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Snack Attack Foods Can Negatively Impact Brain Health

As all of us age, cognitive function declines. In some people, this process happens faster than others. Research about what we eat and the impact on brain health has shown how this can play a role in your cognitive abilities. Continued research suggests foods with lots of calories, salt, fat and added sugars (such as sodas, grocery store birthday cake, fast food burgers, french fries, ice cream, etc.) may cause older adults’ cognitive abilities to decline faster.


In a recent study, too many daily calories from highly processed foods like lunch meats, frozen dinners, and packaged cookies may speed up cognitive decline. In the study, researchers examined the diets and cognitive function test results of more than 8,000 adults in Brazil. At the start of the study, participants consumed an average of about 2,850 calories a day. About 28 percent of their daily calories came from highly processed foods.


After about nine years of follow-up, cognitive test scores for memory and executive function declined the most for participants who ate the most highly processed foods, according to preliminary study.


The findings support past evidence that highly processed junk food (i.e., higher cholesterol, more sugars, etc.) is associated with worse cognitive health. This continued research builds on other larger studies that have found older adults who ate more unhealthy foods had a smaller hippocampus (which is the region of the brain thought to be responsible for memory). This is thought to a greater likelihood of memory difficulties or other cognitive difficulties.


Luckily, there are ways to try to regain cognitive abilities. A heart-healthy lifestyle promotes a healthier brain, too, and helps preserve cognitive function, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Two diets that tend to benefit brain health as we age are the MIND diet and/or the DASH diet. Such a lifestyle includes a diet rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean protein (and light on highly processed foods) as well as adequate sleep and exercise, no tobacco, and alcohol in moderation.


In addition, taking care of your mental health, getting proper sleep, maintaining an active social life, exercising, and getting regular hearing checkups as you are all additional ways to help reduce the likelihood of cognitive decline. If you have questions about changes to your cognitive abilities you should reach out to your physician to discuss the best next steps.

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