Western-style diet may impair memory and encourage unhealthy eating.


 Hamburger and fries


An experiment on 110 students at an Australian university found that those asked to eat Belgian waffles and fast food performed worse on learning and memory tests after a week than those who ate their regular diet.


The students eating fast food were also more likely to want to eat sugary breakfast cereal immediately after eating a full breakfast, than they were before they began the week-long experiment.

The researchers say both outcomes may be a result of changes to the hippocampus (a region of the brain associated with memory). They say the hippocampus usually suppresses memories of how good food tastes when we become full, so we do not eat more than we need.

However, the researchers consider that eating a western-style diet may impair the ability of the hippocampus to do this job. That would mean people continue to crave tasty food even when they're not hungry. This might explain why it's difficult for people who often eat fast food to resist the temptation to eat fatty or sugary foods. But it's still only a hypothesis.

The findings from the memory tests are also not too convincing. Those who ate fast food scored 92% on a memory recall test at 1 week compared with 97% in controls. Whether this would make a meaningful difference in everyday life is unclear. There was no longer a difference at one month. The study also used a small sample of people, and the findings may not be the same in another group.

Nevertheless, the findings support the general understanding that a diet high in saturated fat, sugar and salt is not good for health.


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Published: February 22, 2020


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