While it’s obvious that a diet of hot dogs and ice cream won’t lead to a healthy physical life, new research shows how ultra-processed foods can also lead to a significant decrease in brain function.
Research presented Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association’s international conference in San Diego explained how foods such as instant noodles, sugary drinks and frozen meals all play a role in accelerating cognitive decline.
“It’s no secret that physical and mental-cognitive health are intimately linked to each other, so it’s no surprise that this latest research also suggests brain impairment,” said Rafael Perez. -Escamilla, professor of public health at Yale University.
“Just 100 calories of processed foods can affect your physical health. So that’s two cookies.”
Research has linked the consumption of ultra-processed foods to health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancers. “And now we’re starting to realize that they affect the mind,” Perez-Escamilla said. “That’s because they cause inflammation, which can affect neurotransmitters in the brain. Processed foods also work at the micro level with trillions and trillions of bacterial cells that (impair) functioning.”
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New research links processed foods to cognitive decline
At the Alzheimer’s Association’s international conference, researchers presented the results of a study – not yet peer-reviewed – in Brazil that looked at the diet and cognition of 10,000 middle-aged adults and older aged.
The results revealed 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 period of six to 10 years compared to people whose diets contained few processed foods.
“This is a robust study, and the evidence is very consistent with what has been observed with ultra-processed foods over time,” said Perez-Escamilla, who did not participate in the study. study.
Processed foods require little preparation and are often easy to consume as they generally do not lead to feeling as full as when eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, potatoes, eggs , seafood or meat, noted Perez Escamilla. And a wide range of ultra-processed foods can be disguised or even presented as healthy.
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Previous studies on ultra-processed foods have indicated signs of cognitive decline before, namely with an increased risk of dementia. A study published last week found that for every 10% increase in daily consumption of ultra-processed foods, people in the UK had a 25% higher risk of developing dementia.
“Ultra-processed foods are a problem not just later in life, but from the very beginning of a toddler’s life, preschool,” Perez-Escamilla said. “It’s when children develop a taste or preference for ultra-processed foods that determines future risk.”
What is a processed food?
Processed foods contain 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, candies, sodas and hot dogs. Frozen meals are also at the forefront of processed foods.
Studies of the American diet reveal that 58% of calories are consumed via processed foods in the United States, according to a 2016 peer-reviewed study.
Claudia Suemoto, author of the cognitive decline study and assistant professor of geriatrics at the University of Sao Paulo Medical School, said looking at more than just calorie counting is key when considering considers both mind and body.
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“Regardless of the amount of calories, regardless of the amount of healthy foods you try to eat, ultra-processed foods are not good for your cognition,” Suemoto told NBC News. “I know sometimes it’s easier to open a package and put it in the microwave, but in the long run it will cost you years of life.”
Dr. Cate Shanahan, food toxicology expert 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 among the most popular foods. more fattening. of food.
“If you try to Google processed foods for a definition, there are different kinds of answers,” Shanahan said. “Processed foods are really just foods that contain unhealthy ingredients in high amounts. It could be processed carbs like flowers and sugar, protein powders. Seed oils are the absolute worst thing in the supply. We call them the eight unhealthy oils – corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, rapeseed and rice bran oil.”
Socio-economic factors make it difficult
Percy Griffin, director of science 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 consumption of processed foods.
“An increase in the availability and consumption of fast, processed and ultra-processed foods is due to a number of socio-economic factors, including poor access to healthy foods, less time to prepare food from zero and the inability to afford whole food options,” Griffin said in a statement.
Just over half of the study participants were female, white or college educated. The average age was 51 years old.
Adrienne DePaul, registered dietitian nutritionist at Chicago’s Health Loft, said the growing prevalence of ultra-processed foods can often be a result of many Americans’ budgets and that it’s important to empathize with those who have less. money or who have access to fresher, whole foods when grocery shopping.
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“Ultra-processed foods tend to be eaten more frequently by people who are financially constrained or unable to devote the time to preparing meals from scratch,” DePaul said. “We have to be careful about taking results like these and turning them into individualized recommendations.”
Shanahan noted that there are still workarounds for maintaining a healthy diet: “Vegetables can also be expensive and very perishable. Dairy products, eggs and ground meat can be very nutritious foods for someone in financial difficulty. Our bodies need quality protein, and there are several ways to get it.