Can Processed Foods Affect My Brain? Ask A Nutritionist. December 12, 2022

Too much ultra-proceeded foods can lead to decline in cognitive health.

A new study has shown that eating too many ultra-processed foods in middle-age people can be bad for your cognitive health and lead to cognitive decline as you age. Cognitive decline means there is a decrease in your ability to learn, remember and make judgements and decisions.  If you have other health conditions, it can lead to an inability to manage a chronic disease, or perform everyday tasks, such as cooking or cleaning. Some cognitive decline can occur as you age, but frequently forgetting how to perform a routine task can affect your ability to care for yourself and live and function independently. And eating too many of these unhealthy food can increase the  risk of dementia.

In this study, adults who got more than 20 percent, or one-fifth of their daily intake from ultra processed foods, had a 28 percent faster rate of cognitive decline over  eight years. Ultra processed foods include white bread, candy , cookies , frozen meals, hot and cold packaged snacks, and soda. These foods usually contain a lot of sugar and salt. They are often loaded with calories, contribute to weight gain, and are linked to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and gastrointestinal issues.

Remember its always best for your health to choose foods in their natural state, like fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, nuts, seeds and legumes. While you cannot completely avoid all ultra processed foods, try to choose foods that can contribute to your better health as often as you can. Anytime is a good time to adopt healthy lifestyle measures to influence your older years.

Joanne M. Gallivan, M.S., R.D.N. is a registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She served as the Director of the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) in the Office of Communication and Public Liaison for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 1997-2016.  Previously, Ms. Gallivan has served as project manager for NIDDK’s Weight-Control Information Network (WIN), a national source of information on weight control, obesity, and weight-related nutritional disorders for health professionals and the public; as Contract Manager for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s National Cholesterol Education Program and Obesity Education Initiative, and as Director of the Prince George’s County Health Department Nutrition Division located in Maryland.

Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic is a free clinic in Charleston, SC, providing free, ongoing medical care for uninsured adults who Reside or Work across the Barrier Islands and their connecting communities. You can sign up for our monthly e-news updates, or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.


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