US Nutrition – Americans Eating More Of The Most Unhealthy Foods:
Several times here on HT, we’ve put out posts that confirmed the old adage, “Your food is your medicine.”
Running counter to that is a modern world that seems to be moving faster, becoming less real, and more like an episode of “Black Mirror”.
In that fast & cartoonish world, people can get addicted to new things; like speed, convenience, and immediate-gratification.
Especially when many businesses selling a product today seem to have contorted it into a dopamine-hacking video game of sorts.
Unfortunately, NYU is finding out that, after the great “Farm-to-table” I-am-so-over-this-fad-terminology ban of 2019, Americans are eating more food designed specifically for speed, convenience, and immediate-gratification…
The Short Answer:
- Many times, “Food is your medicine” has been proven true.
- But food designed for convenience, immediate-gratification, and cost can be more like poison.
- Ultra-Processed Foods had their birth some time around the first TV Dinner in 1954.
- A much healthier way of looking at food was started as a reaction to the TV Diner in 1971, California.
- Almost all the research coming out on Ultra-Processed Food indicates it leads to health problems.
- The NYU work looks at data from the CDC between 2001 and 2018.
- Consumption of UPFs went up across the board from 53.5%-57% of the US diet.
- Sugary food & drink consumption went down.
- Frozen heat-and-eat “TV” dinner consumption went up.
- At the same time, unprocessed food consumption went down 5.3%, mostly in the meat & dairy categories.
- These increases and decreases were uniform across all income & demographic groups, except for adult Hispanics and college-graduates.
- Worst of all, Americans over 60 went from eating the least UPFs in 2001 to eating the most by 2018.
- They represent the group most-vulnerable to all the potential health consequences of eating more UPFs & less unprocessed foods.
- Courtney Sexton at Smithsonian Mag also informs us that the frozen-dinner business increased by 50% between 4/19 & 4/20.
- She also notes that there are at least 2-3 new frozen-dinner companies starting up as we speak.
Read on to find out the details…
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We’ve talked about the evils of ultra-processed foods here before.
Shockingly that was well after the invention of the gold-standard UPF, The Swanson TV Dinner, that debuted in 1954.
Coincidentally-enough, that invention was the whole reason that the joke in the opening paragraph was possible,
As the healthier way to eat at restaurants, using the freshest possible, least-processed ingredients was spawned in response to the UPF mania of the 1950s, beginning at one restaurant in 1971 California.
And overused fad-terminology aside, it was a pretty good idea [until hipsters found it].
Because every piece of work that comes out on UPFs shows they only lead to increases in obesity and nutrition-sourced disease.
The sad part about that and the NYU study is this: despite the idea that we become more learned with time and advancements in scientific research,
Americans of all types are actually consuming more ultra-processed foods than before.
No, it’s not just because of the pandemic, although any recent numbers would probably be even more discouraging.
Nope, the current NYU work looks only at the 18 years between 2001-2018 (inclusive) on data from over 40,000 adults participating in the CDC’s NHANES study.
In that work, subjects were asked what they ate in the past 24 hours, and then their food was grouped into 4 categories similar to the ones in the UPF mega-post.
These ranged from basically unprocessed stuff like fruits, vegetables, meats, milk, and eggs,
All the way up to the nutbar-dystopian chemistry jamboree dripping off the sides of giant reagent-tanks at the processed-food factories.
In that data, the consumption of UPFs increased from 53.5% of our diet to 57% at the end of 2018.
Wanna bet that during the pandemic years from 3/2020-12/2021, that number went above 60% of the US diet?
Now perhaps somewhere Michael Bloomberg is smiling, because consumption of sugary foods and beverages declined the most in the UPF category.
But heat-and-eat frozen dinners like our mid-century ‘MURICAN standard Swanson, increased the most.
Total consumption of foods in the most unprocessed category went down even more than UPFs went up, from 32.7%-27.4% – a total of -5.3%.
The main changes in that category were reductions in meat and dairy.
Even worse news than that is that UPF consumption increased in across-the-board fashion.
Every single demographic, regardless of income, changed their consumption in the percentages stated above.
The only groups that escaped slightly less-than-scathed were college graduates and Hispanic adults.
But come on, admit it. If you had tacos, you wouldn’t touch UPFs either.
Most heart-breakingly of all (perhaps literally this time) is the cohort of subjects over the age of 60.
They did a complete 180, going from most unprocessed/least processed consumption back in 2001,
And reversing that to most processed/least unprocessed at the endpoint in 2018.
Sadly, they are the group least-able to afford the health consequences of UPFs.
For example, the list of what excess salt-intake does to someone’s health would only be the start for them.
Add on all the sugar, empty calories, and inflammatory levels of Omega-6 oils at the very least, and you have a grim picture.
Maybe a bulletproof 18-year-old who exercises like a triathlete could handle that, but not someone who is already at greater risk for disease.
The minimum set of problems any normal person might encounter from consistent UPF consumption might be:
2) High blood-pressure
3) Circulatory diseases
4) Inflammation-related disease
6) High cholesterol
7) Premature aging from damaged mitochondrial end-caps (called telomeres)
For someone who’s over 60, the results might be even worse.
And somehow despite that doom and gloom, I swear I hear the 4th Earl of Sandwich and Carl Swanson laughing maniacally like Dr. Evil.
Because according to the American Frozen Food Institute, sales of heat-and-eat frozen dinners were up 50% between April 2019 and April 2020.
And Courtney Sexton over at Smithsonian also informs us, several new frozen food companies are going into business as we speak.
But perhaps this one says it best in all it’s 1971 Chez Panisse-inspired (farm-to-table) glory. Enjoy:
• Source: NYU
• More Coverage: Smithsonian | CDC-NHANES
• Source Study: AJCN – Ultra-processed food consumption among US adults from 2001 to 2018