Ever since the Industrial Revolution prompted dramatic changes in how food is produced, there has been a shift toward making products that are easier to package, longer-lasting, and convenient to eat in the midst of our increasingly busy lives. These foods, prepared in massive quantities and sold in grocery stores, are generally referred to as processed. But not all foods are produced in the same way. Some involve minimal food processing, and some are infused with various additives, preservatives, and dyes to make them more efficient to produce and sell.
The truth is that virtually everything we eat is processed in some way. Even most of the fruits and vegetables that are sold raw are still subject to production processes where they are cleaned and sorted. Processing in itself isn’t bad; in many ways, through processes like pasteurization and filtering, food is safer than it ever has been. But at the same time, it has become clear that the replacement of freshly prepared meals with convenience foods has been a contributing factor in the rise in obesity and obesity-related conditions in the United States.
To better understand the different levels of processing in the food system, public health and nutrition experts have designed classification systems over the years. The system that is used most frequently in scientific literature is called NOVA. NOVA classifies all foods into four categories based on their level of processing:
The average American diet has changed significantly over the past few decades, and increases in the availability of processed foods is one of the primary reasons. In fact, according to a study from 2015, it is estimated that 57% of the American diet comes from ultra-processed foods; moreover, nearly 90% of the energy from those foods comes from added sugars. It would probably surprise most people to learn just how many of their favorite, everyday foods come from an industrial food production process. Below are some common examples of ultra-processed foods:
With all the highly processed foods listed above, an individual serving isn’t necessarily a terrible thing—having an occasional soda or cookie isn’t going to kill you. The problem is that these foods make up an oversized part of the typical American diet and the processes that are used to make them tend to strip the original foods of nutritional value and incorporate added salt, sugars, trans fats, and other components in order to make them taste better and last longer.
As a result, when eaten regularly, these foods can begin to have a negative effect on many aspects of health—especially heart health. Trans fats, for instance, are known to increase cholesterol levels and lead to an increased risk of heart disease. Added salt can lead to high blood pressure and put stress on the circulatory system. Added sugar is strongly associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. There is also evidence that a diet high in ultra-processed foods may lead to increased incidence of cancer and early death.
The fact is that ultra-processed foods are all around us and difficult to eliminate completely. They can still be part of a healthy diet if consumed occasionally. Essentially all health organizations on the planet agree that a balanced diet should include significant portions of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk products. It should also include protein from sources like seafood, lean meat, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds. At the same time, you should limit added sugars, sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
Ultra-processed foods tend to be higher in calories, and this means they can also contribute to becoming overweight or obese. Switching to a healthier diet is important for overall health and wellness, but it doesn’t always lead to the weight loss we hope for. To really lose weight over the long term, a different approach is needed. That’s why at True You we offer non-surgical solutions that have a demonstrated track record of success. If you’d like to learn more about how to finally find the freedom you’ve been looking for, please contact us today to request a consultation.