Studies show that eating more processed food is associated with faster cognitive decline

Eating processed foods such as instant noodles, sugary drinks, or frozen meals may be associated with faster cognitive decline.

That’s according to new research presented Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego. The study examined the diet and cognition of more than 10,000 middle-aged and older adults in Brazil.

The results, which have not been peer-reviewed, showed that participants who got 20% or more of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods — foods made with few whole ingredients that often contain flavorings, dyes or other additives — lost weight faster. Cognitive performance over six to 10 years compared to those with less processed foods in their diet.

The food category in question includes white bread, crackers, cookies, fried snacks, cream cheese, ice cream, candy, soda, hot dogs, and other processed meats. According to a 2016 study, these highly processed foods account for 58% of all calories consumed in the United States. The authors of the new study estimated that the proportion in Brazil is closer to 25% or 30%.

“Regardless of the amount of healthy food you try to eat, regardless of the amount of calories, ultra-processed food is not good for your mind,” said Claudia Suemoto, MD, a study author and assistant professor of geriatrics. Medical School of the University of São Paulo.

In particular, Suemoto and his team found that adults who ate the most processed foods in the study had a 25% faster decline in their ability to plan and execute an action, called “executive function.”

Similarly, a study published last week found that for every 10% increase in daily intake of ultra-processed foods, people in the UK were 25% more likely to develop dementia.

“The evidence is incredibly strong that the foods that are not part of the Mediterranean diet—the foods high in fat and sugar, and now we can add processed foods to that list—have a positive effect on a person’s cognitive decline and risk of cognitive decline. Finally, dementia,” said Andrew Budson, a professor of neurology at Boston University who was not involved in the study.

Many health risks are associated with processed foods

Suemoto emphasized that his study did not attempt to investigate the underlying causes of cognitive decline and did not conclude that consumption of ultra-processed foods was a direct cause. Instead, it found a correlation between the two.

“The increased availability and consumption of fast, processed, and ultra-processed foods is linked to a number of socioeconomic factors, including less access to healthy foods, less time to prepare meals from scratch, and the inability to afford all food options. associated,” Percy Griffin, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a statement.

Lower socioeconomic status can often mean less access to health care, less time for exercise, and greater exposure to environmental pollution, all of which affect physical and cognitive health.

But many other studies have highlighted the health consequences of consuming processed foods, including increased risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

“It’s troubling, but not surprising, to see new data suggesting that these foods significantly accelerate cognitive decline,” Griffin said.

Budson, who co-authored the book Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory, said the same mechanism that increases the risk of developing the disease may also increase the chance of dementia.

“When foods are highly processed, the nutrients are immediately delivered to our bloodstream instead of being broken down slowly as the stomach and intestines digest them,” he said.

For example, Budson added, large amounts of fat circulating in the bloodstream can clog blood vessels, which in turn increases a person’s risk of stroke, which impairs brain function.

“There’s a lot of research that shows that the biggest contributor to cognitive decline from nutritional issues is actually cognitive decline associated with cerebrovascular disease, either mini-stroke or major stroke,” he said.

Check the ingredient list when purchasing

Processed foods require little preparation and are easy to overeat because they don’t fill you up as much as whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, potatoes, eggs, seafood, or meat.

“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 your life,” Suemoto said.

If you buy packaged food, Suemoto suggested checking the ingredients; A longer list usually means more supplements are available, he said.

This can also be the case for things that are healthy.

“A highly processed, frozen veggie burger is not as good for you as eating the fresh vegetables that make up that burger,” Budson said.

He added that it’s never too late to reap some of the benefits of switching to a healthier diet. But Suemoto says the sooner people start building food, the better.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that to age well, you need to start investing at age 35, 40, 45, 50,” he said. “Don’t wait until you’re over 60 to start thinking about dementia, start thinking about having a healthy heart and a healthy brain.”

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