Eat smarter

October 27, 2004

MAYBE THERE'S something to the whole notion of comfort food - you know, snacks that quell the restless mind. And just maybe that has to do with certain ingredients in these foods making you, er, dumber. Think about that, if you can, the next time you lay into a scrumptious slab of coffee cake or wolf down an irresistible mound of french fries - foods often steeped in certain fats.

As reported by The Sun's David Kohn, a new study has found that rats fed a diet of 10 percent coconut oil, a trans fat, showed impaired memory and learning in a series of mazes - compared with rats fed soybean oil, which is not a trans fat. Other tests on mice fed both saturated and trans fats yielded roughly similar results. Such studies haven't been done on humans, but scientists speculate trans fats destroy brain proteins that nurture nerve cells - in humans, too.

Trans fats - vegetable oil with hydrogen added under pressure - were already under siege for their role in heart disease, prompting some fast-food chains and snack-makers to replace them with safer oils. Even McDonald's has vowed to stop cooking its fries in partially hydrogenated oils, though it's been too slow in doing so. In 2006, the government will start to require the labeling of foods with trans fats. In the meantime, the new study should discourage trans fat use by giving consumers another reason to - literally - eat smarter, even if it means they may find their snacks somewhat less comforting.

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