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.
What is the difference? Definitions vary, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture says anything that changes the fundamental nature of an agricultural product – heating, freezing, dicing, juicing – is a processed food.
In my experience fiber is much like the weather in Mark Twain’s wonderful quote, “Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.” Well, almost. Most people know about fiber and some even work on consuming enough. But not most of us.
Practically all foods undergo some form of processing before they are ready to eat—from simple processes like cutting and cooking to more complex processes like homogenizing, pasteurizing, fermenting, fortifying, refining, hydrolyzing, and extruding. Processing makes raw foods more palatable, minimizes spoilage, changes texture and flavor, modifies nutrient content, and creates convenience.
The Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter says that some processing, like freezing, pasteurization, vacuum-packing, and (non-alcoholic) fermentation have beneficial effects on health: preserving nutrients, increasing digestibility and availability of some nutrients, or preventing food-borne illness. But in other cases, processing has some negative health effects: partial hydrogenation of fat, for example, creates trans fats that have been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease; refining of grains reduces nutrient content and creates rapidly digested concentrated starch which increases risk for weight gain, diabetes, and other negative health effects; and addition of excess salt and sugar is tied to a whole host of illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Having a clear understanding of these health impacts and what makes a food “processed” is crucial to good dietary decision making.
I have been writing positively about the value of nuts in the diet for some years now. If you would like to read some of those posts, type n u t s into the search box on the right.
Increasing nut consumption by just half a serving (14 g or ½ oz) a day is linked to less weight gain and a lower risk of obesity, suggests a large, long term observational study, published in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.
Substituting unhealthy foods, such as processed meats, French fries, and crisps (potato chips) with a half a serving of nuts may be a simple strategy to ward off the gradual weight gain that often accompanies the aging process, suggest the researchers.
On average, US adults pile on 1lb or nearly half a kilo every year. Gaining 2.5-10 kilos in weight is linked to a significantly greater risk of heart disease/stroke and diabetes.
Nuts are rich in healthy unsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre, but they are calorie dense, so often not thought of as good for weight control. But emerging evidence suggests that the quality of what’s eaten may be as important as the quantity.
Experts agree plants should make up a large part of a healthy dietary pattern. Humans eat plant roots (carrots and radishes), stems (asparagus and celery), leaves (leafy greens), seeds (including whole grains), flowers (broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke), and the seed-bearing “fruits” of plants (including fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts). All are packed with important health-promoting nutrients, and countless studies have found associations between consuming diets higher in unprocessed plant foods and lower risk for a wide range of disorders such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. But recommendations to eat a “plant-based” diet can be misleading. “I really dislike the term plant-based to describe a preferred or healthy diet,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, dean of Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and editor-in-chief of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. “Not all animal-based foods are bad, and most of the worst things in the food supply are technically plant-based.” A vegetarian diet built on pizza, macaroni-and-cheese, and baked goods may be “plant-based,” but it’s far from a healthy dietary pattern. Continue reading →
I have been hearing about and reading about the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for as long as I have been writing this blog (10 years in case you are new here). But, I don’t know a heck of a lot about it. Here is the skinny from Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter.
More than a diet plan, this health-promoting food pattern allows room for preferences.
A Mediterranean diet can be as varied as the countries and cultures that surround the Mediterranean Sea.
This large and diverse region includes 22 countries located within Europe, Africa, and Asia, including Greece, France, Spain, and Italy, but also Turkey, Morocco, Libya, and Egypt. “It is important to recognize that these countries encompass a wide array of cultural and culinary traditions, which means there is no single version of the ‘Mediterranean’ diet,” says Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, a professor at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. “The good news is, that means a Mediterranean-type dietary pattern can be adapted to many different tastes and preferences.” Continue reading →
Most people are aware that they need to cut down on their salt (sodium) intake. That’s a good start. However, some ‘facts of life’ prove extremely helpful in the lower sodium quest, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Spoiler alert: your table salt shaker isn’t the main culprit.
Restaurant foods and commercially processed foods sold in stores accounted for about 70 percent of dietary sodium intake in a study in three U.S. regions.
Salt added at home during food preparation or at the table accounted for a small fraction of dietary sodium.
These findings confirm earlier recommendations from the Institute of Medicine to lower dietary sodium by decreasing the amount in commercially processed foods.
It seems that “’The sight, smell, or taste of some foods will trigger the cephalic food response,” according to Dr. Belinda Lennerz, an endocrinologist and researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
The bread basket is a prime culprit in restaurants because it triggers your body’s ‘give me more’ responses and spikes your blood sugar levels.
Eating a small amount of anything around meal time will probably goose your appetite rather than mellow it out. But some foods are worse than others. Continue reading →
The American Heart Association strongly refutes the findings of a May 20, 2016 article in The Lancet by Mente, et al, that suggest low sodium intake is related to a higher risk of heart disease and death. On the contrary, the link between excessive sodium and high blood pressure – as well as higher risks of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease – is indisputable. Lowering sodium is more important than ever.
Consider the following: • One-third of Americans have high blood pressure • 90% of all American adults will develop hypertension over their lifetime • Heart disease and stroke are the world’s two leading causes of death(my emphasis)
“The findings in this study are not valid, and you shouldn’t use it to inform yourself about how you’re going to eat,” said Mark A. Creager, M.D., president of the American Heart Association and director of the Heart and Vascular Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “The large body of science clearly shows how excessive amounts of sodium in the American diet can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke, and even death.” Continue reading →
The sweet tooth seems to require a treat now and then. But why are most food manufacturers overdoing the sweetness thingy. You have an ice-cream treat and although it initially tastes nice, after half is consumed you feel the sugar molecules crawling in your mouth with the sugar taste lingering for several hours. The same with a blueberry cheesecake. The sweetness is just overwhelming.
I could go on and on. I am not after sugar replacements, I just want the sweetness to be toned down.
Trend to reduce sugar intake
Actually, reducing sugar intake has become a key concern amongst many consumers. In a recent 2,500-strong European consumer survey, a quarter of those asked preferred low sugar food products, findings that seem to confirm the continuing shift in consumer efforts to reduce sugar intake. They also found that more than 60% of those surveyed…
The American Heart Association recommends we limit our sodium consumption to 1500 mg per day, but that doesn’t mean we have to eliminate salt from our diet. We just need to pay attention to how much we are consuming.
I thought there were some particularly useful ideas in this, particularly that 75 percent of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods.
Because I have both Alzheimer’s and dementia in my family, I have been reading tons about the brain for several years. If you would like to learn even more than the 15 things on this infographic, check out my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise).
The carbs in your stomach digest faster than most other nutrients. Carbs used for energy are digested, flooding your bloodstream with glucose. Your body rapidly secretes insulin, which signals your body to store fat, in two ways: Insulin tells your fat cells to pull in fat from the bloodstream, making you fatter. Insulin tells your fat cells to prevent fatty acids from leaving, preventing you from becoming thinner.