Studies Suggest Avoiding Ultra-Processed Foods May Help Cognitive Function
Munching on flavored potato chips and gulping down supersized sodas may hit the spot! But overindulging on highly processed foods may not be the best habit for optimally supporting cognitive function, studies indicate.
Pharmacists know that eating a healthy diet is foundational to good overall health and good brain health.
Junk food, by its very definition, is never a good option for keeping your body in tiptop shape. Recent research shows that consuming ultra-processed foods also may not be the best for cognitive function. A 2022 Brazilian study of 10,775 adults found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with lower scores on tests of memory and thinking skills over time.
In the study, participants filled out food questionnaires and underwent cognitive tests that measured memory, word recognition and recall, along with other thinking skills, over an eight-year period. Those who ate the least amount of junk food had significantly better scores than those who ate the most ultra-processed foods.
These findings suggest that limiting consumption of ultra-processed food could be associated with better cognition in middle-aged and older adults, researchers conclude.
A growing body of research shows similar findings.
A 2022 U.S. study of 10,359 individuals found those who reported higher intakes of ultra-processed foods were significantly more likely to report negative feelings than those who ate a healthy diet.
By contrast, individuals who consume Mediterranean-style diets — high in fish, vegetables, olive oil, beans, nuts, and polyunsaturated fat, while low in saturated fats — had significantly better mood, the researchers suggest.
Ultra-processed foods are defined as industrial formulations of processed food substances (oils, fats, sugars, starch, protein isolates) that contain little or no whole food and typically include flavorings, colorings, emulsifiers, and other cosmetic additives. These foods tend to be high in added sugar, saturated fat and salt, while low in beneficial protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Over 70% of packaged foods in the U.S. are classified as ultra-processed foods and represent approximately 60% of all consumed calories, according to the study.
The brain benefits of eating healthy foods have been well established. Consumption of fruits and vegetables high in polyphenolics can promote cognitive function during aging, a 2017 study reports.
A 2017 study from Australia and New Zealand examined how diet affected 67 individuals who were experiencing low moods. Researchers divided participants into two groups: 31 individuals in a diet support group and 25 in a social-support control group.