Research shows that eating lots of highly processed foods is linked to faster cognitive decline


Eating highly processed foods like instant noodles, sugary drinks, or frozen foods 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 nutrition and cognition of more than 10,000 middle-aged and older adults in Brazil.

The results, which have yet to be peer-reviewed, showed that participants who ate 20% or more of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods — foods with few whole ingredients that often contain flavors, colors, or other additives — experienced a faster decline in cognitive performance over six to 10 years than people with low-processed foods in their diets.

The food category in question includes items such as white bread, crackers, cookies, fried snacks, cream cheese, ice cream, candy, soda, hot dogs, and other processed meats. According to a, these ultra-processed foods account for about 58% of all calories consumed in the US Study 2016. The authors of the new study estimate that this proportion is closer to 25% or 30% in Brazil.

“Regardless of the amount of calories, regardless of the amount of healthy food you eat, ultra-processed food is not good for your cognition,” said Claudia Suemoto, study author and assistant professor of geriatrics at the School of Medicine the University of Sao Paulo.

Specifically, Suemoto and her team found that the adults in the study who consumed the most processed foods experienced a 25% faster decline in their ability to plan and execute an action—known as “executive functioning.”

Likewise a to learn The 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.

“The data is incredibly strong that foods that aren’t part of the Mediterranean diet — foods high in fat and sugar, and now we can add to that list foods that are highly processed — are absolutely positive contributors to the risk of cognitive decline and ultimately dementia,” said Andrew Budson, a neurology professor at Boston University who was not involved with the research.

The many health risks associated with processed foods

Suemoto stressed that her study did not attempt to examine the underlying causes of cognitive decline and that she does not conclude that eating ultra-processed foods is a direct cause. Rather, it found a correlation between the two.

“An increase in the availability and consumption of quickly processed and ultra-processed foods is due to a range of socioeconomic factors, including reduced access to healthy foods, less time spent preparing foods from scratch, and an inability to engage in whole foods accomplish,” Percy Griffin, director of science engagement for 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 pollution, all of which also impact physical and cognitive health.

But plenty of other research has highlighted the health consequences of eating processed foods, including increased risk Cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

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

Budson, co-author of the book Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory, said the same mechanism that increases the risk of disease also likely increases the likelihood of dementia.

“When foods are highly processed, the nutrients are immediately put into our bloodstream…instead of being slowly broken down and slowly released as our stomachs and intestines digest them,” he said.

For example, Budson added, a large amount of fat rushing through the bloodstream can clog arteries, which in turn can increase the risk of stroke, which affects a person’s brain function.

“There are many studies showing that the largest contributor to cognitive decline due to nutritional issues is actually cognitive decline associated with cerebrovascular disease — that is, either associated with mini-strokes or outright major strokes,” he said.

When shopping, pay attention to the list of ingredients

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

“I know sometimes it’s easier to open a package and throw it in the microwave, but in the long run it’s going to cost you a few years of your life,” Suemoto said.

If you’re buying packaged foods, Suemoto recommends checking the ingredients. A longer list usually signals the presence of more additives, she said.

This can even apply to things that sound healthy.

“A highly processed, frozen veggie burger isn’t nearly as good for you as eating the fresh veggies that make up that burger,” Budson said.

He added that it’s never too late to start reaping some benefits from switching to a healthier diet. But Suemoto said the sooner people start building meals around whole foods, the better.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that in order to age well, you have to start investing very early — 35, 40, 45, 50,” she said. “Don’t wait until you’re 60 and older to start thinking about dementia, thinking about having a healthy heart and brain.” Research shows that eating lots of highly processed foods is linked to faster cognitive decline

Fry Electronics Team

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