While it’s clear that a diet of hot dogs and ice cream doesn’t lead to a healthy physical life, new research suggests that ultra-processed foods can cause serious brain damage.
A study presented Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego found that foods like instant noodles, sugary drinks and frozen meals all play a role in a faster rate of cognitive decline.
“It’s no secret that physical and mental-cognitive health are closely related, so it’s no surprise that these latest studies also show brain damage,” said Rafael Perez-Escamilla, professor of public health at Yale University.
“Just 100 calories of processed foods can affect your physical health. So that’s two cookies.”
Studies have linked the consumption of ultra-processed foods to health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. “Now we’re starting to understand that they affect the mind,” Pérez-Escamilla said. “Because they cause inflammation, which can affect neurotransmitters in the brain. Processed foods also work on a micro level, where they work with billions and billions of bacterial cells.”
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New research has linked processed foods to cognitive decline
Researchers presented the results of a study that examined the diet and cognition of 10,000 middle-aged and older adults in Brazil at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.
Studies have shown that participants who got 20% or more of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods experienced a faster decline in cognitive performance over six to 10 years than those who followed a diet containing few processed foods.
“This is a powerful study and the evidence is very consistent with what has been observed with ultra-processed foods over time,” said Pérez-Escamilla, who was not involved in the study.
Perez Escamilla notes that processed foods require less preparation and are often easier to eat because they typically aren’t as nutritious as eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, potatoes, eggs, seafood or meat. And a wide range of ultra-processed foods can be disguised as healthy.
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Previous studies on ultra-processed foods have already shown signs of cognitive decline, specifically an increased risk of dementia. A study published last week found that for every 10% increase in daily intake of ultra-processed foods, people in the UK had a 25% higher risk of developing dementia.
“Ultra-processed food is a problem early in life, not just later, but early in life,” Pérez-Escamilla said. “Children then develop a taste or preference for highly processed foods that determine their future risk.”
What is processed food?
Processed foods contain very few whole ingredients and often contain artificial flavors, dyes, or other additives. The list includes bread, crackers, cookies, fried snacks, cream cheese, ice cream, candy, soda and hot dogs. Frozen foods are also at the forefront of processed foods.
According to a 2016 peer-reviewed study by the American Dietetic Survey, 58% of calories are consumed in the U.S. through processed foods.
Claudia Suemoto, author of the study on cognitive decline and assistant professor of geriatrics at the University of São Paulo School of Medicine, said it’s important to focus on mind and body, not just counting calories.
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“Independent of the amount of calories, independent of the amount of healthy food, ultra-processed food is not good for your mind,” Suemoto told NBC News. “I know sometimes it’s easy to just open the package and throw it in the microwave, but in the long run it’s going to cost you years of life.”
Dr. Keith Shanahan, a food toxicology expert and author of Deep Eating: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, describes fried foods in restaurants as “the worst of the worst” and notes that French fries have become one of the fattiest foods. .
“If you try to Google processed foods, there are different answers,” Shanahan said. “Processed foods are just foods that are loaded with unhealthy ingredients. It can be processed carbohydrates such as flour and sugar, protein powder. Seed oils are an absolute bad thing in the food supply. We call them the eight bad fats – corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil and rice bran oil.”
It is complicated by socio-economic factors
Percy Griffin, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a statement that recent research shows a link between processed foods and cognitive decline — not a direct cause — and that there are many considerations in consuming processed foods.
“The increased availability and consumption of fast, processed, and highly processed foods is linked to a number of socioeconomic factors, including less access to healthy foods, less time to prepare food from scratch, and a lack of all food options. due to inability to pay,” Griffin said in the statement.
Just over half of the study participants were white or college-educated women. The average age was 51.
Adrienne DePaul, a registered dietitian at Health Loft Nutrition in Chicago, said the increase in ultra-processed foods can often be a result of Americans’ budgets, and it’s important to be kind to people who have less money or access to fresh food. Whole foods when grocery shopping.
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“Ultra-processed foods are often consumed more by people who have financial constraints or don’t have the time to prepare meals from scratch,” DePaul said. “We need to be careful not to take these kinds of findings and translate them into personal recommendations.”
“Vegetables can be expensive and perishable,” Shanahan noted, adding that there are still ways to go about maintaining a healthy diet. Milk, eggs and minced meat can work as very nutritious foods for a person who is struggling financially. Our bodies need quality protein and there are several ways to get it.”