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Ultra-processed foods linked to cognitive mental decline, new study finds

Researchers looked at diets in thousands of people
processed foods
Posted at 10:56 PM, Aug 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-02 11:13:44-04

Researchers say new data is shedding even more light on the damage that ultra-processed foods can do to brain function as scientists looked at thousands of people to see how ingredients in these foods damage cognitive abilities.

Foods like frozen pizza, hot dogs, french fries and sodas have been linked to obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer. Now a new study points to processed foods and their effect on overall cognitive decline affecting areas of the brain responsible for executive function and the brain's ability to process data and make critical decisions.

Rudy Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of the genetics and aging research unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston was not involved in the study but told CNN Health, "While in need of further study and replication, the new results are quite compelling and emphasize the critical role for proper nutrition in preserving and promoting brain health and reducing risk for brain diseases as we get older,"

The study was presented at the 2022 Alzheimer's Association's International Conference and followed more than 10,000 people in Brazil, for a decade in some cases. Half of the participants in the study were women, who identified as white and were university educated. The average age for study participants was 51.

Cognitive testing was given to track their mental abilities while eating a diet that contained, at least in part, processed foods for the participants.

Coauthor Dr. Claudia Suemoto said, "In Brazil, ultraprocessed foods make up 25% to 30% of total calorie intake. We have McDonald's, Burger King and we eat a lot of chocolate and white bread. It's not very different, unfortunately, from many other Western countries." 

Another coauthor, Natalia Gonçalves, is a researcher at the department of pathology at the University of São Paulo Medical School. Gonçalves said, "People who consumed more than 20% of daily calories from processed foods had a 28% faster decline in global cognition and a 25% faster decline in executive functioning compared to people who ate less than 20%," CNN Health reported.