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Popular Sweet and Savoury Snacks Increase Risk of Stroke and Dementia, Study Finds

June 2, 2024

A recent study from Massachusetts General Hospital reveals that consuming popular processed snacks like crisps and biscuits can significantly age the brain, increasing the risk of stroke and dementia. The research highlights the severe health implications associated with a diet high in ultra-processed foods.

The study, which analyzed medical records and food diaries from 30,000 individuals over the age of 45, found that those who consumed higher amounts of processed foods were at a notably higher risk of serious health issues in middle and old age. Specifically, these individuals were 9% more likely to suffer a stroke and 16% more likely to experience cognitive impairment, a condition where memory and thinking skills decline more than expected with age and which often leads to dementia.

Dr. W. Taylor Kimberly, the study’s lead author, emphasized the importance of a healthy diet in maintaining brain health among older adults. “We found that increased consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of both stroke and cognitive impairment,” Dr. Kimberly stated. The research was published in the journal *Neurology*.

Ultra-processed foods, which are high in added sugar, fat, and salt, and low in protein and fiber, include a wide range of everyday items such as fizzy drinks, chocolate bars, ice cream, packaged ready-to-eat foods, and mass-produced bread. These foods typically contain more than five ingredients, many of which are unrecognizable to the average consumer. Examples include ham, sausages, burgers, breakfast cereals, and instant soups.

Dr. Kimberly noted that while the study’s findings are significant, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between food processing and brain health. “Our findings show that the degree of food processing plays an important role in overall brain health. More research is needed to confirm these results and to better understand what contributes most to these effects.”

The study adds to a growing body of evidence linking sugary snacks and ready meals to various health issues, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. In the UK alone, around 100,000 people suffer a stroke each year, and an estimated 20% of individuals over 65 experience cognitive impairment.

The classification of foods by their level of processing was pioneered by Brazilian researchers who developed the NOVA system, which divides foods into four groups. Group 1 includes unprocessed or minimally processed foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, and simple cuts of meat. Group 2 consists of processed culinary ingredients such as salt and vegetable oils. Group 3 encompasses processed foods like canned vegetables and artisanal bread, while Group 4, the most processed category, includes items like sweetened yogurts, packaged snacks, and ready-to-heat meals.

Understanding the degree of food processing can help individuals make more informed dietary choices, potentially reducing their risk of serious health issues. As public awareness grows, there is hope that more people will opt for natural, minimally processed foods to maintain better health and cognitive function as they age.



Credit: The Sun

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