According to a study, people who eat the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods like beverages and chocolate have a higher risk of developing dementia than those who eat the lowest amounts.
It was also found that replacing ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods was associated with lower risk.
Eating more unprocessed or minimally processed foods by the equivalent of half an apple per day, while reducing ultra-processed foods by the equivalent of a candy bar per day, is associated with a 3 percent reduced risk of dementia, according to the study.
Ultra-processed foods — which are high in added sugar, fat and salt and low in protein and fiber — include soft drinks, salty and sugary snacks, ice cream, sausage, fried chicken, canned baked beans, ketchup and flavored cereals.
The researchers stressed that their findings do not prove that ultra-processed foods cause dementia and only show an association.
These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from the packaging or when heated, all of which have been shown in other studies to have negative effects on thinking and memory
Huiping Li, Tianjin Medical University
Study author Huiping Li of Tianjin Medical University in China said: “Ultra-processed foods are meant to be convenient and tasty, but they degrade the quality of a person’s diet.
“These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from the packaging or when heated, all of which have been shown in other studies to have negative effects on thinking and memory.
“Not only did our research find that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but also that substituting them with healthy options may reduce the risk of dementia.”
The study suggests that for every 10% increase in daily intake of ultra-processed foods, people had a 25 percent greater risk of dementia.
The research also found that replacing just 10% of ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, milk and meat, was associated with a 19% lower risk of dementia.
Researchers identified 72,083 people from the UK Biobank study, a large database containing the health information of half a million people.
They were 55 years and older and did not have dementia at the start of the study.
After an average of 10 years of follow-up, 518 were diagnosed with dementia.
It is encouraging to know that small and manageable changes in diet can affect a person’s risk of dementia
Huiping Li, Tianjin Medical University
Researchers determined how much ultra-processed foods people were consuming by calculating grams per day and comparing them to grams per day of other foods to come up with a percentage of their daily diet.
Participants were divided into four equal groups, from lowest to highest percentage consumption of ultraprocessed foods.
Researchers found that ultra-processed foods made up an average of 9 percent of the daily diet of people in the lowest group, averaging 225 grams per day, compared to 28 percent for people in the highest group, or a 28 percent average of 814 grams per day .
They say the main food group contributing to high intakes of ultra-processed foods was beverages, followed by sugary items and ultra-processed dairy.
In the lowest group, 105 of the 18,021 people developed dementia, compared to 150 of the 18,021 people in the highest group.
Huiping Li said, “Our results also show that unprocessed or minimally processed foods are increased by just 50 grams per day, equivalent to half an apple, a serving of corn or a bowl of bran cereal, while ultra-processed foods are decreased by 50 Grams per day, equivalent to a candy bar or a serving of fish fingers, have been linked to a 3% reduced risk of dementia.
“It’s encouraging to know that small and manageable changes in diet can affect a person’s risk of dementia.”
The results will be published in neurology Diary.