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We know of the classic offenders: sugar, caffeine and alcohol. But there’s another dietary trigger linked to stress and anxiety symptoms that you may be overlooking – plus, it may be negatively impacting your memory, too. Partially hydrogenated oil is a sneaky ingredient that makes its way into tons of packaged foods, and it may be negatively impacting your mental health.
The process of hydrogenating involves adding hydrogen molecules to food in order to alter the texture. Liquid oils become thicker and more spreadable, creating concoctions like margarine. This process also elongates the shelf life of these products, cutting costs for manufacturers. But partially hydrogenated oils, and the artificially produced trans fats this process creates, can wreak havoc on your brain health.
In a study conducted by the Federal University of Santa Maria, researchers fed a group of rats a diet high in hydrogenated vegetable fat, containing high amounts of trans fats. The findings linked chronic consumption of trans fatty acids to the development of neuromotor and neuropsychiatric diseases, exacerbating emotionality in the face of daily stressors. This means that high intake of this processed oil can be directly linked to your ability – or lack thereof – to handle daily obstacles with normal levels of mental duress.
Further research found that eating trans fats in excess from processed foods can worsen memory function. In a study conducted by the San Diego School of Medicine, scientists found that for every additional gram of dietary trans fat eaten daily, performance on word recall tests fell by an average of 0.76 words. Overall, the findings saw that young research subjects with the highest observed dietary trans fats levels could be expected to remember 12 fewer words!
While the word “trans fats” has effectively been erased from the commercial processed food industry’s vocabulary, you can easily figure out which foods contain trans fats (yes, even foods that advertise having no trans fats at all). Read over ingredients labels for the words “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil.” Keep in mind, it’s the trans fats that emerge as a result of this manufacturing process that we’re watching out for, not the natural trans fats that exist in foods like organic dairy products. The most common offenders are prepackaged baked goods, potato or corn chips, margarine and vegetable shortening. As a rule of thumb, stick to eating as many unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods and ingredients as possible.