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The Unsettling Truth: How Ultra-Processed Foods Are Altering Our Minds and Bodies

Friday, June 21st 2024 10:00am 3 min read
Dr. Jessica Peatross dr.jess.md @drjessmd

Hospitalist & top functional MD who gets to the root cause. Stealth infection & environmental toxicity keynote speaker.

Imagine a world where the food we eat not only affects our waistline but also our cognitive abilities and mental health. Recent studies have uncovered alarming connections between ultra-processed foods and changes in the way we learn, remember, and feel. In this article, we’ll delve into the latest research and explore the potential consequences of consuming these ubiquitous, convenient, and often addictive food products.

1. The Rise of Ultra-Processed Foods

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are industrial formulations made from substances derived from foods and additives, typically with little or no whole food ingredients. These products are designed to be convenient, hyper-palatable, and affordable, making them a staple in many households worldwide. From soft drinks and packaged snacks to frozen meals and fast food, UPFs have become a significant part of our modern diet.

2. The Link Between UPFs and Cognitive Decline

A growing body of research suggests that consuming ultra-processed foods may be harmful to the aging brain, independent of other risk factors for adverse neurologic outcomes. A 2024 study found that a 10% increase in the consumption of UPFs was associated with a 16% higher risk of cognitive impairment. This correlation was independent of adherence to recommended dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND diets.

3. The Impact on Mental Health and Sleep

Not only do UPFs appear to affect our cognitive abilities, but they may also contribute to mental health and sleep problems. Some scientists are even proposing a new mental-health condition called “ultra-processed food use disorder.” Diets filled with these foods may raise the risk of mental health issues and sleep disturbances.

4. How UPFs Affect the Brain

Ultra-processed foods hit the brain rapidly when we eat them and have a strong effect on its reward system, which is involved in pleasure, motivation, and learning. These effects are similar to those observed when people use nicotine, alcohol, and other addictive drugs. This may explain why some people find it challenging to resist the allure of UPFs, despite their potential negative consequences.

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