Ultra-processed foods linked to cognitive decline, shows study

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In recent years, research has consistently shown that consuming ultraprocessed foods can lead to various health issues, including inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, obesity, and even early death.

Now, a new study reveals that these convenient, ready-to-eat foods may also increase the risk of cognitive decline as we age. What’s concerning is that even a relatively small amount of ultraprocessed food can have an impact.

According to the study, consuming just about 20% of the recommended daily calorie intake (approximately 400 calories out of 2,000) in the form of ultraprocessed foods can lead to cognitive decline.

To put this in perspective, it’s roughly equivalent to eating a typical McDonald’s cheeseburger and small fries, which amounts to 530 calories.

This alarming discovery emphasizes that it’s not just fast food that poses a risk; the majority of the U.S. food supply is considered ultraprocessed.

This category includes a wide range of products, from sugary cereals and packaged snacks to microwaveable meals and soda.

The recent study involved 10,775 participants who were part of the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health.

Researchers compared individuals who consumed the least amount of ultraprocessed foods with those who ate the most.

The results were significant: those who consumed the most ultraprocessed foods experienced a 28% faster rate of global cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of executive function decline.

Dr. David Katz, a specialist in preventive and lifestyle medicine and nutrition, emphasized that while the study establishes an association, it doesn’t prove causation.

However, the robust findings suggest a strong link between ultraprocessed foods and cognitive decay.

Dr. Katz stated, “The sample size is substantial, and the follow-up extensive. While short of proof, this is robust enough that we should conclude ultraprocessed foods are probably bad for our brains.”


This study serves as a stark reminder of the potential consequences of relying on ultraprocessed foods in our diets.

It highlights the need for individuals to be mindful of their food choices, as even modest consumption of these foods can have a negative impact on cognitive health as we age.

To promote better brain health and overall well-being, it’s advisable to prioritize fresh, whole foods in our diets while reducing our intake of ultraprocessed options.

If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies about the likely cause of Alzheimer’s disease , and new non-drug treatment that could help prevent Alzheimer’s.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about diet that may help prevent Alzheimer’s, and results showing some dementia cases could be prevented by changing these 12 things.

The research findings can be found in JAMA Neurology.

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