Ultra-processed foods are effective in causing cognitive decline

Scientists have known for a long time that unhealthy diets, especially diets rich in fat and sugar, may cause harmful changes in the brain and lead to cognitive impairment.

Many factors that are effective in causing cognitive decline, such as genetic factors and socioeconomic factors, are beyond a person’s control; But many studies show that improper diet is a risk factor for memory disorders during normal aging and increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, little research has been done on the effects of a minimally processed diet compared to a highly processed diet when assessing how certain diets may impair brain health as we age. According to the website The ConversationEating highly processed foods may exacerbate age-related cognitive decline and increase the risk of dementia, two large recent studies suggest. In contrast, another recent study reported that consumption of these types of foods was not associated with worsening cognitive performance in people older than 60 years.

Highly processed foods

Highly processed foods are usually lower in nutrients and fiber and higher in sugar, fat, and salt than unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Some examples of highly processed foods are: soda, packaged cookies, chips, frozen meals, flavored nuts, flavored yogurt, distilled alcoholic beverages, and fast foods. Even packaged breads, including those that are full of whole grains and nutrient-dense, are often classified as ultra-processed foods because of the additives and preservatives they contain.

There’s another way to spot ultra-processed foods: You probably won’t find the ingredients in most ultra-processed foods in your kitchen. However, don’t confuse ultra-processed foods with processed foods such as canned vegetables and dried pasta and frozen fruit. While these types of foods have been processed in some way, they still retain most of their natural characteristics.

it was studied

In a study published in December 2022, researchers compared dementia rates over about eight years between groups of people who ate different amounts of ultra-processed foods. At the start of the study, more than 10,000 participants living in Brazil reported their eating habits over the past 12 months. Then, in subsequent years, the researchers assessed the participants’ cognitive performance using standard tests of memory and executive function.

People who had a diet higher in ultra-processed foods at the start of the study showed somewhat more cognitive decline than those who ate little or no ultra-processed foods. There was relatively little difference in the rate of cognitive decline between the studied groups. It is not yet clear whether small differences in cognitive decline associated with higher consumption of ultra-processed foods have significant effects at the individual level.

The second study, with about 72,000 participants in the UK, measured the link between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and dementia. Over a 10-year period, in the group that consumed the most highly processed foods, nearly 1 in 120 people were diagnosed with dementia. In the group that ate very little or no ultra-processed foods, 1 in 170 people were diagnosed with dementia.

Research examining the relationship between healthy foods and highly processed foods uses the NOVA classification, a classification system based on the type and extent of industrial food processing.

Some nutritionists criticize the NOVA classification for not having clear definitions of food processing and say the system can lead to misclassification. Also, they argue that the potential health risks from consuming ultra-processed foods may be the result of low levels of fiber and nutrients and high levels of fat, sugar, and salt in the diet, rather than the amount of processing.

Many highly processed foods are full of additives and preservatives or colorings; While they have other characteristics of an unhealthy diet such as low fiber and nutrients. Therefore, it is unclear whether eating more processed food has a negative impact on health beyond the poor quality of the diet.

For example, you can buy burgers and fries from the fast food store, which in addition to being ultra-processed, are full of fat, sugar, and salt. Also, you can prepare the same meal at home, which can be high in fat, sugar, and salt; But not super-processed. More research is needed to determine whether one of these two types of food is truly worse than the other.

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