Recent research has revealed that people who consume large amounts of ultra-processed foods such as soda, chips and crackers may be more likely to develop dementia.
The researchers also found that replacing ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods decreases this risk. The study highlighted the Sci Tech Dailydoes not indicate that ultra-processed foods cause dementia, just establish an association.
Ultra-processed foods are low in protein and fiber and high in sugar, fat and salt. Sodas, snacks, ice cream, sausages, fried chicken, yogurt, canned tomatoes, pre-cooked beans, sauces, packaged bread and flavored cereals are some examples of ultra-processed foods.
“Ultra-processed foods are meant to be convenient and tasty, but they detract from the quality of food,” said Huiping Li, a professor at Tianjin University of Medicine in China and one of the authors of the study, published recently in neurology.
“These foods may also contain additives or substances from the packaging (…), which have negative effects on thinking and memory. Our research has not only found that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but also that replacing them with healthy options may decrease that risk.”
The researchers identified 72,083 subjects for the study in the UK’s Biobank, a database that includes information on half a million people. Participants were 55 years of age or older, with no signs of dementia at baseline, and had been followed for about ten years. At the end of the investigation, 518 individuals had been diagnosed with the disease.
Participants completed at least two daily food questionnaires, which were analyzed by the researchers. The experts then separated the subjects into four groups, from the lowest to the highest percentage of ultra-processed foods.
Ultra-processed foods accounted for 9% of the daily diet of people in the lowest group (225 grams), compared with 28% in the highest category, (814 grams). At drinks were the main food category that contributed to a high consumption of ultra-processed foods, followed by sugary products and dairy products.
In the lowest group, 105 of 18,021 people developed dementia, compared with 150 of 18,021 people in the highest group. The researchers found that for every 10% more daily consumption of ultra-processed foods, people had a 25% higher risk of dementia.
The researchers also estimated what would happen if a person replaced 10% of ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods such as fruit, vegetables, milk and meat. They found that such substitution was associated with a risk 19% lower dementia.
“Our results show that increasing consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods by just 50 grams per day – which is equivalent to half an apple, a serving of corn or a bowl of cereal – and the decrease of ultra-processed foods in 50 grams is associated with a 3% decreased risk of dementia,” Li said.
“It is encouraging to know that small and possible changes in diet can make a difference in the risk of dementia,” he continued, stressing, however, that more research is needed to confirm the study’s results.
For Maura E. Walker, from Boston University, in the United States, “although nutritional research has begun to focus on food processing, the challenge is categorize such foods as unprocessed, minimally processed, processed, and ultra-processed”.
“Furthermore, the level of processing is not always aligned with the quality of the feed. Plant-based burgers that qualify as high quality can also be ultra-processed.”
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