Eating Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Cognitive Decline

Eating a high percentage of ultra-processed foods is associated with cognitive decline in middle-age and older adults, according to a new study published in JAMA Neurology.

Ultra-processed foods, as noted by Harvard Health, consist of substances mostly extracted from other foods, such as fats, starches, and added sugars. Examples include chips, frozen meals, soft drinks, hot dogs, French fries, and cookies. Consumption of ultra-processed foods have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and obesity, but much less is known about the link between ultra-processed foods and cognitive decline.

In this multicenter, prospective cohort study, researchers analyzed data on a total of 10,775 participants (mean age, 51, 54.6% women, 53.1% White) from six Brazilian cities. The population of interest all were all assessed based on daily ultra-processed food consumption as a percentage of total energy. The main outcomes of interest were defined as changes in cognitive performance over time. This end point was measured using the immediate and delayed word recall, word recognition, phonemic and semantic verbal fluency tests, and Trail-Making Test B.

According to the results, adults with high ultra-processed food consumption had a 28% faster rate of global cognitive decline, and a 25% faster rate of executive function decline compared to participants in the first quartile who consumed less ultra-processed foods.

“These findings support current public health recommendations on limiting ultra-processed food consumption because of their potential harm to cognitive function,” the researchers concluded.