> "The problem is that, in the past half century, a different type of food processing has been developed," says Fernanda Rauber, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, about what we now call "“ultra-processed foods”. "These substances would not be found in our kitchen. Usually, they contain little to no proportion of real foods."
This is ridiculous. Processed (or "ultra-processed") foods are mainly flour (wheat, corn, etc.), sugar (sugarcane, sugar beet), and refined oils (soy, canola). All of these are found in the kitchen and are very much "real foods".
Yes, processed foods include small amounts of ingredients like emulsifiers and natural flavors, but by weight they're a tiny proportion. The idea that they make up most or all of a product by weight is utterly ludicrous.
It's fine and good to be aware that processed food doesn't contain the "antioxidants and phytochemicals" found in unprocessed foods, and they may be calorie-dense and low in fiber. But it's unhelpful and utterly dishonest when nutritionists or scientists make absurd claims about processed foods being made mostly out of ingredients not found in our own kitchens.
I think this retort is sorta factually correct but missing the author's point. Totally true that by mass the preservatives aren't a lot, but that doesn't mean the refined products of naturally occurring plants are 'real foods' in the sense the author intends it.
One way to think of this is that a food which is refined moves further and further away from the original 'real food' as it naturally occurs. ~80% of a wheat 'corn' is the white part, ~20% of a soy bean is oil, and 15-20% of a beet is sugar.
Similarly, one apple yields about 1/3c of juice. Drinking 2c worth of juice (in an hour?) is fairly common but nobody ever eats 6 apples in an hour
The quoted epidemiologist says "These substances would not be found in our kitchen."
I'm not disagreeing at all about refinement or the health. I'm just saying these refined substances are absolutely found in our kitchen, and used in quantity. They're nothing special or unique to processed foods.
If you bake bread or cake or brownies, for basic recipes it's nutritionally virtually identical to processed crackers, cookies, and bars.
It's not missing the author's point because the entire idea of ultra-processed foods is to draw a distinction between normal processed foods (which are things like home baked products) and ultra-processed foods (which are produced in factories but are arguably effectively the same thing).
There is clearly a meaningful distinction between unprocessed and processed foods, as indicated by your example of apple juice, but by various definitions, apple juice is just a processed food, not an ultraprocessed food.
Apple juice is actually a clear example of the problem. Industrially produced fruit juices aren't at all like fresh-squeezed juice; the production process eliminates the actual juice flavor, requiring it to be manually added back just before bottling. If you see a juice bottle that lists "flavors" as an ingredient, that's what happened. You can find a bunch of articles on this (e.g. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/orange-juice-moms-secret-ingre...), although they tend to discuss orange juice as the example.
I don't want to claim that the popular concept of "ultra-processed foods" is super coherent, because I do agree there's not much sense in which a Twinkie is more processed than tofu or cheese. But there is a real problem that it seems like the researcher here is pointing at.
> Apple juice is actually a clear example of the problem. Industrially produced fruit juices aren't at all like fresh-squeezed juice; the production process eliminates the actual juice flavor, requiring it to be manually added back just before bottling. If you see a juice bottle that lists "flavors" as an ingredient, that's what happened. You can find a bunch of articles on this (e.g. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/orange-juice-moms-secret-ingre...), although they tend to discuss orange juice as the example.
My impression is that they don't actually need to list "flavors" or anything special on the label when they do this, because they are just adding additional orange juice back, and it is highly unlikely that the result is nutritionally any different from fresh-squeezed juice.
The other argument for distinguishing ultra-processed foods is that even if the additives that wouldn't be found in normal processed foods aren't nutritionally significant in themselves, the resulting food is more palatable, so people consume more of it, but I don't think most people would say that bottled orange juice is more palatable than fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Anyway, it is theoretically possible that bottled "ultra-processed" orange juice is somehow less healthy than normal "processed" fresh-squeezed orange juice, but the point the parent comment was trying to make was that juice may be in itself unhealthy because the amount you consume is so much more than you would consume from eating fruit directly, and I was just trying to clarify that although true, this argument about juice in general is somewhat separate from the distinction between processed and ultraprocessed foods because fresh juice has that issue and can already be considered processed.
Isn't sugar pair with fiber (fruit) processed by your body very different then sugar without that fiber (juice)? Don't remember my source on that but probably one of the many Peter Attia podcasts I've listen to.
The meta point is that looking at ingredients alone doesn't really help much from a nutrition and health perspective. But also that nutritional science is a very inaccurate science as it's hard to get humans to actually obey studies and the digestive and energy systems of the body are "complex" systems, not just complicated. Any nutritional science is inherently flawed (or inaccurate) so the fall back of "eat like your 10k year old ancestors would" is safest from an evolutionary perspective.
