Diets heavy on ‘ultra-processed’ foods could damage the brain | Health, Medicine and Fitness

Steven Reinberg

THURSDAY, July 28, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Eating lots of ultra-processed foods may significantly increase your risk of dementia, according to a new study by researchers in China.

Ultra-processed foods are high in sugar, fat, and salt, but low in protein and fiber. Examples include sodas, savory and sweet snacks and desserts, ice cream, sausages, fried chicken, flavored yogurt, ketchup, mayonnaise, packaged bread, and flavored cereals.

Replacing these foods with healthier alternatives can reduce the risk of dementia by 19%, according to the study.

“These results mean that it is important to inform consumers about these associations, to implement actions aimed at product reformulation, and to communicate in order to limit the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet and [instead] instead promote the consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods like fresh vegetables and fruits,” said lead researcher Huiping Li, from the School of Public Health at Tianjin Medical University.

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This study does not prove that eating ultra-processed foods increases the risk of dementia, only that there appears to be a link.

Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health in New York, reviewed the results.

“This is consistent with the growing body of evidence indicating that a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle is the best way for everyone to modulate their risk of dementia,” Gandy said. “The main novelty here is the focus on the risks of ultra-processed foods rather than the benefits of heart-healthy foods.”

For the study, Li’s team collected data on more than 72,000 people listed in the UK Biobank, a large database of people’s health information in the UK. Initially, the participants were aged 55 and over and none suffered from dementia. Over an average of 10 years, 518 people developed dementia.

The researchers compared 18,000 people whose diets included few processed foods with a similar number who ate a lot.

Of the participants who ate the least processed foods (about 8 ounces a day), 100 developed dementia, compared with 150 of those who ate the most (about 28 to 29 ounces a day). The study considered a serving of pizza or fish sticks to weigh just over 5 ounces.

Ultra-processed beverages, sugary products and dairy products were the main contributors to the consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Li’s group estimated that replacing 10% of ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk and meat could reduce the risk of dementia ( but not Alzheimer’s) by 19%.

Li said easy changes in food choices can make a big difference.

“Small, manageable dietary changes, such as increasing the amount of unprocessed or minimally processed foods by just 2 ounces per day [about half an apple, a serving of corn, or a bowl of bran cereal]and simultaneously decreasing consumption of ultra-processed foods by 2 ounces per day [about a chocolate bar or a serving of bacon]may be associated with a 3% decrease in dementia risk,” Li said.

Samantha Heller, senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York, said ultra-processed foods have long been known to increase the risk of developing several chronic diseases. They include heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

“Although the exact cause is unknown, it is not surprising that this type of diet is associated with an increased risk of dementia,” she said. “Ultra-processed foods are both biochemically engineered and advertised to increase cravings and desire for these foods, and in many households crowd out healthier options such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. .”

The poor nutritional quality of ultra-processed foods — which are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, and low in fiber — is a recipe for poor physical and mental health, Heller said.

“Avoiding dementia is another great reason to start incorporating more plant foods, less ultra-processed foods and animal foods into our diets,” she said.

Changes can be as simple as replacing sugary cereals with whole grains like shredded wheat or oatmeal, or topping a pizza with lettuce or mushrooms and spinach, instead of pepperoni and sausage. , Heller said.

Or, she suggested, try falafel in a whole-wheat pita with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers instead of a ham sandwich, or lentil soup and a side salad instead of a cheeseburger.

“Every meal is an opportunity to make a healthy choice,” Heller said.

Keeping the kitchen stocked with healthy foods, like canned or dried beans, whole grains like quinoa or brown rice, peanut or almond butter, trail mix, and frozen vegetables, makes meal prep easier high in fiber and nutrients, she said. .

“Learning new ways to prepare food and meal ideas can seem daunting at first, but there are plenty of free recipes and resources online to turn to for advice,” Heller says. “Anecdotally, I have found that in my patients, once they start eating less ultra-processed foods and more fresh foods, cravings and tastes for ultra-processed foods decrease, sometimes at So much so that that bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich doesn’t even taste good anymore.”

The results were published online July 27 in the journal Neurology.

In a related op-ed, Boston University researchers Maura Walker and Nicole Spartano questioned the study’s definition of ultra-processed foods. They pointed out that preparation methods can affect the nutritional value of foods and said further study that does not depend on participants’ reported eating habits would be beneficial.

“As we seek to better understand the complexities of dietary intake [processing, timing, mixed meals] we must also consider that investments in higher quality food assessment may be needed,” they wrote.

For more on diet and dementia, see the US National Institute on Aging.

SOURCES: Huiping Li, PhD, School of Public Health, Tianjin Medical University, Tianjin, China; Sam Gandy, MD, PhD, director, Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health, New York City; Samantha Heller, MS, RD, CDN, senior clinical nutritionist, NYU Langone Health, New York City; NeurologyJuly 27, 2022, online