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A study ties frequent use of highly processed meals to cognitive deterioration

 A significant research with long-term follow-up published on Monday reveals a link between persons who get a larger proportion of their daily calories from ultra-processed meals and experiencing cognitive deterioration.

According to the researchers, ultra-processed foods account for 58% of calories consumed in American diets, 57% in British diets, 48% in Canadian diets, and 30% in Brazilian diets.

That includes candy, morning cereals, ice cream, processed meats, ready-to-eat frozen meals, sweet and savory snacks, confectionery, and sugar-sweetened drinks.

Participants in the study who consumed ultra-processed foods at the highest levels—those for whom the daily energy percentage contribution of these foods was above 19.9%—exhibited a 28% faster rate of global cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of decline in executive function, the mental abilities required on a daily basis to learn, work, and manage daily life.

Comparable individuals consumed no ultra-processed foods or, if they did, stayed below the 19.9% cutoff over an average follow-up of eight years.

Few studies have looked at the connection between consuming ultra-processed foods and cognitive decline in high-income countries, despite the fact that eating such foods has been associated with an increased risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.

The Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health included 10, 775 participants, and a research team led by Natalia Gomes Gonçalves of the Department of Pathology at the University of So Paulo Medical School in So Paulo, Brazil, set out to investigate the relationship between eating ultra-processed food and cognitive decline among them.

Public employees, aged 35 to 74, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds were recruited for the research in six Brazilian towns.

A validated food frequency questionnaire was used to measure baseline food and beverage intake throughout a 12-month period. The frequency of intake of each item was converted into grams per day, and items were then categorized into one of three food categories based on how much industrial processing was involved in their production.

The first category included foods that had not been processed at all or had only undergone minor processing, such as grinding, roasting, pasteurization, or freezing. Other foods in this category included fresh, dry, or frozen fruits and vegetables, grains, meat, fish, and milk. Additionally, it contained processed foods like table sugar, oils, and salt.

The second category comprised salted, smoked, or cured meats and seafood as well as processed items such canned fruits, artisanal bread and cheese.

Ultra-processed foods were included in the third category. In addition to ingredients from other food groups, the scientists claimed that these formulations also contain food additives that are not typically used in home cooking, such as flavors, colors, sweeteners, emulsifiers, and other ingredients that are "used to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product or imitate the sensorial qualities of culinary preparations" from unprocessed or minimally processed foods.

The researchers assessed participants' cognitive function and their intake of ultra-processed meals throughout an average follow-up of eight years.

The Consortium to Establish a Registry for Alzheimer Disease administered memory tests using the immediate recall, late recall, and recognition word list techniques to participants up to three times every four years.

The researchers used techniques, such as verbal fluency tests, to assess people's executive function.

The authors said, "These results complement current public health guidelines on restricting intake of ultra-processed foods because of their potential impairment to cognitive function."

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