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Sugar may make you stupid -- talk about adding insult to injury

May 16, 2012|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • A new UCLA study finds that a diet high in fructose slows the brain, disrupting its ability to learn. Omega-3 fatty acids, according to the study, can counteract the disruption.
A new UCLA study finds that a diet high in fructose slows the brain, disrupting… (Los Angeles Times )

Sugar creates addicts out of us. It tempts us, wears down our willpower and keeps us coming back for more. Yup, just like cigarettes, which, you know, come with warning labels. And just like a pack of smokes, processed sugar has absolutely no nutritional value.

In fact, our not-so-harmless guilty pleasure is fattening us up like helpless livestock and then killing us off. "Your child will live a life 10 years younger than you because of the landscape of food that we've built around them," warned chef and activist Jamie Oliver in a 2010 "TedTalks" presentation. And yet there's still no stigma around consuming sweets and carbs, which is contributing to our country’s obesity epidemic.

In his critical take on HBO’s "The Weight of the Nation," Ed Stockly writes: "It does well enough in documenting the breadth and scope of the obesity epidemic. And, as an experienced carb-counter, I saw that nearly every bite of the food they blamed for obesity was high-carb: the very foods that cause insulin levels to rise and lead to increased fat storage." The problem with the program, argues Stockley, is that it "doesn't just take the ‘calories in/calories out’ side of the debate; it proceeds as if there is no debate at all."

Of course, it’s just as important to consider where those calories come from. An apple may contain more calories than a lollipop, but it also contains nutrients and aids in digestion.

Now, a new study finds that fructose doesn’t just cannibalize our health while Big Sugar laughs all the way to the bank. It may also compromise our brain function, says UCLA neurosurgery professor Fernando Gomez-Pinilla. "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," he says in a press release that also dispenses this factoid: “The average American consumes roughly 47 pounds of cane sugar and 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

For the study, which is the first to look at sugar’s impact on the brain, one group of rats was fed sugar while the other group was fed sugar and omega-3 fatty acids. “Perhaps most interesting was the fact that the brains of [rats] without omega-3s showed a decrease in synaptic activity, the means by which brain cells ‘talk’ to one another and which is critical in learning and memory,” says health writer Alice G. Walton, who advocates for increasing our omega-3 intake: “The bottom line is that omega-3s may protect our brains -- not just now but in the years to come.”

Of the news, Jezebel’s Cassie Murdoch cracks: “Anyone want to try a donut stuffed with fish oil crème? How about some delicious flaxseed-oil-infused artisanal Twinkies? Or what about this delicious sardine soda? Anyone? Anyone?”

But not so fast. "[C]an you up your recall skills by cutting [high-fructose corn syrup] out of your diet?” asks Mother Jones’ Kiera Butler. “Hard to say, since a controlled rat study doesn't exactly count as proof that too much sweet stuff makes humans forgetful. But it's certainly something that merits more scrutiny."

ALSO:

A mad cow warning

Is it safe to consume milk?

To effect change, should the 99% go vegan?

Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier. Follow Opinion L.A. on Twitter and Facebook.

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