Ultra-processed foods directly linked to cognitive decline and stroke •

Eating more ultra-processed foods like soda, chips, and cookies may be linked to an increased risk of memory and thinking problems, as well as stroke.

This is according to a recent study published in the online edition of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).

Although the study does not prove that ultra-processed foods cause these health problems, it does show a significant association.

What are ultra-processed foods?

Ultra-processed foods are typically high in added sugar, fat, and salt, but low in protein and fiber. These foods undergo extensive industrial processing and contain various additives to improve flavor, texture, and shelf life.

Common examples include soft drinks, salty and sugary snacks, ice cream, hamburgers, canned baked beans, ketchup, mayonnaise, packaged breads, and flavored cereals.

Ultra-processed foods often lack essential nutrients and are designed for convenience and appeal, which can lead to overconsumption.

In contrast, unprocessed or minimally processed foods retain their natural form and nutritional value. These foods undergo minimal changes and contain no added sugars, fats or artificial ingredients.

Examples include simple cuts of beef, pork, and chicken, as well as fresh vegetables and fruits. Unprocessed foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients that support overall health.

Diet and brain health

“While a healthy diet is important for maintaining brain health among older adults, the dietary choices most important for the brain are still unclear,” said Dr. W. Taylor Kimberly, lead author of the study from Massachusetts General Hospital. Massachusetts in Boston.

“We found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with increased risk of stroke and cognitive decline, and the association between ultra-processed foods and stroke was greatest among black participants.”

The study examined 30,239 people ages 45 and older who identified as white or black. They were followed for an average of eleven years.

Participants completed questionnaires about their dietary habits, and researchers calculated the percentage of their daily diet that consisted of ultra-processed foods.

Cognitive impairment and stroke risk

Of the total participants, 14,175 were analyzed for cognitive impairment and 20,243 were analyzed for stroke. Both groups had no history of cognitive impairment or stroke at the start of the study. Ultimately, 768 people were diagnosed with cognitive impairment and 1,108 suffered a stroke.

In the cognitive group, those who developed memory and thinking problems consumed 25.8% of their diet in ultra-processed foods, compared to 24.6% of those who did not have cognitive problems.

After adjusting for several factors, a 10% increase in ultra-processed food intake was associated with a 16% increased risk of cognitive decline. In contrast, eating more unprocessed or minimally processed foods was associated with a 12% lower risk of cognitive decline.

In the stroke group, people who had a stroke consumed 25.4% of their diet in ultra-processed foods, compared to 25.1% of those who did not have a stroke.

Higher intake of ultra-processed foods was associated with an 8% higher risk of stroke, while consuming more unprocessed or minimally processed foods was associated with a 9% lower risk of stroke. a stroke.

The effect of consuming ultra-processed foods on stroke risk was most pronounced among black participants, showing a 15% relative increase in risk.

Role of ultra-processed foods in brain health

“Our findings show that the degree of food processing plays an important role in overall brain health,” Kimberly said. “More research is needed to confirm these results and better understand which foods or processing components contribute most to these effects.”

One limitation of the study was that it only included participants who self-identified as black or white, so the results may not be generalizable to other populations.

However, the study highlights the importance of dietary choices in maintaining cognitive and general health. Reducing your intake of ultra-processed foods and opting for more unprocessed or minimally processed options could be beneficial strategies for brain health.

By focusing on the quality of the food we eat, we can make informed decisions that support our long-term physical and cognitive health.

While more research is needed, this study provides valuable information about the potential risks associated with ultra-processed foods and the benefits of a more natural diet.


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