Study suggests ultra-processed food can affect our brain health.Ultra-processed foods make up 'two-thirds of calories consumed by children and teens'
Experts from Tufts University in Massachusetts studied two decades of dietary data to 2018 and found that the amount of calories young people consumed from ultra-processed foods jumped from 61 per cent to 67 per cent.
- More and more people worldwide are consuming ultra-processed food.
- Research, however, shows it can have concerning effects on our health, including our cognitive function.
- Minimally processed foods, such as in the Mediterranean diet, are highly beneficial for health and longevity.
From breakfast cereals to mass-produced bread, biscuits, ice cream, sausages, crisps, chocolates, soft drinks, flavoured yoghurts, processed meats and frozen foods (such as pre-packaged pizzas and pies), ultra-processed foods are everywhere.
As explained by a nutritionist at Harvard University, unprocessed or minimally processed foods (in their natural, or nearly natural state) have their vitamins and nutrients intact. Ultra-processed foods, on the other hand, have numerous added ingredients, including artificial colourants, preservatives, sugar, salt, and fat.
The average individual may find reading food labels tricky and time-consuming, so they never really know what’s in the foods they are consuming. A 2018 survey found that only about a third of South Africans regularly read food labels.
The research, which appears in the European Journal of Nutrition, highlights how consuming these foods can negatively impact the cognitive performance of older adults.
Just over 2 700 participants aged 60 and older (54% females) were involved in the study and underwent cognitive assessments.
The participants were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey – using a combination of interviews and physical examinations to track the health and nutritional status of the Australian population – from 2011 to 2014.
All participants were asked to recall the type and amount of food and beverages they ate in 24 hours on two non-consecutive days.
According to Elizabeth Arensberg, MS, RD, LDN, who specializes in gut health, the way you eat can affect how your body processes food.
One of the tests used by the research team, from Monash University in Melbourne, focused on Alzheimer’s disease.
Unfortunately, their analysis revealed eating ultra-processed foods was linked to worse performances in participants who didn’t have any pre-existing diseases.
To the researchers’ knowledge, this is the first study to analyse the association between cognitive performance and ultra-processed food consumption in older adults.
But this may be offset if switching to a healthier diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. Research over the years, such as this study, shows that this diet, typically high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, seafood and unsaturated fats such as olive oil, is associated with a reduced risk for dementia as well as cognitive decline.
The authors noted some limitations in their work, including the cross-sectional nature of the study, which means that the results do not present a cause-and-effect relationship.
However, while longitudinal studies are needed to provide stronger evidence, “these results suggest that decreasing [ultra-processed food] consumption may be a way to mitigate age-associated cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia”, the team concluded.
This blog brings a variety of articles, studies and recipe ideas, and it is important to note, not all may be suitable for you. If you may have any food allergies, or underlying health issues these must always be taken into account. If you are a diabetic and not sure how certain foods may affect your blood sugars, test is best, i.e. use a reliable meter. If you have any concerns about your health it is always advisable to consult your Doctor or health care team.
All the best Jan