Adapted from: BMJ 3 Sept 22 People need nourishing food that promotes health, not the opposite by Carlos Monteiro et al.
Everybody needs food, but nobody needs ultra- processed food with the exception of infants who are not being breast fed and need infant formula.
The foods that are “ultra- processed” include: soft drinks, packaged snacks, commercial breads, cakes and biscuits, confectionery, sweetened breakfast cereals, sugared milk based and fruit drinks, margarine and pre-processed ready to eat or heat products such as burgers, pastas and pizzas.
These foods are industrial formulations made by deconstructing whole foods into chemical constituents, altering them and recombining them with additives into products that are alternatives to fresh and minimally processed foods and freshly prepared meals.
In low amounts, they wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. But most ultra- processed foods are made, sold and promoted by corporations, typically transnational, that formulate them to be convenient, ready to eat, affordable, due to low -cost ingredients, and hyperpalatable. These foods are liable to displace other foods and also to be overconsumed.
Systemic reviews of large well -designed cohort studies worldwide have shown that consumption of ultra-processed foods increase: obesity, type two diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, depression, and all- cause mortality.
Other prospectively associated conditions include dyslipidaemias, gout, renal function decline, non-alcoholic liver disease, Crohn’s disease, breast cancer and in men colorectal cancer. They also cause multiple nutrient imbalances.
It is calculated that ingestion of these foods compared to fresh ingredients, matched for macronutients, sugar, sodium and fibre adds a typical 500kcal daily, which leads to the inevitable fat accumulation.
US investigators have found that dietary emulsifiers and some artificial sweeteners alter the gut bacteria causing greater inflammatory potential, so replacing sugar with these isn’t a good idea either.
In the UK policies to limit promotion and consumption of ultra-processed food have recently been rejected, mainly because of the belief that in our current economic situation people need access to cheap food. As no one really wants to support foods that cause illness, the obvious solution is to promote foods that are fresh and minimally processed, available, attractive and affordable. Such a strategy would improve family life, public health, the economy and environment.