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Ultra-Processed foods and Noncommunicable Diseases

Unhealthy commodities (including ultra-processed foods, soft drinks, tobacco and alcohol) are important risk factors for many chronic noncommunicable diseases. 60 to 65% of all deaths globally are caused by noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and diabetes. This amounts to 34.5 million of 52.8 million total deaths (in 2010).

The World Health Organization indicates that 80% of heart disease, strokes, and type 2 diabetes could be prevented by eliminating the major risk factors including tobacco, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use.

Death is not the only consequence of using unhealthy commodities. Noncommunicable diseases impose years of reduced functionality or disability on people around the world. There is growing evidence from research studies linking the rates of consumption of unhealthy commodities with many debilitating noncommunicable diseases (especially obesity).

Photo by colros

In one comprehensive study, those who consumed the most ultraprocessed food had the highest BMIs, were most likely to be smokers, watched more TV and had the highest fat and lowest protein and fiber intake. They consumed the most fast food, fried foods, ate processed meats, consumed the fewest vegetables, and drank sugar-sweetened beverages. This shows an integration of behaviors that lead to disease, disability, and death.

Unhealthy Commodities Produce Profits

Companies that produce unhealthy commodities are businesses that strive to make higher and higher profits. Their aim is to make products that have low production costs, a long shelf-life, taste good, and a high retail value. These characteristics make for higher profits. Soft drink and tobacco producers are among the most profitable market sectors. It is estimated that the profit Coco-Cola’s rakes in amounts to a quarter of the retail price for their products.

Long shelf-life typically requires high levels of processing. This normally means the removal of nutrients to produce what are often called “food like substances.” Highly processed products (called ultra-processed) are made from substances such as oils, fats, flours, starches, various forms of sugar, salt, and cheaper parts of meat. They typically have a high glycemic load (producing spikes in blood sugar), are low in soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, and low in both micronutrients and phytochemicals.

In a study of food products purchases by Americans, more than 80% of calories were from ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat products. Especially for ready-to-eat products, they exceeded the Dietary Guidelines for Americans limits for saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Such products include frozen pizza, pasta dishes, nuggets, crisps, cereal, energy bars, sugary drinks, and various snack products.

Over 50 percent of U.S. diet made up of “ultra-processed” foods

Most such products are manufactured, packaged attractively, and advertised by large international conglomerates. They are typically intensely palatable, not perishable, and ready to eat. These products are readily available, priced competitively, and are are aggressively marketed with media advertising and product placements. This gives manufactured food products multiple advantages over most raw ingredients that require time and effort to obtain and prepare and often spoil if not used quickly.

In the United States and most developed countries these ultra-processed food like substances have largely replaced foods prepared in the home from raw, fresh, minimally processed ingredients. You just need to go to any grocery store or supermarket and walk down the aisles to see all the manufactured products while the fresh, raw ingredients are on the perimeter or periphery of the store.

You are probably very familiar with such products. Top ten manufactures of packaged foods in the US are:

  • Kraft Foods, Inc.
  • PepsiCo Inc
  • Nestle SA
  • Mars Inc
  • Kellogg Co
  • General Mills Inc
  • The Hershey Co
  • ConAgra Foods Inc
  • Unilever Inc
  • Campbell Soup Inc

No doubt you have many products from these manufacturers and their subsidiaries in your home right now.

How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal

Manufacturers Reluctant to Change

There are tremendous profits to be made from unhealthy commodities. So, there is little incentive for manufacturers to transition away from these products. No company wants their quarterly earnings to fall below expectations for several consecutive quarters; it could well lead to a change in management.

To combat the perception that their food products are unhealthy, food manufactures have followed a number of strategies that were first used by tobacco companies. These strategies are basically to influence both the public and governmental leaders.

Public Perception of Health

Most processed food manufacturers seemingly promote health through various research projects and health initiatives. This helps focus attention on other causes for noncommunicable diseases. For example, Roger K. Deromedi, then Chief Executive Officer of Kraft Foods talked about its Worldwide Health & Wellness Advisory Council and their efforts at promoting health:

“Our ongoing actions are part of a broader societal response to growing health and wellness concerns, including obesity. It’s going to take a comprehensive approach that involves many sectors of society to truly accelerate the change that’s needed. We’re ready, as are many other food companies, to collaborate and cooperate with governments, policy experts, industries and communities around the world.”

