Let’s bag the ultra-processed food industry – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

If you’re like me and get what seems like 7 million reminders to do things better, you know that this is a self-improvement month .My inbox is full of suggestions for getting in shape, losing weight, eating better …you name it.  Watch the news and you’ll see reporters give tips on what diets to follow to help you live longer and healthier. Ironically, those reports are interspersed with ads for the Ultra-processed food” (UPF) you’re being told to avoid. The processed food industry is spending big bucks to promote their UPF yummies containing high levels of saturated fat, salt and sugar. Having learned long ago that UPFs contributes to my chronic inflammation, I’m determined to counteract the 14 billions of dollars spent annually marketing this crap.

Did you know that about 73% of our country’s food supply is ultra-processed and are about 52% cheaper than less processed alternatives. Further, of all the advertisements related to food or drink, almost 80 % were junk food ads. We’re being played!

I know that not everyone has chronic inflammation like I do where eating this stuff can affect my joints, liver, mental health, heart, diabetes, cancer…keep going. But inflammation is a player in almost every chronic disease, which affect approximately 133 million Americans. That’s more than 40% of our total population.

“You are what you eat” isn’t new. A version of that saying goes back goes back 2 centuries. The difference today is that science can give us the nasty details. Eating UPFs consistently in early childhood has been associated with lower scores in verbal ability and increased odds of mathematical difficulties. Yes, UPFs may hinder the development of cognitive function in children, resulting in a can’t-fix-stupid situation for future generations. 

And it’s not just our young folks who suffer from UPF-ism.  Middle-aged people who have eaten the most junk food for years have a faster rate (up to 28%) of cognitive decline, compared with people who ate the least junk food.

Yup, food inflammation affects the neuron cells of the brain, making a mess. So if you’re already having problems with the way your brain and body work, check out your diet. 

I didn’t know about that when as a teenager, I got out of bed to get ready for school, fell over and couldn’t get up. It would be decades before medical science discovered that the inflammation caused by eating wheat/gluten had affected virtually every bone and corpuscle in my body. Most of you aren’t in the same celiac boat and don’t have to be as careful as I do. But what I’ve learned about food inflammation could help you to avoid inflammation. And you can manage what’s already embedded in you that you may not even be aware of yet.

Of course, toss out all your UPFs. But that’s just the beginning. You’ll need to be super proactive because the industry can get pretty sneaky. Read all the labels at the grocery store, especially the smallest print because the industry likes to hide information. For example, some items claiming to be gluten-free in Caps, have small print caveats: “made in a facility that processes wheat”. 

Beware! A recent package of stevia, a plant-based sweetener, looked fairly safe. But the small print says dextrose was added. Even without diabetes, monitor your blood sugar when taking dextrose.Too much dextrose can build up fat, resulting in obesity‌. Depressing!

Remember, the “neoroprotective” foods not only help depression but also avoid early onset of dementia. So put a spotlight on your salmon, blueberries and leafy greens. Boycott those billion-dollar industries, make UPFs ancient history. Live long and prosper!


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