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Mind & Mood
Eating ultra-processed foods tied to cognitive decline
- By Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter
- Reviewed by Anthony L. Komaroff, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter
Having a hard time giving up ultra-processed ("junk") foods? Those are items like microwaveable dinners, deli meat, white bread, packaged cookies, cheese puffs, and pastries. Perhaps this will help curb your appetite for them: A study published online Dec. 5, 2022, by JAMA Neurology found a link between eating lots of ultra-processed foods and cognitive decline. The study involved almost 11,000 dementia-free people (ages 35 to 74). Participants filled out food questionnaires and periodically underwent cognitive testing that measured memory, word recognition and recall, and other thinking skills. After eight years, scientists found that middle-aged people who ate the most junk food had a faster rate (up to 28%) of cognitive decline, compared with people who ate the least junk food. This is plausible, because we know that a diet rich in ultra-processed foods is associated with increased risks for many chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes (which have risk factors similar to those for dementia). So try to cut back on junk food and fill your plate with healthier goodies, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins.
Image: © Eziutka/Getty Images
About the Author
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter
About the Reviewer
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter
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No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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A Guide to Cognitive Fitness
In this Special Health Report, Harvard Medical School doctors share a six-step program that can yield important and lasting results. Together these “super 6” can strengthen your intellectual prowess, promote your powers of recall, and protect the brain-based skills that are essential for full, rewarding, and independent living. From simple and specific changes in eating to ways to challenge your brain, this is guidance that will pay dividends for you and your future.
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