Salty Snacks, High-Sugar Treats Appear to Increase Dementia Risk

August 30, 2022 by Dan McCue
Salty Snacks, High-Sugar Treats Appear to Increase Dementia Risk
Items in a vending machine in New York. Americans are addicted to snacks, and food experts are paying closer attention to what that might mean for health and obesity. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

TIANJIN, China — The consumption of ultra-processed foods — salty snacks, sugar-rich treats and anything laden with a heaping helping of preservatives — have long been associated with everything from sketchy mental health to full-blown cardiovascular disease.

Now, a recent study published in the journal Neurology suggests that diet is associated with a higher risk of dementia.

For the study, a team of researchers based at Tianjin Medical University in Tianjin, China, looked at a population of over 72,000 participants, aged 55 and older, who have been participating in the ongoing UK Biobank study.

Begun in 2006, the UK Biobank is a large, long-term study in the United Kingdom that is investigating the respective contributions of genetic predisposition and environmental exposure to the development of disease.

From a total U.K. study population of about 500,000, the Chinese researchers focused on 72,000 who were free from dementia at baseline and had undergone at least two dietary assessments over the course of their Biobank experience.

At the end of their study they found a significantly higher prevalence of dementia, Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia among those who ate a significant amount of ultra-processed foods and snacks.

They also discovered that replacing these processed foods with minimally processed options was associated with a 19% lower risk of dementia.

A second study from Brazil of more than 10,000 middle-aged adults found that people who consumed the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods (more than 20% of their daily caloric intake) saw a faster decline in memory, planning and organizational skills over a span of several years, compared with those with lower consumption. 

The research was presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Aug. 1.

Despite this evidence, a recent analysis of national data published in the journal BMJ Open found that ultra-processed foods represent more than half — 58% — of all calories in the U.S. diet.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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