You already know that cookies aren’t good for your waistline, but new research has shown that they can screw with your emotions. (Photo: Getty Images)
A study of nearly 5,000 people from Loma Linda University has discovered that trans fatty acids (commonly found in cookies and other baked goods) can alter the way a person thinks.
The research, which was published in the Journal of Health Psychology, found that people who ingested more trans fatty acids had difficulty with several aspects of their emotions, including how aware they were of them, how clearly they could read them, and how well they could regulate their mood. But when people ingested less trans fatty acids, they saw an improvement in their ability to regulate their emotions.
Study researcher and registered dietitian Megan Holt, DrPH, tells Yahoo Health that she wanted to study the link between mental health and trans fatty acids because it’s a “poorly understood” relationship.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Sonya Angelone, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Yahoo Health that she’s not shocked by the findings, adding that previous research has found a link between negative behavior and trans fats. She cites a 2012 study from the University of California, San Diego that found people who ate more trans fats were more likely to be aggressive than those who didn’t.
But trans fats aren’t just bad for your emotional health. According to the American Heart Association, trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
The Obama Administration expected to take action to phase our trans fats from the American food supply in the coming months, and The Food and Drug Administration is currently investigating partially hydrogenated oils, which are a primary source for trans fats in processed foods. In 2013, the government agency made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer classified as Generally Recognized as Safe in food.
“Commercially processed trans fat serves no beneficial purpose and has been proven time and time again to do a lot of harm for our health,” says registered dietitian Beth Warren, author of Living a Real Life with Real Food.
Commercially processed trans fats are most commonly found in packaged foods like cookies, cakes, crackers, and peanut butters, she says, and naturally occurring trans fats are found in high-fat animal products like meat and dairy. (The Loma Linda University study specifically looked at people who had eaten margarine, doughnuts, popcorn, French fries, and cookies.)
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But Angelone says we shouldn’t worry as much about naturally occurring trans fats since “it seems like naturally occurring trans fats aren’t quite as bad as commercially processed trans fats.”
Want to limit, or even eliminate, trans fats from your diet? It’s possible, says Warren. Cooking at home helps, as well as reading food labels and keeping at eye out for the words “partially hydrogenated.” That means there are trans fats in the product, but not enough to list on the food label, she says. If you end up eating more than the serving size (which most of us do), you may be consuming trans fat.
Holt is hopeful that her research will lead to more awareness and understanding of the influence that our diet can have on our mental health. “We need to consider that poor nutrition also has implications in terms of psychological wellness,” she says. “Striving to avoid or limit dietary sources of trans fatty acids would certainly be a good start.”
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