Ultraprocessed Foods Linked to Cognitive Decline

August 08, 2022

Individuals Who Consume More than 20% of Calorie Intake from Ultraprocessed Foods Have Faster Rate of Harm

The Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Health (ELSA-Brasil) suggests that eating a diet high in ultraprocessed foods (UPFs) is harmful to the brain. This intriguing finding was presented last week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2022. The ELSA study defined UPFs as “industrial formulations of food substances (oils, fats, sugars, starch, and protein isolates) that contain little or no whole foods and typically include flavoring, coloring, emulsifiers, and other cosmetic additives.” To investigate UPF consumption, the research team evaluated longitudinal data on 10,775 adults (mean age, 50.6 years; 56% women; 55% White) who participated in the annual ELSA-Brasil study. The data was evaluated in three cohorts (2008-2010, 2012-2014, 2017-2019). Information on the participants’ diet was obtained from food frequency questionnaires and included information regarding the consumption of unprocessed foods, minimally processed foods, and UPFs. Subjects were grouped according to UPF consumption quartiles (lowest to highest), and cognitive performance was evaluated using a standardized battery of tests. After analyzing the data, the researchers discovered that participants who reported consuming more than 20% of their daily calories from UPFs had a 28% faster rate of global cognitive decline and a 25% faster decrease in executive functioning skills compared to those whole reported eating less than 20% of daily calories from UPFs. Unfortunately, most Americans eat more than 20% of their daily calories from UPFs. Coauthor Claudia Suemoto states, “Fifty-eight percent of the calories consumed by United States citizens, 56.8% of the calories consumed by British citizens, and 48% of the calories consumed by Canadians come from ultraprocessed foods.” This study’s take-home message is that if you care about proper brain functioning, stop buying food products that are super processed.

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