While it’s obvious that a diet consisting of hot dogs and ice cream won’t lead to a healthy physical lifestyle, new research clarifies how ultra-processed foods can also lead to a significant decline in brain function.
Research presented Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in san diego described how food like instant noodles, sugary drinks, and frozen meals, play a factor in a faster rate of cognitive decline.
“It is no secret that physical and mental-cognitive health are intimately related to each other, so it is not surprising that this latest research also suggests brain deterioration,” said Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, a professor of public health at Yale University. .
“Just 100 calories of processed food can affect your physical health. So that’s two cookies.”
Research has primarily linked the consumption of ultra-processed foods to negative health effects such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. “And now, we’re starting to realize that they affect the mind,” Pérez-Escamilla noted. “That’s because they cause inflammation, which can affect neurotransmitters in the brain. Processed foods also operate at the micro level with billions and billions of bacterial cells that (impair) function.”
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New research links processed foods to cognitive decline
The researchers presented findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference from a study, not yet peer-reviewed, conducted in Brazil that examined the diets and cognition of 10,000 middle-aged and older adults.
The findings found that participants who got 20% or more of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods saw a much faster decline in cognitive performance over a span of six to 10 years compared to people on diets that consumed few. processed foods.
“It is a solid 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.
Processed foods require little preparation and are often easy to consume because they typically don’t cause a feeling of fullness like eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, potatoes, eggs, shellfish or meat, Pérez Escamilla noted. And a wide range of ultra-processed foods can be disguised or even promoted as healthy.
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Previous studies on ultra-processed foods have indicated signs of cognitive decline earlier, that is, with 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% increased risk of developing dementia.
“Ultra-processed foods are a problem not only later in life, but they start early in life in the preschool period,” Pérez-Escamilla said. “That’s when kids develop a taste or preference for ultra-processed foods that determines future risk.”
What is processed food?
They are items with very few whole ingredients and often contain flavorings, colorings, or other additives. The list would include: bread, crackers, cookies, fried snacks, cream cheese, ice cream, candy, soft drinks and hot dogs, among others. Frozen meals are also at the forefront of processed foods.
Claudia Suemoto, an author of the study on cognitive decline and an assistant professor of geriatrics at the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine, said it’s essential to look at more than just counting calories when considering both the mind and the body.
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“Regardless of the number of calories, regardless of how many healthy foods you try to eat, ultra-processed foods are not good for your cognition,” Suemoto he told NBC News. “I know sometimes it’s easier to open a package and put it in the microwave, but it’s going to cost you a few years of life in the long run.”
Dr. Cate Shanahan, an expert in food toxicology and author of “Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food,” describes fried foods in restaurants as “the worst of the worst” and noted that French fries have become one of the most fattening foods
“If you try to Google processed foods to find a definition, there are different kinds of answers,” Shanahan said. “Processed foods are really just foods that have unhealthy ingredients present in large amounts. That could be processed carbs like flowers and sugar, protein powders. Seed oils are the absolute worst thing in the food supply. We call them the eight unhealthy oils: corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, rapeseed oil, and rice bran oil.”
Socioeconomic factors make it difficult
Percy Griffin, director of scientific engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a statement that the latest study shows a correlation between processed foods and cognitive decline, not a direct cause, and that there are many considerations in food consumption. processed.
“An increase in the availability and consumption of fast, processed and ultra-processed foods is due to a number of socioeconomic factors, including low access to healthy foods, less time to prepare food from scratch and an inability to afford options. of whole foods,” Griffin said. she said in a statement.
Just over half of the study participants were female, white, or college-educated. The average age was 51 years.
Adrienne DePaul, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Health Loft in Chicago, said the rising prevalence of ultra-processed foods can often be down to the budgets of many Americans and that it’s important to be empathetic to those who have less money or access to fresher food. . , whole foods when you go grocery shopping.
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“Ultra-processed foods tend to be consumed more often by people who are financially constrained or who can’t spend time preparing meals from scratch,” DePaul said. “We have to be careful about taking results like these and turning them into individualized recommendations.”
Shanahan pointed out that there are still solutions to maintaining a healthy diet: “Vegetables can also be expensive and highly perishable. Dairy, eggs, and ground beef can work as highly nutritious foods for someone struggling financially. Our bodies need quality protein and there are multiple ways to get it.”