This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Researchers at UCLA found that a common ingredient in food, even in seemingly healthy choices such as instant oatmeal, applesauce and some yogurts, might be damaging your brain function.
What is this brain drainer? The offender is a preservative and sweetener known as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is present not only in obviously unhealthy foods, such as sugary drinks, desserts and fast food, but is also hiding in processed foods that many think are nutritious.
While previous studies have associated HFCS with obesity and diabetes, research published in the Journal of Physiology finds it is also detrimental to brain function.
Senior author, Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, PhD, summarizes the results succinctly by declaring that the food we eat affects our ability to think clearly. He asserts that prolonged consumption of a high-fructose diet hinders your brain’s capacity to learn and remember information.
Omega-3s Offset Damage Done By HFCS
As disturbing as this finding is, not all of the discoveries of the study were negative. The good news is that consuming a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids seems to be partially protective against the destructive effects of HFCS on the brain.
In the study, researchers began by teaching rats how to navigate a maze. They then divided the animals into two groups, feeding one group HFCS in water and the other group HFCS together with omega-3 fatty acids.
At the end of six weeks, both groups were given the maze test. The rats that did not receive the omega-3s were slower, manifesting difficulty with brain signaling, which interfered with thinking and remembering the route they learned at the onset of the investigation.
Gomez-Pinilla emphasized that omega-3s exert their protective effect on the brain in the present, as well as in the future. He compares it to saving money in the bank, building a reserve of extra fuel for the mind.
4 Ways to Avoid the Brain-Damaging Effects of HFCS
Here are a few ways to mitigate the effects of HFCS in your diet:
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible.
- Choose fresh fruit over sugary sweets.
- Look for foods with an organic label, as HFCS is banned in these products.
- Eat plenty of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna and salmon, in addition to flaxseeds, eggs and walnuts.
 Gomez-Pinilla F et al. ‘Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and cognition. The Journal of Physiology. 2012 May 1; 590, 2485-99.
 Zerbe L. “The Common Food Ingredient That’s Making You Stupid.” Rodale. http://www.rodale.com/health-effects-high-fructose-corn-syrup.