Let’s begin by understanding what ultra-processed foods are.
Picture foods that are more chemicals than actual food – like soft drinks, hot dogs, cookies from a packet, or that frozen dinner in your freezer.
These foods are made mostly from bits of other foods, like sugars, fats, and starches, all mixed together with additives like colors and flavors.
The Damage They Do
Several studies have linked these ultra-processed foods to a lot of health problems. These range from gut issues to obesity, even cancer, and early death.
In a recent study, scientists found another potential problem – these easy-to-eat foods could also be bad for your brain.
In this study, scientists looked at how much ultra-processed food people eat and how it could affect their brain health. They used data from 10,775 adults in Brazil.
They found out something alarming. If just 20% of the 2,000 calories we should eat every day comes from these processed foods, we may face faster cognitive decline.
That means our brain functions, like memory and thinking, could deteriorate quicker.
Comparing the Highest and Lowest Consumers
Interestingly, when they compared people who ate the least amount of ultra-processed foods with those who ate the most, the results were eye-opening.
Those who ate the most ultra-processed food had a 28% faster rate of general brain function decline. Their executive function, which is involved in decision-making and problem-solving, declined 25% faster.
The Big Picture
We must note that this is a study of association. In other words, the researchers found a link between eating ultra-processed foods and brain health decline, but they can’t say for sure that one causes the other.
However, it adds to a growing body of evidence that these highly processed foods may not be good for our health.
In the US, almost 58% of calories come from ultra-processed foods, and they contribute nearly 90% of energy we get from added sugars.
This study, led by Dr. David Katz and his team, highlights the importance of being mindful about what we eat.
While ultra-processed foods may be convenient, their potential effects on our brain health are concerning. This research was published in the JAMA Neurology journal.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Omega-3 fats and carotenoid supplements could improve memory.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and higher magnesium intake could help benefit brain health.
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