Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Processed Food Harms the Brain

A diet high in processed foods impairs cognitive function, likely by increasing inflammation.  Processed food also contributes to weight gain and the development chronic diseases.  Processed food contains high levels of refined carbohydrates (sugars and high fructose corn syrup), saturated fats, and minimal fiber.  Prior research has shown that processed foods harm the brains and impair the cognitive function of rodents, primates, and humans. 

Researchers fed groups of young and aging rats a processed food diet for 28 days.  The older rats suffered from memory problems and increased inflammation gene expression in the memory-processing hippocampus and the panic button amygdala.  The younger rats did not suffer from these problems.  A 3rd group of rats was fed the processed food diet along with an omega-3 DHA supplement.  The supplement prevented the memory deficits and improved the inflammatory gene expression in the older rats.

Takeaway:  To protect brain health, strive to eat more whole fruits, vegetables, and grains, and minimize processed foods.  An omega-3 DHA supplement may improve memory and inflammation harm that processed food can cause. 


Michael J. Butler, et al., Dietary DHA Prevents Cognitive Impairment and Inflammatory Gene Expression in Aged Male Rats Fed a Diet Enriched with Refined Carbohydrates, 98 Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 198-209 (2021),

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