People who eat the highest amounts of highly processed foods may be at greater risk of developing dementia than those who consume the least, according to a new study.
Highly processed foods such as soft drinks, french fries, ice cream, sausage, packaged bread, flavored cereals, canned tomatoes and baked beans, ketchup and mayonnaise are low in protein and fiber, and high in added sugar, fat and salt. including from Lund University in Sweden.
Replacing such foods with unprocessed or minimally processed substitutes in a person’s diet reduces the risk of dementia, says a study recently published in the journal. Neurology.
“Ultra processed food is supposed to be convenient and tasty, but it reduces the quality of a human diet. These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from packaging or produced when heated, all of which have been shown by other studies to have a negative effect on thinking and memory skills, ”study author Huiping Li said in a statement.
“Our research not only found that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but also found that replacing them with healthy options can reduce the risk of dementia,” added Dr. Li.
In the study, scientists assessed the health of 72,083 people – 55 years of age or older – using data from the UK’s Biobank, a huge database of health information for half a million people in the UK.
Participants were followed for an average of 10 years and had no dementia to begin with, the researchers said.
They answered at least two questionnaires about what they ate and drank the day before, with observations up to March 2021.
Of the people assessed, the researchers found that 518 people had been diagnosed with dementia at the end of the study.
The researchers then estimated how much people on ultra-processed foods ate and compared it with the grams per day of other foods to make up part of their daily diet.
They also divided the subjects into four equal groups, ranging from lowest to highest percentages of highly processed foods.
Scientists have found that highly processed foods make up about one-tenth of the daily diet of those in the lowest group, or about 225 grams a day.
By comparison, 28 percent of the daily diets of those in the highest category – or 814 grams per day – contained ultra-processed foods.
According to the researchers, the leading food category contributing to the high consumption of ultra-processed foods was beverages, followed by sweets and dairy products.
Slightly more than 100 of the 18,021 people developed dementia in the lowest category, and 150 in the highest category developed a neurological condition.
After adjusting for other factors including age, gender, and family history, the researchers found that for every 10 percent increase in daily consumption of highly processed foods, people had a 25 percent higher risk of dementia.
Acknowledging that the study did not prove that such foods caused dementia, but only served as a link, the researchers found that if a person replaces a tenth of the ultra-processed food they eat, unprocessed or minimally processed – such as fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, milk and meat – the risk of dementia can be reduced by a fifth.
“It’s encouraging to know that small and manageable dietary changes can have an impact on a person’s risk of dementia,” said Dr. Li, adding that more research is needed to confirm the results.