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A diet high in ultra-processed foods increases the risk of dementia

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  • New research suggests that a diet high in ultra-processed foods may lead to a higher risk of developing dementia.
  • Researchers found that those who consumed 28% or more of their calories from ultra-processed foods had a higher risk of dementia.
  • The experts explain the main takeaways from this new study.

We all know that some foods are better for us than others and that eating healthy is key to feeling our best. However, new research shows how our diet can really affect not only our bodies, but also our brains. A new study has found that eating ultra-processed foods actually increases your risk of dementia.

Dementia It is not a specific disease, but rather a general term for impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with daily activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. And, according to CDCamong people aged 65 and over, there were about 5 million adults with dementia in 2014. This number is expected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2060.

A study published in JAMA Neurology and presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, followed by 10,775 people for 10 years. Participants included both men and women, with an average age of 51. Participants completed a food frequency questionnaire and reported their calorie intake during the study. At the end of the 10-year period, participants were assessed on changes in cognitive performance over time using several cognitive tests.

Researchers determined that those who consumed 28% or more of their calories from ultra-processed foods had a higher risk of dementia. On an average 2,000 calorie diet, that equates to just 400 calories a day from ultra-processed foods, which isn’t a lot.

This isn’t the first study linking ultra-processed foods to bigger health issues, and it probably won’t be the last. Earlier this year, researchers discovered that Ultra-processed foods lead to cancer, premature death and heart disease. And, there have been other studies linking ultra-processed foods to dementia, including a study published in Neurology in July.

What are ultra-processed foods?

The study defined ultra-processed foods 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 cosmetic additives”.

In general, “if a food is easy, inexpensive, packaged, and lasts for years on the shelves — or includes artificial colors or flavors or synthetic additives — it may be an ultra-processed food,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDNforward-thinking culinary nutritionist and author of The clean and simple diabetes cookbook. “These are formulas or manufactured substances, such as protein isolates, refined oils, processed sugars and starches, in which little ‘food’ value remains.”

Here are some examples of ultra-processed foods, according to Newgent:

  • Sugary drinks
  • Wrapped cookies
  • Breakfast cereals made from refined grains
  • Chips or pretzels made from refined grains
  • Processed red meats like bacon and hot dogs

How do ultra-processed foods affect health?

Eating ultra-processed foods frequently is less healthy than fresh foods, he says Amit Sachdev, MDdirector of the division of neuromuscular medicine at Michigan State University.

Part of the problem is that you can change your health depending on what you do do not get, says Newgent. A concern isn’t that you occasionally enjoy certain ultra-processed foods in your diet; it’s if you eat them instead of healthy, nutrient-dense foods and consistently eat ultra-processed foods over time.

How do ultra-processed foods affect our brain health and contribute to dementia risk?

According to previous studies, “regular consumption of ultra-processed foods appears to be associated with increased inflammation in the brain,” says Newgent.

The best link we have between dementia risk and diet is through overall well-being, says Dr. Satchdev. “A healthy body will lead to a healthy brain.” And, a diet that includes fresh foods is generally better balanced and more nutritious, he adds.

The bottom line

“What you eat is really important, for the brain and the body,” says Dr. Satchdev. But, as Newgent explains, we know that no one is perfect. “If you’re not eating ultra-processed foods, that’s amazing,” she says, “However, the most realistic advice for most is to aim to limit, not eliminate ultra-processed foods. ” Generally speaking, be aware that you can occasionally enjoy a handful of pretzels or refined grain chips; But the key is a handful not a bowl and sometimes not every day, says Newgent.

In the end, it’s all about balance. But this new research shows how vital a healthy diet is for every part of our body, especially our brain. Regarding further studies to come, Dr. Sachdev explains, “We need to better understand what is toxic to the brain and body, so we can help eliminate it.”

So until we know how to treat dementia, we will have to do our best to prevent it from developing by starting with a healthy lifestyle and a diet with minimal ultra-processed foods.

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