>because they are just adding additional orange juice back
This is my understanding as well. I believe it has more to do with creating consistency with the product because different fruit (and even the same fruit from different lots or seasons) will vary in qualities like acidity, brix, color etc. and consumers expect consistency. It actually becomes a fairly interesting operations research problem on how to blend various lots to arrive at a consistent product.
Just because a food came from a vegetable does not mean that it still retains the same nutrition. Corn syrup does not have the same value as corn, just as the first most obvious example. Nobody is worried about their source material "by weight". People are worried about whether there is any actual nutrition value in the food.
We can worry about that without saying, "These substances would not be found in our kitchen." It's either false or misleading.
I'm guessing these quotes are taken so far out of context that they've become meaningless. It's possible the speaker was referring to something specific with "these substances", but we'll never know by reading the article.
Refined seed oils contain polyunsaturated fats (and more specifically, omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, and more specifically yet, linoleic acid) in far higher concentrations than traditional foods. I believe this is the main thing that makes processed food unhealthy, and, indeed, is the main driver of the epidemic of the so-called "diseases of civilization" (obesity, diabetes, cancer, etc) that most of the world is experiencing.
This series of blog posts does an excellent job of summarizing the evidence:
A lot of research on these topics assumes the existence of metabolic syndrome / syndrome x, which is a hypothetical syndrome that is the supposed to be the common cause of obesity, diabetes, etc. Metabolic syndrome used to be very mainstream but I'm not sure it's taken quite as seriously in the scientific community recently.
However, if you do assume the existence of metabolic syndrome, you can pretty much justify a link between anything that could potentially be its cause and obesity. For example, if seed oils cause some sort of metabolic dysfunction resulting in metabolic syndrome, then that would then result in obesity.
Obviously, if you assume that obesity is just caused by excess consumption of calories, and that obesity is then the cause of diabetes, and that there is no separate metabolic syndrome it becomes harder to justify this kind of theory.
That link doesn't explicitly use the terms "metabolic syndrome" or "syndrome x" but it seems like it is probably implicitly assuming its existence.
One thing is linoleic acid converts into endocannabinoids, which stimulate appetite. Too much n6, too much appetite, obesity, is the theory.
If you google around on e.g. pubmeb you can find various papers proposing this.
But there's probably more to it than that; there are pig and mouse studies where the animals are fed isocaloric diets, but the animals eating high LA get fat. So that strongly suggests that it's not just a appetite-based overeating thing.
The blog hyperlipid proposed a theory involving ROS signaling at a cellular level; my knowledge of biology and metabolism is sadly minimal, but at a very high level I think the theory is something like, "having too much linoleic acid in the diet signals cells to remain unnaturally insulin-sensitive and accumulate fat".
See also: the blog Fire in a Bottle, which tries to summarize the hyperlipid theory at a less low-level, technical level.
Well its incorrect to the extent that the post is specifically about issues concerning things like pre-made meals an sausages, and your rebuttal is that these concerns don't effect things like flour or sugar as ingredients.
It's rather like me saying gun control is an issue and you pointing out that iron ore seldom kills anyone.
> Processed (or "ultra-processed") foods are mainly flour (wheat, corn, etc.), sugar (sugarcane, sugar beet), and refined oils (soy, canola). All of these are found in the kitchen and are very much "real foods"
I wouldn't say so, sugar and the oils don't exist in nature on their own, and primates can't really eat wheat, corn and other grains.
Not to be pessimistic, but this is very typical of most food science + health journalism. The odds someone really did their research and didn't just start with whatever the current food and health trends are and work an article (poorly) backwards from there is very low.
Can someone explain to me how the difference of a molecule of some protein is any different when it's processed? How does my body know when I'm eating processed foods vs non processed?
I'm under the impression that when I eat food, my stomach converts it to a liquid, which then gets further "processed" through my digestive system, eventually absorbed in my blood stream. Is it the residual stuff that my body cannot break down but was unable to convert to fecal matter along the way that feeds into my blood stream the bad thing? Or is it still just straight up ignorance because people are afraid of having yet another process abstracted from their daily lives?
Modern processed foods have very little fiber and other non-processed parts, making you full slower causing you to overeat. A glass of coke has 140 calories, and so has 2-3 apples. You'll stop eating after 3 apples but can easily have 2 glasses of coke.
