How your sweet tooth could be hurting your memory

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As Americans, we eat a lot of sugar, about 94 grams, or 19 teaspoons on average a day.

Much of that is already mixed into the sodas and snacks we pick up at the grocery store.

Our collective sweet tooth fascinates Georgia State University neuroscientist Dr. Marise Parent, Ph.D.

"I started when my son was a baby and I was trying to figure out what to feed him and what not to feed him, and I started doing some reading," Dr. Parent says. "I remember reading one day that I should avoid high fructose corn syrup."

As a scientist specializing in behavioral neuroscience and neurobiology of memory, Dr. Parent wanted to understand why. 

So she began studying how sugar affects our brains, and more specifically, how it affects our memory.

Her research team fed lab rats high levels of fructose, then tested the rats' recall.

Each time, Dr. Parent saw the same pattern: the more sugar the rats consumed, the more likely they were to struggle on the memory tests.  

"What we find is that animals can learn information, but what they can't seem to do is hold it for long periods of time," Parent explains.  "So, you can teach them a fact, and they can hold onto it a while, but if you wait and come back, they don't remember very well, as animals eating a controlled diet."

And Dr. Parent says studies in humans have shown people who chronically consume high levels of sugar also have short-term memory issues.

"And that that includes poor memory of what they recently ate, which is a problem because the memory of what you've eaten often influences how much you're eating at the next meal," she says. 

That's important because, if we don't remember over-eating at our last meal, we're more likely to eat too much at our next meal.

Our brains require a certain amount of sugar to function.  

Yet overloading on sugar may be throwing off the brain's ability to regulate how much food we need.

How can you cut back on added sugar?

So, Parent recommends shopping the outer edges of the grocery store, where you're more likely to find fresh, whole foods, like fruit and vegetables, which contain naturally-occurring sugars.

If you stick to the perimeter of the store, you should be good.  

"That's all the foods that have not been manipulated and processed and have added sugar," she says. 

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