Research shows a link between eating more processed meat, such as bacon, ham, and sausage, and increased risk of dementia. You’re better off ditching processed meat for more healthful options, such as tempeh bacon featured above.
We’ve all heard the research linking processed meats to increased cancer risk, heart disease risk, and type 2 diabetes, but there is growing concern about the link between eating more processed meats and risk of dementia. In fact, a recent observational study from the United Kingdom found an association between processed meat consumption and dementia risk.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a general term—rather than a specific disorder—that is used to describe symptoms such as loss of memory, impairment of cognitive function, and loss of other thinking abilities, including language and problem-solving. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, and according to the World Health Organization, there are around 50 million cases of dementia globally. Around 10 million new cases are diagnosed every year, and unfortunately, the CDC predicts that the number of US adults with dementia will increase greatly by 2060.
Diet and Dementia
Certain lifestyle factors, including diet, may contribute to an individual’s risk of developing dementia. In fact, an emerging body of research has linked healthy, plant-based diets to brain protection and lower risk of dementia. A diet rich in phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, fibers, healthy carbs, and healthy fats may be the key to reducing inflammation and helping to protect the brain. On the contrary, diets high in sodium, saturated fats, and processed meats has been linked with increasing inflammation.
Processed Meats and Dementia Research
The researchers of this study looked at dietary questionnaires filled out by 493,888 volunteers in the United Kingdom who were aged 40-69. Then, the researchers looked at hospital and mortality records to find out information about dementia cases. Additionally, the researchers also looked at other factors that may have influenced whether or not the volunteers developed dementia, including socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, and education. Overall, 2,896 of the volunteers had all-cause dementia.
Overall, the researchers found that for every additional 25-gram portion of processed meat eaten per day, the risk of developing dementia increased by 44%. It was also associated with a 52% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Because this was an observational study, it should be noted these findings only demonstrate an association rather than causation. However, with all of the research showing the health benefits of a plant-based diet, giving up processed meat and adopting a diet full of healthy plants and vegetables might be best for both you and the earth.
What Is Processed Meat?
Health organizations have defined processed meat as meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives. Examples of processed meat include ham, bacon, pastrami, sausages, hot dogs, and luncheon meats. What’s in processed meat that may be behind health risks? Research suggests that it might be due to the added nitrites and nitrates, saturated fat, salt, compounds produced in processing and cooking of these products, or the heme iron in red meat.
Ditch the Processed Meat
The AIRC review found no safe level at which to recommend processed meat intake. So, skip the processed meat by swapping them out with the following foods:
- Try tempeh, tofu, or soy alternatives for bacon, sausage, and hot dogs.
- Enjoy baked tofu or tempeh as an easy replacement for processed meat in cooking, sandwiches, or salads.
- Enjoy more meals based on whole plant foods, such as beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Power up on more fruits and vegetables at meal times.
Read more about the research linking processed meat to cancer risk here.
For more research updates, check out these blogs:
- Lower Blood Lipid Levels with a Plant-Based Diet
- Nutrition for Longevity: Can Plant-Based Diets Reduce Mortality Risk?
- Environmental Impact of a Healthy Plant Based Diet
- Plant-Based Diet Lowers Heart Disease Risk
- Eat More Plant Foods for Better Mental Health
- Research on Plant-Based Diet Quality and Cancer Risk