Ultra-Processed Food

Most of the supermarket’s shelves are taken up with ultra-processed food. Is that a problem? People often say to me, “They wouldn’t be allowed to sell it if it was bad for you.” If only we lived in a world where that was true. It is bad and they can sell it. But how much of it do you buy? Have a think about what percentage of the food you eat is real and what percentage is fake. Well to call a spade a spade, when I say fake, ultra-processed, recreational or artificial what I mean is junk, usually containing sugar, highly processed carbohydrates, seed oils and chemical additives.

As Dr Chris van Tulleken said in the Daily Mail and his recent TV programme, ‘What Are We Feeding Our Kids?’

The aim is not to nourish you — this isn’t food made with love: it’s food made using the cheapest possible ingredients and designed to be over-consumed.”

Chris van Tulleken

There is a system, NOVA, giving different levels of processing with Ultra-Processed Food (UPF) being the most processed and containing things you wouldn’t have in your kitchen eg.high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or interesterified oils, and hydrolysed proteins, or additives eg. flavouring, flavour enhancers, colouring, emulsifiers, sweeteners, thickeners, and anti-foaming, bulking, carbonating, foaming, gelling and glazing agents.

When you shop, check the ingredients list so you can avoid all of these. Minimally processed foods have small numbers of ingredients which are recognisable foods. Real foods don’t have labels.

Only a few decades ago we bought mostly real food ingredients with a bit of convenience food. Now we buy lots of convenience food but less real food ingredients and have the worst diet in Europe at over 57% UPF. This has shot up since 1980 when it was 26%. Here’s a Daily Mail article showing the percentage of processed food in different countries a while ago – it hasn’t got better. Children eat even more UPF than adults. One in five people eat a terrifying 80% UPF. No wonder the health of the average Brit is so poor.

Iceland came top for the world’s healthiest diets. As a nation, they kicked McDonald’s out. You can see pictures and videos on the internet of a 10year old burger (someone decided to keep the last one ever sold in Iceland. It’s now in their museum) and a 20year old McDonald’s burger (Utah) that still look the same as new!!! That’s what I call fake food.

The queues at drive-through McDonald’s, KFC and the like are a depressing sign of junk’s enduring allure and a lack of awareness of how damaging to health junk really is.

What did Chris suffer when he tried a processed-food diet?

  • Weight gain of 6.5kg – that’s a stone!!!

  • 30% increase in the hormone that makes you hungry

  • decrease in the hormone that tells you you’re full

  • Bad sleep

  • Heartburn

  • No libido

  • Constipation

  • Piles

  • Low mood

  • Sluggishness

  • Aches and pains

  • Anxiety

  • Felt 10 years older


And this was after only 4 weeks.

Chris showed how, as well as very quickly making his body overweight and unhealthy, processed food rewired his brain – and that has stuck!

What are these fake foods doing to children? No one knows.

Another experiment showed that even when real food is made to match UPF for sugar, fat etc, the processed group ate 30% faster, ate 500kCal a day more and gained 1kg in 2 weeks.

UPF arrived in Brazil only recently and very suddenly (Nestle did it and no doubt made lots of money). Already, they have seen a 150% increase in obesity and now the government recommends that people don’t eat any processed food at all. They still do of course. Availability, clever formulation to make products appealing and advertising really do influence people’s behaviour.

Are you now angry that for profit we are being robbed of our health and happiness? Anger is a powerful weapon for defending your health. Once you’re angry, you stand a chance of saying, “No” even when your poor addicted brain still wants to put the stuff in your mouth.

Chris felt better straight away when he went back to real food so it’s fantastic that lockdown has been such an opportunity to develop our home-cooking skills.

Remember to reinforce every positive step you take – congratulate yourself and celebrate all the fresh food you buy, every healthy meal you cook and every new recipe you try. Enjoy feeling better for it and keep on looking after yourself.

Top tip: Ditch the junk and Eat Real Food.