One hundred years ago, if you ate a food that had calories, it also contained nutrients – vitamins, minerals, and other small molecules that help your body produce energy, heal itself, and fight infection and cancer. Over the last 70 years food production has changed substantially, leading to the introduction of many calorie dense foods that are depleted of their natural nutrient value.
Many foods are produced using inexpensive fats and grains that have been stripped of their natural nutrients, and these fats and grains are mixed with salt and sugar to become “highly palatable” (think hard to stop eating, more below) and with chemicals that help preserve stability and shelf life. Unfortunately, these have adversely affected our health by contributing to weight gain and insulin resistance, weakening our immune systems, and increasing the risk of certain cancers.
These weight gain caused by such poor quality foods in our food supply led one nutrition researcher to state that as a society we are “overfed but undernourished.”
Last week we looked at how to audit added sugars. Limiting added sugars may be the #1 way to quickly improve nutrition. This week we move on to another prime target for improving nutrition – highly processed foods.
Every healthy eating plan, according to my research and experience, follows these 5 rules:
Let’s focus on Rule #5 – Reduce or Eliminate Highly Processed Foods.
Why do we care about these foods? Basically, they don’t do good things to your body:
As seen in this study, eating highly processed foods is associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes, roughly 5% per 100 g of highly processed foods eaten per day.
This interesting study found that foods become hard to resist, or “hyper-palatable,” when any two of these 3 components – sugar, fat, salt – are mixed together in sufficient quantities. They also found that in our food supply, such hyper-palatable foods represented more than half (62%) of all food choices!
This study found a 10% increase in highly processed foods was associated with a 12% higher risk of cancer in general and a 10% higher risk of breast cancer.
The “Highly Processed Food Audit and Action Plan” is a simple process you can use to assess where you right now in terms of your processed food intake, and you can select targets for where you’d like to make improvements. You can download the Action Plan Worksheet by clicking here.
Remember that you don’t have to be perfect! Any reduction in highly processed foods is likely to be beneficial. It’s better to start now than to wait until you feel you can get it just right.
Are you ready to tackle highly processed foods in your diet? Get started here.