Nutrition and Mental Health Part 2 - Ultra-processed foods
In order to understand how this started, I will probably write a series of blog posts related to nutrition, mental health, and how they are connected. This is the introductory post, and I will talk about ultra-processed foods.
There is a strong connection between the loss of traditional foods and the rise in ultra-processed foods, leading to increased physical problems, obesity, poor dental health, and more. To think about this, what kind of food your grandparents used to eat and are no longer traditional in your family now?
Let's start with the brain, which is 2% of our total body weight, but requires 20-40% of the total glucose and nutrients that we eat. Ultra-processed foods are cheap, very accessible, and easy to eat. They have been available only for the past 60 years, and there is strong evidence that fast foods are harming us both physically and mentally. Do you wonder how well can ultra-processed foods nourish the brain, in order for it to perform at its peak?
Food is defined as a nutritious substance that we consume for growth and to maintain life, but nutrition, well, this is not just about food, including also the entire process of growing the food, selecting the food, eating it, digesting it, and absorbing it. Food isn't defined only by the calories required for daily living, but also by the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that we use as signaling molecules ( You can find more about it in two of my books - The NO-DIET Book - Eat healthy and live longer and The complete vitamins and minerals pocket guide). But ultra-processed foods are high in refined carbohydrates, added starch, fat, sugar, and salt, not to forget the added food dyes, additives, and preservatives, so we have almost no nutrients, but a lot of calories in excess.
If you look at the western diet, it is made typically of ultra-processed foods, high in calories, refined grains, and sugar. It is often heavily processed, high in chemicals, and low in fresh produce. In order to make food cheap, ingredients like starches, vegetable oils, and sugars are combined with additives like colors, flavors, and emulsifiers, providing little to no value to our diet. Food is defined as a nutritious substance consumed for growth and to maintain life, but ultra-processed foods are not categorized as nutritious substances, so technically they may not be food at all.
How do you recognize ultra-processed foods? Ultra-processed foods come in boxes, bags, or cans (we are talking about 67% of all foods sold in supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores, and fast food restaurants). They are enhanced with food dyes, sodium injections, added sugars, and chemical preservatives. A long list of ingredients on the label is a primary indicator of ultra-processed food. If you do not recognize the ingredients and cannot pronounce them, they may be not natural ingredients. In the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, at least 50% of what we eat is not food, is ultra-processed foods. However, you need to learn the difference between processed and ultra-processed foods. Processed food is one altered from its original form, while ultra-processed food had added stuff like food dyes, added sugars, or chemical preservatives. Heating, pasteurizing, canning, fermenting, and drying, all are forms of processing, but they are not unhealthy if nothing has been added, and the product longevity has been increased.
The next post in this series will be about starvation and historical views on diet.
Have a perfect day, see you again tomorrow,