Yes. It’s THAT Easy
I feel a little like a snake oil salesman with that title, but it’s true. Just by making one significant change in your diet, you will live longer and prevent weight gain.
Here it is: take those Frankenstein, ultra-processed foods off your grocery list and out of your diet. (We’ll get back to what this means in the next blog).
Now, you’re probably having a “no kidding” moment, but actually, what we’ve known intuitively for a long time has now been proven from some outstanding studies.
Harvard Health discusses a study by JAMA Internal Medicine which monitored the dietary habits of 45,000 adults 45 and older over a two-year period.
9 years later, “the researchers found a direct statistical connection between a higher intake of ultra-processed food and a higher risk of early death from all causes, especially cancers and cardiovascular disease.”
Moreover, it’s probable that these ultra-processed foods are key causes of weight gain. Again, dietitians, doctors, and nutrition experts have linked the obesity epidemic to highly processed foods for years. Foods with refined sugars and carbs and added fats can be addictive, causing people to overeat. But there was never a rigorous study to prove this … until now.
A New York Times health article discusses a study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism in which 20 weight-stable adults (10 men and 10 women) were put under the microscope. For 28 days, twenty adults received ultra-processed foods for 14 days and unprocessed diets for 14 days, to see how their bodies would react. (The NYT article is fantastic, with images of meals, day-by-day).
Interestingly, meals were matched by calories, macronutrients, sugar, sodium, and fiber. Subjects were instructed to eat however much, or little, as they wanted. Those who received the ultra-processed foods ate, on average, 500 more calories per day, with participants gaining and/or losing approximately two pounds, depending on the type of diet.
Researchers also did the math. Eating an ultra-processed diet is less expensive. The unprocessed diet cost approximately $45.00 more, weekly, than the ultra-processed diet (about 40% more). (This adds up to over $2,300.00/year).
This is BIG NEWS. Ultra-processed foods put people on the road to weight gain and chronic disease. Period. But unprocessed diets are more expensive. The social, socio-economic, and medical implications are phenomenal. There are a few basic things that local and national governments, the food and health industries need to address:
- Access to affordable, healthy food options. Urban centers and even remote, rural areas are often considered “food deserts”. This means that, geographically speaking, there’s no real access to affordable, healthy food options – particularly fresh fruits and vegetables. The Food Empowerment Project is fighting to change that and impact communities to provide them with this basic human right. There is an intrinsic elitism in healthy eating that must change.
- School lunches gone wrong! Measures taken in 2010 in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act have been rolled back under the USDA Secretary, Sonny Perdue. The convenience trap of pizza with congealed cheese prevails and the childhood obesity epidemic is real – affecting mostly economically disadvantaged children. Unfortunately, ultra-processed meals are big money for many.
- Nutrition literacy. As much as I love chemistry (it’s intrinsic in food science!) and Shakespeare, schools are missing a huge opportunity when they don’t teach nutrition literacy. Nutrition literacy is key to healthy living. It includes everything from learning how to read food labels, learning how to grocery shop, learning about urban gardens, making healthy snack choices, eating healthy on a budget. These are essential life skills. Any significant nationwide diet change can’t be made without accompanying education.
We’ve got a big task ahead of us, but it’s exciting.
In the next blog, I’ll share how to avoid the Frankenstein food trap and how to make better choices. For now, next time you’re ready to grab that bag of chips, take pause.