Cognitive decline linked to ultra-processed foods

January 12, 2023

Research reveals need for healthy changes in 2023

For many Americans, ushering in the new year means developing a list of resolutions. Becoming a healthier eater is one of the resolutions most frequently seen at the top of the list, and for a very sound, evidence-based reason. Ultra-processed foods make up more than half of Americans’ diets. Research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in 2022 suggests that eating ultra-processed foods for more than 20 percent of your daily calorie intake every day could set you on the road to cognitive decline.

“Research continues to show that what we eat can impact our brain health as we age,” said Kate Kahles, Program Manager, Alzheimer’s Association. “At the same time, there has been an increase in the availability and consumption of fast, processed and ultra-processed foods. There are steps we can take to good care of our brain health, including a hearthealthy, balanced diet low in some of the ingredients often found in processed foods like saturated fat, refined grains, and sugar, and high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats, often found in vegetables and fruits.”

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are foods that undergo significant industrial processes and contain large quantities of fats, sugar, salt, artificial flavors, colors, stabilizers, and preservatives. Examples include sodas, sugary breakfast cereals, white bread, potato chips, and frozen foods, such as, pizza, ice cream, hamburgers, and fries.

In the study, scientists at the University of São Paulo, examined the diets and cognitive function test results of more than 8,000 adults in Brazil over 8 years. Research found that people who consume the highest amount of UPF (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.

“I’m not suggesting you have to skip those favorite Super Bowl snacks completely,” Kahles said. “It’s about balance and about adding in more fresh foods, and less of foods containing saturated fat, refined grains, and sugar, which ultimately will benefit brain health. There are a lot of practical ways to modify our diets. Maybe add a few more carrots to the snack table and a few less potato chips and cheese. It’s a win-win for everyone.”