By Rebecca Myers
Opting for unprocessed or minimally processed foods can go a long way
This article is reproduced with permission from NextAvenue.org.
A study published in July 2022 in Neurology, a journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests that eating whole foods may reduce the risk of dementia. The research was carried out on 72,083 adults over the age of 55 without dementia at baseline in the UK Biobank.
The authors investigated the association between ultra-processed foods (UPF) and dementia, where the participants’ diets were assessed by the amount of UPF consumed. The highest group had a 28% UPF diet compared to the group with the lowest UPF intake at 9%.
The results implied that for every 10% increase in daily dietary UPF intake, the risk of dementia increased by 25%. Conversely, replacing 10% of UPF foods with whole foods (unprocessed or minimally processed) was associated with a 19% reduced risk of dementia.
“Ultra-processed foods are supposed to be convenient and tasty, but they lower the quality of a person’s diet,” said study author Huiping Li, Ph.D. of the Medical University of Tianjin in China.
“These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from the packaging or produced during heating, all of which have been shown in other studies to negatively affect thinking and memory abilities.”
“Our research not only found that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but it also found that replacing them with healthy options may reduce the risk of dementia.”
More: 4 things you can do to beat dementia and improve your memory
UPF vs Whole Foods
UPF is made for convenience. Think ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat. These foods are high in sugar, fat and salt and low in protein and fiber. Some examples of UPFs include fatty, sweet, salty, or salty packaged snacks.
In addition, bakery products made from ingredients such as hydrogenated vegetable fat, sugar, yeast, whey, emulsifiers and other additives, ice creams and frozen desserts, chocolates, candies, ready meals such as pizza and pasta dishes and distilled alcoholic beverages such as whiskey, gin, rum and vodka.
On the other hand, whole foods are unprocessed or minimally processed such as fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, seafood, legumes, milk, eggs, grains, spices, meat and fermented alcoholic beverages (think alcoholic cider and wine).
Minimally processed foods leave the nutrients intact. This contains methods such as canning, vacuum packing and refrigeration – which extend the shelf life of the food, including the addition of vitamins and pasteurization (as in milk).
How to make the difference ?
Lena Beal, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says labeling is the answer.
“Ultra-processed foods include baked goods, cupcakes, chips, and candies at the grocery checkout. They also include soft drinks, sugary breakfast cereals, ice cream, mass-produced bread and flavored yogurts.”
Beal advises, “Look at two labels: Cheetos and tortilla chips. Then look at the long list of ingredients on the Cheetos bag versus tortilla chips. Tortilla chips contain corn, salt and vegetable seed oil, could be safflower, sunflower or canola. Three ingredients.
Related: Want to Slow, Delay, or Reverse Dementia? Try this classic game
Why are UPFs so popular in the United States?
“Two words: convenience and cost,” says Beal. In the United States, UPF consumption has increased from 53.5% of calories (2001-2002) to 57% (2017-2018). During the same period, the consumption of whole foods fell from 32.7% to 27.4% of calories.
According to Beal, “Americans eat 31% more packaged foods than fresh foods than almost any other country. Ultra-processed foods come from substances extracted from foods by processes such as grinding or extrusion with added ingredients. They are highly manipulated and take on more of a chemical presence than food.”
The perceived convenience and cost of UPF play a role in their popularity. Not to mention advertising. UPF marketing makes them look delicious and harmless, but learning to read nutrition labels is key.
Additionally, choosing to eat healthier may involve preparing your meals at home. Why? Because it can be a special moment shared as a family or as a couple as well as a nutritious way to add more fruits and vegetables (fresh, pre-cut or frozen) to your diet.
As for healthy foods, “use nuts (full of omega-3s for heart and brain health), raisins, and dark chocolate to make a trail mix,” suggests Beal. “Seeds, nuts, cut fruits and vegetables are nature’s fast food. Make a smoothie with fresh fruit and dairy. Use peanut butter on celery sticks.”
Traveling and eating out
Beal suggests asking for condiments and dressings on the side at the restaurant. For example, choose a transparent sauce instead of a cream sauce. Also, order baked meat or fish instead of fried, skip the bread before the meal, or eat less of it (whole wheat is also a better alternative to white bread).
Finally, when traveling, locating a grocery store near where you are staying will make it easier to find whole foods rather than getting all your food from restaurants.
Related: It’s Now the #1 Preventable Cause of Alzheimer’s in America
The bottom line
Good news! You are in control of your diet. So whenever you’re choosing what to eat or drink, ask yourself: what’s the best healthy, minimally processed, nutritionally sound choice?
Learning to evaluate food labels and ingredients is essential. Start preparing food at home and make small healthy lifestyle changes to improve the way you age and feel better.
Rebecca Myers, MSN, RN is a freelance health journalist with over 15 years of nursing experience (including critical care, vascular access, and education). Through her writing, Rebecca has a passion for uplifting others and helping them live their healthiest lives. She lives with her husband outside of Houston and they enjoy spending time together at the beach.
This article is reproduced with permission from NextAvenue.org, (c) 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
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