Can Omega-3 "Undo" the Damage of Junk Food?

Can Omega-3 "Undo" the Damage of Junk Food?

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Forget about eating those potato chips…literally. A new study from Ohio State University suggests that eating too many processed foods may worsen age-related memory loss. Researchers found that a diet modeled to resemble one full of packaged snacks, pizza and other junk food led to behavioral signs of memory loss in aging rats—which isn't great news for humans who've struggled to resist unhealthy food cravings for much of their lives.

There does appear to be a major silver lining, though: adding more omega-3 fatty acids may help undo some of the cognitive damage. The same study found that intake of DHA, a healthy omega-3 fat, prevented the memory problems—and reduced the inflammatory effects almost entirely.

Why is junk food bad for the brain?

Fast food hamburger that may affect memory

We all know that when it comes to staying healthy, our diet plays an important role. Unfortunately, high-fat diets that include an abundance of processed foods and refined sugars have been linked to everything from obesity and heart disease to diabetes.

Ohio State University's new findings suggest that this kind diet isn't in your brain's best interest, either.  After just four weeks of eating chow rich in cornstarch, maltodextrin, sucrose, and other hallmarks of a processed diet (usually found in the kinds of foods that might make even a college freshman blush—frozen foods, deli meats with preservatives, and plenty of pizza, chips and crackers) the detrimental effect on the aged brain was evident. "These findings indicate that consumption of a processed diet can produce significant and abrupt memory deficits—and in the aging population, rapid memory decline has a greater likelihood of progressing into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease," wrote study senior author Ruth Barrientos.

Fortunately, making healthier lifestyle changes—particularly eating more healthy fats—can impact your brain health, Barrientos stated. "By being aware of this, maybe we can limit processed foods in our diets and increase consumption of foods that are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to either prevent or slow that progression," she added.

What is DHA?

Man holding fresh caught salmon containing DHA

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. This omega-3 fatty acid is usually linked with another fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA. They both play a crucial role in supporting your cognitive function, including your memory.

So, where can you get DHA? Coldwater fish, like salmon, contain brain health-boosting nutrients, including the omega-3 fatty acids EPA & DHA, B-vitamins including B12, and choline.

There are plenty of amazing salmon recipes, but try to pick one that's broiled or baked instead of fried (fried foods are the ones we're trying to avoid, remember?). Three servings a week should provide ample amounts of the omega-3s needed for better memory.

I'm not a fan of that fishy smell!

So you've decided to do the hard part and switch to a healthy diet, giving up those high-fat and processed foods. But fish isn't your thing. It's okay; there's a bunch of us who simply don't enjoy eating fish.

Whether you have adverse feelings about the smell or the taste, you can still get the benefits your body needs. Simply add an omega 3 fish oil to your daily intake.

So, what to look for in an omega-3 fish oil?

There are tons of fish oil products out there. Choosing the best one for you can be difficult, but here's some advice for narrowing the field.

It's always a good start to look for fish oil that comes from sustainable harvesting. This ensures that there will be plenty of fish for the future. Look for quick processing for freshness and technology that reduces environmental pollutants. This helps you avoid ingesting anything you don't want in your system.

It's also smart to look for ingredients that complement the benefits of fish oil. Lemon is a great additive that helps cover any fishy aftertaste that some experience when taking omega-3 fish oils.

 

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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.