Can’t Remember Where You Put The Keys? Maybe You Should Blame The Ultra-Processed Foods You Eat

May 29, 2024

Boy, are we ever in trouble! There was already evidence that linked ultra-processed foods with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

New studies are popping up left and right suggesting that ultra-processed foods can also lead to memory issues and strokes.

Researchers pored over dietary data from thousands of folks who signed up for the study, only to find that those who chowed down a higher percentage of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods were more likely to develop memory problems and experience a stroke.

“… those who suffered a stroke consumed 25.4% of …. ultra-processed foods …”

The research found that individuals who experienced memory and thinking problems make ultra-processed foods an average of 25.8% of their diet, compared to 24.6% for those who did not develop cognitive issues. Furthermore, those who suffered a stroke consumed 25.4% of their diet in ultra-processed foods, as opposed to 25.1% for those who did not.

What’s ultra-processed and why all the concern?

What’s ultra-processed? What isn’t?

Here’s a partial list: Frozen meals, soft drinks, hot dogs, cold cuts, fast food, packaged cookies, salty snacks, fruity yogurts, protein bars, packaged breads, and margarine.

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“… ultra-processed foods are the main source of calories eaten in the US …”

And we do love these things. According to a study just published in The BMJ, ultra-processed foods are the main source of calories eaten in the US, and all that added sugar, fat, and salt contributes almost 90% of the energy we get from added sugars. 

True, we’ve lived this long with these things without much concern, so why now? The reason is that researchers are able to get deeper into cause-and-effect relationships between things like food and body chemistry than they ever have before.

In this situation, researchers suggest that the additives and inflammatory properties of ultra-processed foods may play a role in negatively impacting brain health.

Regarding inflammatory properties, for example, this means that a bag of chips or box of Oreos may trigger or worsen inflammation in the body, because: 

  • The added sugar and fat in these foods can promote inflammation.
  • Many ultra-processed foods include artificial additives, emulsifiers, and preservatives, which have been linked to gut inflammation and disruption of the gut microbiome. For example, processed meats (sausages, hot dogs, and deli meats) often contain multiple emulsifiers for texture and stability; and packaged baked goods like donuts and cookies frequently use emulsifiers to improve texture, shelf life, and appearance. You wouldn’t eat an ugly-looking donut, right?
  • These foods are also low in fiber and nutrients, which is important for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome and reducing inflammation.

Your kids could really be in trouble

We probably all know a mom or two who watches sugar, salt, and fat intake like a hawk. Turns out, they are doing the right thing, according to a study by the University of Human Nutrition at Universitat Rovira I Virgili.

“… high consumption of ultra-processed foods in children …”

Researchers there found that high consumption of ultra-processed foods in children is linked to increased cardiovascular risk later in life, as well as negative changes in BMI, waist circumference, and lipid profile (the blood test that measures the amount of fats (lipids) in your blood, i.e. for cholesterol).

“Our findings give cause for concern,” said principal investigator Nancy Babio, PhD, said. “Although the magnitude of the associations we found could be thought to be of limited clinical importance, the boys and girls taking part in our study were very young but, even so, there was a significant relationship between their consumption and these parameters.”

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