Ultra processed food.
The same three ingredients a thousand different ways.
While we discuss / argue about whether we should eat meat or not, whether paleo or plant based is best, attention is diverted from the primary culprit in today’s health catastrophe, ultra-processed food.
Think about a typical day’s food for many people:
Breakfast – cereal and milk, orange juice, maybe a sweetened yoghurt, or toast and spread.
Morning tea – cereal bar or muffin, perhaps potato chips
Lunch – sandwich with light brown or white bread. A little ham with salad. Or maybe instant noodles. Cookie.
Afternoon tea – another cereal bar, or crackers, maybe another cookie
To drink – soft drinks or fruit juice
Dinner – pasta or rice, vegetables and protein. Cake for dessert.
Today around 60% of the American diet is now comprised of ultra-processed food, and added sugars comprise 15% of total calories (Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study)
This chart shows clearly the grains, added sugars and added fats and oils:
The variety of foods available has increased dramatically. Between 1975 and 2008, the number of products in the average supermarket swelled from an average of 8,948 to almost 47,000, according to the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group.
So while the number of foods has increased, the ingredient list is basically the same.
Which three ingredients make up the bulk of ultra-processed food?
Highly refined vegetable oil (pure fat, typically high in omega 6)
Highly refined cereal flours, usually wheat (pure starch, converts rapidly to glucose during digestion, i.e. sugar)
Sugar (glucose / fructose)
These foods are a far cry from natural or unprocessed. While our brain is telling us we are getting varied diet (different flavours and textures) full of natural goodness (that artificial strawberry is not real strawberry goodness), we are not. We are ingesting the same 3 ingredients made into multiple combinations.
And not surprisingly the excess calories that people in the USA are eating are all from these three food ingredients:
Here two examples of processed food showing their composition:
Typical white bread with a small amount of whole grain added
And here is another- this time a blueberry muffin:
As you can see besides the three main ingredients, there are a number of additives:
Synthetic colour and flavour
Added single synthetic vitamins
I’ve put together a chart which compares the ingredients in whole unprocessed food to ultra-processed food.
Whatever your belief about what is the healthiest diet, I think we all agree that avoiding ultra-processed food and switching to unprocessed food is the best thing we can do for our health.