The EAT Better Strategy:
If you were to design food to make you fat and sick, you would create ultra-processed food.
Ultra-processed food is defined as “formulations mostly of cheap industrial sources of dietary energy and nutrients plus additives, using a series of processes” and containing minimal whole foods (Monteiro et al., 2018).
In other words, food companies manufacture ultra-processed foods by combining substances extracted from whole foods with additives for taste, texture, shelf life and other factors that enhance the product’s profitability.
Strip the food of fibre, load it with sugar and fat, then add salt for taste, and you have food that will
In other words, ultra-processed foods hack our appetite control mechanisms, making us fat in the process.
In 2019 Dr. Kevin Hall demonstrated this effect of ultra-processed foods in a study showing that eating ultra-processed foods results in increased calories and weight gain.
Hall took ten men and ten women into an in-patient metabolic ward where they were randomly assigned to receive an ultra-processed or unprocessed diet for 14 days followed by another 14 days on the other diet. The subjects were given three daily meals and could eat as much or as little as desired. The two diets matched total calories, energy density, macronutrients, fibre, sugar, and sodium but differed widely in the percentage of calories derived from ultra-processed versus unprocessed foods.
Hall’s study found that subjects ate over 500 calories a day more and gained about two pounds of fat in 14 days on the ultra-processed diet. The overeating was almost evenly divided between excess fat and excess carbohydrates while protein intake was unchanged.
Not only did subjects eat more ultra-processed foods, but they also ate faster, and bloodwork showed the effects of this diet on essential appetite control hormones.
Compared to eating whole foods, subjects showed:
Now you may be thinking, “I get it - it’s junk food, but I don’t eat that much of it.”
But collectively, we do: 50% of the calories Canadians consume comes from ultra-processed foods!
A recent review found that increased ultra-processed food consumption correlates with higher risks of obesity, heart disease and stroke, diabetes, cancer, frailty, depression, and death.
No association between ultra-processed foods and beneficial health outcomes was found.
Compounding these ill-effects is the fact that the more ultra-processed the diet, the less whole foods consumed.
And eating lots of veggies, fruits, legumes, and whole grains has been associated with beneficial health outcomes.
So how do you recognize ultra-processed foods - here we turn to Michael Pollan’s food rules:
What to eat? Check out these posts in our Eat Better strategy:
Need help applying this to your busy life?
Get a personalized nutrition plan to gain clarity and improve your health:
The TARGET Nutrition Plan takes a personalized, evidence-based approach to help you make better choices. Our nutritionists assess what you are currently doing and provide you with a personalized plan (including meal plans). Everything you need to transform your diet.
Dr. Brendan Byrne