The typical American diet is loaded with fat and sugar, and it may be hurting not only our physical health, but also our ability to think clearly.

New research from Oregon State University finds a high-sugar, high-fat diet causes changes in gut bacteria that seem to lead to significant losses in cognitive flexibility, a measurement of the brain’s ability to switch between thinking about one concept to another, and to adapt to changes in the environment.

The study, which was conducted on mice and published this week in the journal Neuroscience, found that a high-sugar diet was particularly detrimental to brain function, leading not only to decreased cognitive flexibility but also to impairments in short- and long-term memory.

“We’ve known for a while that too much fat and sugar are not good for you,” Dr. Kathy Magnusson, a biomedical scientist at the university and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “This work suggests that fat and sugar are altering your healthy bacterial systems, and that’s one of the reasons those foods aren’t good for you. It’s not just the food that could be influencing your brain, but an interaction between the food and microbial changes.”

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