A new study published in JAMA Neurology by a research team led by Natalia Gomes Gonçalves of the Department of Pathology at the University of Sao Paulo Medical School in Sao Paulo, Brazil, said that ultra-processed foods can be linked to cognitive decline.
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A major study with long-term follow-up published on Monday reveals a link between people who get a higher proportion of their daily calories from ultra-processed meals and experiencing cognitive decline.
According to the researchers, ultra-processed foods account for 58% of calories consumed in American diets, 57% in British diets, 48% in Canadian diets, and 30% in Brazilian diets.
That includes candies, breakfast cereals, ice cream, processed meats, ready-to-eat frozen meals, sweet and savoury snacks, confectionery, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Study participants whose daily energy percentage contribution from ultra-processed meals was above 19.9% exhibited a 28% quicker rate of global cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of decrease in executive function, the mental abilities needed on a daily basis to manage one’s affairs.
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That’s compared with people who ate no ultra-processed foods or, if they did, stayed below the 19.9% threshold over a follow-up period that averaged eight years.
JAMA Neurology published the findings (pdf below).
Few studies have looked at the connection between consuming ultra-processed foods and cognitive decline in high-income countries, despite the fact that eating such foods has been associated with an increased risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.
The Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health included 10, 775 participants, and a research team led by Natalia Gomes Gonçalves of the Department of Pathology at the University of So Paulo Medical School in So Paulo, Brazil, set out to investigate the relationship between eating ultra-processed food and cognitive decline among them.
Public employees, aged 35 to 74, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds were recruited for the study in six Brazilian cities.
A validated food frequency questionnaire was used to measure baseline food and beverage consumption throughout a 12-month period. The frequency of consumption of each item was converted into grammes per day, and foods were then categorised into one of three food groups based on how much industrial processing was involved in their production.
The first category contained items that had not been processed at all or had only undergone little processing, such as grinding, roasting, pasteurisation, or freezing. Other foods in this category were fresh, dry, or frozen fruits and vegetables, grains, meat, fish, and milk. Additionally, it contained processed foods like table sugar, oils, and salt.
The second category comprised salted, smoked, or cured meats and seafood as well as processed items such canned fruits, artisanal bread and cheese.
Ultra-processed foods were included in the third category. In addition to ingredients from other food groups, the scientists claimed that these formulations also contain food additives that are not typically used in home cooking, such as flavours, colours, sweeteners, emulsifiers, and other ingredients that are “used to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product or imitate the sensorial qualities of culinary preparations” from unprocessed or minimally processed foods.
The researchers assessed participants’ cognitive function and their intake of ultra-processed meals throughout a median follow-up of eight years.
The Consortium to Establish a Registry for Alzheimer Disease administered memory tests using the immediate recall, late recall, and recognition word list techniques to participants up to three times every four years.
The researchers used tools, such as verbal fluency tests, to assess people’s executive function.
“These findings support current public health recommendations on limiting ultra-processed food consumption because of their potential harm to cognitive function,” the authors concluded.