Dr. John Day
Dr. Day is a cardiologist specializing in heart rhythm abnormalities at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Do Processed Foods Cause Memory Loss?
Can what we eat actually affect our memory? Yes, according to a study just recently presented at the American Heart Association’s annual scientific sessions in Chicago. This study showed that trans fat, which is common in processed and fast foods, can cause memory loss in even younger adults.
Can You Believe Trans Fat Food Labels?
You may be thinking, “I always read the labels and make sure that I do not buy any food with trans fat.” But sometimes the labels are not clear.
For example, a Fig Newton bar, which is even made with “real fruit” and is freely given to patients at my hospital, lists 0 grams of trans fat. However, upon closer inspection of the ingredient list you will notice that it contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil.
Whenever you see “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” listed on the ingredient list it is a trans fat. This is a man made “Franken Fat” that improves the shelf life of the food like substance but decreases our own shelf life.
The problem is with our labeling laws in the U.S. Many other countries have much stricter labeling laws. As long as you have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving in the U.S., you can legally advertise “0 trans fat”. Although technically legal in the U.S., this is deceptive food labeling and many “food” companies participate in this practice.
How Much Trans Fat Do Americans Still Eat?
Another problem is that most serving sizes are not realistic. Many people eat much more than one measly little serving as defined on the food label. Also, trans fat is still in so many of our foods such as fast food, pizza, french fries, biscuits, bakery items, and a large percentage of packaged foods. At the end of the day, the average American has eaten 5.8 grams of trans fat from all of these food like products.
The Dangers of Trans Fat
No amount of trans fat is safe. Even the FDA realizes this and is working to ban this man-made trans fat from the American diet. Trans fat dramatically increases both the bad cholesterol numbers and the risk of heart disease. Trans fat has also been linked to obesity, cancer, diabetes, and depression. Clearly, our goal is to completely avoid this very dangerous man-made fat.
Memory Loss from Trans Fat Study
This study, recently presented at the American Heart Association annual meeting in Chicago, was interesting in that even younger adults (ages 20-45) showed significant memory loss after eating trans fat (here is a link to the news report of this study). Specifically, they looked at 1,018 people and found that for every one gram of trans fat they ate each day resulted in a memory loss of 0.76 words on their memory test.
The biggest offenders of trans fat younger adults remembered 11 less words that those who tried to avoid these man made fat-like chemicals. As the memory test only involved 104 words, this becomes even more remarkable. A “healthy” young adult lost 10% of their memory just from eating junk food.
One could not help but ask, how is this memory loss from junk food affecting them in their schooling or with their jobs? If these young and middle aged adults were showing memory loss from processed foods is it any wonder that Alzheimer’s Disease has also been linked to a diet high in trans fat?
We Are Making Improvements in the War Against Trans Fat
Fortunately, with recent labelling laws and other regulations, we are eating much less trans fat now than we did a generation ago. Our average cholesterol numbers in the U.S. have been dropping and most feel the major driver has been less trans fat in our diets. The recent decline we have seen in heart disease nationwide is also felt to be due to lower amounts of trans fat in our diets. However, if one eats out a lot or purchases processed foods you are still exposed to this dangerous man-made fat.
How to Avoid Trans Fat
To answer the question, do processed foods cause memory loss the answer is clearly yes according to this most recent study. As the goal is really zero trans fat in our diet, not the deceptive “0 grams of trans fat” that you see on so many food labels, here are my six rules to completely eliminate this toxic trans fat from your diet.
1. Do not eat anything with “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” listed on the ingredient list.
2. Assume french fries contain trans fat unless proven otherwise.
3. Assume all pastries, cookies, cakes, pies, and other bakery items contain trans fat unless you are shown proof that they do not.
4. Assume anything fried or battered is trans fat until they can prove to you otherwise.
5. Assume anything that tastes like butter has trans fat unless you can see the ingredient list.
6. Assume any popcorn has trans fat unless you air pop your own corn yourself.
Has your memory or brain fog lifted with elimination of processed and fast foods? What rules do you follow to keep trans fat out of your diet?
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.