Diversifying into what is perceived as healthy foods is another strategy. Kellogg’s chief executive Steven A. Cahillane talked about strategies to retain and gain market share. He wants to stabilize market share in the morning foods area. But, Kellogg is not standing still. He indicated that Kellogg is making a transition “from primarily a cereal business to much more of an innovative snacking business.” Part of this strategy was the acquisition of RXBAR, makers of whole food protein bars. Cahillane said, “That’s a business that filled the white space for us and is doing incredibly well and really connecting with consumers and growing rapidly.”

General Mills give the public reassurance about GMOs in their products. They cite such prestigious bodies as the US Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the World Health Organization as supporting the safety of genetically modified organisms.

But, General Mills is also promoting organic foods through diversification. It has acquired several organic food producers including Small Planet Foods (owner of Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen brands), Humm Foods (makers og LÄRABAR fruit and nut bars), Food Should Taste Good (maker of all-natural snacks), Immaculate Baking (making wholesome cookies), Annie’s (producer of organic and natural food products), and EPIC Provisions (providing meat snacks).

Government Lobbying

Lobbying for favorable laws or against unfavorable laws is an important function for grocery manufacturers. A major lobbying group supported by food manufacturers is the Grocery Manufacturers Association. In 2017 it spent $2,396,752 for its lobbying efforts.

But, many food manufacturers are leaving the Grocery Manufacturers Association because of their perceived antiquated policies. These manufacturers ( like Campbell Soup, Nestlé, Dean Foods, Mars, Tyson Foods, Unilever, the Hershey Company, Cargill, the Kraft Heinz Company, and DowDuPont) are working on their own.

And, the combined efforts of all the food industry’s lobbying efforts are most successful.

Time in a report Experts Say Lobbying Skewed the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, indicates that many doctors say the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture are “out of step with the latest medical research.” The guidelines are the result of work by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee made up of experts in health and nutrition.

But, Time indicates that there are discrepancies between the committee’s report and the final Dietary Guidelines for Americans document. The differences are due to “lobbying and manipulation of data” by the food industry. The article points out that the USDA’s primary stakeholders are major food producers and manufacturers rather than the public.

In addition, political pressure shapes what the final guidelines can tell the public. For example, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee described a healthy diet as being “lower in red and processed meats” as well as “low in sugar-sweetened drinks.” Yet, these recommendations never made it to the final document.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco criticized the USDA’s food pyramid which suggests a majority of your food come from carbohydrates. He indicated that “This advice to eat more carbs and avoid fat is exactly backwards if you want to improve health and lower body weight.”

It’s as if the US Department of Agriculture was more interested in the health of the food producers than the health of the food consumers.

Conclusion: Health is a Personal Choice

If you are to become and remain healthy, it’s up to you.

We cannot depend on the food providers, the government, nor even the medical community with limited understanding of nutrition.

You must take ownership of your own health. Learn how to help your body restore and maintain health. It’s your best option for a long and vibrant life.

References

Stop Cancer Before it Starts

There are many organizations dedicated to finding the causes of and cures for cancer. You probably know recognize many of these such as:

  • The American Cancer Society
  • Cancer Research Institute
  • The Lance Armstrong Foundation
  • Lungevity Foundation
  • Susan G. Koman for the Cure
  • Leukaemia Research Fund

Yet, none of these organizations will be of much benefit to you if you do not practice good cancer prevention strategies.

Stop Cancer Before it Starts

Your probably already know how to prevent most cancers. We don’t need more research to discover these simple cancer stopping techniques.

tobacco photo

Photo by simone.brunozzi

  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco.
  • Eat healthy foods. This means plenty of fruits and vegetables, avoid processed meats and, if you must drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
  • Avoid obesity. Maintain a healthy weight and get plenty of exercise.
  • Avoid overexposure to the sun. Skin cancer is a common form of cancer.
  • Avoid carcinogens. These include viruses, bacteria, and parasites as well as air, water and soil pollution.
  • Avoid a compromised immune system.

