There is something colloquially called the “Twinkie defense.” This loosely means that the sugar rush from the snack food temporarily made someone a little hostile. But a new study out of California suggests there may actually be a link. The health breakthrough shows how trans fats in the diet are linked to irritability and aggression.
The study comprised nearly 1,000 men and women. It illustrates the first evidence linking dietary trans fats with adverse behaviors that range from impatience to overt aggression.
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Trans fats became a household name last decade. They were discovered to be very unhealthy for us, but existed in a wide variety of prepared foods and baked goods. They were deemed far worse than saturated fat in terms of taking a severe toll on the heart. We have learned much since then, and most food manufacturers of any repute have refined their recipes to exclude trans fats.
What are they? Dietary trans fatty acids are primarily products of hydrogenation — this transforms unsaturated oils into solid form at room temperature. They are often present at high levels in margarines, shortenings, and prepared foods. The list of unhealthy effects on our bodies is not short. Trans fats have been associated with higher cholesterol levels, inflammation, a disrupted metabolism, insulin resistance (putting you at risk of type 2 diabetes), and oxidation (a process that is linked to cancer and other chronic disease).
The researchers used dietary information and behavioral assessments of 945 adult men and women to analyze the relationship between trans fats and aggression or irritability. The survey measured such factors as a life history of aggression, conflict tactics, and self-rated impatience and irritability, as well as an “overt aggression” scale that tallies recent aggressive behaviors. Analyses were adjusted for sex, age, education, and use of alcohol or tobacco products.
The researchers found that the more trans fats one had in his or her diet, the greater aggression and the higher risk of irritability. If this holds true in further studies, it provides more rationale to recommendations to avoid eating trans fats. And, in particular, to avoid providing them in places like schools and prisons, since aggression can lead to negative situations for others.