The above also causes blood sugar to spike drastically immediately after eating processed foods, causing you to create a high amount of insulin, drastically lowering blood sugar and creating fat. Low blood sugar then causes you to become hungry soon after. This is the famous "hungry 2 hours after eating McDonalds" efffect. Non-processed foods are digested much more gradual.
The calories are more empty. Lots of sugar and fat, not much protein and micro-nutrients like minerals and vitamins.
They are made so you can't stop eating them, e.g. bliss point . They hack our reward centers to so it feels so good to eat you'll overeat. You wouldn't eat 20 sugar cubes in one sitting but will eat a tub of Ben and Jerry's.
Do you think that in my decade or so of experience in losing about half my body weight, I never thought to try changing my diet?
It is very irksome to me when people try to hand out nutrition advice on the internet like they know goddamned anything about it. I successfully lost over 150lbs and I never found a solution to not craving food constantly.
Were you craving food or just...something to do? Personally, I smoke, which is no better but I feel is likely a similar addiction? Gandhi generalized even further, realizing that he was "addicted to experience" - I think about this often.
I wasn't aware it was trite? I only discovered about a year ago the wonders of how protein shakes totally transform my body. In addition to the dramatic changes on my physique, I also find myself almost completely lost my urge to snack. I'm in my mid-30s.
If you are interested, we can break down what you typically eat during the day and help find out what causes you to feel that way - I'm far from an expert but there a lot of common things I used to eat that made me hungry all the time.
The main difference between processed foods and fresh foods are 1) preservatives and 2) flavour enhancement - for the first goal we use things like salt to increase the shelf life of the product which has the side effect of shifting most folks over to having a higher expectation of salt content in their food in general - for the later salt is also useful (along with specific flavour enhancers like MSG), but sugar is far easier to throw in and get more bang for your buck.
I can cook a meal and freeze it for a while reheat it and enjoy it - to allow it to survive (with a decent taste) long bouts of freezer burn and going stale I need to load that sucker up with a bunch of salt and sugar so that I don't care that the food tastes like cardboard.
I can't speak to any molecular effects - those may also exist - but most of why processed food is bad for you is just to make it taste really really good so you'll come back for more - even if you're not hungry! Yay obesity!
I imagine at some point in the future folks are going to look at the diet of the late 20th century like we look at covering your baby's crib with lead based paint.
There is a lot more than flavour and preservatives in processed food.
The difference in texture
The refined sugars in processed are nothing like natural sugars in raw food
Industrially hydrogenated fats are not the same as naturally hydrogenated fats (margarine is not coconut oil)
Additionally there are the traces of the machines used in the processing. The chemicals that make the plastic hoses soft (who's name escapes me) are coming under scrutiny now for being very bad for us.
I am quite unfamiliar with the machinery traces and won't comment on that - but, to your point, it's not that other issues don't exist - it's that these issues are enough to show how harmful processed food can be.
> how the difference of a molecule of some protein is any different when it's processed?
Not a nutritionist, but I believe the answer falls into two broad categories.
One, chemical: processed foods frequently contain additives, e.g. preservatives, that less-processed food doesn't.
Two, physical: a peach smoothie is digested and hits your bloodstream differently from a whole peach. They're chemically identical but physically different, and that changes everything from how quickly you ingest it, how much of it you ingest, how it hits the stomach and how it hits your gut.
But why does that matter? Assuming the caloric intake is the same, how does eating a peach smoothie differ from eating a peach? They are the same and get liquified the same. I mean technically when you eat you're supposed to have it mashed up enough that your stomach has to do little as little work as possible (so equivalent to a smoothie as possible). I still don't see how that makes a difference.
Back to the additives, what difference does it make if your body properly disposes of it because it can't break it down and it doesn't get absorbed by you? Or...does it get absorbed by you (which is what I'm partially asking)?
> how does eating a peach smoothie differ from eating a peach?
I think that eating a peach smoothie, one where you just take a peach and some ice - throw them in a blender and mix away, is no different from eating a peach but ordering a peach smoothie at Jugo Juice is not peach in a glass, it's some peach and added juice (containing added sugar) and added sugar also some ice, probably with added sugar - all mixed together with some "healthy protein base" which is probably a bit of whey with added sugar - basically a smoothie ends up having very little relationship to the fruit.
Additionally if you slurrify raspberries you can drink them by the dozen in a single gulp - while eating them by hand you'll strike a more leisurely pace and stop once you're feeling full - often times with smoothies and the like we'll over consume because it takes a while for our body to actually realize we're full.
1. Maybe a slight loss of healthy stuff due to fibers separating out and not ending up in the juice but ideally that's negligible.
