Your Diet Might Be Making You Dumb (And Tips on Getting Smart About Food)
If you eat fast food, you know the feeling you get an hour later. There’s the pre-diabetic buzz in your extremities as the corn syrup high crashes. Secondly, the frontal lobe numbness from the saturated fats stalling out your metabolism arrives. Further, there’s always a food coma from all the cardboard carbohydrates and sodium.
The Royal Society just published the results of an experiment looking at how the average Western diet affects healthy people. The findings might shock you. More likely, they’ll confirm what you already know. Don’t worry either way. We pre-digested all the boring, depressing jargon so you don’t have to. Read this quick list to learn about the experiment and some practical advice on what you should eat to stay healthy and alert. In conclusion, let science and your stomach can convince you to avoid fast food and eat better.
Cover Photo: Jac Depczyk (Getty Images)
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The Food Coma
We’ve all experienced the dreaded food coma. A group of researchers from Australia and the U.S. recently teamed up to see if a Western-style diet may be causing this and other food-induced cognitive impairments.
What Is a Western-style Diet?
A Western-style diet is defined as one higher in saturated fat and added sugar. Turns out that food pyramid scheme from school was disinformation from FritoLay because addicting kids to unhealthy food is OK if it boosts quarterly earnings.
Fat, Dumb Animals
Previous research showed rats and mice fed a Western-style diet demonstrated impaired, “hippocampal function.” The hippocampus is a part of the brain that plays an important role in short-term and long-term memory formation, plus it helps us navigate, so it’s kind of important.
Food for Thoughtlessness
The hippocampus is named after the Greek word for seahorse, because of its resemblance to those adorable little ocean equines. It also helps control our appetite, so if you eat a half-dozen chili dogs, chances are your next meal probably isn’t going to be a salad.
The Central Question
Although tests in animals strongly proved the connection between a Western-style diet and lower cognitive performance, only a few experiments looked at the question in humans. The results showed correlation but not causation, so our researchers set out to see if bad food really causes our brains to get dumber and crave junk food.
Going Down Under
Researchers needed a pool of extremely fit people in the study that they could force-feed disgusting food to, which is kind of gross and sexy at the same time. They chose Australia because the country that gave us Margot Robbie and Chris Hemsworth must be feeding them the right stuff.
A Week of Bad Food
Scientists made sure their Australian hotties ate waffles, sugary breakfast cereals, milkshakes, and fatty toasted sandwiches all week, and also gave them lunch money to go to fast food joints. Who wouldn't trade their higher cognitive functions for free food?
Dumb It Down
Neurophysical testing found the group eating junk food had a significantly lower retention rate for info versus a group eating healthy food. Yes, eating a Western-style diet makes you stupid, but on the plus side, it also increases your chances of developing diabetes or heart disease.
A Feedback Loop That Never Gets You Fed
The experiment also found that the group fed unhealthy food showed, “a measurable weakening of appetitive control.” While they craved unhealthy food more, they also reported that it wasn’t as gratifying as they had imagined, showing how such diets can short-circuit our brains.
The Good News
If you eat fewer foods high in saturated fats and sugars, you can boost your brain’s performance and fix your food picker, too. All you need to do is eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts while staying away from stuff you know is junk.