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Ultra-processed foods linked to mental decline, study finds

We all know that eating ultra-processed foods that make our lives easier – like pre-packaged soups, sauces, frozen pizzas and ready meals – is not good for our health. Gobbling up all the fun foods we love so much isn’t either: hot dogs, sausages, burgers, fries, soda, cookies, cakes, candies, donuts, and ice cream, to name a few.

Now, a new study has found that eating more ultra-processed foods may contribute to overall cognitive decline, including areas of the brain involved in executive functioning – the ability to process information and make decisions.

In fact, men and women who ate the most ultra-processed foods had a 28% faster rate of overall cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of executive function decline compared to people who ate the least amount of processed foods. over-processed foods, according to the study.

“While they need further study and replication, the new findings are quite compelling and underscore the critical role of good nutrition in preserving and promoting brain health and reducing the risk of diseases. brains as we age,” said Rudy Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. and director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He did not participate in the study.

Tanzi, who wrote about ultra-processed foods in her book “The Healing Self: A Revolutionary New Plan to Supercharge Your Immunity and Stay Well for Life,” said the main problem with ultra-processed foods is that “they are generally very high in sugar, salt and fat, all of which promote systemic inflammation, perhaps the most significant threat to healthy aging in the body and brain.

“Meanwhile, since they’re convenient as a quick meal, they also replace the consumption of foods rich in plant fiber which are important for maintaining the health and balance of the trillions of bacteria in your gut microbiome,” he said. he added, “which is particularly important for brain health and reducing the risk of age-related brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.”

That’s not a lot of calories

The study, presented Monday at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego, followed more than 10,000 Brazilians for up to 10 years. Just over half of the study participants were female, white or college educated, while the average age was 51.
Ultra-processed foods linked to mental decline, study finds

Cognitive tests, which included immediate and delayed word recall, word recognition and verbal fluency, were performed at the start and end of the study, and participants were asked about their diet.

“In Brazil, ultra-processed foods make up 25-30% of total calorie intake. We have McDonald’s, Burger King and we eat a lot of chocolate and white bread. It’s unfortunately not much different from a lot of other western countries,” said co-author Dr. Claudia Suemoto, assistant professor in the division of geriatrics at the University of São Paulo’s medical school.

“Fifty-eight percent of the calories consumed by US citizens, 56.8% of the calories consumed by British citizens, and 48% of the calories consumed by Canadians come from ultra-processed foods,” Suemoto said.

Ultra-processed foods are defined as “industrial formulations of food substances (oils, fats, sugars, starch and protein isolates) that contain little or no whole foods and generally include flavors, colors, emulsifiers and ‘other cosmetic additives’, according to the study. .

Ultra-processed foods linked to mental decline, study finds

“People who ate more than 20% of daily calories from processed foods had a 28% faster decline in overall cognition and a 25% faster decline in executive functioning compared to people who ate less than 20%” , said study co-author Natalia Gonçalves, a researcher at the Pathology Department of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of São Paulo.

For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, 20% would equal 400 calories or more – for comparison, a small serving of french fries and the regular McDonalds cheeseburger contains a total of 530 calories.

People in the study who ate the most ultra-processed foods were “more likely to be younger, female, white, had higher education and income, and were more likely to have no never smoked, and less likely to be current alcohol users,” according to the study. .

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

“And it’s worth it because you’re going to protect your heart and protect your brain from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease,” she added. “That’s the take-home message: stop buying things that are super-processed.”


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