A new study out of the University of California San Diego suggests that trans fats are not only expanding waistlines, but could be damaging your memory as well.
The study, presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association conference, found that among 690 men, those who ate the most trans fats remembered 11 fewer words out of 104 than those who ate the least.
The study’s author, Beatrice Golomb, a professor at the UCSD School of Medicine, told USA Today that trans fats amount to a “metabolic poison.”
"Trans fats increase the shelf life of the food but reduce the shelf life of the person," Golomb said. "They don't provide anything the body needs.”
Also called partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats are often used to extend the shelf life of snacks, such as cookies and crackers, and have previously been linked to obesity and heart disease.
Manufacturers have been required to disclose trans fats on labels since 2006, and many foods like margarine were reformulated with alternative ingredients. But the law allows products with less than half 1 gram of trans fat to be listed as trans fat-free.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration took the first steps to banning trans fat outright, removing it from the Generally Recognized As Safe list of foods. California has already prohibited its use in restaurants, as has New York City.
You may not even know you’re consuming trans fat. It may appear as an ingredient listed as “partially hydrogenated” on nutrition labels.
USA Today reported that out of over 100 Keebler products, for example, 42 were labeled trans fat-free, but listed partially hydrogenated oils among their ingredients.
The study did not explain why eating trans fat would cause memory loss, but experts think the findings are in line with what they already know on how nutrition affects the brain.
"These artificial fats penetrate every cell in the body and can disrupt basic cell functions," Dr. Walter Willett told USA Today.
Willett is chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, but was not involved in the research.