The food debate has long reached the conclusion that one of the causes of obesity is unhealthy diet. This enables an assessment as to why people engage in such nutritional practices. With the prevalence of the fast food culture, it is inevitable that people will eat unhealthy, processed food because these are easily available. In any case, food processing is already a given. Modern times require the need for food that can be preserved and stored over long periods of time, products that can be consumed after a blast in the microwave, and meals that can be made by just adding some hot water.
The processed food issue is not simple. People have been processing food for centuries, and in fact, that carton of milk sitting in the fridge was indeed processed. A significant portion of what we eat now went through the different stages of processing. To bring light to this matter, Carlos Monteiro published a commentary at the Journal of the World Public Health and Nutrition Association which discussed how “ultra-processed” foods are the cause of obesity. The professor from University of São Paulo‘s Center for Epidemiological Studies in Health and Nutrition pointed out that the problem now lies in the process and not just in the nutrients.
Monteiro enumerated the three types of food processing, as follows:
- Type one - this is the type of processing includes drying, parboiling and pasteurization. These processes are known to modify the material at a minimal degree, thus preventing the food from crucially changing its nutritional profile.
- Type two – food is subject to processes including crushing, refining or extrusion, and the use of enzymes. The chemical component of the food is thereby changed at a certain degree.
- Type three – type three processing, which Monteiro refers to as “ultra processing”, usually integrates several ingredients which have gone through different levels of processing.
Evidently, the third type of processing is noted as the bad guy. Monteiro mentioned that due to the need to extend shelf life and to integrate certain functions outside its natural life cycle, food is transformed into a highly unnatural state. As a result, harmful components such as oils, solid fats, sugars, salt, flours and starches need to be used, in addition to the processed versions of these ingredients.
Processed food as an instrument for obesity has long been recognized, with many studies mostly pointing out the caloric aspect of the problem. In an article published by Craig Lamber in the Harvard Magazine in 2004, the author discussed the combination of serving size, types of food, and lack of exercise as the cause of obesity. Monteiro’s commentary also steps outside the nutritional shortcomings of these ultra-processed food; he also pointed out that this type of food can make products look seem healthy. Hence, options that indicate “light”, “premium” or “fortified” are actually heavily processed.
Over-processing is a means to transform the food into a completely different state. The integration of chemicals and a slew of processes takes the food farther from its natural condition. This consequentially leads to losing its original nutritional profile. Ultra-processing takes the lost value of the food by replacing them with certain “features” that are supposed to appeal to the modern consumer. Monteiro also notes that the processing does not end with the food; the entire practice of over packaging also contributes to the clouded perceptions of the consumers.
In the end, for the sake of something fast, convenient, and extra-large, obesity is no longer an option but a natural occurrence, the end-product of a long process which begins with a basic, unharmed ingredient.
November 8th, 2010