One of the major health problems people suffer from as they reach old age is dementia. In Spain, for example, this has a prevalence of 11.1% in women and 7.5% in men. can be high genetic component, but other factors also affect it, as diverse as what we ask for or what we eat. In this last point is a key importance for the percentage of extremely processed that we include in our diet. In fact, they seem to affect that significantly memory loss.
At least that’s the conclusion of a study recently published in neurology and presented at the International Congress on Alzheimer’s in San Diego. Its authors, from Tianjin Medical University, in China, based on data from the United Kingdom Biobank, which contains information on the health of half a million people. Of course, they only focused on the records of 72,083 people aged 50 and over.
All received a survey of their eating habits and were later observed for 10 years. At the start of the study, none had dementia. However, after this time 518 people were diagnosed. With this information, they checked whether there was a link with the consumption of ultra-processed foods, and the truth is that there was Yes, they found a connection. Of course, they haven’t come up with an explanation for how these foods can impair memory and cognition. You just started a club.
What are ultra-processed products?
Before you see the impact of ultra-processed foods memory and cognitionit is worth remembering what these foods are made of.
Even before talking about ultra-processed foods, it’s important to understand what processed foods are. There are many ways to describe these foods. Some are based on number of ingredientswhile others relate more to the ability to distinguish from each other. That said, a chocolate cake is a processed food because we don’t see the sugar, butter, flour, or ounces of chocolate in it. On the other hand, a pot of mixed vegetables is not processed because we see each one individually.
that a food is processed does not necessarily mean that it is not healthy. For example, in a pot of gazpacho, we don’t see tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, or peppers. However, as long as the salt levels are not too high and a good oil such as olive oil is used, it is a perfectly healthy product.
Now, ultra-processed foods are defined as those that not only have a high level of processing; but also included many unhealthy ingredients. These include high amounts of saturated fats, sugar or salt. Also, they usually use refined flours instead of whole wheat flours.
It’s important to get this straight It’s the ingredients, not the industry, which turn an ultra-processed food into something unhealthy. A home-baked cake is still ultra-processed even if white sugar is replaced with date paste, which is still sugar, after all.
Now with that in mind, what do ultra-processed foods have to do with memory and dementia?
Bad food can affect your memory as you get older
The authors of this study divided their participants into several groups based on average percentage of ultra-processed that included his diet.
In the lowest group was the percentage from 9%which would be equivalent 225 grams in one day. Meanwhile, ultra-processed foods have established themselves at the top 28% the nutrition of the volunteers. That’s about the same 814 grams.
To give you an idea, a slice of pizza or fish fingers weighs around 150 grams. Mainly beveragesfollowed by sugary products and ultra-processed dairy desserts were the products that contributed the most to this unhealthy part of the diet.
Regarding the relationship to cognitive decline and memory, among the 18,021 members of the first group, it was found 105 were diagnosed with dementiawhile of the 18,021 who consumed more ultra-processed foods, the number rose to 150 people.
Logically, other factors such as gender, age, family history or heart disease also play a role here. Because of this, these factors were considered before extracting a percentage of the exact impact of eating ultra-processed foods. Once this adjustment was made, it was concluded that for each 10% increase in the daily intake of ultra-processed foods people had a 25% increased risk of dementia.
Small changes, big results
Using the study data, these scientists were also able to estimate what would happen if a person were replaced 10% of your consumption of ultra-processed foods for minimally processed or so-called well-processed foods. In this case, a 19% lower risk of dementia was found.
Even if something as simple as increasing the amount of unprocessed in 50 grams a day, you would get a 3% lower risk of dementia. This matches with half an appleso it’s not an unattainable challenge.
And there were also results in the opposite direction. In other words, if 50 grams of ultra-processed foods are eliminated daily, that equates to a single fish stickthe risk also decreases by 3%.
There are several things to consider at this point. First, that the study only considered those cases as dementia that ended Death or what they needed hospital admissions. Primary care information was not analysed, so mild cases of dementia may have been underestimated. Finally, it is important to remember Correlation does not mean causation, so this association doesn’t necessarily mean that ultraprocessors affect memory. But the correlation is large enough to consider as a possibility and investigate further.
It is well established that a diet high in refined flour, sugar, salt, and saturated fats and low in whole grains, quality protein, and fruits and vegetables leads to many health problems. We shouldn’t bother with the ultra-processed. We simply have to try to find a balance, eat what we want but always with maximum information, try to find a healthy diet, without miracle diets and above all without feeling guilty. We already have a lot of cattle. We must not forget that stress has been shown to affect memory, and there are few things more stressful than a diet that imposes and blames us. Let’s keep that in mind too.