I took a journalism class back in the day. One of the things I remember a professor saying was, “Dog Bites Man” is NOT news. But “Man Bites Dog” IS news.
That memory came to mind when I saw a recent news story from NBC-TV. The gist of the report was that ultra-processed foods are bad for us.
Well, duh! That did not seem like news to me. Now, if someone had proven that hot dogs, ice cream, sugary cereals and soft drinks ARE good for us, that would be news.
But after reading the article and a few others like it, I understood what they were really saying. They reported that ultra-processed foods aren’t just bad for us. They can also have serious negative effects on blood pressure and heart health.
Sugars and Fat and Additives, Oh My!
The news stories were based on the results of recent studies. The studies linked ultra-processed foods to significant health problems.
Ultra-processed foods include frozen meals you can pop into your microwave oven. Others include canned foods, reconstituted meats and packaged baked goods.
Generally speaking, they each contain added sugars and salt. Plus high fat levels and a variety of additives.
It’s difficult to prove that ultra-processed foods lead directly to major health problems. But the studies from France and Spain confirmed what was already widely believed.
Studies Reveal ‘Alarming Trend’
The Spanish study involved 20,000 men and women. And their eating habits from 1999 to 2014.
The French study tracked more than 105,000 adults for five years. The participants filled out very detailed food questionnaires over a number of years.
Another recent study found something interesting. People who eat ultra-processed foods consume an average of 500 more calories per day than those who eat fresh meats, vegetables and fruits.
The new studies highlight “an alarming trend.” That’s according to Dr. Erin Michos. She’s an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
A Weighty Issue
Maira Bes-Rastrollo is a professor of preventative medicine and public health. That’s at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain.
She said many of the problems associated with ultra-processed foods are the outcome of a calorie intake increase. And increased weight.
These types of food do not include many, if any, nutrients. So, a body that consumes them then craves more food that does have those nutrients.
An unknown is the potential long-term health effects of additives.
Processing Is the Culprit
The studies indicate that it is the processing system itself that makes food less nutritious.
Mark Lawrence is a food policy expert from Deakin University in Geelong, Australia.
He says the findings of the studies add weight to the evidence that highly processed foods are linked to poor health.
“The nature of the cause is associated with the physical and chemical changes that happen to the food as a result of this high degree of industrial processing,” he said.
Easy, Convenient… and Unhealthy
Researchers involved with the studies said ultra-processed foods are consumed because they are so easy to grab, and sometimes heat up.
But they are quick to add something else. Healthy alternatives only take about 10 minutes to prepare. They include frozen fish and vegetables, plus whole grain pasta.
Michos said, “We need to go back to what our ancestors ate. Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts.”
She suggests avoiding foods that were prepared in a laboratory.
Too Much Processed Food
The biggest concern is how much ultra-processed food there is out there. And how many of these foods are consumed by Americans and the world at large.
“Ultra-processed foods already make up more than half of the total dietary energy consumed in high-income countries. Such as the USA, Canada and the UK,” Bes-Rastrollo told CNN.
“In the case of Spain, the consumption of ultra-processed food almost tripled between 1990 and 2010.”
She added that products in the ultra-processed category are low in vitamin density and fiber content.
Plenty of Other Options
“(Ultra-processed foods) are economically profitable, very palatable and convenient,” she said. “They have attractive packaging and intense marketing.”
Among other ultra-processed foods are sausages, mayonnaise, pizza and cookies. As well as potato chips, artificially sweetened beverages and liquor. Including gin, rum and whiskey.
Bes-Rastrollo said in many cases ultra-processed foods are replacing “unprocessed or minimally processed” food.
Those latter foods include fruits, vegetables and legumes. And milk, eggs, meat, poultry and seafood. Plus yogurt, grains and natural juice.
It’s in Our Hands
So, there you have it. All the evidence points to highly processed foods being bad for us. And contributing to serious health problems.
With all of the healthy alternatives, we don’t have any excuse for eating excessive amounts of ultra-processed foods.