Food choices that can affect memory and ability to make decisions later in life

Life is full of choices, and regularly choosing potato chips over something natural, such as an apple, might affect your ability to think later on in life.

A new study has revealed that people who ate the most ultra-processed foods have a 28% faster decline in cognitive function than those who ate the least.

Ana Nelson is vice president of programs and services for the Alzheimer’s Association National Capital Area Chapter. (Courtesy Alzheimer’s Association National Capital Area Chapter)

“That would be things like memory, verbal fluency and executive function,” said Ana Nelson, of the Alzheimer’s Association National Capital Area Chapter.

Examples of ultra-processed foods include sodas, breakfast cereals, white bread, potato chips and frozen foods, such as lasagna, pizza, ice cream, hamburgers and fries. The processes that extend shelf life contain ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, MSG and preservatives.

The study followed more than 10,000 Brazilians for up to 10 years. Participants were evaluated in three study waves — from 2008 to 2010, 2012 to 2014 and 2017 to 2019.

“They performed cognitive testing on these individuals … that included immediate and delayed word recall, word recognition, verbal fluency,” Nelson said.

The findings from the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health involved civil servants from five universities and one research institute in Brazil. The study defined “high” consumption as more than 20% of daily caloric intake.

“In the American population, of course, we’re talking about a different population. Over 50% of our daily caloric intake is ultra-processed foods,” Nelson said.



“If you’re consuming high amounts of ultra-processed foods,” she said, “maybe you need to think about finding ways and making time to cook from scratch. Because it may take more time to cook from scratch, but it may also protect your heart and guard your brain from dementia or Alzheimer’s.”

The study findings were presented this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, which runs through Thursday and includes more than 150 presentations on research.

“We’re looking at this disease from multiple ways, and looking at targeting the disease in multiple ways, because we know that Alzheimer’s is more than just plaques and tangles. There are all the factors that come into play in all those areas are being explored,” Nelson said.

She recommended that people download the Alzheimer’s Association’s Science Hub app to learn more.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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