Eating a burger and fries or two sausages a day may raise your risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s, scientists behind a major study have found.
Brazilian researchers who monitored 10,000 people for ten years found those who got a quarter of their calories from processed foods — also including soft drinks and nuggets — had a 28 percent greater cognitive decline than those who had less.
They called on people to cook for themselves more and consume non-processed foods such as grains, vegetables and fish more regularly. About 58 percent of the average American diet is processed food, while in Canada it is as high as 48 percent studies suggest.
High sugar, salt and fat content in the processed foods was behind the more rapid cognitive decline because it raised inflammation, experts said. They added this was a clear sign people should cook for themselves more often at home.
Brazilian scientists said the foods may be damaging because they contain a large amount of sugar, salt and fat – which raises inflammation
What should I eat to avoid getting Alzheimer’s?
Numerous studies suggest that what people eat could affect their risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
The National Institute on Aging says some diets — such as those high in processed foods — may raise a person’s risk of suffering the disease.
But others could actually have a protective effect. In particular, researchers point to the Mediterranean diet — high in fruit, vegetables and fish and low in red meat and eggs — as a key way to reduce risk.
The NIH says so far there is no confirmed evidence that eating more of a particular food can help protect someone from Alzheimer’s.
But a number of studies have investigated certain foods — including blueberries, strawberries and leafy greens — as possibly offering protection against the disease.
These foods were selected for their anti-inflammatory properties, thought to help reduce the risk of dangerous proteins building up.
Recent papers have included one that suggested eating a daily serving of spinach or kale reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s.
While a second found people who ate fish regularly also had higher cognitive function in later life than those who did not.
Source: National Institutes on Aging
In the study — presented today at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego, California — scientists followed 10,000 people from 2008 to 2019.
They were evenly split by sex, aged 51 years on average, and lived in six Brazilian cities.
Each consumed about 785 calories from processed foods per day on average, or 27 percent of their diet. Three quarters got more than 20 percent of their calories from processed foods, with some getting up to three-quarters of them in this way.
Processed foods were defined as ‘industrial forumaltions’ of food substances (oils, fats, sugars, starch and protein isolates) that contain little or no whole foods and typically include flavorings colorings, emulsifiers and other cosmetic additives. This includes fries, hamburgers, ice creams, candy, soft drinks among others.
Each participant filled in a questionnaire at the beginning and end of the study on their dietary intake.
They also completed tests on delayed word recall, word recognition and verbal fluency to measure changes to their cognition.
Results showed those who ate the most processed food — above a quarter of daily calories — had a 28 percent faster rate of cognitive decline than those who ate the least.
They also had a 25 percent faster rate of executive function decline — the area of the brain involved in decision-making and processing information.
It also revealed those who ate the most ultraprocessed foods were more likely to be young, female, white, had a higher education level and to have never smoked.
Dr Natalia Goncalves, a pathologist at the University of Sao Paulo who led the study, told DailyMail.com that processed foods likely accelerated cognitive decline because they were packed with sugar, fats and salts.
She said this could spark ‘inflammation processes’ or lesions in the brain — which may raise the speed of decline.
Dr Rudy Tanzi, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the research, said processed foods were likely a risk because they are ‘usually very high in sugar, salt and fat’.
‘All of these promote systemic inflammation’, she told CNN, ‘perhaps the most major threat to healthy aging in the body and brain’.
Men should eat 2,500 calories a day on average, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, while women should eat 2,000.
To reach a quarter of the diet being from processed foods, this would be up to 500 calories a day.
That’s equivalent to one hamburger and fries (about 700 calories), or two four-pound sausages (about 800 calories), the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
Dr Claudia Suemoto, a geriatric expert also involved in the research, said that the diet in Brazil was not very different from that in western countries.
She added: ‘People need to know they should cook more and prepare their own food from scratch. I know we say we don’t have time, but it really doesn’t take that much time.
‘And it’s worth it because you’re going to protect your heart and guard your brain from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. That’s the take-home message: Stop buying things that are super-processed.’