Ultra-processed foods linked to cognitive decline, study finds

We all know that eating the highly processed foods that make life easier—prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizzas, and ready-to-eat meals—is not good for our health. We also didn’t eat all the comfort foods we love so much: hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers, fries, sodas, cookies, cakes, candy, donuts, and ice cream.

Now, a new study suggests that eating more processed foods may contribute to general cognitive decline, including areas of the brain involved in executive functioning – information processing and decision-making.

The study found that men and women who ate the most processed foods had 28% faster global cognitive decline and 25% faster decline in executive function, at least compared to people who ate the least processed foods.

“Although further study and replication is required, the new results are very convincing and highlight the important role of nutrition in maintaining and strengthening brain health as we age and reducing the risk of brain diseases as we age,” said neurology professor Rudy Tanzi. Harvard Medical School and director Department of Genetics and Aging Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. He did not participate in the study.

Tanzi, who writes about ultra-processed foods in her book Heal Yourself: A Revolutionary New Plan for Boosting Your Immunity and Lifelong Wellness, says the main problem with ultra-processed foods: “They’re usually high in sugar, salt, and fat, all of them.” promotes systemic inflammation, perhaps the most important threat to healthy aging of the body and brain.

“At the same time, because they’re convenient as a fast food, they replace a diet rich in plant fiber, which is important for maintaining the health and balance of the trillions of bacteria in your gut microbiome,” he added, “which is especially important for brain health and Alzheimer’s disease.” reduces the risk of brain diseases such as aging.

It’s not a lot of calories

The study, presented Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2022 International Conference in San Diego, followed more than 10,000 Brazilians for up to 10 years. More than half of the study participants were female, White, or college educated, and the average age was 51.
Ultra-processed foods typically contain flavorings, colorings, emulsifiers, and other cosmetic additives.

At the beginning and end of the study, cognitive testing including immediate and delayed word recall, word recognition, and verbal fluency was administered, and participants were asked about their diet.

“In Brazil, ultra-processed foods make up 25-30% of total calories. We have McDonald’s, Burger King, and we eat a lot of chocolate and white bread. Unfortunately, it’s not much different from many other Western countries,” he said. co-authored by Dr. Claudia Suemoto, Assistant Professor, Department of Geriatrics, Medical School, University of São Paulo.

“58% of calories consumed by citizens of the United States, 56.8% of calories consumed by Britons and 48% of calories consumed by Canadians come from highly processed foods,” Suemoto said.

Ultra-processed foods are defined as “industrial formulations that contain little or no nutrients (fats, oils, sugars, starches, and protein isolates) and typically contain flavorings, dyes, emulsifiers, and other cosmetic additives.” .

Reduce your risk of dementia by making these food and activity choices

“People who ate more than 20% of their daily calories from processed foods had a 28% decline in global cognition and a 25% faster decline in executive function compared to people who ate less than 20%,” said study author Natalia Gonçalves. researcher in the Pathology Department of the Medical School of the University of São Paulo.

For someone who eats 2,000 calories a day, 20% is equivalent to 400 or more calories — for comparison, a few fries and McDonald’s regular cheeseburger has it all 530 calories.

The study participants, even those with highly processed foods, “were younger, female, white, had higher education and income, and were never smokers and less likely to consume alcohol,” the study said. .

“People need to know that they have to cook more and make their own food from scratch. I know. We say we don’t have time, but it really doesn’t take that much time,” Suemoto said.

“And it’s worth it because you protect your heart and protect your brain from dementia or Alzheimer’s,” he added. “That’s the take-home message: stop buying super processed stuff.”


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