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Ever dig into your favorite cheat meal — whether that be a heaping pile of lasagna or a double-bacon cheeseburger with onion rings — and just feel like doing nothing for … well, the rest of the day? Turns out, those high-saturated-fat meals not only make us physically lethargic, but mentally tired as well, according to a new study.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that people who eat meals high in saturated fats typically have trouble performing mental tasks and staying focused compared to people who ate more unsaturated fats.
For the study, 51 women were tested on their attention skills (through a 10-minute exam done on a computer) before eating a breakfast of champions: eggs, biscuits, turkey sausage, and gravy. The gravy was either made with an oil high in saturated fats, or sunflower oil, which is low in sat fats.
The women would then take the same test five hours after eating. Those who had the high saturated fat gravy performed worse on the test: they had visible signs of concentration lapse, and their response times were more erratic compared to those who had fewer saturated fats.
Part of the reason for this drop in focus could be attributed to a condition called “leaky gut,” which occurs when intestinal bacteria enters the bloodstream. Another possibility is that saturated fats can increase inflammation in the body, and possibly the brain.
These findings are notable in this time, the researchers noted, because more people are working from home and eating comfort foods to cope with the ongoing pandemic — either because they’re stuck inside due to quarantine orders, or have been laid off.
“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,” Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State, said in a statement. “We know from other research that depression and anxiety can interfere with concentration and attention as well. When we add that on top of the high-fat meal, we could expect the real-world effects to be even larger.”