Ultra-processed foods increase the risk of dementia

According to a recent study published in Neurology.

Chinese researchers have found that the more ultra-processed foods people eat, the higher their risk of dementia. For every 10% increase in these ultra-processed foods, dementia risk increased by 25%, after researchers adjusted for age, gender, family history of dementia, heart disease and other factors .

“Ultra-processed foods are supposed to be convenient and tasty, but they lower the quality of a person’s diet,” said Huiping Li, PhD, first author of the study from Tianjin Medical University. “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.”

Li and the other researchers analyzed more than 72,000 people over the age of 55 from UK Biobank. Participants were divided into four groups based on lowest to highest consumption of ultra-processed foods. They were also free of dementia at the start of the study and were followed for an average of 10 years.

Ultra-processed foods made up 9% (about 225 grams per day) of the daily diet in the group with the lowest consumption of these foods; those who consume the most consume an average of 814 grams per day, which represents 28% of their overall diet.

The foods that contributed the most to the consumption of ultra-processed foods were beverages, followed by sugary products and ultra-processed dairy products.

The foods that contributed the most to the consumption of ultra-processed foods were beverages, followed by sugary products and ultra-processed dairy products.

Although they found that large amounts of ultra-processed foods were linked to an increased risk of dementia, they also found that replacing them with unprocessed foods (or minimally processed foods) reduced this risk.

The researchers emphasized that the study results show an association, not a causal relationship.

What are ultra-processed and minimally processed foods?

The researchers defined ultra-processed foods as foods high in added sugar, fat and salt, and low in protein and fiber. These foods are usually made from substances such as fats, starches and sugars extracted from other foods, and also contain additives such as artificial colors, flavors or stabilizers.

Here are some examples of ultra-processed foods:

  • Soft drink
  • fruit drinks
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Fleas
  • Fast food (burgers and fries)
  • Salty snacks
  • Industrially produced breads
  • Candy/candy
  • Canned/Instant Soups
  • Energy bars
  • Chicken/fish nuggets
  • The hot dogs
  • Flavored yogurt

Foods that are little treated have usually been modified – ground, chilled, fermented or frozen – for preservation purposes, but do not change the nutritional content of the food.

Minimally processed foods include:

  • Fresh and frozen fruits or vegetables
  • Cereals
  • Legumes
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Plain unsweetened yogurt
  • Nuts and seeds with no added salt or sugar
  • Coffee and tea

Why could ultra-processed foods be linked to dementia?

Maura Walker, MS, PhDassistant professor of research at Boston University, said more research is needed to determine why ultra-processed foods might be linked to dementia, but she hypothesizes that they have poor nutrient profiles, which which can affect overall health.

“They may tend to be higher in calories with added sugar, sodium and unhealthy fats, and they replace foods in our diets that are healthier for us,” she said.

Additionally, ultra-processed foods contain high amounts of synthetic ingredients such as preservatives, hydrogenated oils and artificial flavors, said Tara Bassi, MS, CNS, LDN, CHHCregistered nutritionist Botanical Institute—ingredients that are all linked to many serious health problems.

“Ultra-processed products contain no fiber, protein, or essential vitamins and minerals, all of which are essential for optimal health,” she said.

In addition to being less nutritious, ultra-processed foods may also be associated with a higher risk of dementia because they introduce additives and packaging, said Molly Rapozo, MS, RDNregistered dietitian nutritionist and brain health coach at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

“The the manufacture of the UPF is designed to create highly profitable, convenient and hyper-appetizing products that can replace higher quality foods, an indirect effect,” she said. “UPFs are high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars; total fats, saturated fats and trans fats; as well as additives, such as artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers. Therefore, a diet high in UPF may increase the risk of cognitive decline by contributing to high cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and elevation of markers of inflammation.

Should you change your diet?

With these findings in mind, experts say people should try to avoid ultra-processed foods and incorporate foods with little or no processing at all instead. And start small, making changes little by little.

“Instead of eating a bag of chips, opt for baked or air-fried sweet potato chips. Instead of drinking a soda every day, can you brighten up some sparkling water with some fresh fruit? Bassi suggested. “Instead of boxed macaroni and cheese, how about making your own homemade version? These small steps can add up over time and lead to better overall health in the long run.

Also check ingredient labels to identify foods that contain high levels of flavors, colors, sweeteners, or even thickeners, and spend more time in grocery store aisles that contain fruits, vegetables, and meats. costs.

Try to identify your biggest weaknesses or cravings, Bassi said, and make an effort to find healthier substitutions based on your personal preferences. For example, if you tend to be a foodie, try sparkling water or add fresh fruit to the water instead of a soda.

“Don’t try to give up all of the UPF in your life overnight,” Rapozo said. “Take the time to explore minimally processed foods that you and your family will enjoy.”

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