This study aimed to study the link between ultra-processed food consumption and cognitive deterioration in the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health.

Compared to conventional foods, ultra-processed foods offer consumers little to no health benefits. This is because they contain highly processed ingredients such as oil, fat, sugar, starch, and protein isolate. Besides these ingredients, UPFs are also often enriched with artificial colors, flavors, emulsifiers, and other cosmetic ingredients.

Several adverse health outcomes have been linked to ultra-processed food consumption, including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. Over 73% of the food supply in the United States is ultra-processed, according to a study using machine learning.

Although experts have not yet evaluated this study’s findings through peer review, they are consistent with previous evidence that ultra-processed food consumption is widespread in the U.S.

It is often challenging to distinguish cognitive decline from dementia, which refers to difficulties with memory, thinking, and decision-making, which can negatively impact daily activities and health. In the U.S., 1 in 9 adults is affected by cognitive decline.

Consuming ultra-processed foods can reduce verbal fluency in older adults and worsen cognition in older diabetes patients.

An Overview of the Study’s Findings

Participants were public helpers aged 35 to 74 years recruited from 6 Brazilian cities for this multicenter, prospective cohort study with three waves separated by approximately four years. The researchers analyzed data from December 2021 to May 2022.

This study excluded participants who had incomplete food frequency questionnaires, cognitive data, or covariate data at baseline, participants who reported extreme calorie intakes (600 kcal/day or >6000 kcal/day), and those who took medications that could adversely affect their cognitive performance.

Food products of Group 1 were unprocessed or minimally processed foods like fruits and vegetables, grains, meats, and milk; food products of Group 2 were processed cooking ingredients like salt, sugar, and oils.

Foods in Group 3 included processed foods such as canned fruit, salted, or cured meat or fish, & individual loaves of bread and cheese. Foods in Group 4 included flavors, sweeteners, and emulsifiers.

A Trail-Making Test B version is used to evaluate changes in cognitive performance over time based on immediate and delayed word recall, recognition of words, phonemic and semantic verbal fluency, and phonemic and semantic fluency tests.

A total of 15,105 participants were recruited, and 4,330 were excluded, resulting in 10,775 participants whose data were examined. The mean (S.D.) age at baseline was 51.6 years; 5,880 participants were females, 5,723 were white, and 6,106 had at least a bachelor’s degree.

After a median (8-10) year follow-up period, those with ultra-processed food consumption above the first quartile showed a 28% quicker decline in global cognition and a 25% quicker decline in executive function.

It has been shown that consuming a high percentage of ultra-processed foods daily is associated with cognitive decline in an ethnically diverse sample of adults. According to the researchers, In light of their potential harm to cognitive function, ultra-processed foods are currently recommended to be limited in consumption.

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