A new study shows that 58% of what we eat every day falls under the category of “ultra-processed” food. And when I use the term “food” I actually mean crap. And as of 2021, I mean dangerous crap.
Because in March, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that Americans eating a typical American diet were significantly more likely to have heart disease and die from a heart attack. https://www.jacc.org/doi/full/10.1016/j.jacc.2021.01.047
How did the researchers figure this out? Well, they set their baseline at 7.5 servings a day of ultra-processed food (dangerous crap). That means they considered eating 7.5 servings of ultra-processed breads, crackers, chips, cereals, snack bars, candy bars, sports drinks, sodas and more, as normal. For each additional serving of dangerous crap, people increased their risk of dying from a heart attack by 9%. But, you might say, weren’t those people more unhealthy anyway? The short answer is no. The researchers controlled for things like smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity.
This means there are many of us thinking we are eating healthy foods—after all sports drinks and granola bars are marketed as good for us (most of them are ultra-processed)—who are not smoking, not drinking much, and working out, who are still putting ourselves at increased risk.
When our journey into fake food land began in the earlier part of the 1900s, regulators were operating under the assumption that ultra-processed foods (the definition of which has changed over time, but is basically food that includes substances not typically recognizable as food—hence my preference for the term “crap”) would be just an occasional special treat in our diets. By now, we’ve all seen the typical 1950s fast food meal of a burger, fries, and a soft drink containing maybe 1/3 of the calories and saturated fat pictured next to a typical fast food meal today. But that meal today also contains many more ultra-processed ingredients than it did in the 1950s. Between 1959 and 1963, the FDA approved an average of 44 food additives annually. And then, they just kept going—occasionally removing something previously approved, but adding many more, with less data than most of us would find acceptable.
While that rapid approval pace varied in subsequent years, the number of packaged items containing these food additives and the number of additives in each has continued to surge.
The argument that we know these foods are unhealthy and we should limit them is outdated at best and outright lies at worst. Ultra-processed ingredients have found their way into dangerous crap that is being marketed as good for us. They’ve found their way into high-end restaurants. We have radically altered what we are putting into our bodies over the past 60 years and are just now getting around to figuring out what larger quantities of substances that were approved to be just an occasional treat are doing to our bodies.
We know this dangerous crap alters our microbiomes and it is highly likely that it contributes to bowel distress in the form of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). There is mounting data that it contributes to obesity, fatty liver disease, diabetes, and colitis. And now, we have evidence that ultra-processed crap is likely contributing to a higher risk of heart attacks.
At what point do we take a step back and re-evaluate what we are eating? At what point do we demand real food instead of dangerous crap in our diets?