New Studies Claim Highly-Processed Food is Linked to Brain Damage

Joel Eisenberg

The risks of processed foods in general have been long accepted by medical experts. However, recent studies have not only validated previously-considered links to brain tumors, but hastened cognitive decline.

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Author’s Note

This article is based on accredited medical and media reports. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I will share knowledge but will offer no advice on this matter herein.

All listed theories and facts shared within this article are fully-attributed to said outlets, including Wikipedia.org, USNews.com, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, New York University, Mayo Clinic, and NBCNews.com.

Introduction

Wikipedia features a comprehensive overview of the dangers of highly-processed foods, which states: Ultra-processed foods, also referred to as ultra-processed food products (UPP), are food and drink products that have undergone specified types of food processing, usually by transnational and other very large 'Big food' corporations. These foods are designed to be "convenient, eaten on the go, hyperpalatable and appealing to consumers, and, most importantly, the most profitable segment of Big food companies' portfolios because of these foods' low-cost ingredients". Ultra-processed foods are connected to obesity, other health issues, food access and insecurity issues and contributes to some of the other environmental impacts of industrial agriculture. Some countries, have begun regulating ultraprocessed foods through labeling and restrictions on their sale.

According to an October, 2021 article from U.S. News & World Report, “Americans Are Eating More Ultra-Processed Foods,” the majority of the contemporary American diet is comprised of such food (and drink): Previous research has shown that eating ultra-processed foods is associated with obesity and heart disease. The New York University investigators analyzed U.S. federal government data and found that the proportion of ultra-processed foods in Americans' diets grew from 53.5% of calories in 2001-2002 to 57% in 2017-2018, while consumption of whole foods fell from 32.7% to 27.4% of calories, mostly due to people eating less meat and dairy. The greatest increase in ultra-processed foods was in ready-to-eat or heat meals, while intake of some sugary foods and drinks declined, according to the study published Oct. 14 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

An August 2, 2022 piece from USA Today, entitled “Eating Processed Foods is Hurting Your Brain, Study Says. Even '2 Cookies' Can Affect Health,” added to past studies that claimed obesity, heart issues, and certain brain functions can be severely impacted by so-called “ultra-processed” foods.

As excerpted from the article: Research presented Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego outlined how foods such as instant noodles, sugary drinks and frozen meals all play a factor in a faster rate of cognitive decline. “It’s no secret that physical and mental-cognitive health are intimately involved with each other, so it’s no surprise that this latest research suggests brain impairment, too,” said Rafael Perez-Escamilla, a professor of public health at Yale University. "Just 100 calories of processed foods can affect your physical health. So, that’s two cookies."

Let us explore further.

2022 Studies, Processed Foods

Per the Mayo Clinic, in its piece titled “What You Should Know About Processed Foods,” safety guidelines are listed for consumption: Eating processed foods on occasion is fine. However, look for hidden sugar, fat and salt, especially those added during processing. Most Nutrition Facts labels now include added sugars. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting less than 10% of total calories from added sugars. Learn to spot words like "maltose," "brown sugar," "corn syrup," "honey" and "fruit juice concentrate." When it comes to sodium, people often comment they don't put salt on their food. As it turns out, you don't even need to, because manufacturers have already added salt for you — and too much, in fact.

In terms of the recent brain studies, NBCNews.com published “Eating Lots of Highly Processed Food is Linked to Faster Cognitive Decline, Research Finds,” which elaborated on the matter: "Independent of the amount of calories, independent of the amount of healthy food that you try to eat, the ultra-processed food is not good for your cognition," said Claudia Suemoto, an author of the study and assistant professor of geriatrics at the University of Sao Paulo Medical School. Suemoto and her team found in particular that the adults in the study who consumed the most processed food experienced a 25% faster decline in their ability to plan and execute an action — known as "executive function."

The article goes on to state: Similarly, a study published last week found that for every 10% increase in the daily intake of ultra-processed foods, people in the U.K. had a higher 25% risk of developing dementia.

Conclusion

It is no secret that whole, non-processed foods are healthier and more vitamin enriched than their processed counterparts, which tend to make up in fat and sodium any added nutritional benefits.

Ultra-processed foods are said to deliver an inflammatory response in the brain, which impacts cognition especially in older individuals.

It should be noted cognitive decline is only the latest result to be studied, as the unhealthy nature of ultra-processed foods have long been linked to ill-health.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

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