Do Ultra-processed Foods Increase Dementia?

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.”    Michael Pollan



Grab a handful of Oreos instead of  ½ an apple – could this choice increase your risk of developing dementia? The answer is yes according to a recent study published in the Journal of Neurology (1).   Researchers compared 18,000 people whose diets included little processed food with the same number who ate a lot of processed foods.  

Consumption of Ultra-processed foods (UPF) was associated with 10 % higher risk of developing dementia including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.   Replacing 10 % of UPF weight in diet with an equivalent proportion of unprocessed or minimally processed foods was estimated to be associated with a 19% lower risk of dementia.  This is great news!  We definitely can decrease the risk of developing dementia, as well as many other disorders, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes, by making smarter food choices!

What are ultra-processed foods?  

Ultra-processed foods are high in sugar, fat and salt, but low in protein and fiber.  Think of a Big Mac with fries and a Coke.  Other examples include sodas, salty and sugary snacks and desserts, ice cream, sausage, deep-fried chicken, flavored yogurt, ketchup, mayonnaise, packaged white bread and flavored cereals.  Many of these foods are loaded with unhealthy ingredients, including preservatives, artificial coloring and added sugars.  Not only do they contain an exorbitant amount of saturated fats and sugars, but they lack significant amounts of protein, fiber and vital nutrients.


What are some smarter food choices?

Try swapping out some of these and see how much better you feel.  Many times, by doing so, you lose the craving for the sugary and salty alternatives.  And may even lose a few pounds along the way!

Healthy                                                                              Unhealthy                                                                         

Bran cereal/ Oatmeal with fresh fruit                                 Flavored cereal

Hummus and veggies                                                        Potato chips and dip

Sweet potatoes, air-fried                                                    French fries

Falafel with pita bread                                                        Ham sandwich on white bread

Lentil veggie burger  with side salad                                  Cheeseburger


By incorporating more plant foods and less UPF into our diets, we can decrease our risk of developing dementia while also improving our overall health and well-being. When we sit down for every meal, we have the choice to eat more nutrient dense foods and less UPF.

For me, following the Mediterranean diet – more legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables and less meat /more fish works best.  Please comment which foods you’ll swap out now that you know about the harmful effects of UPF.

For a delicious, healthy and refreshing treat without any UPF,  please try the recipe for Watermelon Salad with Feta and Cucumber from Sara Welch,  @DinnerAtTheZoo


  • 3 cups watermelon cubed or balled
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced cucumber seeds removed
  • 2 tablespoons mint thinly sliced or small mint leaves
  • 1/3 cup feta cheese crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place the watermelon, cucumber and mint in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice and salt and pepper.
  3. Drizzle the dressing over the melon mixture and toss to coat. Sprinkle with feta and serve.


Calories: 168kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 11mg | Sodium: 142mg | Potassium: 209mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 845IU | Vitamin C: 12.8mg | Calcium: 83mg | Iron: 0.6mg

Mint from my garden of mint!

-          In health and happiness




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