People who consume the most ultra-processed foods, such as soft drinks, chips, and cookies, may be at a higher risk of developing dementia than those who consume the least of these things.
Researchers discovered that when ultra-processed meals were substituted in a person’s diet, unprocessed or less processed foods were associated with a decreased risk. The study did not find a relationship between ultra-processed foods and dementia. Only an association is displayed. The new study’s findings were published online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Foods that have been ultra-processed are rich in added sugar, fat, and salt, but poor in protein and fibre. Soft beverages, salty and sweet snacks, ice cream, sausage, deep-fried chicken, yoghurt, canned baked beans and tomatoes, ketchup, mayonnaise, packaged guacamole and hummus, packaged breads, and flavoured cereals are among them.
“Ultra-processed foods are meant to be convenient and tasty, but they diminish the quality of a person’s diet,” said study author Huiping Li, PhD, of Tianjin Medical University in China. “These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from packaging or produced during heating, all of which have been shown in other studies to have negative effects on thinking and memory skills. Our research not only found that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, it found replacing them with healthy options may decrease dementia risk.”
Researchers chose 72,083 persons for the study from the UK Biobank, a vast database comprising health information on half a million people in the United Kingdom. Participants were 55 and older, and they did not have dementia when they began the research. They were watched over over an average of ten years. 518 persons were diagnosed with dementia by the conclusion of the trial.
Participants in the research completed at least two questionnaires on what they ate and drank the day before. Researchers calculated how much ultra-processed food people ate and compared it to the grammes per day of other foods to produce a proportion of their daily diet.
They then separated the subjects into four equal groups, ranging from the lowest to the greatest % consumption of ultra-processed foods.
Ultra-processed foods accounted up 9 percent of the daily diet of persons in the lowest category, or 225 grammes per day, compared to 28 percent of the daily diet of people in the highest group, or 814 grammes per day. 150 grammes was comparable to one dish of pizza or fish sticks. Beverages were the leading food group contributing to high ultra-processed food intake, followed by sugary goods and ultra-processed dairy.
In the lowest group, 105 of the 18,021 persons acquired dementia, whereas 150 of the 18,021 people in the top group developed dementia.
After controlling for age, gender, family history of dementia and heart disease, and other characteristics that may influence dementia risk, researchers discovered that for every 10% increase in daily intake of ultra-processed foods, participants had a 25% increased risk of dementia.
Researchers also utilised research data to predict what would happen if a person replaced 10% of ultra-processed meals with unprocessed or less processed items such as fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, milk, and meat. They discovered that making such a change was related with a 19% decreased incidence of dementia.
“Our results also show increasing unprocessed or minimally processed foods by only 50 grams a day, which is equivalent to half an apple, a serving of corn, or a bowl of bran cereal, and simultaneously decreasing ultra-processed foods by 50 grams a day, equivalent to a chocolate bar or a serving of fish sticks, is associated with 3% decreased risk of dementia,” said Li. “It’s encouraging to know that small and manageable changes in dietmay make a difference in a person’s risk of dementia.”
Maura E. Walker, PhD, of Boston University in Massachusetts, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, said, “While nutrition research has started to focus on food processing, the challenge is categorizing such foods as unprocessed, minimally processed, processed and ultra-processed. For example, foods like soup would be classified differently if canned versus homemade. Plus, the level of processing is not always aligned with diet quality. Plant-based burgers that qualify as high quality may also be ultra-processed. As we aim to understand better the complexities of dietary intake, we must also consider that more high-quality dietary assessments may be required.”
One weakness of the study was that dementia diagnoses were established by reviewing hospital records and death registries rather than primary care data, so milder cases may have been missed.