Cognitive impairment related to ultra-processed foods, according to a study

Eating ultra-processed foods for more than 20% of your daily calorie intake every day could put you on the path to cognitive decline, a new study has revealed.

We all know that eating ultra-processed foods that make our lives easier, such as soups, sauces, frozen pizza, and ready meals, is not good for our health. Neither is gobbling up all the indulgent foods we love so much: hot dogs, sausages, burgers, fries, sodas, cookies, cakes, candy, donuts, and ice cream, to name just a few.

Studies have found that they can increase our risk of obesity, heart and circulatory problems, diabetes Y cancer. they can even shorten our lives.

Now a new study has revealed that eating more ultra-processed foods may contribute to general 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 global cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of decline in executive function compared to people who ate the fewest excessively processed foods, the study found.

“While further study and replication is needed, the new results are quite compelling and emphasize the critical role of proper nutrition in preserving and promoting brain health and reducing the risk of brain disease 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 was not involved in the study.

Tanzi, who has written about ultra-processed foods in his book “The Healing Self: A revolutionary new plan to boost your immunity and stay healthy for life“, he said the key problem with ultra-processed foods is that “they are typically high in sugar, salt and fat, all of which promote systemic inflammation, perhaps the greatest threat to healthy aging of the body and the brain”.

“Meanwhile, because they are convenient as fast food, they also replace the consumption of foods high in plant fiber which is important for maintaining the health and balance of the trillions of bacteria in the gut microbiome,” he added, “which is particularly important for brain health and for reducing the risk of age-related brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.”


The study, presented Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2022 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.

At the beginning and end of the study, cognitive tests, including immediate and delayed word recall, word recognition, and verbal fluency, were performed, and participants were asked about their diet.

“In Brazil, ultra-processed foods represent 25% to 30% of total calorie intake. We have McDonald’s, Burger King, and we eat a lot of chocolate and white bread. Unfortunately, it’s not very different from many other Western countries.” , said. co-author Dr. Claudia Suemoto, assistant professor in the division of geriatrics at the University of São Paulo School of Medicine.

“58% of calories consumed by US citizens, 56.8% of calories consumed by British citizens and 48% of 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 typically include flavors, colors, emulsifiers, and other additives. cosmetics,” according to the study. .

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

For a person who eats 2,000 calories a day, 20% would equate to 400 calories or more; in comparison, a small order of fries Y regular cheeseburger of McDonalds contains a total of 530 calories.

Those in the study who ate the most ultra-processed foods were “more likely to be younger, female, white, with higher education and income, and were more likely to have never smoked, and less likely to be current consumers.” of alcohol,” the study found. .

“People need to know to 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 it’s going to protect your heart and protect your brain from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease,” he added. “That’s the take-home message: stop buying super-processed stuff.”

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