Ultraprocessed foods linked to cognitive decline: what you need to know

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In recent years, ultraprocessed foods have faced scrutiny due to their association with various health issues, including obesity, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.

A new study adds cognitive decline to this list, shedding light on the risks associated with consuming these foods.

The study involved 10,775 participants from the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health.

Its findings revealed that individuals who consumed the most ultraprocessed foods experienced a 28% faster rate of global cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of executive function decline compared to those who consumed the least.

These results suggest a concerning link between ultraprocessed foods and cognitive health.

The Impact of Minimal Consumption

The study suggests that even minimal consumption of ultraprocessed foods, equivalent to just 20% of the recommended daily calorie intake (as little as a regular McDonald’s cheeseburger and small fries), could have detrimental effects on cognitive function.

This highlights the potential dangers of these foods, which extend beyond fast-food chains to include a wide range of products available in grocery stores.

Association vs. Causation

It’s crucial to note that while the study establishes a strong association between ultraprocessed foods and cognitive decline, it does not prove causation.

Dr. David Katz, a specialist in preventive and lifestyle medicine, emphasizes this point. Nevertheless, the extensive sample size and follow-up period suggest that the observed cognitive effects are likely not coincidental.

Katz believes that ultraprocessed foods are probably detrimental to brain health.

The prevalence of ultraprocessed foods in the average diet raises significant public health concerns. These findings underscore the urgency of reevaluating dietary habits and food production processes.

Addressing this issue may require a multifaceted approach. Raising consumer awareness and promoting education about the risks of ultraprocessed foods are essential steps.

Additionally, policymakers could consider measures such as imposing taxes on these foods, restricting advertising, and even mandating warning labels similar to those found on tobacco products.


The study published in JAMA Neurology highlights the association between ultraprocessed foods and cognitive decline, adding to the growing list of health risks linked to these products.

While causation has not been definitively established, the strength of the association should prompt both consumers and policymakers to take action.

Further research is necessary to fully understand the mechanisms at play, but in the meantime, reducing the consumption of ultraprocessed foods appears to be a prudent choice for safeguarding both physical and cognitive well-being.

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