foods like avocados, nuts, and olive oils, and opt for lean proteins like fish and legumes, as natural trans fats can be found in red meat products. When buying packaged products, check labels to ensure the food is free of trans fat and avoid foods that list partially hydrogenated oils or hydrogenated oils as an ingredient. We’re getting close, but it isn’t all gone yet.

BONUS: To give your memory an added boost, up the magnesium in your diet. In one study, extra magnesium in rats increased memory recall by a whopping 56% – thanks in part to a 142% growth in synaptic endings, increasing the speed of brain cell transmission by 160%. Try our Mediterranean Vegetable Tart made with spinach and artichokes, both excellent sources of magnesium, for a flavorful memory kick.

Published January 1, 2015