Ultraprocessed foods — such as cereal bars, hot dogs, and instant noodles — are convenient and taste good, making it easy for busy people to eat on the go. But lurking underneath that colorful packaging are substances that may damage your brain.
According to a study presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), a diet rich in ultraprocessed foods can be harmful for the aging brain. Researchers Natalia Gomes Gonçalves, Ph.D., and Claudia Suemoto, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Sao Paulo Medical School in Brazil, looked at the eating habits of nearly 11,000 Brazilian adults and their performance on tests measuring thinking skills over eight years.
The study found that people who consume the highest amount of ultraprocessed foods have a 28% faster decline in cognitive scores, including memory, verbal fluency, and the ability to plan and execute goals, compared to those with a lower consumption of ultraprocessed foods.
What are Ultraprocessed Foods?
Many types of food can be considered processed, such as cheese, pasta sauce, and canned vegetables. But food is ultraprocessed when it is packed with additives like fats, sugars, artificial flavors, and stabilizers, and has been subjected to multiple processing methods to transform taste, texture, or appearance.
Suemoto says that ultraprocessed foods contain little or no whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and meat. “Foods in the ultraprocessed category typically include flavorings, colorings, emulsifiers, and other cosmetic additives,” she says.
Ultraprocessed foods eaten by participants in the study included white bread, cookies, mayonnaise, flavored yogurt, margarine, sausage, hamburgers, ham, salami, hot dogs, instant noodles, candy bars, chocolate, cereal bars, frozen meals, and soda. The study found consuming more than 20% of daily calories from ultraprocessed food had an impact on cognition.