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The Dirt on Ultra Processed Foods

Food is medicine: it is chemical information, it’s what your body is made of. Without the right food, our bodies receive the wrong instructions!


But these days, the standard North American diet is made up of over 60% ultra-processed foods (UPF). These are edible products that are usually made up of components from corn, wheat, and soy, along with additives, colorings, stabilizers, preservatives and flavour enhancers designed to make them have a long shelf life and be hyper-palatable. These unnatural ingredients are then processed in industrial factories to make food products that look nothing like the food our ancestors ate.


You won’t find any of these industrial ingredients in any normal kitchen. That’s why they are often referred to as “Frankenfoods”! These foods are addictive and nutrient-depleted. They make us sick and obese, but drive us to eat more, seeking missing nutrients and craving salt, sugar and fat.


The production of UPF really began after World War Two and is ever increasing. These foods make up most of our grocery shelves, and are crammed with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, salt, sugar, and other chemicals. If you eat a lot of UPF you likely consume an extra 500 calories, and those are empty calories!


To be clear, cooking, drying and fermenting are traditional ways we have always processed our food, and these are not bad. It’s the way the food has been processed that matters.


Be on the lookout for ultra-processed foods. Here are some things to look for:


  • Refined oils are industrially processed, using chemicals to extract and clarify them. They often contain glyphosate because canola and soybean oil, used primarily in food processing, are grown with the herbicide Roundup.


  • Hydrogenated oils are chemically altered to make them solid at room temperature. Everyone agrees these are bad for our health.


  • High fructose corn syrup did not exist in our food until the 1970’s. It is a major contributor to diabetes, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver. This is a highly processed industrial sweetener that does not exist in nature, which harms the gut and is highly inflammatory.  

  • Foods advertised on TV are almost universally UPF: the worst foods have the most TV ads and are often aimed at children. We almost never see vegetables or fruit advertised on TV, unless they have been turned into a frozen pizza or dessert!  

  • Fast food restaurants use the cheapest ingredients with lots of fillers, flavour enhancers and other chemical ingredients: otherwise no one would want to eat them! Have you noticed the smell of rancid fats as you walk past those places?  

  • MSG is a known neurotoxin and is often listed as “natural flavouring”.  

  • Cheese can be ultra-processed. For example, processed cheese is not allowed to be called cheese: the label will say “cheese product”. And spray cheese? Any food in an aerosol can is not food!  

  • Artificial sweeteners actually increase obesity, increase inflammation, and damage the gut microbiome. Sugar alcohols cause bloating and diarrhea. You can spot these on the label because they usually end with “tol”, like sorbitol or xylitol.  

  • Dyes and preservatives are used in most UPF. The average person unwittingly eats pounds of these per year. They are banned in many countries.


The bottom line is the consumption of UPF has been shown to significantly increase mortality. It’s a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer: the diseases that plague the over-fed and under-nourished. 


Ask yourself, what did people eat historically? Would your great-grandmother have served it, or even recognized it?  If you read a long label and don’t understand or can’t pronounce the ingredients listed, don’t buy it!


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