In the 1950s only around 10% of the American population was obese. Currently, in 2022, the U.S obesity rate is 33%. What happened within 72 years that could explain a triple increase? While I’m sure there are some other contributors, I believe the main reason is based on what we are eating. Ultra-processed foods are poisoning our bodies and the results of consuming these chemicals daily are causing Americans to develop health issues that were much more uncommon in the 1950s.
Have you ever read a nutrition facts label only to discover you cannot pronounce more than half the ingredients? Take a bag of Cheetos for example, have you ever heard of ferrous sulfate or maltodextrin? Ferrous sulfate is a prescription used to treat anemia. Maltodextrin is a sweetener that has no nutritional value and can cause you to gain weight. There are hidden warning signs in these highly marketed foods that are harming your body.
What Are Processed Foods?
To get to the root of the issue let’s first dive into what processed foods are. Any food that has been altered from its natural state is considered to be processed. Processed foods have been available to the public since the 1950s and have made many things easier on the average American, however, they are not always beneficial. There are four different levels of processed foods and they vary in extremity.
The four levels are:
- Level 1: Unprocessed or Slightly Processed: In this level are your whole foods. This is your fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, etc.
- Level 2: Processed Ingredients: This level is anything that has been extracted from whole foods such as sugar from sugar cane or grape juice from grapes. To maintain and increase shelf life additives might be found at this level.
- Level 3: Processed Foods: These are processed foods that contain low levels of ingredients. Think of your salted sunflower seeds or almond milk.
- Level 4: Ultra-Processed: This is the level that is the most concerning for human consumption. At this level, many additives, fake sugars, artificial flavors and colors, and flavor emulsifiers are added. This includes chips, frozen dinners, candy, cereal, or anything you would consider to be “junk food”.
Concern with Consuming Ultra-Processed Foods
Not everything that has been tampered with is necessarily bad for you to consume. Foods that are a level 3 or above are likely not to cause you any harm. It is when you eat level four ultra-processed foods that there is a cause for concern. Tests have shown that eating large quantities of ultra-processed foods is making people sick. This is especially troubling when 25-60% of an individual’s daily food consumption is ultra-processed. Many heart issues such as cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease are 10% more likely to appear in those who consume ultra-processed foods. It also increases one’s chances of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Additionally, these foods have also been linked to mood imbalances causing anxiety and depression.
Issues with Marketing
While there are many tests out there that explain the negative results of eating ultra-processed foods, big food corporations like General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Nestlé hide all of these health concerns with marketing. Have you ever questioned why junk food has such bright attention-grabbing colors and designs? Or why do a lot of these products have mascots like Tony the Tiger that is used to market to children? The same marketing strategies are not done on strawberries or grapes, however, it seems like you see an ad for sugary soda or chips every time you turn on the TV.
As a Nation, everyone should be concerned about the level of marketing that is done on junk foods. They reflect negatively on your health and are detrimental to creating lifelong healthy habits in children. From the moment kids learn how to speak, they are being marketed to and most, if not all, marketing is for foods they should not be consuming. On average 1.8 million is spent by food and beverage companies to market to children two and older. At some point, you begin to wonder if what these companies are doing is even ethical. Perhaps it is more about the profit and less about people’s health.
What You Can Do
You cannot trust companies to look out for your health. If you want to avoid consuming chemicals in your food, it is up to you to do it. Humans were meant to live off of the land and eat a whole food diet full of fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats. One of the best ways to prevent yourself from developing diseases is to learn how to fuel your body. The next time you are at the grocery store, avoid the junk food aisles and focus on filling your cart with whole foods. If you are new at it and don’t know where to start, there are plenty of cookbooks out there teaching newbies how to eat and make meals with whole foods. In a world full of marketing and ultra-processed foods, the only person you can look out for is yourself.