A new study published in the Journal of the World Public Health and Nutrition Association concludes that a rapid rise in the consumption of ‘ultra-processed’ food and drinks could be the main dietary cause of obesity.
A rise in the size of our country’s waistlines has mirrored the climbing consumption of highly processed foods and drinks since the 1980s. In the study researchers outline three different types of food processing:
Minimal processing, which does not significantly change the nutritional profile of foods, such as drying, parboiling or pasteurizing, like unsweetened dried fruit, nuts, or organic skim milk.
Semi-processing, which involves altering whole foods by extracting substances, adding enzymes, or refining them, such as turning whole grain rice into white rice, or making corn syrup from corn.
And ultra-processing, which combines several semi-processed ingredients. The study points out that the five most commonly eaten foods in the United States are all ultra-processed: sugary soft drinks, cakes and pastries, burgers, pizza, and chips.
Scientists say the main purpose of ultra-processing is the creation of shelf-stable, ready-to-eat products, which are problematic in two ways. First, they are too high in saturated or trans-fats, sugar and sodium, and too low in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Second, they tend to be calorie packed per bite, readily available, often super-sized, and heavily marketed; which all add up to overeating by throwing off our normal appetite, hunger and satiety mechanisms.
This study reflects everything I and other “clean eating” experts have been touting for years, but I love how concisely it describes and categorizes processed foods and explains why ultra-processing is such a BIG problem. It’s the exact reason why I created the 7 Day Clean Eating Challenge (it’s never too late to start!). And I thought it was particularly fitting to cap off this week’s posts, which have focused on undoing the damage from too much Halloween candy, which definitely falls in the ultra-processed category.
From today through the weekend if you’re still attempting to get back into pre-Halloween shape, give the ingredients in each of your meals a report card:
Whole, unprocessed foods (e.g. fresh fruits and veggies) earn an A.
Minimally processed foods (items that are pretty close to their natural state, like rolled oats, extra virgin olive oil, natural almond butter, etc.) earn a B.
Semi-processed foods (unlike the way they grew naturally, like white pasta) earn a C.
Ultra-processed foods (cookies, frozen dinners, candy, etc.) earn a D.
Ultra-processed foods with artificial additives and ingredients you can’t pronounce earn an F.
You don’t have to score a perfect 4.0 but aim for a great overall GPA!