> Assuming the caloric intake is the same, how does eating a peach smoothie differ from eating a peach?
Your body has regular teeth. Most people don't chew even 30 times per bite.
A blender has mega-ultra-turbo teeth that are both way, way sharper than a person's and also they never get tired because they're powered by electricity not muscles.
How much chewing do you think is equivalent to blending? My very unscientific guess is that blending is something like 1000 chews per bite or more given that our teeth aren't as sharp as blender blades.
Eventually quantitative differences (number of chews) become qualitative (sugars and starches encapsulated in small bits vs chemically liberated). Blenders do a lot of the work of digestion mechanically well before your body has a chance to do it chemically.
Of all the things that are different about processed foods that have been mentioned in this thread, this is probably the least important, but yes, there is still a difference... they don't "get liquified the same", because when you eat a whole peach you chew it, and when you chew it your mouth is mixing the pulp with digestive enzymes (in your saliva) and also priming the digestive juices in your stomach to adjust for the pH of the incoming matter! This turns out to be important enough that many nutritionists for over a century have emphasized the importance of eating slowly and chewing thoroughly. You can't really do that with a smoothie.
Extracting energy and nutrients from food is highly optimized by evolution for obvious reasons, even in the case of omnivores such as ourselves. Modern "ultraprocessed" food is not adaptive.
Often some additives may get absorbed by your gut.
A smoothie vs a peach may well have different glycemic indices. Few people chew their few up to the extent that a bender will break it down. Also, how many peaches go into a smoothie, and how much extra sugar via, say, yogurt, or smoothie mix?
We're not talking about a peach smoothie at jamba juice, we're talking about blending peaches vs eating it raw and chewing it with your teeth. The molecular makeup of the food is 100% the same, the difference is it's physical attributes of it as you ingest it.
If you made a peach smoothie out of nothing but pure peaches, it would be identical to eating the peaches, I'm sure.
I am also not a nutritionist, but from my reading processed foods are bad because (1) they just have far fewer nutrients, vitamins and minerals that our body needs to function, (2) the additives and chemicals that are added sometimes harm our body directly and/or require the body to dedicate resources towards removing, or (3) they harm our microbiome by feeding bad bacteria which similarly produce stuff that isn't good for your body and damaging the good bacteria which we need.
> If you made a peach smoothie out of nothing but pure peaches, it would be identical to eating the peaches, I'm sure.
Faster absorption means higher peak serum glucose levels and higher amounts of insulin released. More insulin translates into more promotion of insulin resistance. IIRC, high serum glucose is also not good for your arterial lining.
Chemistry occurs at the surface of the food - if you have lumps of peaches in your stomach then they have to be digested, ie broken down. If you drink a smoothie then the surface area available to chemical reactions is a lot larger, so digestion happens quicker. Quicker digestion of sugars causes a larger insulin spike, which is bad. Also commercial smoothies usually have a lot more sugar and fat in them than you'd think, I know you said just blended peaches, but in reality everyone adds stuff to it.
Processing can also mean separating out parts of foods to exclude them from the product. Take fiber for example. Processing an ingredient to reduce or remove its fiber doesn't change the molecular make up of the remaining portion of the ingredient. The molecules in = molecules out (minus the fiber).
However, fiber lowers cholesterol levels by preventing cholesterol from being absorbed, and slows the absorption of glucose. When we examine the modulating effects of ingredients and couple that to biological non-linearities, it's not too hard to see how processing can affect how food interacts with the body. Reduced fiber foods, can affect the body in ways different from non-processed food even if the molecules being ingested are identical to those in the original ingredients.
It's not so much that the food molecules are different, but the amounts that ultimately makes something "unhealthy." It's right there in the first paragraph:
> high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt diets
Much like how the attention industry has refined advertisements, games, news, etc to become exceedingly effective at targeting the pleasure areas of the brain, making us want to consume more, so too has the food industry.
Humans have evolved to find pleasure in eating fat, sugar, and salt, as the former are excellent sources of energy, and the latter is required by many processes ("Brawndo, it's got what plants crave!"). Processed food has optimized, distilled, and combined these components into foods that could never be found in nature, and which our bodies are ill-equipped for.
Please explain the preservatives found in a can of tomato paste. Lets take... Hunt's tomato paste, a popular brand.
Hint: the preservative is "Citric Acid", also known as lemon-juice. A wee bit more acidity negates any chance of botulism (which just barely can live in the PH of Tomato-acid. But add a squeeze of lemon to it and make it slightly more acidic and this rare bacteria is taken care of).
Otherwise, you're looking at just mashed up tomatoes + a squeeze of lemon inside of a can. No joke, nothing else is in there.
