Despite the wealth of evidence that phony foods are contributing mightily to the nation’s burgeoning obesity epidemic, tens of millions of Americans have not gotten the message and are still getting the bulk of their daily dietary intake from “ultra-processed food,” CBS News reported in March.
In fact, new research finds that more than half of the calories consumed in the United States come from such foods, which contribute not only to obesity but to heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses related to it.
Ultra-processed foods are those that contain numerous manufactured ingredients that are not generally used when you cook fresh, from scratch. They include “natural” and artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, sweeteners and other additives. Often, these processed “fake” foods are used to appear similar in taste and texture to the real thing, or “to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product,” Carlos Augosto Monteiro, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and the study’s lead author, told CBS News.
Designed to be ‘appealing to our taste buds’
“Different from processed culinary ingredients — like salt, table sugar, vegetable oils, and butter — and from processed foods, like cheese and simple breads, ultra-processed foods are hardly part of a diet based on minimally processed foods and freshly prepared drinks, dishes and meals,” he added. “Instead, they are manufactured and marketed to replace those foods, drinks, dishes and meals.”
Examples of ultra-processed foods include sugary soft drinks, packaged snacks that are overly sweet, reconstituted meat products like chicken nuggets and fish sticks, instant noodles, soups and other pre-packaged foods.
“What you’re really getting are chemicals — additives, things like preservatives, sweeteners, coloring, flavoring, trans fats, emulsifiers. These are all chemicals that are then put back into ‘fake’ foods to make them taste real,” CBS News medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips added on a recent episode of CBS This Morning.
Heavily processed foods are dangerous because of their outsized concentrations of sugar, trans fat and sodium, all of which contribute to numerous health problems like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol. In addition, ultra-processed foods have been linked to increased risk of developing certain cancers.
“This study gave us an incredible perspective on how much of our diet is made up of these ultra-processed foods,” Phillips said.
An Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, Alissa Rumsey, said that these foods are generally low in fiber and antioxidants, and they lack essential vitamins and minerals. In short, they provide lots of calories but little nutritional benefit.
“Ultra-processed foods are designed to appeal to our taste buds, and can often lead us to crave more,” she told CBS News. “These foods are ones that can be eaten mindlessly, making it easy to overeat them without even realizing how much you are having.”
That is by design, as Natural News reported in March 2013:
Even though the average American does not view junk food as an addiction, researchers have discovered unhealthy food can actually seize the brain in the same way nicotine, cocaine and other drugs do — leaving us at the mercy of cravings and binges.
Sugar is addictive
For the study in Brazil, which was published in the online journal BMJ Open, Monteiro and his research team examined dietary data from more than 9,000 children, adolescents and adults from the 2009–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The team discovered that ultra-processed foods made up nearly 60 percent of the total calories consumed – as well as 90 percent of the calorie intake from added sugars.
The team concluded that decreasing the consumption of ultra-processed foods would be an effective way to reduce added sugar intake. But to make that happen, he said that changes in public policy would be required, such as marketing restrictions and adjustments in fiscal policies that would make ultra-processed foods much less attractive.
A separate report from January 2018 revealed that even representatives from the sugar industry admit that high levels of the sweet stuff are addictive.
J. D. Heyes