Is Junk Food Bad for Your Memory?

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Sure, junk food is bad for you, but can it actually impair your thinking? The answer appears to be yes,
according to the results of a recent study.

To make a long story short, Australian scientists gave animals junk food and found that it negatively impacted their memory.

This just adds more truth to the saying, “You are what you eat.” And in this case, your brain is definitely no exception.

Junk Food Increases Brain Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

The aim of the study was to examine the effect of an unhealthy diet on memory. Scientists fed rats one of two diets, with or without a 10% sucrose solution:

  • Chow: a typical lab-rat diet (control diet)
  • A "cafeteria-style" diet composed of chow supplemented with lard, cakes, and biscuits (a.k.a. junk food)
Rats fed the cafeteria food, which contained chow supplemented with lard, cakes, and biscuits, and a 10% sucrose solution, performed worse on place recognition tasks, which tested their ability to remember the location of objects, than rats fed a chow diet, as quickly as after five days. In a second experiment, rats fed the regular diet with sucrose, or the cafeteria-style diet without sucrose, also performed worse on the place recognition task.

Rats given the sucrose solution exhibited inflammation and oxidative stress in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that controls spatial memory. In addition, the rats eating a cafeteria-style diet had increased blood levels of insulin, triglycerides, and leptin, a hunger hormone.1

Junk Food Impaired Memory Quickly

The scientists were surprised at the speed in which the changes occurred. Even before there were weight differences, the rats showed memory deficits.

Previous research shows a link between inflammation, memory, and obesity. The activity of an appetite-controlling hormone called leptin is inhibited by excess levels of inflammation. Leptin also plays a significant role in memory and learning.2

Eat Brain Food, Not Junk Food!

A lifestyle of bad eating habits may eventually catch up with your health … and your brain. So you must try your best to eat healthy foods, if you’re concerned about the health of your brain.

In particular, more emphasis should be given to walnuts, blueberries, coffee, and green tea. Each of them has been associated with improved cognitive function.

It’s also worth mentioning that eating oily fish has been linked to a larger brain too, especially in the hippocampus area.

Brain Food Recipe: Grown Up Fruit Salad

Here is a little food for thought. The following recipe is from AARP. It combines several brain-healthy foods. Enjoy!

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup strawberries, sliced
  • 2 kiwi, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 5 ounces fresh spinach leaves
  • Leaves from 3/4 head of romaine lettuce
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 3 ounces feta or blue cheese, crumbled (optional)
Directions:

  1. Rinse all of the fruit and place in a colander lined with paper towels to dry.
  2. Place the spinach and romaine in a bowl and toss together to mix.
  3. Arrange berries and kiwi on top of the spinach and lettuce.
  4. Top with walnuts and feta or blue cheese (if using) and serve immediately.

References:

  1. Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Dec 3.
  2. Peptides. 2006 Jun;27(6):1420-5.

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