Highly processed foods associated with dementia risk -

Dementia due to poor diet?

When people eat larger amounts of highly processed foods, this is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. The popularity of foods such as chips and soda could be one of the reasons dementia is on the rise worldwide.

A new study involving experts from Tianjin Medical University in China and Sweden's Lund University in Malmö has looked at the link between highly processed foods and the incidence of dementia. The results were published in the journal Neurology.

UK Biobank data assessed

The researchers used data from 72,083 people from the UK Biobank. Participants were at least 55 years old and did not have dementia at the start of the study. All participants were followed medically for an average period of ten years. During this period, 518 people developed dementia.

Diet determined by questionnaires

Participants had to complete at least two questionnaires about what they had eaten and drunk the day before. Next, the experts determined the number of highly processed foods consumed by calculating the number of grams of these foods.

This value was compared to the number of grams of other foods ingested. This allowed the team to calculate a percentage of highly processed foods in daily consumption. The participants were then divided into four groups based on their consumption of highly processed foods.

What foods are highly processed?

Highly processed foods contain few healthy ingredients, such as protein and fiber, but are high in sugar, fat and salt.

According to the researchers, typical highly processed foods include soft drinks, salty and sweet snacks, ice cream, sausages, ketchup, mayonnaise, packaged guacamole, packaged bread, and flavored cereals.

Impaired memory due to unhealthy diet

“Highly processed foods are supposed to be convenient and tasty, but they degrade the quality of the diet. However, these foods may also contain food additives or molecules from packaging or heating that have been shown to have negative effects on thinking and memory in other studies,” reports the author. of the study, Dr. Huiping Li in a press release.

The current study not only showed that highly processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but it also showed that replacing these foods with healthy alternatives can reduce the risk of dementia, says the doctor.

How much highly processed food was consumed?

In the study, participants in the group with the lowest intake of highly processed foods consumed an average of 225 grams per day, which equals 9% of their diet.

In contrast, in the group consuming the most highly processed foods, these foods already accounted for 28% (814 grams per day on average) of the diet.

Beverages often highly processed

The largest food group contributing to the high intake of highly processed foods was beverages, followed by sugary products and highly processed dairy products, the team says.

How many participants developed dementia?

Regarding dementia, it was found that in the group with the lowest consumption of highly processed foods, 105 participants became ill. In the group with the highest consumption, on the other hand, there were already 150 people.

Even after controlling for various factors affecting dementia risk, there was a 25% increase in risk for every 10% increase in daily consumption of highly processed foods, the team reports.

A healthier diet significantly reduces the risk of dementia

According to an estimate by the researchers, replacing just 10% of highly processed foods consumed with unprocessed or minimally processed foods would already be associated with a 19% reduction in the risk of developing dementia.

The results show that increasing the amount of unprocessed or minimally processed foods by just 50 grams per day (eg, half an apple) and simultaneously reducing the amount of highly processed foods by 50 grams per day (a candy bar), with a um three percent reduced risk of dementia.

"It's encouraging to know that small, manageable dietary changes can make a difference in a person's risk of dementia," says Dr. Li.

High Quality Foods Can Still Be Highly Processed

However, it can sometimes be difficult to categorize foods into unprocessed, minimally processed, processed and highly processed foods, adds Dr. Maura E. Walker of Boston University in an editorial on the study.

According to the expert, for example, foods such as canned soup are classified differently than homemade ones. In addition, the degree of processing is not always in line with the quality of the food. For example, it is possible that plant-based burgers, which are classified as high quality, may still be highly processed.

To develop a better understanding of the complexity of dietary intake, it should be kept in mind that higher quality nutrition assessments may be required, says Dr. Walker (as)

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This text corresponds to the specifications of the specialized medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.


Huiping Li, Shu Li, Hongxi Yang, Yuan Zhang, Shunming Zhang, et al. : Association of ultra-processed food consumption with the risk of dementia; in: Neurology (published 07/27/2022), NeurologyAmerican Academy of Neurology: Eating More Ultra-processed Foods Associated with Augmentation Risk of Dementia (published 07/27/2022), American Academy of Neurology

Important Note:
This article contains general advice only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. It cannot substitute a visit to the doctor.