A meal high in saturated fat with butter or bacon might seem comforting during these stressful times, but new research shows it can burn away all your focus into the afternoon.
Diet and mind are linked. We know eating a diet high in saturated fat is already shown to impair thinking, but this new study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a single fattening meal hurts concentration and slows down reaction time. So we might be making working from home even harder to concentrate on if we eat badly.
“This double-blind, randomized crossover trial demonstrated that a single meal high in saturated fat can impede attention,” said the researchers in a comparison of women participants.
Here’s what happened for a single meal with a lot of fat. Two groups of women participated. One group got a meal with oleic sunflower oil (monosaturated fat) and the other the same meal but with high saturated fat. When put to a computer test, the high saturated fat meal group had a harder time finding targets and pressing the space bar on the keyboard on command than the other group. They slowed down.
Eating bad messes with the brain. Some “evidence shows that, when excess saturated fat interacts with the hypothalamus, microglia orchestrate an inflammatory response,” the study said. This is like bruising your shin against something and watching it swell but doing it intentionally by eating a burger and hurting your brain.
Scientists also tested preexisting conditions for toxicity in diets and the gut in this study. Leaky gut, which allows intestinal bacteria to enter the bloodstream was also studied to see if it had any effect on concentration. Participants with leakier guts performed worse on the focus test, no matter what meal they had eaten.
Findings will need to be shown in a greater population to be widely applied for, “a more diverse sample to ensure generalizability as participants in the current study were all female and mostly white,” the study notes. But the gist of it proves saturated fat intake is probably not good for clarity or responding quickly to a task at work.
What does this mean for you? Engaging in some intake of saturated fats is fine, but a fried chicken sandwich or even turkey bacon is not what you want to eat before focusing on an email or an important period of work for the day. It’s better to make balanced meals if you want to stay sharp at a 2:00 pm video conference call, grading homework or approving a contract.
Alternatives to fatty foods from the American Heart Association:
- Fruits, vegetables,
- Whole grains,
- Low-fat dairy products,
- Poultry, fish and nuts,
- Only have a little bit of red meat and sugary foods and beverages, perhaps no more than once a week.
With a little planning and some good self-talk, you can make a meal that keeps you sharp, not sluggish, well into your afternoons.