Ultra-processed food contains artificial ingredients that have a negative impact on our health that we only recently began to understand.
Ultra-processed foods, from cocktail sausages and ready meals to frozen dinners, have long been thought of as being less nutritious. The main reason given by most dietary guidelines is that ultra-processed food tends to contain more fat, sugar, and sodium. Chris van Tulleken, a doctor, TV presenter, and academic, argues that this is not the whole story. In his new book Ultra Processed People: Why Do We Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food… And Why Can’t We Stop?
Van Tulleken says that the way a meal is prepared determines its nutritional value. The focus is not on the individual ingredients but rather on how they are processed, reformulated, and cooked. Van Tulleken says that industrial methods used to produce many modern foods do not just add unhealthy ingredients but also alter the way they interact with the body. With ultra-processed foods making up over half of all the food consumed in many Western countries, the consequences are catastrophic for the health of many people. He tells New Scientist how we can reverse this trend.
Clare Wilson – Why are ultra-processed foods worse than food that we prepare at home?
Chris van Tulleken: Industrial processes in food production change the chemical and physical structure of the product. Food crops are reduced to their basic constituents, such as corn starch, high fructose syrup, or hydrolyzed soya bean protein, and then reformulated in a way that is highly calorific and palatable. The processes remove fiber and micronutrients. Add ingredients that our bodies are not adapted to handle.