Diets high in ultra-processed foods increase dementia risk: study

Is your diet making you weaker?

Foods like chips, cookies, frozen meals and soft drinks contribute to cognitive decline, according to a new study with data from more than 72,000 people.

Compared to whole-food dieters, those who consume large amounts of ultra-processed dishes seem more likely to develop dementia. And for every 10% increase in junk food consumption, the researchers saw a 25% increase in the likelihood of being diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease.

The cause of this correlation is not yet clear, but scientists at the American Academy of Neurology have said that previous studies support the connection between what we put in our bodies and how it affects the mind.

Ultra-processed foods are defined by their high percentages of sugar, fat and salt, as well as their lack of protein and fiber.

And they can be misleading, the researchers say, since even seemingly healthy foods like prepackaged (not homemade) guacamole or low-calorie frozen dinners are often loaded with questionable ingredients, additives and preservatives.

man shopping in frozen grocery store aisle
Even foods labeled “healthy” can be considered ultra-processed due to the number of additives and preservatives found in the dish.
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“Ultra-processed foods are meant to be convenient and tasty, but they lower the quality of a person’s diet,” study author Huiping Li, PhD, of China’s Tianjin Medical University, said in a statement. “These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from packaging or produced during heating, all of which have been shown in other studies to have negative effects on thinking and memory abilities.”

“Our research not only found that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but also found that replacing them with healthy options can lower dementia risk,” Li added.

The researchers pulled from the UK Biobank, a medical database of around half a million UK residents, for analysis and identified 72,083 viable participants aged 55 and over with no previous history of dementia. The cohort was then divided into four groups, on a scale from lowest to highest based on the percentage of ultra-processed foods they ate each day.

Ultra-processed foods made up 9% of the average daily diet of those at the lowest level of junk food intake. At the other end of the spectrum, ultra-processed foods made up about 28% of what people ate every day.

sweets and treats
“Our research not only found that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but replacing them with healthy options may lower dementia risk,” said study author Huiping Li, PhD, of the Medical University of China’s Tianjin.
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At the end of the UK Biobank survey, which followed participants for an average of 10 years, 518 of those included in the current report had developed dementia, 150 of whom were included in the group with the highest food intake Scrap.

After accounting for high-risk factors for dementia, such as age, gender, and family medical history, the researchers found a 25% increased risk of dementia for every 10% increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods. In contrast, those who reduced their junk food intake by 10% benefited from a 19% lower risk of developing dementia.

The most common junk food among all participants was sugary drinks, followed by sweets and ultra-processed dairy, such as American cheese.

Small substitutions in the diet can translate into big health benefits, Li noted, though the habit can be difficult to kick, as researchers have previously speculated about junk food’s addictive qualities.

“Our results also show an increase in unprocessed or minimally processed foods by just 50 grams per day, which is equivalent to half an apple, a serving of corn or a bowl of bran cereal, while simultaneously decreasing ultra-processed foods. in 50 grams per day. , equivalent to a chocolate bar or a serving of fish sticks, is associated with a 3% lower risk of dementia,” Li said. “It’s encouraging to know that small, manageable changes in diet can make a difference in a person’s risk of dementia.”

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