While it’s not exactly news that eating overly-processed foods is linked to myriad health issues, results from a recent study are shedding new light on its relation to cognitive decline as we age.
In a new study presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, researchers found that eating ultra-processed foods for more than 20 percent of your daily calorie intake led to a 28 percent faster decline in global cognitive scores, including memory, verbal fluency, and executive function. The study was conducted on 10,775 people over the course of eight years.
Researchers note the reason ultra-processed foods rank so low on the health-o-meter is that they “go through significant industrial processes and contain large quantities of fats, sugar, salt, artificial flavors/colors, stabilizers, and/or preservatives,” according to the news release. Soda, breakfast cereals, white bread, and potato chips were amongst the processed foods examples on the list.
This isn’t the first study that’s pointed at a correlation between processed foods and brain function. A study published last month showed that for every 10 percent increase in a person’s daily intake of ultra-processed foods, people in the United Kingdom had a 25 percent higher risk of developing dementia.
Of course, an individual’s recommended daily calorie intake is based on various factors, including age, height, weight, and level of physical activity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But systemic challenges in food access make it difficult for everyone to follow a diet that matches their body’s needs, as Percy Griffin, Ph.D., director of scientific engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a statement.
“An increase in the availability and consumption of fast, processed, and ultra-processed foods is due to a number of socioeconomic factors, including low access to healthy foods, less time to prepare foods from scratch, and inability to afford whole food options,” Griffin said. “Ultra-processed foods make up more than half of American diets. It’s troubling but not surprising to see new data suggesting these foods can significantly accelerate cognitive decline.”
With that in mind, if you are looking to cut back on processed foods, you can consider making small changes with budget-friendly grocery options. Swap some of your go-to over-processed options for slightly less processed picks like frozen vegetables and fruits, canned beans, or even boxed whole grains, like brown rice and oats.
Before you go, check out the best quotes to inspire positive attitudes about food and bodies:
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