Saturated Fat Makes It Harder for Your Brain to Control Your Diet
If you know anything about how good fats versus bad fats affect human health, you’re probably somewhat aware of the unpleasant realities of a diet high in saturated fats — like higher cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. Well, it turns out there’s much more to it than that.
According to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, a diet high in saturated fat can actually trick the brain into making you think that you want to eat more, making it more of a struggle to control portion sizes and total calories. Although researchers conducted the study on rats, they say that the findings can likely apply to humans in a very similar way.
One group of rats were put on a diet that contained high amounts of lard, which is high in saturated fat. Another group of rats were fed a diet that contained more fish oil (a polyunsaturated fat). After six weeks, the rats that were eating lard experienced inflammation in their brains. The hypothalamus, a portion of the brain that helps regulate hunger, was particularly affected.
The results reveal that cognitive function suffers from a diet high in saturated fat, essentially making it a lot harder to resist tempting foods. In addition to seeing these effects on the brain, the rats in the lard group also gained weight and developed insulin resistance.
Despite eating the same amount of fat as the lard group, the other group of rats that were put on a fish oil diet didn’t experience the same changes in their hypothalamuses. Brain function stays neutral and allows for better control over eating when unsaturated fat is consumed.
Although the study wasn’t conducted on humans and the rats were eating higher amounts of fat that any comparable human would typically eat, the researchers say that their findings paint a pretty clear picture of the difference between saturated fat and unsaturated fat can have on cognitive function. They suggest that simply becoming more aware of the types of fat people are consuming may help them manage their weight better and prevent development of health conditions related to obesity.
Another recent study revealed that a diet high in saturated fat is linked to an increased risk of mortality while other research suggests that a Mediterranean diet high in unsaturated fat (about 45 percent of total calories) may be the key to a longer life. The evidence is generally quite limited, however, to say that a Mediterranean with no restriction on healthy fat intake can reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Examples of foods that are high in saturated fat include those coming from animal sources like red meat (fatty beef, pork, lamb), poultry with the skin left on it, lard, cream, butter, cheese and dairy products made with whole or 2 percent milk. Examples of foods high in unsaturated fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) include olive oil, sesame oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butters and fatty fish (like wild salmon, mackerel, herring and trout).
While a focus on consuming mostly unsaturated fats along with as many unprocessed foods as possible, small amounts of saturated fat consumed here and there is still fine. After all, foods actually contain a mix of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats — it’s just a matter of which fat they’re highest in.
Science still has a long way to go with determining the real effects of saturated fat versus unsaturated effects, but this particular study on brain health is at least one more serious thing to consider in terms of how it may be influencing diet adherence and portion control related to healthy weight loss or maintenance. If you’re having a hard time controlling your eating, I hate to say it, but it may just be time to swap the butter out for an avocado.
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