Study finds even one meal high in saturated fat can affect concentration

Researchers from The Ohio State University recently published a study finding even one meal high in saturated fat can affect concentration and attention.

Alex Smolokoff, Editorial coordinator

June 4, 2020

2 Min Read
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Consumption of foods high in saturated fat—even just one meal—can hinder one’s ability to concentrate, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this month.

The double-blind, randomized crossover study, published on May 12 by Annelise Madison and a team of researchers at The Ohio State University, examined the ability of 51 women to perform a “continuous performance test” before and after consumption of a high-fat meal. In addition to the performance test, which measured sustained attention, concentration and reaction time, blood was drawn to assess markers of endotoxemia, a condition wherein a toxin can leach from the intestine into the bloodstream when the gut barrier is compromised, also called leaky gut.

For the study, the women were divided into two groups, each of which was assessed for baseline in the morning, then again five hours after consuming a high-fat meal consisting of eggs, biscuits, turkey sausage and gravy. While both groups were given meals containing the above foods and totaling 930 calories, one group’s gravy consisted of palmitic acid-based oil high in saturated fat, while the other was given a lower-saturated fat sunflower oil. After one to four weeks, each woman repeated the test after consuming the other meal. According to the researchers, the saturated-fat meals were meant to mimic typical fast food offerings in terms of nutritional content.

The study’s findings revealed even one meal high in saturated fat was enough to affect the participants’ abilities on the performance test. Those consuming the high-saturated fat meal performed, on average, 11% worse at detecting stimuli than their baseline results.

Additionally, the study found response times for individuals with apparent signs of endotoxemia from both groups were far more erratic, and ability to maintain concentration for the entirety of the 10-minute assessment was diminished. Overall, the study concluded:

“These results suggest that higher LBP, sCD14, and LBP:sCD14 [markers of endotoxemia] and saturated-fat intake individually and jointly influence attention.”

These findings are especially important during our current times, as the COVID-19 pandemic still plaguing the U.S. and world at large is leaving large segments of the population anxious which, in turn, could lead to worse eating habits.

According to Madison, via the Ohio State News, “What we know is that when people are more anxious, a good subset of us will find high-saturated-fat food more enticing than broccoli.” Madison went on to note, “Most prior work looking at the causative effect of the diet has looked over a period of time. And this was just one meal – it’s pretty remarkable that we saw a difference.”


About the Author(s)

Alex Smolokoff

Editorial coordinator, Informa

After a career in sportswriting, Alex Smolokoff was on the editorial team at Informa Markets from December 2018 through spring of 2022, working on Food & Beverage Insider. In his free time, he enjoys watching his hometown Boston sports teams.   

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