Eating a large amount of ultra-processed food can significantly accelerate cognitive decline, according to new research unveiled at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in San Diego.
Breakfast cereals, white bread, potato chips, soda, hamburgers and French fries along with frozen foods such as lasagna, pizza and ice cream were among the “ultra-processed” foods cited by researchers at University of São Paulo, Brazil, who looked at 10,775 people over eight years.
The study found that people who consume the highest amount of ultra-processed foods (more than 20 percent of daily caloric intake) have a 28 percent faster decline in global cognitive scores — including memory, verbal fluency and executive function — compared to those with lower consumption.
Ultra-processed foods (UFP) are defined as those that go through significant industrial processes and contain large quantities of fats, sugar, salt, artificial flavors/colors, stabilizers and/or preservatives.
According to the ELSA-Brasil study, the number of people consuming UFP has increased worldwide over the last 30 years. The high intake is associated with cardiovascular disease and cancer and hypothesized to induce systemic inflammation and oxidative stress.
Researchers noted that, despite UPF being a potential risk factor for cognitive decline through these pathways, little is known about the effects of UPF on cognition. They investigated the association between UPF consumption and cognitive decline over 9 years of follow-up.
The study evaluated 8,160 participants in three waves: from 2008 to 2010, from 2012 to 2014, and from 2017 to 2019, measuring dietary data and evaluating cognitive performances on a standard battery of tests. Over the course of the nine-year follow-up, the mean baseline caloric intake fell just above 2,800 calories, 28 percent of which came from UPF.
Researchers found no association of UPF consumption with verbal fluency in participants over the course of the study. They did, however, note rapid declines in executive functions and memory performance toward the end of the follow-up period, which they observed were associated with UPF consumption.
“There is growing evidence that what we eat can impact our brains as we age,” said Claire Sexton, Alzheimer’s Association senior director of scientific programs and outreach. “Many studies suggest it is best to eat a heart-healthy diet low in processed foods and high in whole, nutritional foods like vegetables and fruits.”ISI