A rapidly growing body of research is highlighting the dangers of the typical intake of ultraprocessed, packaged, convenience foods in the U.S., according to the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter.
For most of human history, food was difficult to come by and humans battled starvation and malnutrition. The development of food processing helped positively transform the food environment—and health. Canning (and then freezing) made vegetables and fruits available year-round; pasteurization stopped outbreaks of bacterial infection from milk; preservatives prevented spoilage and extended shelf-life; and enrichment allowed refined flour to become a dietary staple without risk of malnutrition. Safe food became available anytime, anywhere, and at a relatively cheap price. Now, the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction.
Processing moved from preserving food, enhancing vitamin content, and improving safety to creating entirely new foodstuffs: breaded nuggets of mechanically separated chicken bits; irresistibly crispy snacks of refined flour, salt, and flavorings; sweet drinks that never saw a piece of fruit; and all manner of foods with few if any ingredients in their intact, natural form. Most of these products have undergone intense processes, such as refining, high-temperature extrusion, or molding. They typically include colors, flavorings, emulsifiers, and other artificial ingredients designed to enhance flavor, mouth feel, and cravings. Although that description isn’t very appetizing, these “ultraprocessed” foods are often attractive, hyper-palatable, cheap, ready-to-eat—and the major source of calories in many countries, including the U.S.
I have to confess that I love the taste of fried food. I don’t eat a lot of it for health reasons, but few foods taste more delicious to me.
Fried-food intake is linked to a heightened risk of major heart disease and stroke, finds a pooled analysis of the available research data, published online in the journal Heart.
And the risk rises with each additional 114 g (4.02 ounces) weekly serving, the analysis indicates.
It’s clear that the Western diet doesn’t promote good cardiovascular health, but it’s not clear exactly what contribution fried food might make to the risks of serious heart disease and stroke, say the researchers.
To shed some light on this, they trawled research databases, looking for relevant studies published up to April 2020, and found 19.
In a November 29, 2018 New York Times article, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Eric Rimm advised limiting consumption of potatoes, which he called “starch bombs.” Potatoes have a high glycemic index, which has been linked with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, according to the article.
Rimm, professor of epidemiology and nutrition and director of Harvard Chan School’s Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology, said that french fries—coated in oil and sometimes served with high-calorie toppings like cheese or chili—are a particularly unhealthful form of potatoes. Referring to fast-food meals that come with fries, he said, “I think it would be nice if your meal came with a side salad and six french fries.”
I confess that I love french fries. I also confess that I don’t eat them very often because of their fat content and fears of what I am putting into my system. The following is from The Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
Q. Potatoes are a vegetable, so why aren’t French fries good for you? Are the nutrients destroyed in the frying process?
A. “A medium baked potato (with skin) is a good source of potassium, vitamins C and B6, and fiber. But potatoes don’t contain other nutrients, such as the carotenoids and phytochemicals found in more brightly-colored vegetables,” says Helen Rasmussen, PhD, RD, a senior research dietitian at Tufts’ Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. “Peeling to remove the skin to make fries and chips results in the loss of a large portion of the fiber, further diminishing the potato’s nutritional value. In addition, French fries are typically salted. Most of us consume more than the recommended amount of sodium, and eating highly salted foods like fries makes that situation worse.”
“Deep frying potatoes to turn them into French fries does not change them that much, but it does increase the number of calories per serving, so we get less nutrients per calorie when we eat them. We each need a particular number of calories to fuel our bodies, and we also need a sufficient intake of many different nutrients. If we choose to consume something like French fries frequently and in a large quantity, we will surpass our calorie needs before we meet all of our nutrient needs, which can impact health.”
“Enjoy potatoes sometimes as part of a balanced, healthy dietary pattern. Think of them as a substitute for grains rather than vegetables when you fill up your plate. Leave the skin on, prepare them in a variety of ways, and avoid adding a lot of butter, cream, and salt. Round out your plate with plenty of colorful vegetables and other plant foods.”
A hundred years ago, it seems, when I ate at McDonald’s regularly, I never missed a chance to enjoy their fries. This study from Medical News Today suggests that wasn’t the best idea. Fortunately, I am no longer a regular at Mickey D’s.
Eating two to three portions of fried potatoes each week could increase the risk of early death.
Do you want fries with that? A new study provides a good reason to say “no,” after finding that eating two to three portions of fried potatoes every week could raise the risk of early death by twofold.
As a guy with a sweet tooth as well as a salty tooth, I struggled with my weight for years. Fries, especially at Mickey D’s were always a frightful temptation for me. Love ’em to death. So, it was enlightening to learn what some of the ingredients are in those delicious tid bits.