Eating 400 calories a day from these foods could increase your risk of dementia by more than 20%

Eating 400 calories a day from these foods could increase your risk of dementia by more than 20%

Talk about food for thought.

A growing body of research suggests that ultra-processed foods like frozen pizza and breakfast cereals that are high in sugar, fat and empty calories are bad for your health. Now, a new large study presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego this week offers more evidence that people who get a high percentage of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods are also at greater risk of cognitive decline.

A team of researchers from the University of São Paulo School of Medicine in Brazil followed a diverse sample of more than 10,000 Brazilians for up to 10 years. Respondents filled out food frequency questionnaires to record how often they eat foods that include: unprocessed or minimally processed ingredients (that is, whole foods such as fresh, dried or frozen fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat, fish and milk that have undergone minimal processing , eg pasteurization); processed food (canned fruit, homemade bread and cheese, and salted, smoked or dried meat or fish); and ultra-processed foods (industrial formulations of processed food substances such as oils, fats, sugars, starches, artificial flavors and colors, but contain little or no whole food).

Subjects also took cognitive tests up to three times a year, including memory tests and word recognition tests, to monitor their cognitive functioning; aka, mental abilities such as learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem solving, decision making, and attention. They also took regular verbal fluency tests to monitor theirs executive functioning; that is, mental skills that help an individual in planning, monitoring and successfully fulfilling goals.

Inventions? Those who ate 20% or more of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods had a 28% faster rate of cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of executive function decline, compared to study subjects who ate the least processed foods. In other words, someone who followed a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet and consumed 400 of their daily calories from frozen meals, processed meats, breakfast cereals, and sugar-sweetened beverages each day had a faster rate of cognitive decline.

Opinion: Your diet is not only making you fat, it could be accelerating cognitive decline

And many of us eat these ultra-processed foods. Researchers have noted that a whopping 58% of the calories consumed by US citizens come from ultra-processed foods. We are not alone; 56.8% of calories consumed by British citizens, 48% of calories consumed by Canadians and up to 30% of calories consumed by Brazilians also tend to come from these ultra-processed foods, the researchers added. And despite the rise of herbal alternatives (some of which are themselves highly processed) and poultry consumption — and reducing the purchase and eating of unprocessed red meat — another recent report states that Americans still eat as much processed food as they did two decades agoespecially meat delicacies, sausages, hot dogs, ham and bacon.

Related: Putting less sugar in packaged foods could prevent millions of Americans from getting sick—and save the U.S. more than $160 billion

But there was an interesting catch in the cognitive decline study: If the subjects’ overall diet quality was otherwise very high (meaning they ate lots of unprocessed whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein), then this association between ultra-processed food and dementia is gone. So the good news is that you can counteract the consumption of these often cheap and readily available ultra-processed foods by cooking more at home (which can also save you money) and preparing food from whole foods such as fresh or frozen produce, whole grains and lean meats and proteins.

“Limiting the consumption of ultra-processed foods, particularly in middle-aged adults, may be an effective form of preventing cognitive decline,” the researchers wrote in their findings. published in JAMA Neurology this week. Indeed, this is consistent with what health officials like the American Heart Association have been saying: Instead of calling out individual foods as “good” or “bad,” people should focus on an overall healthy diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins/proteins rich in fiber that are minimally processed.

Read more: No More ‘Good’ vs. ‘Bad’ Foods: 10 Healthy Eating ‘Patterns’ to Prevent Heart Disease and Death

But brain health isn’t the only concern when it comes to ultra-processed foods. Here are four more ways those ready meals and snacks can harm your health.

Processed foods increase the risk of heart disease

An analysis of nearly 30,000 people published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in 2020 suggests that eating two servings of red meat and processed meat each week— such as two hot dogs or four pieces of bacon – was “significantly associated” with heart disease.

“It’s worth trying to cut back [consumption of] red meat and processed meats such as pepperoni, bologna and deli meats,” wrote senior study author Norrina Allen, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Researchers from the University of Paris collected data on the diet and health of more than 105,000 people aged 18 and over over five years to report for 2019. They found that those who ate the most “ultra-processed” foods had a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems.

The American Heart Association also released a new scientific statement last year focusing on overall healthy eating habits to protect your ticker, which included choosing minimally processed foods (such as a bag of salad or roasted, unsalted nuts) over ultra-processed foods (such as sugary cereals, chips, or smoked sausage) as much as possible. Dietary guidelines also recommend limiting the consumption of foods and drinks with added sugar. And he suggested choosing or preparing foods with little or no salt.

Processed food increases the risk of cancer

People who had a 10% higher intake of ultra-processed foods saw more than a 10% increase in cancer risk including breast cancer, according to a 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal.

So when is The American Cancer Society has updated its 2020 dietary recommendations for cancer prevention, cutting out processed foods was high on the list – along with cutting back on sugary drinks, red meat and alcohol. The American Cancer Society recommends that you pile your plate with a variety of whole, unprocessed foods and vegetables instead; especially dark green, red and orange vegetables, as well as fiber-rich legumes such as beans and peas. The guide also promoted whole grains, whole fruits in a variety of colors, and overall foods that are “full of nutrients in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.”

Processed food shortens life expectancy

So with reports suggesting that processed foods are linked to a range of chronic health conditions like cancer, heart disease and dementia – not to mention obesity, as those who follow an ultra-processed diet could consume up to 500 more calories per day compared to those who consume whole foods – it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the research also found a link between eating these foods and early death.

Researchers at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, ​​Spain, documented the eating habits of more than 20,000 Spanish graduate students between 1999 and 2014. They found that people who frequently consumed highly processed foods (such as, more than four meals each day) had a 62% increased risk of early death compared to those who enjoyed this food less often.

And a 2020 study that noted that eating two servings of red and processed meat each week was linked to heart disease also found that eating these tasty but risky foods also “significantly associated” with death. In fact, people who ate two servings of red meat or meat products per week – but no poultry or fish – were associated with a 3% higher risk of all-cause death.

Processed food is hurting the planet – and it’s coming back to bite you

Favoring the growth and production of processed foods – which often rely on the same handful of basic ingredients such as sugar cane, corn, rice and wheat – has resulted in the elimination of a more diverse supply of plants. This affects agrobiodiversity—or the diversity and variability of animals, plants, and microorganisms used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture, which affects soil health and the long-term profitable resilience of agriculture, according to research published in BMJ Global Health earlier this year. Moreover, the production of ultra-processed foods uses large amounts of land, water, energy, herbicides and fertilizers, which harms the environment by emitting greenhouse gases and creating tons of packaging waste.

Read more: Processed foods like ramen packets and frozen pizza can hurt your heart — and the world, study says

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