Some Cancer Prevention Research to Keep in Mind

Eat Your Veggies

One study published in the journal Epidemiology studied how fruits and vegetables affected rates of cancer of the colon, rectum, and breast. The authors indicated that carotenoids, flavonoids, phenols, isothiocynates, fiber, and vitamins C and E could have anti-carcinogenic effects.

They found that raw carrots were the only vegetable that lowered cancer risks by 20% or more for all three types of cancer. They also found that apples, pears, and kiwi were associated with at least a 5% risk reduction for all three cancer types.

Overall high intake of raw vegetables lowered risks by 20% for colon cancer, 18% for cancer of the rectum, and 15% for breast cancer.

Cooked vegetables also reduced risks by 28% for colon cancer, 20% for cancer of the rectum, and 4% for breast cancer.

Watch Out for Sugar

Cancer cells love glucose (blood sugar). They take in and metabolize glucose faster than normal cells.
sugar photo
This fact allows positron emission tomography (PET) scans to detect cancerous tumors without invasive operations. This is possible by giving the patient a glucose analogue of slightly radioactive FDG, The cancer cells suck this up and it accumulates in cancerous tumors and can easily be detected in a PET scan.

Another study published in the journal Cancer investigated various glucose transport mechanisms in human breast cancer.

Glucose transport across cell boundaries is performed with the help of various protein enzymes. They found that the so-called Glut-1, Glut-2 and Glut-4 protein enzymes were active in breast cancer, but Glut-3 and Glut-5 mechanisms were not as active. Glut-1 was the most actives means of taking glucose into breast cancer cells. Such studies can help identify ways to slow down or inhibit the sugar feeding of cancer cells.

Another study published in the British Journal of Cancer looked at breast cancer rates in various countries. The researchers found that the rate of breast cancer in older women (aged 65-69) were positively correlated with sugar and fat consumption.

Yet another study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined risks for pancreatic cancer and consumption of sugar sweetened foods. The study looked at 77,797 women and men.

This study found that those who consumed the most sugar were 1.95 times as likely to get pancreatic cancer as those consuming the least amount of sugar. Similarly for soft drinks, those who consumed most were 2.3 times as likely to get pancreatic cancer as those who consumed the fewest soft drinks.

The researchers thought that high levels of blood glucose created oxidative stress which resulted in free radical damage to the pancreatic cells. The idea is that the regions of the pancreas produce hormones have low concentrations of antioxidant enzymes. Thus, they are especially susceptible to glucose created free radicals.

Yet another study published in the British Medical Journal examined how the consumption of sugar and fat affected the risk of colorectal cancer.

They found that the overall calorie intake of those with large bowel cancer was 18% higher than their control group without cancer. Those with cancer consumed 21% more carbohydrates than those without cancer.

The cancer patients consumed 41% more sugars with little or no fiber and 19% less natural sugars with fiber. They found that the third of the study group consuming the most refined sugars (with high energy to fiber ratios) had an 8 times greater risk of contracting large bowel cancer than those in the lower third of refined sugar consumption.

If you’re not convinced already, another study published in the journal Cancer Causes and Control looked at the medical history of 98,030 women aged 55 to 69 years in Iowa. These women were mailed a questionnaire on known and suspected cancer risk-factors.

They found that BMI was related directly to cancer risk. Cancer risk for 60% of the women with the highest BMIs was from 40 to 70 percent higher than for those in the lowest 40% of BMIs. There was also double the risk of colon cancer in women consuming the most sucrose-containing foods.

You Can Stop Cancer Before it Starts

Research tells us not only the causes of cancer, but how to prevent many cancers types.

Cancer prevention strategies include consuming healthy fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed sugars that are depleted of fiber.

Unfortunately, this requires some effort on your part. You’ll need to about most of the manufactured foods that contain lots of added sugars. And, you’ll need to eat more raw fruits and vegetables.

If you like fruit or vegetable juices, switch to blended smoothies that retain the natural fiber.

Cancer prevention is a choice you must make. Make the right choices and stay healthy.