Ultra-processed foods could speed up brain aging

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Convenient, tasty, and long-lasting—ultra-processed foods seem to offer a solution to our fast-paced lives.

However, emerging research suggests that the long-term costs to our health could outweigh any short-term benefits, particularly when it comes to brain function.

A recent study published in JAMA Neurology indicates that consuming ultra-processed foods could lead to faster cognitive decline.

What Are Ultra-Processed Foods?

Imagine foods that appear to be more chemistry than cuisine—think sodas, hot dogs, pre-packaged cookies, or frozen dinners.

These are items made largely from extracted or synthesized constituents of whole foods, such as sugars, fats, and starches, mixed with various additives like artificial flavors and colors.

What Does the Study Say?

Dr. David Katz and his team conducted a study involving 10,775 adults in Brazil, investigating the relationship between ultra-processed food consumption and brain health.

Alarmingly, they found that even if only 20% of the recommended daily 2,000-calorie intake comes from ultra-processed foods, individuals could experience quicker cognitive decline.

Specifically, those who consumed the most of these foods experienced a 28% faster rate of overall cognitive function decline and a 25% quicker decline in executive function, which is essential for decision-making and problem-solving.

Correlation or Causation?

While these findings are concerning, it’s essential to note that this is an observational study. The researchers identified a strong association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and accelerated cognitive decline, but they could not establish a causal relationship.

A Widespread Concern

In the United States, ultra-processed foods make up nearly 58% of caloric intake and account for almost 90% of energy gained from added sugars.

Given the prevalence of these foods in the average American diet, the study’s findings could have significant implications for public health.

What Next?

The study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that ultra-processed foods pose various health risks, from obesity and gut issues to cancer and now, possibly, accelerated brain aging.

While these foods may be convenient, their potential impact on our health and well-being should make us reconsider their place in our diets.

The take-home message? While further research is needed, being mindful of what we eat could be more important than ever. After all, our brains might just depend on it.

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