According to a new study published in the Annals of Neurology, monounsaturated fats, the “good” fats found in high amounts in olive oil, were associated with better cognitive function and memory, while saturated fats, the harmful fats found in animal fats such as butter, were associated with worse overall cognitive function and memory.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School analyzed data from the Women’s Health Study, originally a cohort of nearly 40,000 women, 45 years and older. The researchers used data from a subset of 6,000 women, all over the age of 65. The women participated in three cognitive function tests, which were spaced out every two years for an average testing span of four years. These women also completed a detailed food frequency questionnaire at the start of the study.

The researchers found that although total fat did not appear to affect cognitive function, the type of fat did. Women who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fat, compared to those who consumed the lowest amounts, had worse overall cognition and memory. Women who ate the most of the monounsaturated fats, which can be found in olive oil, had better patterns of cognitive scores over time.

“Substituting the good fat in place of the bad fat is a fairly simple dietary modification that could help prevent decline in memory,” noted Harvard’s Olivia Okereke.

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