One of the major health problems from which human beings suffer when they reach old age is dementia. In Spain, for example, this has a prevalence of 11.1% for women and 7.5% for men. can have a top genetic componentbut other factors also influence, as disparate as what we charge or what we eat. In this last point, of capital importance for the percentage of ultra-processed that we include in our diet. In fact, they seem to significantly affect the memory loss.
This is at least the conclusion of a study recently published in Neurology and presented at the International Congress on Alzheimer’s Disease in San Diego. Its authors, Tianjin Medical Universityin China, based on UK Biobank data, which contains information on the health of half a million people. Of course, they only focused on the files of 72,083 people aged 50 or over.
All received a survey on their eating habits and later they were followed up for 10 years. At the start of the study, none had dementia. However, after this time, 518 people have been diagnosed. With this information in hand, they checked if there was a relationship with the consumption of ultra-processed foods and the truth is that yes they found a correlation. Of course, they found no explanation for how these foods can impair memory and cognition. They only found an association.
What are ultra-processed products?
Before seeing how ultra-processed foods affect memory and cognitionit is worth remembering what these foods consist of.
Before even talking about ultra-processed foods, it is important to know what processed foods are. There are many ways to describe these foods. Some are based on number of ingredientswhile others refer rather to the ability to differentiate. Simply put, a chocolate cake is a processed food because we don’t see the sugar, butter, flour, or ounces of chocolate in it. In contrast, a jar of mixed vegetables is not transformed, as we see each of them separately.
that a food is processed does not necessarily imply that it is not healthy. For example, in a pot gazpacho you don’t see any tomato, cucumber, onion or pepper. However, as long as the amounts of salt are not excessive and a good oil is used, such as olive oil, it will be a perfectly healthy product.
Now, ultra-processed foods are defined as those that not only have a high level of processing; but also contain many unhealthy ingredients. This includes large amounts of saturated fats, sugars or salt, among others. Also, they usually use refined flours instead of wholemeal flours.
It is important to be clear that It’s the ingredients, not the industry, those who turn an ultra-processed food into something unhealthy. A homemade cake remains ultra-processed, even if the white sugar is replaced by date paste which, after all, is still sugar.
Now, once that’s clear, what does ultra-processed food have to do with memory and dementia?
Eating poorly could affect your memory when you’re older
The authors of this study separated their participants into several groups, based on average percentage of ultra-processed which contained his food.
In the lowest group, the percentage was 9%which would be equivalent to 225 grams in one day. Meanwhile, at the top, ultra-processed foods made up and 28% of the volunteers’ diet. This equates to approximately 814 grams.
To get an idea, a slice of pizza or fish sticks weigh about 150 grams. Notably the drinksfollowed by sweet products and ultra-processed dairy desserts, are the products that contribute the most to this unhealthy part of the diet.
Regarding its relationship with cognitive deterioration and memory, we saw that of the 18,021 members of the first group, 105 were diagnosed with dementiawhile of the 18,021 consuming more ultra-processed foods, that figure rose to 150 people.
Logically, other factors such as gender, age, family history or heart disease have an influence here. For this reason, these factors were taken into account before extracting a percentage of the exact influence of the consumption of ultra-processed foods. After making this adjustment, it was concluded that for each 10% increase in the daily intake of ultra-processed foods, people had a 25% increased risk of dementia.
Small changes, big results
Using data from the study, these scientists were also able to estimate what would happen if a person replaced 10% of your consumption of ultra-processed foods for minimally processed or so-called well-processed foods. In this case, a 19% lower risk of dementia was found.
Furthermore, if something as simple as increasing the amount of unprocessed material in 50 grams per day, a 3% lower risk of dementia would be obtained. This is equivalent half an appleit is therefore not an unattainable challenge.
And in the opposite direction, there were also results. In other words, if 50 grams of ultra-processed foods are eliminated daily, the equivalent of a single fish stickthe risk also decreases by 3%.
At this stage, several things must be taken into account. To begin with, that the study only considered dementia cases that ended in death or what they needed Hospital admission. Primary care information was not analyzed, so mild dementia cases may have been underestimated. Finally, it is important to remember that Correlation does not mean causation, so this association does not necessarily mean that ultraprocessors affect memory. But the correlation is large enough to consider this a possibility and investigate further.
What is more than proven is that a diet high in refined flours, sugars, salt and saturated fats and low in whole grains, quality proteins and fruits and vegetables, leads to many health problems. We shouldn’t be obsessed with the ultra-processed. Simply, you have to try to find a balance, eat what you want, but always with as much information as possible, try to find a healthy diet, without miracle diets and, above all, without guilt. With that, we already have a lot of cattle. It should be remembered that stress has been amply shown to affect memory and there are few things more stressful than a diet that imposes and blames. Let’s keep that in mind as well.