Scientists suggested that early prevention could be achieved by cutting out some packaged, tinned and mass-produced products.
In the study of 10,000 Brazilians over 10 years, results suggested that a regular diet of ultra-processed foods, as more than 20 per cent of your daily calorie intake, can lead to loss of cognitive function.
Scientists presented their findings at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Monday.
So what are ultra-processed foods and what preventative measures can you take for mental decline?
What are ultra-processed foods?
The British Heart Foundation defines ultra-processed food as products that “typically have five or more ingredients” and have “industrial substances” such as preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners and artificial flavours.
Examples include sausages, ice cream, breakfast cereals, fizzy drinks, ready-made meals and some alcoholic drinks including gin, rum and whisky.
The only sure way to find out whether a product is ultra-processed is by looking at the packaging label. If you see a long list of ingredients that you don’t recognise, it is likely to be heavily processed. Other red flags include high fat, sugar and salt content, a suspiciously long shelf life (with the exception of UHT milk) and aggressively strong branding.
Those who consumed these foods on a regular basis had a 25 per cent faster decline in executive functioning – mental skills including memory and self-control.
For the minimum recommendation of 2,000 calories a day, eating 400 calories in ultra-processed foods would hit the 20 per cent limit.
Which foods are best for cognitive function?
Mediterranean diets have been noted for possibly reducing dementia risks, according to the Alzheimer’s society.
There is some evidence that unprocessed foods such as fruit, vegetables and legumes help reduce chances of memory and reasoning problems later in life.
The typical Mediterranean diet is also low in red meat, sugar and saturated fats such as butter, lard and ghee.
Antioxidants from fruit and vegetables can prevent or delay certain types of cell damage to the brain.
Along with higher levels of protein, inflammation caused by chemical changes in the brain’s immune system can also be reduced.
Studies have shown that this lifestyle is associated with lower rates of heart attacks, type 2 diabetes and strokes.
What are the signs of dementia?
The following symptoms are signs of declining cognitive function, which can be caused by cellular damage to the brain:
- Memory loss of recent events
- Issues with thinking or reasoning, including an inability to follow conversations
- Inexplicable mood swings
- Feelings of disorientation, even in familiar environments
These are not normal signs of aging and should be seen to by a GP or practitioner.