As you age, your risk of developing dementia naturally increases. Although dementia risk factors such as age and family history cannot be changed, your physical activity, alcohol consumption and diet can. Watching what you eat and drink can play an important role in your brain function. And, may help reduce your risk of dementia.
Deciphering which foods are good or bad for your brain health can seem difficult. However, a new study American Academy of Neurology the study makes it easier to determine exactly what these foods are. The study, published on July 27, 2022, found that eating ultra-processed foods is linked to an increase in your risk of dementia.
The study involved 72,083 participants aged 55 and over. The information was taken from the UK Biobank, a large database which contains health information for half a million people living in the UK. The participants did not have dementia at the start of the study. The study followed participants for about 10 years. They also had to complete at least two questionnaires about what they had eaten and drunk the day before. At the end of the study, 518 people had been diagnosed with dementia.
Study researchers determined the amount of ultra-processed food participants consumed based on dietary intake questionnaires. They calculated this as a percentage of the total amount of food consumed per day. Then, the participants were divided into four equal groups, ranging from the lowest percentage of consumption of ultra-processed foods to the highest.
The researchers took into consideration factors that might influence the risk of dementia. These included age, gender, family history of dementia and heart disease, and others. Once determined, the study concluded that on average, for every 10% increase in daily intake of ultra-processed foods, people had a 25% higher risk of dementia. Some of the significantly high ultra-processed food intakes worth mentioning include ultra-processed beverages, sugary products, and dairy products.
Additionally, the study shows an association between ultra-processed foods and the risk of dementia. A lower risk of dementia was associated with replacing ultra-processed foods in a person’s diet with unprocessed or minimally processed foods.
“Cutting back on ultra-processed foods and replacing them with whole foods has many health benefits,” suggests Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, and a member of our Medical Expert Council. “Including decreased inflammation, risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and now dementia.”
Shapiro further suggests that processed foods might taste good. However, they are often full of sugar, sodium, unhealthy fats, preservatives and other chemicals. These ingredients do not promote optimal health and well-being.
“Research in this area is powerful because it fuels the conversation that food in any form can heal and promote health and wellness,” she says. “However, the types of food examined in this study did not include other ultra-processed foods that individuals consider healthy. Such as veggie burgers, healthy chips, cereals, etc.”
However, we need more research, according to Shapiro. She also thinks that detailed food histories and food diaries will help to better understand how much of a role these foods play.
“Providing this information is important,” Shapiro says. “But, educating on how to replace these foods with healthier foods that are accessible to everyone is also an important message to share.”
Kayla Garritano is a staff writer for Eat This, Not That! She graduated from Hofstra University, where she majored in Journalism and earned a double minor in Marketing and Creative Writing. Read more