Eating lots of highly processed food is linked to faster cognitive decline, research finds

A diet heavy in processed food like cookies, crackers, soda, hot dogs and frozen meals might increase your risk of cognitive decline, according to new research.

Eating highly processed foods like instant noodles, sugary drinks or frozen meals may be linked to a faster rate of cognitive decline.

That's according to new research presented Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego. The study examined the diets and cognition of more than 10,000 middle-aged and older adults in Brazil.

The findings, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, showed that participants who got 20% or more of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods — items with few whole ingredients that often contain flavorings, colorings or other additives — saw a faster decline in cognitive performance over six to 10 years than people with little processed food in their diets.

The category of food in question includes items like white bread, crackers, cookies, fried snacks, cream cheese, ice cream, candy, soda, hot dogs and other processed meats. These ultra-processed foods make up about 58% of all calories consumed in the U.S., according to a 2016 study. The authors of the new study estimated that in Brazil, that share is closer to 25% or 30%.

"Independent of the amount of calories, independent of the amount of healthy food that you try to eat, the ultra-processed food is not good for your cognition," said Claudia Suemoto, an author of the study and assistant professor of geriatrics at the University of Sao Paulo Medical School.

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