High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has received a lot of attention over the past couple years in large part because of its ubiquitous presence in the food supply, particularly soda. HFCS is basically a less expensive alternative to sugar, which is why it is found in so many foods. Not that sugar is much better, but most experts think high-fructose corn syrup is as harmful, or even more harmful, than sugar itself.

A recent study published in the Journal of Physiology supports this view. Using an animal model, researchers found that a diet high in HFCS slows brain function and worsens memory and learning. Even more interesting, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA was found to counteract this negative effect. Lead researcher Fernando Gomez-Pinilla stated, “Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage.”

Gomez-Pinilla continued, “We’re not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants. We’re concerned about high-fructose corn syrup that is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.” Did you know that the average American consumes over 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup each year? That’s 40 pounds too much, in my opinion.

This new study is one of the first to report negative effects of HFCS on the brain, yet it’s certainly not the first to report a protective effect of DHA on the brain. DHA is the beneficial omega-3 fatty acid concentrated in the brain and retina. This week, check the ingredient lists of the foods and beverages you consume. If high-fructose corn syrup is on the list, find an alternative. And if you’re not yet taking omega-3s from fish oil every day, I highly recommend it.