Those who feast on junk food 'more likely to suffer memory issues or a stroke'

Foods enhancing the risk of cancer. Junk food.
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

Those who constantly eat junk food like crisps and biscuits are more likely to suffer memory issues later on in life, according to new research. The study, which was published in the journal Neurology, found eating lots of ultra-processed foods can raise the risk of a stroke compared to those who eat less processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods are high in added sugar, salt and fat and have low protein and fibre content. Examples of these foods include ham, burgers, crisps, sausages, ice cream, breakfast cereals, mass-produced bread, canned baked beans, fizzy drinks, biscuits, instant soups, fruit-flavoured yoghurts and some alcoholic drinks like rum.

Lesser processed foods include more lean cuts of meat like pork, chicken and beef, including many fruits and vegetables. American scientists said their findings don't prove eating ultra-processed foods cause memory and thinking problems or a stroke, rather the study only shows an association.

Study author Professor Taylor Kimberly said: “While a healthy diet is important in maintaining brain health among older adults, the most important dietary choices for your brain remain unclear.

“We found that increased consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of both stroke and cognitive impairment, and the association between ultra-processed foods and stroke was greater among black participants.”

Fresh homegrown vegetables and fruits, summer colofrul harvest still life, local farmer produce, organic food, directly above.
A healthy diet is important in maintaining brain health -Credit:Getty

The research team followed more than 30,000 participants age 45 or older for an average of 11 years. They completed questionnaires about what they ate and drank.

The researchers determined how much ultra-processed food people ate by calculating the grams per day and comparing it to the grams per day of other foods to create a percentage of their daily diet. That percentage was calculated into four groups, ranging from the least processed foods to the most processed foods.

The researchers looked at 14,175 participants for cognitive decline and 20,243 participants for stroke. Both groups had no history of cognitive impairment or stroke. By the end of the study, 768 people were diagnosed with cognitive impairment and 1,108 people had suffered a stroke.

For those in the cognitive group, people who developed memory and thinking problems consumed 25.8 per cent of their diet in ultra-processed foods, compared to 24.6 per cent for those who did not develop cognitive problems.

After adjusting for age, sex, high blood pressure and other factors that could affect the risk of dementia, the team found a 10 per cent increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods eaten was associated with a 16 per cent higher risk of cognitive impairment. They also found eating more unprocessed or minimally processed foods was linked with a 12 per cent lower risk of cognitive impairment.

People who had a stroke during the study consumed 25.4 per cent of their diet in ultra-processed foods, compared to 25.1 per cent for those who did not have a stroke.

After adjustments, researchers found greater intake of ultra-processed foods was linked to an eight per cent increase in the risk of a stroke, while greater intake of unprocessed or minimally processed foods was linked to a nine per cent decreased stroke risk.

The effect of ultra-processed food consumption on stroke risk was greater among black participants - with a 15 per cent relative increase in risk of a stroke, according to the findings.

Prof Kimberly, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said: “Our findings show that the degree of food processing plays an important role in overall brain health."

He added: “More research is needed to confirm these results and to better understand which food or processing components contribute most to these effects.”

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