To Avoid Rapid Cognitive Decline, You Might Watch What You Eat

Diets with too many ultra-processed foods can lead to Alzheimer's progression

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by Ray Burow |

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If your diet includes ultra-processed foods, “you are what you eat” may take on new meaning.

By definition, ultra-processed foods have multiple ingredients that help to improve the taste. Ingredients often include food additives and processed raw materials, like modified starches and hydrogenated fats. These foods are “mainly of industrial origin” and can also be stored for an extended time. Junk food is another definition.

A recent study presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference looked at more than 10,000 people who experienced rapid declines in cognition that were connected to ultra-processed foods. Study participants were followed for more than eight years, and those who consumed a daily diet of more than 20% ultra-processed foods experienced a 28% faster decline in global cognitive scores. Memory, executive function, and verbal fluency were all negatively affected.

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Better safe than sorry

Researchers need to conduct more studies regarding the connection between cognitive decline and the consumption of ultra-processed food. However, there’s enough information available to warrant concern. Even if junk food doesn’t harm the brain, it’s detrimental to overall health, contributing to conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, which are proven risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

NOVA, a food classification system, divides food into four groups according to the level of processing.

  • Group 1: Unprocessed foods such as vegetables, eggs, fruit, meat, and milk. This group can also include foods with minimal processing.
  • Group 2: Foods processed in your kitchen. These foods can grow stale or go bad. They’re either refrigerated or stored in jars or other containers in the pantry.
  • Group 3: Processed foods. These result when foods from groups one and two are combined. They’re made of few ingredients and include items like jam and bread.
  • Group 4: Ultra-processed foods. As discussed above, these include additives that contribute to taste and are industrially manufactured. Food in this group can be stored for a lengthy time.

Foods to avoid

It’s probably obvious, but avoiding ultra-processed food is a good choice. The occasional sweet or salty treat is one thing, but a steady diet could lead to rapidly plummeting cognition. You probably have a fairly good grasp on the definition of junk food, but just in case, keep the following to a minimum: burgers, hot dogs, sausages, carbonated soda, potato chips, and fatty, sweet, and pre-packaged foods, including soups and noodles. You get the idea.

Everyone indulges once in a while, but keep the study findings in mind and ultra-processed consumption at 20% or less. Speak with your health professional to understand what that looks like in terms of diet.


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.

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