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article imageEssential Science: Eating fatty food affects concentration

By Tim Sandle     Jun 1, 2020 in Science
New research suggests that consuming fatty foods affects our ability to concentrate. The inability to focus appears greater after a person has recently consumed a meal composed of fatty foods.
The research, from Ohio State University, shows that a person’s ability to focus may falter after eating one meal especially high in saturated fat. In addition to the main point, the research considered the effect of what is termed a ‘leaky gut’ upon human concentration.
Research method
For the study, researchers provided 51 women an English breakfast-style fry-up, complete with the typical fare of eggs, sausage, and savoury biscuits and gravy. A key difference was that some of the meals were cooked with palm oil, and the other dishes were prepared with healthier sunflower oil. Both types of breakfast contained 930 calories. The scientists set out to design the meals to mimic the type someone may get from a common fast food joint, such as a the standard meal of burger and fries.
The full English breakfast includes bacon  eggs  sausages  beans and fried potatoes
The full English breakfast includes bacon, eggs, sausages, beans and fried potatoes
The core findings were that those women who consumed the sunflower-oil based breakfast tended to perform better when provided with an attention test. With the test, this assessed sustained attention, concentration and reaction time based on 10 minutes of computer-based activities.
With the two types of oil, palm oil has a high saturated fat content, which can be harmful to cardiovascular health. In contrast, high oleic sunflower oil is thought to provide some benefits for heart health.
Trans fats can be found in fried food and they are blamed for increasing the risk of coronary heart ...
Trans fats can be found in fried food and they are blamed for increasing the risk of coronary heart disease
Paul J. Richards, AFP/File
According to lead scientist Dr. Annelise Madison: "It's pretty remarkable that we saw a difference."
Research implications
The research is not just of general interest, since in the time of COVID-19 and lockdown, the types of foods that people are turning to are not necessarily the healthiest. The data indicates that eating just one meal high in saturated fat can significantly hinder a person’s ability to concentrate.
Research paper
The research is published in the journal The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, with the paper titled Afternoon distraction: a high-saturated-fat meal and endotoxemia impact postmeal attention in a randomized crossover trial.
Essential Science
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important science subject.
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