Ultra-Processed Food Dangers. The Snack That Bites Back!:
We all worry to some extent about Nutrition.
And we’re all reminded on a fairly-regular basis to eat right.
This also comes with some vague stipulation about avoiding certain things.
But it may not always be clear other than the obvious platitudes.
However, recently a French team is looking into the How & Why of avoiding increasingly processed-foods,
And they are slowly putting together some actual Facts & Figures about why you really want to listen…
Making Bland Recommendations A Little Clearer:
So when anyone says, “Processed Foods” in a nutrition context, you immediately get the implication.
Bad for you.
But Why? How Much? And can’t I just have one Twinkie?
Well the French INSERM team has crunched the data for you.
And the short answer is: What they call “Ultra-Processed Foods” leave out a whole bunch of good stuff that “normal” food has,
And also put back in a ton of extra stuff you don’t need, like Sugar, Salt, Saturated Fats, and Food-Additives,
All of which resulted in people who eat them having a higher risk of early-mortality.
Read on to find out more…
Easy Vs. Healthy:
So awhile back HT made the case that eating whole fruit was better for you than drinking juice,
Even from a juicer.
And the reasons why added-up to the exclusion of some great natural stuff like Water, Vitamins, Minerals, And Fiber,
And the hyper-concentration of liquid-sugars.
Well, one guess where we find a similar-narrative.
Big Study, Big Results:
So in a study of 45,000 men and women aged 45+, studied over the course of 8 years,
Laure Schnabel’s team at the Sorbonne found for every 10% of total-calories sourced from UPFs,
The all-cause risk of early-death went up by 14%.
Wait, it gets worse.
Because for every one of the subjects, their intake of UPFs accounted for almost 30% of their total food intake.
So that’s about a 42% increase in the mortality-correlation for the average participant,
-Versus the average person getting none, much-less the “perfect eaters” from Sardinia or Okinawa.
Even More Daunting Correlations:
In-addition to that increase, the study data was sliced & diced to reveal more.
People who ate more UPF-items were also more likely to be:
2) Less Educated
3) Socially Isolated
5) And Already Overweight
So the subject most at-risk already had several factors working against them.
So What Causes Ultra-Processed Foods To Be So Bad?:
The story of UPFs looks like 3 factors:
So For Cost:
Anyone who’s been to the grocery-store knows that usually the healthiest-food can be a little bit up there in cost.
And just like an economy-car, much of UPFs are built to a certain price.
So the manufacturer probably just can’t keep some things in profitably.
There’s a saying about some potato-chips, that You Can’t Eat Just One.
And this is because Fat, Salt & Carbs really hack our dopamine-system.
Well, just like any fancy restaurant or catering chef knows,
Any time you want to create a more pleasing culinary experience, add more Fat, Salt, and Sugar.
And even in price-sensitive manufacturing, hitting those primal taste-points is possible, habit-forming, and profitable.
And For Crowding-Out:
This is probably a similar mechanism to fruit vs. juice.
The process alone of making these foods leaves less and less of the actual viable nutrients in the ingredients.
Just the way your gut-instinct tells you that any natural food that’s not super-fresh probably isn’t as healthy.
It would also be too costly for a manufacturer to put back-in any of the vitamins and minerals in viable form that were stripped out of the ingredients during the process.
They come in dilute, buffered, slow-release forms that are almost impossible to overdose-on, and cause no problems when your body absorbs them.
If It’s For Sale, It’s Safe Right? What’s The Risk?:
Just as it’s cost-effective for manufacturers to hit all the right basic food-addiction tastes,
They also overdo it.
The amount of Sugar, Salt, and Fat in processed-foods is off-the-charts compared with just plain fruit, veg, and lean-meats you might prepare yourself.
That of-course will raise your blood-sugar, make you store fat, and ultimately cause inflammation-related disease.
The salt will mess with your blood-pressure, kill off some of your gut-microbes and lead to other inflammation-related diseases and obesity.
The higher fat content will tend to make you consume more calories in-total than you normally-would, because of its Calorie-Density.
And the fact that much of that Fat will be Saturated will clog your blood-vessels, and if Neal Barnard is right, possibly increase your odds of getting Dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Return Of The Trans-Fats. Toxicity In Our City:
It’s not just the fact that most food-in-a-box is de-contented, over-processed, and packed full of too much of those first 3 ingredients.
It’s not just that you aren’t getting the Fiber you need to feed your gut microbes, and the excess salt is killing them off.
Ultra-Processed Foods have TONS of Additives, too.
And just-because the government outlawed Trans-Fats, doesn’t mean there aren’t other additives in UPFs that could be just as bad.
They just haven’t been studied yet, the way margarine had.
The Stealthy Risks Of Additives:
So we don’t know which ones are bad and what the sketchy dosage-level is.
Not to mention the fact that the Heat and Oxidation of food-processing may also create harmful substances.
For example, every UPF is pretty-much guaranteed to have either Corn, Soybean, or Canola Oil as the main non-saturated fat source.
All of these are full of inflammation-causing Omega 6 oils.
And that’s just three of the potentially-dangerous ingredients we know about.
So How Is Processed Food Classified In The NOVA System?:
So the scale that the French study went by roughly goes like this:
1) Unprocessed Foods:
These are things like Fruit, Vegetables, Nuts, Seeds, Meat, etc.
They are only changed in ways that don’t impact their nutrition, and to make them edible.
The few exceptions are things like roasting coffee beans and pasteurizing milk.
2) Processed Ingredients:
These include things like oils, roasted nuts, salt from seawater, or vinegar.
They are usually only 1 step away from the first category.
Sometimes basic shelf-life extending additives may be included.
The foods in this category are generally just added to the ones in category 1 as a condiment, flavoring, or seasoning.
3) Processed Foods:
These are generally what you might call “cooked” or minimally-processed foods.
They will include things like Bread, Pickled vegetables, Fermented foods like Cheese and Plain Yogurt,
And generally any combination of groups 1&2 that was prepared into a meal you might eat at home or a restaurant from otherwise minimally-processed ingredients.
4) Ultra-Processed Foods:
These are usually made from industrially-processed extracts of the others.
They will generally have all kinds of additives like stabilizers, antioxidants, shelf-life-extenders,
And high-levels of the aforementioned Sugars, Fats, and Salt.
These can also include artificial-ingredients like artificial colors, flavors, etc. only possible through scientific procedures. One example would be the hydrogenation of oils to thicken them.
Basically, anything in the supermarket that’s like a Processed Meat, Snack Food, Frozen Dinner, or Soft Drink.
It’s Not Easy, But It’s Worth It:
And Yes, that last one covers an awful lot of food you see in the supermarket.
Everything from cookies, to Hot Pockets, to the immortal Twinkie that will outlive all the Okinawa centenarians.
But the point of all this research and discussion is not to restate what would seem obvious.
It’s to make the actual risks and eventual consequences real and memorable.
So at least in the first-world, we’re all spoiled for choice.
But you have to be careful how “easy” you make your mealtimes.
Because it’s very hard to do better than the first 3 categories in the NOVA classification-system above.
Good nutrition that helps instead of hurts is about a lot more than Fat, Salt, and Sugar; and the numbers prove it.
And although the main tasting-notes will be covered, Ultra-Processed Foods will leave a big hole in the picture for what your body really needs.
Photo Credits: “cornflakes”, by Dantesz
• Source Studies: JAMA – Association Between Ultraprocessed Food Consumption and Risk of Mortality Among Middle-aged Adults in France | The Nutri-Net Study
• More Coverage: The NOVA Food Classification System | YT – Julia Rucklidge UPFs may have psychological impacts, too