Knowledge is power. Knowledge about the food we eat and its effects on our bodies helps us make informed decisions about what we put on our plates. And when it comes to processed food, that can be a double-edged sword. Knowledge can make us more aware of how many ultra-processed foods we’re eating, and how they can negatively impact our health.
But there’s also a downside to this knowledge – it can make us afraid of these foods rather than viewing them as a useful source of necessary nutrients and filling up one of our five daily servings of vegetables. Here’s everything you need to know about ultra-processed foods and their impact on your cognitive performance:
What is an Ultra-Processed Food?
Ultra-processed food has been so highly processed that its original nutritional content has been lost. Instead, manufacturers have added chemicals and other ingredients that are designed to prolong shelf life and increase taste and palatability. Ultra-processed foods include several different food types, such as: Sugary and savory snacks, Bread and breakfast cereals, Ready-made meals, Meat-based products. Canned fruit and vegetables, instant noodles, and frozen meals are also ultra-processed foods, though to a lesser degree because at least some of the original nutritional content remains.
Why are Ultra-Processed Foods Bad for You?
When we eat ultra-processed foods, we get less nutrition and more chemicals and additives. The more of these foods we eat, the more likely we are to run short of vital nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. That’s because ultra-processed foods are generally low in essential nutrients.
While the exact definition of ultra-processed foods varies between nutritional scientists, one thing is clear – these foods aren’t good for our bodies. They’re high in fat, sugar, and salt, which can cause health problems like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. They’re often high in calories, which can lead to weight gain if we eat too much. And eating too many ultra-processed foods might also affect our cognitive performance.
The Dangers of Ultra-Processed Foods for Your Brain
In addition to the health problems listed above, ultra-processed foods might also contribute to cognitive decline. A study of older adults found that a high intake of ultra-processed foods was associated with poorer cognitive performance, as measured by memory and attention. The reasons for this are unclear, but one possible explanation is that the high salt and sugar content in processed foods can lead to significant increases in blood pressure, which has been linked to decreased cognitive performance.
Another theory is that the preservatives added to ultra-processed foods may damage our brains. One of the most common preservatives in ultra-processed foods is butylated hydroxy anisole (BHA), which has been shown to decrease nerve growth in rats. Other preservatives, like tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), may also have negative effects on our cognitive performance.
How Ultra-Processed Foods Can Affect Your Cognition
The above suggests that there might be a link between ultra-processed foods and cognitive decline, but there aren’t any studies directly looking at the impact of consuming these foods. There is, however, research on the effects of whole foods on cognition, which can give us some clues as to how ultra-processed foods might affect us. One study, for example, found that eating more vegetables was associated with better performance on both attention and memory tasks. Fruits and legumes (beans, peas, etc.) also appear to be good for cognitive performance, whereas meat and dairy foods may have a negative impact.
This suggests that people who eat a lot of ultra-processed foods would do better if they replaced them with whole foods, such as vegetables, legumes, and fruits. Research on this is still ongoing, but it could be that replacing ultra-processed foods with whole foods could help improve cognitive performance.
There’s no question that ultra-processed foods aren’t good for us. They’re high in calories, low in nutrients, and may even cause damage to our brains. But the question is whether this is bad for our cognition. There’s no direct evidence that ultra-processed foods negatively affect cognitive performance, but there’s also no direct evidence that they’re good for us either. It’s certainly possible that high intakes of ultra-processed foods could hurt cognition, but there’s no proof of this either. And as long as we replace ultra-processed foods with more nutritious foods, it’s unlikely that they’ll have a significant impact on our cognitive performance.