How Processed Foods Impact Brain Health

Posted By on December 15, 2022

There’s nothing more convenient than popping a frozen pizza into the oven for a quick dinner or grabbing a packaged pastry for breakfast on your way out the door in the morning. Processed foods – like salty snacks, frozen meals, and high-sugar treats – might be tempting, whether it helps your schedule flow quickly or you’re in the mood for a delicious treat. 

But recently, studies have shown that ultra-processed foods could contribute to a decline in memory and brain function. If you’re looking for ways to promote brain health, HarborChase Senior Living has the information you need. 

Mental wellness is a top priority throughout our senior living communities. From enriching programs and lifestyle-enhancing amenities to dining experiences with the freshest in healthy ingredients, we promote healthy aging, including ways to keep the mind active and engaged. Below, we’re sharing how processed foods can impact brain health and how making healthier choices in the kitchen can protect the brain.

The Relationship Between Food and the Brain

A 2015 study found that about 58% of the calories consumed in the United States come from processed foods. These foods are put through an intensive industrial process and, afterward, typically contain “large quantities of fats, sugars, salt, artificial flavors and colors, even stabilizers and preservatives,” according to Rebecca Edelmayer of the Alzheimer’s Association.

When it comes to food’s impact on brain health, keep in mind that the brain is known as a vascular organ. Vascular organs are made up of arteries and veins that carry blood throughout the body, delivering nutrients to tissues and discarding waste matter. Essentially, when we eat foods high in salt, fat, or sugar, these ingredients are distributed to the important tissues and organs in our body and cause harmful effects. 

Of course, eating processed foods in moderation is perfectly okay. Still, research has shown that people who have developed certain health conditions (like high blood pressure) based on poor diet are more likely to experience cognitive decline as they age due to the lack of nutrients. 

Processed Foods and Alzheimer’s Disease

A 2017 study published in the Neurology journal examined over 70,000 participants in the UK over the age of 55. The results? Highly processed foods were associated with higher risks of dementia. 

The team of researchers based in China discovered that when processed foods were swapped for minimally processed options, the risk of dementia was lowered by almost 20%. 

A similar study was conducted in Brazil, with 8,000 middle-aged participating subjects. The results found that when participants consumed the highest amount of processed foods, over 20% of the recommended caloric intake, there was a drastic decline in memory, organizational, and planning skills over a span of only a few years; the participants who consumed lower amounts of processed foods did not see the same decline. 

Healthy Habits to Protect Your Brain

When you walk through the grocery store today, many of the foods you see on the shelves and aisles are processed. In fact, most foods go through some form of processing. For example, a can of beans or even a bag of salad has to go through minimal processes to ensure freshness and quality, meaning that some form of additive or preservative is used. 

Many of these products are displayed in the middle of the grocery store, so the next time you shop, stick to the bordering areas of the store like the produce section, dairy section, and meat counter. 

If you’re looking for a way to cut down on high-processed foods, try sticking to single ingredients. This means choosing foods like an apple, a bowl of healthy grains, or lean meat, like chicken. 

Research has also suggested that your brain will reap the benefits by choosing a heart-healthy diet! There are many non-restrictive diet options to choose from to ensure that your brain health is thriving, from the Mediterranean Diet to simply following a pattern of mindful eating

The Three D’s of Dementia

HarborChase’s “Three D’s of Dementia” series, hosted at many of our senior living communities, is a three-part seminar focusing on education and resources to understand dementia so that you and your loved ones can be prepared. These include:

  • Diagnosing Dementia
  • Dealing with Dementia
  • Delaying Dementia

Many factors play a role in dementia, but practicing healthy eating habits can go a long way in delaying cognitive decline and promoting overall brain health. We invite you to visit our blog for more educational resources to enhance your wellness!