Unhealthy Junk Food Illustration

Ultra-processed foods linked to significantly increased risk of dementia

Illustration of unhealthy junk food

They found that replacing ultra-processed foods with healthy foods such as fresh fruit was associated with a 19% decrease in the incidence of dementia.

The study also found that replacing these foods with healthier options can reduce your risk of dementia.

According to recent research published in the journal Neurology, those who consume the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods, such as soft drinks, chips and cookies, may have a greater risk of developing dementia than those who consume the least. The researchers also found that substituting ultra-processed foods for unprocessed or minimally processed foods in a person’s diet was associated with a decreased risk. The study does not prove that ultra-processed foods cause dementia. Only one association was shown.

Ultra-processed foods are low in protein and fiber and high in added sugar, fat and salt. Soft drinks, salty and sweet snacks, ice cream, sausages, fried chicken, yogurt, canned tomatoes and baked beans, ketchup, mayonnaise, packaged guacamole and hummus, bread packaged and flavored cereals are some examples of ultra-processed foods.

“Ultra-processed foods are supposed to be convenient and tasty, but they lower the quality of a person’s diet,” said study author Huiping Li, Ph.D., of Medical University from Tianjin in China. “These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from the packaging or produced during heating, all of which have been shown in other studies to have negative effects on thinking and memory abilities. Our research has not only revealed that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but they also revealed that replacing them with healthy options can reduce the risk of dementia.

Researchers identified 72,083 people for the study from the UK Biobank, a large database including health information for half a million people in the UK. Study participants were aged 55 or older and did not have dementia at baseline. They were followed for an average of ten years. 518 people had been diagnosed with dementia at the end of the research.

Study participants completed at least two questionnaires about what they ate and drank the night before. The researchers calculated the amount of ultra-processed food the individuals consumed and compared it to the grams per day of other foods to produce part of their daily diet. They then separated the subjects into four equal groups, ranging from lowest to highest percentage of consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods made up 9% of the daily diet of those in the lowest group, or 225 grams per day, compared to 28% of the daily diet of those in the highest category, or 814 grams per day. 150 grams was comparable to a serving of pizza or fish sticks. Beverages were the main food category contributing to high consumption of ultra-processed foods, followed by sugary products and ultra-processed dairy products.

In the lowest group, 105 of 18,021 people developed dementia, compared to 150 of 18,021 people in the highest group.

After adjusting for age, gender, family history of dementia and heart disease, and other factors that may affect dementia risk, the researchers found that for every 10% increase in intake daily of ultra-processed foods, people had a 25% higher risk. of dementia.

The researchers also used the study data to estimate what would happen if a person replaced 10% of ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk and meat. They found that such a substitution was associated with a 19% lower risk of dementia.

“Our results also show an increase in unprocessed or minimally processed foods by just 50 grams per day, equivalent to half an apple, a serving of corn or a bowl of bran cereal, and a simultaneous decrease in ultra- processed 50 grams per day. , equivalent to a bar of chocolate or a serving of fish sticks, is associated with a 3% lower risk of dementia,” Li said. “It is encouraging to know that small manageable changes in diet can make a difference in a person’s risk of dementia.”

Li noted that further research is needed to confirm the findings.

Maura E. Walker, Ph.D., of Boston University in Massachusetts, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, said, “As nutritional research has begun to focus on food processing, the challenge is to categorize these foods as unprocessed, minimally processed, processed, and ultra-processed. For example, foods like soup would be categorized differently if they were canned or homemade. Also, the level of processing does not is not always aligned with diet quality. Plant-based burgers that qualify as high-quality can also be ultra-processed. As we aim to better understand the complexities of dietary intake, we must also consider that higher quality dietary assessments may be needed.

A limitation of the study was that dementia cases were determined by reviewing hospital records and death records rather than primary care data, so less severe cases may have been overlooked.

Reference: “Association of Ultraprocessed Food Consumption With Risk of Dementia” by Huiping Li, Shu Li, Hongxi Yang, Yuan Zhang, Shunming Zhang, Yue Ma, Yabing Hou, Xinyu Zhang, Kaijun Niu, Yan Borné and Yaogang Wang, July 27, 2022 , Neurology.
DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000200871

The study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

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