These simple food choices can reduce the risk of dementia
A study published in July 2022 Neurology, the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests that eating whole foods may reduce the risk of dementia. The research was conducted on 72,083 adults over 55 without dementia at baseline in the UK Biobank.
The authors investigated the association between ultra-processed foods (UPF) and dementia, with participants’ diets assessed based on how much UPF was consumed. The highest group had a diet of 28% UPF compared to the group with the lowest UPF consumption of 9%.
The results implied that for every 10% increase in daily UPF dietary intake, the risk of dementia increased by 25%. Conversely, replacing 10% of UPF foods with whole (unprocessed or minimally processed) foods was associated with a 19% lower risk of dementia.
“Ultra-processed foods are supposed to be convenient and tasty, but they reduce the quality of a person’s diet,” said the study’s author Huiping Li, Ph.D. of Tianjin Medical University in China.
“These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from packaging or produced during heating, all of which have been shown in other studies to negatively affect thinking and memory skills.”
“Our research not only showed that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but also found that replacing them with healthy options can reduce the risk of dementia.”
UPF versus whole foods
UPF is built for convenience. Think ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat. These foods contain a lot of sugar, fat and salt, but little protein and fiber. A few examples of UPFs include fatty, sugary, salty, or salty packaged snacks.
Also, baked goods made from ingredients such as hydrogenated vegetable fat, sugar, yeast, whey, emulsifiers and other additives, ice creams and frozen desserts, chocolates, candies, pre-prepared meals such as pizza and pasta dishes, and distilled spirits 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, meats, and fermented alcoholic beverages (think alcoholic cider and wine).
Minimally processed foods leave nutrients intact. This includes methods such as canning, vacuum packing and refrigeration – which extend the life of the food, including the addition of vitamins and pasteurization (as in milk).
How to tell the difference?
Lena Beal, a media spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says labeling is the answer.
“Ultra-processed foods include baked goods, cookies, chips and candy at the grocery store counter. 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 a bag of Cheetos compared to tortilla chips. Tortilla chips have corn, salt, and a little oil from plant seeds, right? So it can be safflower, sunflower or canola. Three ingredients.”
Why are UPFs so popular in the US?
“Two words: convenience and cost,” says Beal. In the US, UPF consumption has increased from 53.5% of calories (2001-2002) to 57% (2017-2018). In the same period, the consumption of whole foods decreased from 32.7% to 27.4% of calories.
According to Beal, “Americans eat 31% more packaged food than fresh food than any other country. Ultra-processed foods come from substances extracted from the food through 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 UPFs play a factor in their popularity. Not to mention advertisements. Marketing UPF makes them look delicious and harmless, but it’s essential to learn to read nutrition labels.
In addition, choosing a healthier diet can involve preparing meals at home. Why? Because it can be a special time shared with family or partner, as well as a nutritious way to add more fruits and vegetables (fresh, pre-cut or frozen) to your diet.
When it comes to 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 products. Use peanut butter on celery sticks.”
Traveling and eating out
Beal suggests looking for condiments and toppings on the side when dining out. For example, choose a sauce that you can see through instead of a cream sauce. Also, order baked meat or fish instead of fried, skip bread before a meal or eat less of it (whole wheat is also a better alternative to white bread).
Finally, when you’re traveling, locating a grocery store near where you’re staying will make it easier to find whole foods than all the food from a restaurant.
Good news! You are in charge of your diet. So every time you choose what to eat or drink, ask yourself: What is the best, minimally processed, healthy food choice?
Learning to evaluate food labels and ingredients is key. Start preparing food at home and make small healthy lifestyle changes to improve as you age and feel your best.
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. He lives with his wife outside of Houston and they enjoy spending time at the beach together.
This article is reprinted with permission from NextAvenue.org© 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
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