Study Finds What Popular Ultra-Processed Foods Can Do To Your Brain Health Later In Life

It's easy to indulge in processed foods, but that doesn't mean they're all that good for us. In fact, evidence shows that eating too much processed food is linked with a higher incidence of heart disease and higher rates of all-cause mortality, according to Medical News Today.

Unprocessed, on the other hand, are foods that are in their natural state. Fruits, unsalted nuts, and raw vegetables are examples of unprocessed foods. Processed foods, however, have undergone some kind of change from their natural form, and most of them come packaged or sealed to preserve freshness. Bread, soups, and canned fruits are considered processed food. Ultra-processed foods undergo even more change than processed foods and have added ingredients like salt, sugar, fat, flavor enhancers, and artificial colors (via Harvard Health Publishing). While these foods may be convenient to eat, new research published in JAMA Neurology seems to support the idea that ultra-processed foods increase the risk of cognitive decline, especially in middle-aged people.

Ultra-processed foods increase the risk for cognitive impairment

The prospective cohort study involved people from six Brazilian cities. Researchers examined the mental health of participants between 2008 and 2019 and the participants were between the ages of 35 to 74 years old. Of those, 54.6% were women and 53.1% were caucasian. The participants were asked to divide the food they consumed into four groups: group one — foods that were unprocessed or minimally processed; group two — processed culinary ingredients; group three — processed foods; and group four — ultra-processed foods.

Researchers found that individuals whose daily diet consisted of more than 19.9% of ultra-processed foods had a 28% faster rate of overall cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of decline in executive functions after eight years. "Limiting UPF [(ultra-processed food)] consumption, particularly in middle-aged adults, may be an efficient form to prevent cognitive decline," the study authors note in their conclusion. Limiting these foods also reduces the number of trans fats, calories, and refined carbohydrates — all of which can contribute to several health conditions, including type 2 diabetes and obesity (via Medical News Today).