Many reports in the medical literature and etc… have shown that ultra-processed food is higher in calories and causes more weight gain. (1,2) But what is ultra-processed food?
The definition is something like this “Ultra-processed foods, as defined by the NOVA food classification system, are industrial formulations of ingredients that undergo a series of physical, chemical, and biological processes. They typically lack intact healthy food components and include various additives. Ultra-processed foods tend to be more energy-dense and nutritionally poorer (ie, high in levels of free sugar, salt, and saturated fats but low in levels of protein, dietary fiber, and micronutrients) compared with less processed alternatives and are designed to be cheap, palatable, durable, convenient, and appealing.” (3) Also known as evil.
They are the opposite, I guess, of that other buzz word “natural foods.” But if you’ve ever read about how bees make honey you would have to say that honey is ultra-processed. It’s still a natural food though I think.
So since ultra-processed foods represent 65.4% and 66.2% of daily calorie intake among UK and US school-aged children, respectively, (2) they are logically widely condemned as a must because of the obesity epidemic.
Ultraprocessing food is a lot like cooking it. It turns out that cooking was invented one or 2 million years ago and is widely credited for allowing humans to grow big brains. One piece of evidence for this is that humans made smaller jaws and teeth at the same time in their evolution that they grew bigger brains. A big brain is a good thing but it is very hungry and costs a lot of calories to sustain. Cooking makes food much easier to digest and get the calories out of – giving cooked food something like 25 to 50% more caloric value compared to raw food. So if you really want to lose weight don’t eat any cooked food like chimpanzees do. But you may not survive.
Cheetos must be an example of ultra-processed food and I really like Cheetos.
1. Hall KD, Ayuketah A, Brychta R, et al. Ultra-processed diets cause excess calorie intake and weight gain: an inpatient randomized controlled trial of ad libitum food intake. Cell Metab. 2019;30(1):67-77.e3. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008
2. Chang K. et al. Association Between Childhood Consumption of Ultraprocessed Food and Adiposity Trajectories in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children Birth Cohort. JAMA Pediatr. 2021; :e211573. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.1573. June 14, 2021
3. Monteiro CA, Cannon G, Levy RB, et al. Ultra-processed foods: what they are and how to identify them. Public Health Nutr. 2019;22(5):936-941. doi:10.1017/S1368980018003762
This writer’s opinion is their own and not the opinion of this newspaper
John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- [email protected] or phone-354-6605.