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.