The Truth About Our Ultra-Processed Food Reliance

Eat REAL’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Robert Lustig contributed to a cover page  Newsweek story. In an attempt to garner more awareness and incite urgency around the state of American health, the cover story highlights the devastating repercussions of our ultra-processed food-dominated diet.

The time to prioritize real food in America was yesterday. Advancements in food preservation and distribution have deviated so far from a healthy path. These Methods of creating ultra-processed food methods have resulted in a population with 42% of adults battling obesity, and 1 in 5 teens facing the same disease. Only 12% of Americans are Metabolically healthy. These statistics are even more devastating in communities of color, where decreased access to nutritious food is prominent. Our efforts need to focus on education, awareness, and action to redesign a healthier food system and prioritize human health over profits.  

Obesity and metabolic diseases directly result from a diet flooded with ultra-processed foods. What is ultra processing? In simple terms, food scientists take whole foods and break them down beyond recognition on a molecular level. They are then reconstructed and fortified to become more shelf-stable, desirable and to trick your brain into consuming more. 

According to the article, Professor of Nutrition Carlos A. Montiero coined the term “ultra-processed”, “ to refer to “industrial formulations made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods (oils, fats, sugar, starch, and proteins), derived from food constituents (hydrogenated fats and modified starch), or synthesized in laboratories from food substrates or other organic sources (such as flavor enhancers, colors and food additives used to make the product hyper-palatable).” Essentially food companies are creating addictive food-like substances for a profit with no interest in nutrition or benefit to consumers’ health. These are the most accessible, widely available, and budget-friendly foods. 

The key ingredient, and most harmful, in these foods is sugar. Excess sugar is linked to fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, increased signs of aging, and some forms of Alzheimer’s. The landscape of ultra-processed foods has trained our brains to crave more sugar and think that everything needs to be unnaturally sweet. This is also the main component driving food-related addictions. 

The science is widely available, the consequences are visible, and in many other countries around the world these “ultra-processed” foods are rarely eaten; So why is nothing being done in America? Are we a country so consumed by capitalism and profits that human life is seen as an acceptable price to pay for these companies?

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