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12 Foods Draining Your Brainpower

How many spoonfuls of high-fructose corn syrup did you eat yesterday?

Oh, you don't recall slurping down any of the hyper-sweet corn extract? Well, you did—about eight teaspoons' worth, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In fact, the average American consumed 27 pounds of the stuff last year. And now new research indicates that in addition to preventing weight loss, all that HFCS may be making us dumber, as well.

"Reduce fructose in your diet if you want to protect your brain," says Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor at the University of California Los Angeles. He and his team tested how well rats recovering from brain injury learned new ways to get through a maze. They found that animals that drank HFCS took 30 percent more time to find the exit. "Our findings suggest that fructose disrupts plasticity — the creation of fresh pathways between brain cells that occurs when we learn or experience something new," he says.

Now, if you live on a diet of Twizzlers and Pepsi, you probably already know that you're consuming HFCS the way 13-year-old girls consume Bethany Mota's latest posts. From ice cream to cupcakes, most of our sweet treats now come with a copious blast of this potentially cranium-crippling corn derivative. But what if you avoid sweets, eat natural, whole foods, and try to keep your diet as healthy as possible? You might still be hurting your brain, thanks to the sneaky places HFCS hides. Here are some "healthy" foods that carry the corn sweetener, and some smart alternatives that will ensure your neurons are firing at maximum capacity.

Dumbed-Down Food #1: "Healthy" Cereals


Sugar is 50% fructose, so even healthy cereals like Special K Protein can contain unwanted sweeteners. But some cereals really overdo it. Consider Post's Honey Bunches of Oats, which lists both corn syrup and sugar, as well as barley syrup, brown sugar, and wildflower honey on its ingredients list.


Fiber One. While delivering a whopping 55 percent of your daily fiber intake, Fiber One does it with just 60 calories and zero grams of sugar. For more healthy cereal ideas, check out our picks for the Best Breakfast Cereals for Weight Loss!

Dumbed-Down Food #2: Sweet Pickles

Sweet and "bread & butter" pickles are often packed with sweetener that can turn a normally low-cal, gut-healthy treat into a real brain teaser. HFCS pollutes Vlasic Bread & Butter Spears with as much sugar as a handful of M&Ms.


Woodstock Farms Organic Sweet Bread & Butter Pickles. The label "organic" is highly regulated and ensures there is no HFCS inside. For additional healthy sandwich and burger toppings, pick from the Best Veggies for Weight Loss!

Dumbed-Down Food #3: Fruity Cottage Cheese

Whenever you buy a product with added fruit, like Breakstone's Cottage Doubles 100 Calorie Cottage Cheese with Strawberry, you're basically buying a tub of sugar. One serving contains 10 grams of sugar, against just 9 grams of protein.


Choose a plain cottage cheese and add in your own berries or frozen fruit for a sweet taste without the added fructose.

Dumbed-Down Food #4: Maple Syrup

They may seem natural, like from a tree next to a snow-covered log cabin. But famous syrup brands like Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth are essentially high fructose corn syrup with a splash of caramel coloring.


The best syrup for your brain and your waistline is a Grade A Medium Amber pure maple syrup. Since the flavor is so concentrated, a little goes a long way, saving you calories and sugar.

Dumbed-Down Food #5: Applesauce

Apples are already sweetened with their own naturally occurring fructose, so why add more? But most premade applesauces are packed with HFCS. Mott's Cinnamon Applesauce lists HFCS as its second ingredient—and delivers 22 grams of sugar per serving, exactly what you get in a 100 Grand bar.


Mott's Natural Applesauce. With no HFCS in sight, Mott's cuts the sweet stuff to 11 grams of naturally occurring fruit sugars. For more intelligent snack options, check out our report on the 50 Best Healthy Snacks for Weight Loss!

Dumbed-Down Food #6: Fancy Jams and Jellies

Just because it's a classic doesn't mean it's good for you. Smucker's Strawberry Jelly may be a grocery store staple, but there's nothing sweet about its HFCS content.


Polaner All Fruit with Fiber. The best jams, jellies and preserves have one thing in common: They all contain more fruit than refined sugar. Polaner's All-Fruit line goes one better, made only with fruit and fruit juice.

Dumbed-Down Food #7: Ketchup

Adding a touch of sweetness where none belongs, most ketchup makers squeeze HFCS into their condiment concoctions. Heinz Tomato Ketchup gives you 4 grams of manmade sugary sweetness in just one tablespoon.


Annie's Natural Organic Ketchup. While eliminating the HFCS, you're also getting the benefits of organically raised tomatoes, which studies show are nearly twice as high in cancer-fighting lycopene. Annie's is just one of our picks for the Condiments That Will Help You Lose Weight Fast!

Dumbed-Down Food #8: Meat Marinades


No grillmaster ever won a BBQ contest by soaking his meat in HFCS, yet manufacturers seem compelled to pollute their own marinades with the corny stuff. The very first ingredient in KC Masterpiece Marinade Honey Teriyaki is HFCS.


Lawry's Steak & Chop Marinade. Unlike most sugar-heavy marinades, Lawry's uses mostly lemon juice and vinegar, both of which serve to both flavor and tenderize the meat.

Dumbed-Down Food #9: Light Yogurts

Reducing fat almost always means increasing sugar. Ever since Dannon's Light & Fit Nonfat Banana Yogurt removed HFCS from their product, cane sugar is listed as its third ingredient after nonfat milk, water, and starch — and ahead of actual banana.


Maple Hill Creamery makes only full-fat yogurts with organic milk from grass-fed cows, and that translates into more brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids for you. And yes, full-fat foods can help you lose weight! We've found the 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss.

Dumbed-Down Food #10: Granola Bars


With corn syrup, sugar, and molasses all part of its ingredients, Quaker Chewy Granola Caramel Apple Bar should put the gentleman in the big black hat to shame. It offers barely any fiber, but 8 grams of sugar. (Compare that to a bowl of Quaker Oats, with 4 grams of fiber and just one gram of sugar!)


Simply Protein Cinnamon Pecan Bar. It rated #1 on the recent Eat This, Not That! bar taste test, and it packs 7 grams of fiber to just one measly gram of sugar. Check out our other picks for the Best Nutrition Bars for Weight Loss!

Dumbed-Down Food #11: Canned Pastas

Mama Leoni would be alarmed if she found out what Chef Boyardee was doing to her traditional recipe. High fructose corn syrup, plus soybean oil and caramel coloring, all make it into this can of not-very-traditional Italian pasta.


Annie's Organic P'Sghetti Loops. There are ways to get the kids fed in minutes that don't put their test scores at risk, and Annie's offers one of them.

Dumbed-Down Food #12: Juice Drinks


In a perfect world, a juice would display just one single ingredient: fruit. But if you don't see "100% juice" on the label, you can bet a strange brew inside the container. Sunny D Tangy Original may promote that it has 100 percent of your vitamin C for the day, but what's really in the bottle is mostly high-fructose corn syrup, water, thickeners and artificial colors.


Tropicana Trop50. This lightened-up OJ is still 42 percent real juice, but with half the sugar and calories of regular orange juice.

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