• Researchers analysed the health of over 10,000 people
  • People eating the most ultra-processed foods had the highest risk of dementia
  • Researchers warn about the dangers of too much ultra-processed food

According to new research, people who consume the most ultra-processed foods may have a higher chance of developing dementia than people who consume the least.

More than 10,000 people were studied by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo to see how consuming unhealthy snacks affected their cognitive ability.

People who ranged in age from 35 to 74 were tested several times to assess how their mental skills had evolved.

Simple recall tests were used to assess memory, and ‘executive function’ exams were used to assess their vocabulary.

Participants also completed food questionnaires to assess how much ultra-processed foods they ate in the previous year.

Foods were divided into three categories:

  1. Unprocessed or less processed meals including fruits and vegetables, cereals, meat and seafood, and processed culinary additives like table sugar, oils, and salt.
  2. Processed foods, which included canned fruits and salted, smoked, or cured meat or fish.
  3. Ultra-processed meals employed ingredients not present in home preparations, such as flavours, colours, sweeteners, and emulsifiers.

Participants were then divided into four equal groups depending on how much ultra-processed foods they consumed as a percentage of their entire diet.

Middle-aged people who consumed the most ultra-processed foods, accounting for up to three-quarters of their diet, had their brains deteriorate 28% faster than those who consumed the least.

Executive function scores fell aby 25% quicker over an average of eight years for the same group. Memory scores dropped by 6%.

Ultra-processed foods include soft drinks, chips, ice cream, doughnuts, breakfast cereals, ketchup, and mayonnaise which are typically high in added sugar, fat, and salt.

The researchers hypothesised that the quicker rate was caused by cytokines, which are inflammatory proteins produced by the body and are considered to be enhanced by sugary diets. Previously, the substances were connected to cognitive deterioration.

The study was published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

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