We all get the weight-gain angle. It’s pretty obvious that eating a lot of processed foods like chips, sweet snacks, fast food, sweetened drinks and other types of “junk” food can expand your waistline.

But did you know that, at the same time, those processed foods can also shrink your mental abilities?

Well, I’ve got some good news, too: if you still occasionally indulge—like most people— there’s a simple way to help your brain fight back and hold onto your memory.

One of the most common additives in processed foods is sugar in the form of fructose. Statistics show that on average, each of us consumes about 38 pounds of high fructose corn syrup every year. That’s more than three pounds a month!1

That should scare you, because researchers at UCLA say that consuming relatively large amounts of fructose leads to changes in the way the genes in our brain behave. These epigenetic effects are linked to Alzheimer’s disease and attention deficit disorder, as well as diabetes and heart disease.

Fructose Damages Genes and Memory

In the UCLA lab tests, the scientists found that animals developed seriously impaired cognitive abilities when they consumed high fructose corn syrup at the equivalent rate of a human drinking a liter of soda pop daily.2

The researchers identified over 700 genes in the brain’s hypothalamus (a brain location that affects metabolism) and more than 200 genes in the hippocampus (an important memory center) that changed the animals’ behavior because of fructose.

Many of these genes are linked to inflammation and also are associated with Parkinson’s disease, depression and other brain issues. In particular, the researchers found that fructose altered two genes called Bgn and Fmod. And when these genes shifted function, they began a domino effect that disrupted the functions of hundreds of other genes.

“Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain,” warns researcher Fernando Gomez-Pinilla. That’s why he says everyone should never drink sugary soft drinks and should cut way back on sweet desserts.

Plus – and this is no surprise – fructose corn syrup increased blood sugar levels, triglycerides (blood fats linked to heart dsease) and blood insulin levels – all of which can signal an increased risk of diabetes.

Processed Foods Damage Mood, Memory and More

Other studies confirm that processed foods can damage the brain and:

Stimulate uncontrollable mood changes: Research at Johns Hopkins demonstrates that chemicals like nitrates used to cure meats can lead to mania, a mood disorder that makes you hyperactive, unreasonably euphoric and liable to insomnia. These substances are in cured meats like salami, beef jerky and hot dogs.3

Lead to depression: An investigation at the University of Kansas shows how too much sugar from processed food can set off inflammation and neurobiological brain processes that are connected with depression. In fact, the researchers say too much sugar during the winter holiday season is a “perfect storm” for depressive illness at a time of year when people don’t get enough sleep and get less sunlight.4

Impair the development of neurons: A study at the University of Central Florida indicates that propionic acid, a preservative that prevents mold in processed bread and cheese, can slow or stop the growth of neurons in fetal brains and may be linked to autism.5

Fight Back Against Processed Foods

Along with not eating processed foods in excess, when you do have a processed treat you can fight back against any negative effects with two healthy foods.

The first, according to a study in Asia, is green tea.

Lab tests show that the natural chemical in green tea, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, can at least partially offset the harmful brain issues linked to fructose. They also found that it limits weight gain linked to fructose.6

And the UCLA researchers who have studied the effects of fructose say that the omega-3 fat docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish and fish oil also can reverse a portion of the harmful brain changes linked to fructose.7

So, if you can’t completely resist the lure of processed treats, at least wash them down with green tea. Eating fish at least once or twice a week – or taking fish oil supplements – can’t hurt either.


  1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/328893/per-capita-consumption-of-high-fructose-
    corn-syrup-in-the-us/#:~:text=The U.S. per capita consumption,to 37.
    6 pounds in 2018
  2. https://www.statista.com/statistics/328893/per-capita-consumption-of-high-fructose-
    corn-syrup-in-the-us/#:~:text=The U.S. per capita consumption,to 37.
    6 pounds in 2018
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30022042/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31634771/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31217543/
  6. https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1096/fj.201700400rr
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27322469/

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