A new study out from the Journal of Physiology says that a diet high in sugar might affect your ability to think and learn. The negative effects of sugar aren’t new information, but this is the first study that suggests that sweeteners might be bad for your brain as well as your body. Don’t get too alarmed, though: the main culprit is the dietary devil, corn syrup.
The study was conducted using rats, who were fed a drinking water solution mixed with fructose. One group of rats was also given omega-3 fatty acids in their water. After six weeks, the rats who drank the fructose-enhanced water completed a maze slower than the mice who also had omega-3s. The rats who drank only the sugar water also had higher levels of insulin, glucose and triglycerides; it even appears that the rats became insulin-resistant, which is a dangerous condition because it’s often a precursor to diabetes.
Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, who helped conduct the study at UCLA, says:
Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning.Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new.
So what should you be concerned about? As usual, high-fructose corn syrup. Dr. Gomez-Pinilla thinks we should be more worried about sugar in manufactured foods:
We’re less concerned about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants. We’re more concerned about the fructose in high-fructose corn syrup, which is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.
It’s common knowledge by now that a diet high in processed foods is bad for your body. But are you less likely to reach for some store-bought cookies if you know they may also affect your brain function and memory? As someone with a huge sweet tooth, especially for candy (high-fructose corn syrup is a common ingredient in lots of candy), I’ve never given a second thought to the way my love for sweets might be affecting my thinking. And while I definitely feel more sluggish after eating a bag of my favorite Swedish Fish, I think I’ll continue to enjoy them in moderation, which Dr. Gomez-Pinilla seems to think is ok. He eats a minimally-processed dark chocolate bar now and then, although he tries to satisfy sweet cravings with fresh berries. Not a bad idea, Doctor!
The good news from this study is that consuming omega-3s can help prevent the cognitive dysfunction that may come with eating sugar. If you’re seriously concerned about your brain function, you could eat foods like salmon, flax seed, or chia seeds. But the safest thing is probably to just cut down on processed sugar as much as you can. Read ingredient lists on packaged foods, avoid sodas and try to get most of your nutrition from whole foods like fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and grains.
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