Check out this Washington Post headline. “Some good health reasons for avoiding ‘ultra-processed’ food.” Hmmm. According to the story, originally posted on Live Science, calorie consumption, on average, goes as follows:
- Just less than 30 percent of a person’s total daily calories are from unprocessed or minimally processed foods.
- Processed foods total 9.4 percent of calorie intake.
- Ultra-processed foods account for 57.9 percent of calories (three of every 5 calories consumed).
To which I replied, what in the world is the difference between processed and ultraprocessed?
The study defines unprocessed or minimally processed foods to include “meat, fruits, vegetables, fish and grains; and processed culinary ingredients,” like table sugar, plant (olive, canola, etc) oils and animal fats (aka butter). This feels like what happens in my kitchen most of the time.
Processed foods include the above meat, fruits, vegetables, fish and grains that are “manufactured with added salt, sugar or other culinary substances.” Apparently that includes cheese, canned food and salted meats, things I do not make in my kitchen, otherwise known as lunch in America. To date, we’ve lumped all of fast food into this category and identified salt content as the primary culprit for rising blood pressure rates, the primary risk factor for heart disease and stroke. However, in 2015, dietary guidelines changed and the government now recommends a daily salt intake of no more 2300mgs of sodium per day for adults and children over 14. The average intake is estimated at 3300mgs of sodium per day. As it turns out no one can speak with certainty anymore about just how much salt is too much. Instead, we are now fixated on sugar intake.
Enter ultra-processed foods. Ultra-processed foods are defined as “formulations of several ingredients” which, besides sugar, salt, oils and fats, include additives such as flavors, colors, sweeteners and emulsifiers. This is the category of soda, bread, cakes and cookies, frozen foods, pizza and cereal. The news story is that Americans exceed the daily recommendation for sugar content (10 percent of daily calories or roughly 200 per day) since the study shows that 50 percent of calories consumed are from foods from which 90 percent of all added sugars are derived. According to the researchers, too much sugar is driving increased rates of type 2 diabetes, and yes, you guessed it, heart disease.
Here is my takeaway. The 9,300 study participants who recorded everything they ate over a 24-hour period eat way too much sugar, far too much salt, and as of yet, an undetermined amount of preservatives, artificial colors and flavorings, and low-quality protein. It seems to me closer to 70 percent of the American calorie count is derived from foods we are better off without. The study makes a good point when it comes to not eating enough unprocessed food. However, the message for average Americans has to be easier to swallow for real change to happen.
For now, I’ll leave the potted meat, cheese food and frozen dinners, organic or not, out of the shopping cart. My salmon will be wild and my beef grass-fed and pastured. My process for selecting food will require a label to have a limited number of ingredients. Manufacturing will be limited to what can be done in my own kitchen. I’ll make dinner and eat 7-10 servings of vegetables a day.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the science of food and nutrition. It’s just that I’m ready for documentation of what constitutes natural health versus demonstrating how disease naturally occurs.
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Biography: Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association, is a visionary and results-focused leader who has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and healthcare organizations to develop innovative healthcare policy and programs. She has held a variety of executive positions, including serving as professional staff for a Congressional committee, and has policy expertise in the diverse areas of integrative and complementary medicine, managed care, healthcare technology and mental health. An advocate at heart, she has worked to strategically advance the mission and vision of organizations through effective advocacy and strong collaboration.