In recent years it is seen there has been a rise in the cases of obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, etc., in the western countries. The rise in such incidences suggests that such problems have now reached epic levels and the side effects of the same are clearly visible in the young generation. A recent study reveals that the side effects of consuming takeaway food that consists of red processed meat, soft drinks, refined and fried food are not limited to these problems alone. It can significantly affect a person’s score in cognitive tasks.
The study shows that higher intake of western diet has resulted in diminished cognitive performance at age 17. Today more and more people are becoming aware of dangers of a western diet. The thing is such diets are high in calorie dense foods which are often low on nutrients. A person who has a high intake of such foods that are characterized by saturated fats, sodium and refined carbohydrates, is at the highest risk of developing health complications. It is also noted that people with a western diet typically have a low intake of nutrients rich food like vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
In this new study, researchers found that participants who have a western diet typically characterized by high intakes of takeaway food, red and processed meat, fried and refined food and soft drinks had a low score lower in cognitive tasks. In particular, it was seen that cognitive tasks which involves reaction time/psychomotor function, visual attention, learning and memory were affected.
The researched revealed that high intake of chips and crisps were significantly associated with longer reaction times on detection tasks. Similar tests were also carried out on their peers who had a higher intake of fruits and leafy vegetables. It was seen that they fared better in cognitive performance. Lead researcher Dr. Anett Nyaradi stated that the likely reason for the same may be the micronutrient content in fruits and vegetables. Folate which is abundant in green leafy vegetables is known to enhance cognitive development.
This study was led by UWA and the Telethon Kids Institute and involved 602 members of the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study. Each of the people participating in the study filled out a food frequency questionnaire at age 14 then underwent a battery of cognitive tasks three years later.
What makes this study by Dr. Nyaradi’s different from previous studies is that it examines diet as a whole, unlike previous studies which focussed on single nutrients.
Dr. Nyaradi opined that several factors can be at play in this diet-related decline in cognitive skills. These factors also include the high level of omega-6 fatty acids in fried foods and red meat. For the best functioning of metabolic pathways the ideal ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is 1:1, but in the western diet it can shift to a ratio as high as 1:20 or 1:25. Dr. Nayadri also added that a high intake of saturated fat and simple carbohydrates is linked to the impairment in the functioning of hippocampus – the brain structure that is centrally involved in learning and memory. It increases its volume during adolescence. This phase in a person’s life is critical for brain development. It is very likely that a poor diet during this period has a significant effect on the cognitive development of a person. The findings of this study have important implications for future health promotion programs and health policies.
The study also involved Curtin University, the Health Department of WA and WZB Berlin Social Research Centre, Germany.