“You are what you eat” is an old saying, and if it’s true, at this point in time a lot of people are bowls of pasta coated with day-glo orange goop. Since humans were designed for survival, it is not surprising that we are able to eat all kinds of things, just for the caloric value, so our bodies have energy to keep moving in search of better-quality food. But just because the body can survive on empty and harmful calories does not mean we should do it that way if we have a choice.
Childhood Obesity News has been discussing Ultra-Processed Foods, or UPFs, which tend to contain both empty and harmful calories. Compare the government’s 2010 list of America’s top 10 calorie sources with its corresponding 2020 list, and compare those with the list of UPFs appearing in a recent study from authors representing eight different institutions:
Soda, flavoured dairy drinks, packaged snacks, many breakfast cereals, flavoured ice creams, instant noodles and soups, nuggets and similar reconstituted meat products…
Ultra-Processed Foods are defined as:
[…] ready-to-eat formulations of processed substances that have been extracted or refined from whole foods and that typically contain added flavors, colours, and other cosmetic additives, with little, if any, whole food remaining…
These products are generally high in free sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and low in protein, dietary fibre, micronutrients and phytochemicals… They are also highly palatable, energy dense, with a high glycaemic load…
UPFs, in other words, have little to recommend them. In the pediatric obesity field,
many practitioners and researchers are quite comfortable with blaming UPFs as obesity villains. These authors say…
[…] it is becoming increasingly difficult to rationalize not taking a clear, universal, UPF-avoidance stance in our obesity prevention and treatment efforts…
We have spoken before of the advisability of continuing to breastfeed a child until age 2. If that cannot be arranged, parents are urged to at least be sure that the child’s food is as pure and natural as possible. Children younger than 2 should definitely not be fed UPFs, which “can lead to one or more forms of malnutrition.” Deficiencies in micronutrients can cause serious development issues, and the consumption of UPFs can lead to food addiction.
Science writer David Berreby referenced the work of Jonathan C. K. Wells, professor of child nutrition at University College, London:
Wells notes, for example, that sugar, trans-fats and alcohol have all been linked to changes in “insulin signalling”, which affects how the body processes carbohydrates. This might sound like a merely technical distinction. In fact, it’s a paradigm shift: if the problem isn’t the number of calories but rather biochemical influences on the body’s fat-making and fat-storage processes, then sheer quantity of food or drink are not the all-controlling determinants of weight gain.
A calorie is not just an energy unit, and all calories are not created equal. The evidence continues to pile up.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Ultra-Processed Food Consumption among the Paediatric Population…,” Karger.com, 04/28/20
Source: “The Obesity Era,” GetPocket.com, 06/19/13
Images by Greg Westfall and Ben Francis/CC BY 2.0