Higher fat diets in pregnancy appears to benefit learning and immune system. Yet in spite of the evidence, researchers concluded high-fat diets are harmful.
Perhaps as a reaction to yesterday’s publicity about research showing that long-term consumption of low-carb diets reduces insulin and promotes longevity (link to article), the proponents of a low-fat diet try to fight back. So far, their counterpunch lacks punch:
“The high-fat groups actually learned faster than the low fat controls, contrary to our expectations. But we think it is because they were more anxious and therefore more motivated to escape the maze.” – Staci Bilbo, PhD, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. (link to article)
I can’t make much sense of this conclusion. I’ll admit I have a bias against low-fat diets. I do believe that since the brain is made of fat, a high-fat diet would likely promote healthier central nervous system development. And I have a hunch this researcher’s bias against low fat diets is throwing her off base completely. Which is a shame, because the good professor is being paid to be neutral and objective.
So here’s what the data says:
The high-fat groups actually learned faster than the low fat controls
And here’s how the low-fat pundits spin it:
Because they were more anxious
But one could just as easily have said this:
Because their brains work better
In another quirky bit of reasoning, the authors conclude a more vigorous response to bacterial infection, which was seen in the high-fat group, is a bad thing.
Immune response was also negatively affected by exposure to a high-fat diet. When exposed to a bacterial challenge or “simulated infection,” the young-adult offspring of obese mothers “had a greatly exaggerated inflammatory response within the brain compared to low-fat controls,” she explained.
In other words, the rats from the high-fat group were able to eradicate the bacteria from their brain faster than the rats from the low fat group. That seems like a good thing to me. Researchers stick bacteria into rat brain, rat immune system eradicates the infection, problem over.
There are problems with concluding anything from this research because they’re not comparing apples to apples. They’re comparing normal weight rats eating low-fat diets with overweight rats eating high fat diets. Other research has shown that animals “eat to calorie, not to volume” so to make rats fat, they have to do some monkeying around–perhaps by denying them exercise or water, or by adding special substances.