Trans fats are damaging your memory, and the junk food ingredient is found in a lot of surprising items all over your grocery store. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego have discovered trans fats not only make your jeans tighter but may also worsen your memory. Maybe you’ll forget what waistline you were by the time you’re done eating that cookie, bowl of ice cream, or bag of butter lovers' popcorn.

"Trans fats increase the shelf life of the food but reduce the shelf life of the person," the study’s lead author Beatrice Golomb, a professor at the UCSD School of Medicine, told USA Today. "They're a metabolic poison, and that's not a good thing to be putting into your body. They don't provide anything the body needs."

Trans fats form when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it a more solid texture, which is why some packages label it as partially hydrogenated oils. According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, Americans need to keep their trans fat intake as low as possible — zero if they can. It’s hard to cut it out of your diet completely, considering it’s found in everything, from French fries, cakes, pies, cookies (basically any packaged baked good item), pancakes, waffles, ice cream, shakes, nondairy creamers, microwave popcorn, ground beef, and frozen dinners. Are you overwhelmed yet?

Researchers studied the diets and memories of 1,000 adult men and presented their findings at the American Heart Association Conference. Those who ate the most trans fats, regardless of their age, depression, or education levels, had the worst memories. Gram for gram, it’s the worst type of fat for you.  

To access memory, each participant was presented with a series of 104 cards, each one with words. All the person had to do was state whether or not the word they saw in front of them was new or a duplicate. Researchers found each gram they consumed per day was linked with a 0.76 fewer words recalled, which means those who ate the most recalled 11 fewer words than the rest. Golomb and his team believe trans fat may be part of the cell damaging process known as oxidative stress. Trans fats are the opposite of an antioxidant, a key anti-aging micronutrient that counteracts the deterioration of an organism or substance.

It’s no secret trans fats are notorious for being the worst fats for the body, but now that it’s shown to harm the brain, maybe people will rethink their eating habits. Not only do trans-fatty acids raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as your bad cholesterol level, it also lowers your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or the good cholesterol levels. High LDL puts you at an increased risk for heart disease, and it’s found in most processed foods and baked goods used to improve texture, shelf life, and flavor. How many risks is the average consumer willing to take for flavor?

Are you struggling to remember why you gave up on your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier? Trans fats are eating away at your memory with each slice of American apple pie. The average American consumes 5.6 grams of trans fat a day, according to the dietitian and physician run institution Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Each year 50,000 heart attacks are attributed to trans fat consumption, which is why the CSPI firmly believes, “Government, at all levels, should pass laws banning trans fat from restaurants.”

Source: Golomb BA and Bui AK. American Heart Association. 2014.