The other aspect of "preserving" is the airtight can, which prevents other organisms (other bacteria, mold, fungus) from entering the can.
Any tomato paste can you find is basically using this technique.
Other canned veggies are even more pure. Canned corn is just heated (at the factory) to a temperature that kills botulism spores. A lot of cans add salt for flavor, but you can easily buy salt-free cans and get pure corn if that's your preference.
> Doritos, frozen pizza, cup noodles are clearly unhealthy. And I think most reasonable people know that.
I think that's an unreasonable assumption, cup noodles sure, but for chips and frozen pizza it's obviously a question of quantity and people who work long hours end up forced to resort to these to just get calories in at the end of the day.
I understand the need for convenience, I really do.
The problem with Chips is that they're starch, and in the USA, we overeat starches. There's pretty much no reason to be snacking on starch.
Instead, you should snack on fat and fiber: nuts and fruits. Dehydrated fruits are as easy to store and eat as any chips (Raisins, Pineapple) and will instantly increase your dietary fiber intake. Canned / Processed fruits are extremely easy and incredibly healthy. Apple Sauce, canned pineapple (since its cooked, no worries about it dissolving your tongue), canned apricots, canned peaches. You've got a lot of options for a quick-and-easy fruit snack that's as convenient as chips.
Nuts are a high energy source of healthy fats. Almonds, Peanuts, Cashews, Pistachios. Plenty of good stuff, and they balance well with fruits (fruits are low on fat/lipids/protein, nuts are high on fat/lipids/protein). There's also a different set of vitamins you get from them, so the variety is key to healthy eating.
In theory: if you were low on starch for some reason, Potato chips (or corn chips) probably would be fine. But... that's just not what the typical American has problems with.
Just watch your sugar intake. In the USA at least, a lot of these canned / dehydrated fruits have added sugar in them (yeah, we like our things sweet).
Frozen stuffs just have too much sodium in my experience. Frozen Pizza doubly-so, because cheese often is made with amounts of salt. Still, I understand the need of a convenient dinner every now and then if you're busy, but definitely don't make a habit of it IMO.
I ran to my pantry to inform this comment because I was nearly certain I had Hunt's tomato paste! I wanted to run down a quick comparison of three things which are all pretty close to tomato paste 1) A tomato (beefsteak 'cause I'm swag) 2) Hunt's Tomato Paste 3) Compliments Tomato Sauce 4) Unico Pizza Sauce - these are all distributed to the Canadian market so specific details may vary in your local market... Actually scratch that, I ended up using US numbers from the internet for ease of access.
The tomato, to begin with, I'm using this as the source for nutritional values, we've got 70 calories with 5.5g of sugar (tomatoes are pretty sweet after all), 0 mg Sodium - we also have (for our DAVs) 97% Vitamin C, 11% Vitamin A, 6% Calcium - all that is in 1 tomato
For the Hunt's I'll use this source where a small can has 10 of these servings, but I'll double the serving size to make calories match up. We've again got 70 Calories (due to my manipulation) with 8g Sugar (about 50% more than a raw tomato) 50mg Sodium (2% DAV) with no Vitamin C or A but with a bit of Potassium and Iron (12% each of DAV).
Next up is Compliments Tomato Sauce source - this is actually much less calorie dense so I'm going to multiple the serving size up to five cans (or 1 1/4 cups of sauce) which is 75 Calories. The ingredients are actually just: Water, Tomato Paste, Salt, Citric Acid, Onion powder, Dried Garlic and "Spice". We've got 10g Sugar here, possibly some added under "Spice" or just concentrated tomato, 1200mg Sodium (50% DAV) along with 10% Vitamin A, 40% Vitamin C, 10% Iron
And, lastly, Unico Pizza Sauce this comes in a 1/4 cup can that I'll quadruple to match Calories. Ingredients wise we've got Crushed Tomatoes, Water, Salt, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Spices, Dehydrated Garlic, Citric Acid. We have 12g of sugar, 1280 mg Sodium (50% DAV), 8% Vitamin A, 40% Vitamin C and other bits.
I went through the above mostly to highlight that yes, there are "pure" canned vegetable and fruit options, they often only mildly miss out on nutrition (like the complete lack of Vitamin C in Hunt's Tomato Paste) but there are also a lot of nearby options that are loaded down with other crap.
Just a note - the sources below are for the internet. I actually initially read each one off the label but I wanted to show my work and sourced them from the internet - I actually ended up recalculating a few since I could only find US nutritional facts which are noticeably worse than Canadian products.