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Soda, breakfast cereal and frozen foods could have long-term effects on cognitive health, according to research first/revealed during the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference this week in San Diego.

A yet-to-be-peer-reviewed study of 10,775 people in Brazil over 8 years found a link between high consumption of ultra-processed foods and cognitive decline, particularly in memory and executive functions. dr. Natalia Goncalves of the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine presented the findings.

“High consumption” in the study was classified as more than 20% of daily caloric intake – meaning 400 calories for an active woman whose recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000, or 500 calories for an active man whose recommended daily calorie intake is 2,500. .

More: Eating processed foods is damaging your brain, study says. Even ‘2 cookies’ can affect health.

While these findings may not lead to major changes in dietary advice for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, they do confirm what’s already known: what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

“We know that a healthy diet, a heart-healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, we know is protective in many ways,” said Dr. Jean Guan, geriatrician at CoxHealth.

“It’s exciting when our nutrition studies align with what we know as common sense,” said Lynetta Smith, a clinical dietitian at Citizens Memorial Healthcare in Bolivar.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a course called “Healthy Living for Your Brain and Body,” and Sarah Lovegreen, vice president of programs for the Alzheimer’s Association, said the researchers reinforced what was already being taught in the classroom.

“This particular study adds to the ever-increasing body of work we can do about what we advise about healthy living and risk reduction,” she said. “These are terms that we’re starting to use a little bit more as we learn more, and we can really talk about risk reduction in that space.”

More: What we eat matters. Researchers are still searching for the ‘best’ diet.

Something Smith emphasized was the importance of looking at the food we eat as a “dietary pattern” – the foods and drinks we consume and the habits around them.

Eating patterns low in processed foods, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean diet, are already common recommendations for people who want to keep their brains healthy.

“There’s a wonderful synergy in our food, and when we look at eating patterns that have specific cognitive benefits, they’ve also done a lot of research on cardiovascular benefits,” Smith said.

There are also benefits to less processed foods beyond their nutritional value.

“Because people take the time to prepare healthy meals at home, it’s a cognitive activity: you have to make meal plans, you have to think about your ingredients, and you have to measure and prepare them in a way that makes good use of them, making good use of your budget,” she said. said Smith. “You’re often working with others when preparing a meal, so you get that social factor that affects our brain health.”

More: New to running, man runs 35 miles on Frisco Highline for Alzheimer’s awareness

The study was of interest to Mark Applegate, an Alzheimer’s Association volunteer whose mother has Alzheimer’s. Because the disease runs in his family, Applegate participated in clinical studies and improved his health to mitigate risk factors.

“I was kind of wondering how (processed foods affect cognition), intuitively, because to me the way you find out what’s causing the Alzheimer’s boom is to find things that have changed between now and when I was a kid, maybe 20, 30 years ago or even longer, 40, 50 years ago,” Applegate said.

Access to healthy food difficult for some

For some, food insecurity or low income may mean that ultra-processed food is their only option, putting them at further risk of developing dementia. See the article : HIPAA: Its Confidentiality Protections (and Limitations).

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 19% of black and 14% of Hispanic adults age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s dementia, compared to 10% of white older adults. Research shows that large differences in risk are due to differences in health and socioeconomic factors.

“The individuals most at risk are those who have the least access to these foods, whether they can’t buy them, can’t prepare them properly because of their home environment, or because of a physical or mental disability,” Smith said. . . “Preparing food, putting together a menu, it’s not easy for everyone. We have a lot on our plates.”

When fresh produce isn’t available, frozen produce can be just as good, Lovegreen says.

More: This Missouri State student wants to change health care: ‘Your zip code shouldn’t affect your health’

Guan emphasized that frozen food isn’t necessarily bad: “You can make a huge amount of heart-healthy food and freeze it. It’s still frozen food that you can reheat in the microwave, but it’s not processed frozen food. “

It also offered an affordable option for those looking to get the most bang for their buck.

“One thing I always recommend is lentils because they’re very, very high in protein, they’re very nutritious, they’re super cheap, and you can make a huge batch of lentils and freeze them,” Guan said. “And as long as you don’t mind eating lentils, it’s a good healthy alternative for patients who may be cash-strapped or have trouble accessing healthy foods.”

Susan Szuch is a health and public policy reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @szuchsm. Story idea? Email her at

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