A high-fat high-sugar diet predicts poorer hippocampal-related memory and a reduced ability to suppress wanting under satiety

Tuki Attuquayefio, Richard J. Stevenson*, Robert A. Boakes, Megan J. Oaten, Martin R. Yeomans, Mehmet Mahmut, Heather M. Francis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Animal data indicate that greater intake of fats and sugars prevalent in a Western diet impairs hippocampal memory and tests of behavioral inhibition known to be related to hippocampal function (e.g., feature negative discrimination tasks). It has been argued that such high-fat high-sugar diets (HFS) impair the hippocampus, which then becomes less sensitive to modulation by physiological state. Thus retrieval of motivationally salient memories (e.g., when seeing or smelling food) occurs irrespective of state. Here we examine whether evidence of similar effects can be observed in humans using a correlational design. Healthy human participants (N = 94), who varied in their habitual consumption of a HFS diet, completed the verbal paired-associate (VPA) test, a known hippocampal-dependent process, as well as liking and wanting ratings of palatable snack foods, assessed both when hungry and when sated. Greater intake of a HFS diet was significantly associated with a slower VPA learning rate, as predicted. Importantly, for those who regularly consumed a HFS diet, though reductions in liking and wanting occurred between hungry and sated states, the reduction in wanting was far smaller relative to liking. The latter effect was strongly related to VPA learning rate, suggestive of hippocampal mediation. In agreement with the animal literature, human participants with a greater intake of a HFS diet show deficits in hippocampal-dependent learning and memory, and their desire to consume palatable food is less affected by physiological state-a process we suggest that is also hippocampal related.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-428
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016

Structured keywords

  • Nutrition and Behaviour


  • Diet
  • Hippocampus
  • Memory
  • Wanting
  • Western diet


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