Two pieces of research published this week added to a host of similar research that’s emanated over recent years, suggesting the amount of junk food we now eat is killing us.
To be more precise, too much junk food makes us fat and ill, and the consequence over time will be premature death. That illness-factor is down to non-communicable diseases which range from type 2 diabetes through hypertension to certain cancers.
Remarkably, one of these pieces of research came from France, a country not known for its ‘junkfood’ diet, so just imagine what would happen if such research were carried out in the US or UK, where on average, more than half the diet is ‘junk’. Using data from 44,551 French adults who participate in an ongoing French study (an observational cohort study launched in May 2009), the results are difficult to dispute.
So what is junk food?
Let's first consider briefly a separate research paper, this time of a quite different nature. Kevin Hall of the US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, published the results of a one-month, intensive random controlled trial, which showed the following: when people have no choice - that is, they are fed a diet of exclusively junk food - they eat substantially more compared to when they eat a diet of minimally processed food. In just four weeks, they gained close to a kilo on the junk food diet while losing on average more than a kilo when eating what many refer to as #realfood - technically, that's minimally processed food.
Add these two pieces of research together and the message is simple: if you limit the availability of junk food, you are likely to have an effective anti-obesity strategy. Bingo, we have potentially solved the world's largest epidemic. But... not so fast.
So back to that question, since we quite evidently need more precision; what then is junk food?
For the purposes of both of these pieces of research, we are looking at a broad range of food and drinks encompassing pretty much all ultra-processed food (UPF), and this is the definition of such junk food that they use:
“The formulation and the ingredients of these products make them highly convenient (ready-to-consume), highly attractive (hyper-palatable), highly profitable (low cost ingredients), and – of great importance – highly competitive with foods that are naturally ready to consume and freshly prepared dishes and meals. As a result of their formulation, products belonging to this food group are intrinsically nutrient unbalanced and tend to be consumed in great amounts. We termed this group ‘ultraprocessed food and drink products’.”
In a nutshell, we are talking about the ‘bread and butter’ business of all large international food companies, from Nestle to Unilever to PepsiCo and more... except butter, of course is a minimally processed food! In fact, just 10 large enterprises with their global supply chains control most of the highly profitable, highly processed food that we eat more and more of every day. They also employ hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and enjoy connections that reach high up into the government bodies and charitable institutions that provide us with dietary guidelines and sundry advice.
Will we act on this new information?
We kind of know that junk food is bad for us but now, thanks to the latest research, the correlation is getting stronger. There is no proof... no direct causal linkage, just as there's no real causal linkage between eating saturated fat (regular milk and butter) and heart disease or consuming red meat and colon cancer, but we acted on them and changed dietary advice based on smaller and less damning correlations.
So the critical question is: will we act on this new information?
That's highly unlikely. Too many jobs are involved and too many vested interests stand to lose face - and money. It's much easier to blame fat, salt and sugar and get the big companies to reformulate their 'new improved junk food' with the latest concoction of artificial sweeteners, cheap oils, emulsifiers and so on. Mark my words, the message for years to come will remain, 'move more and eat less', oh and 'count your calories'. Insanity is famously defined as doing something repeatedly and expecting different results. Well, I guess we live in a crazy world.
"FAT IS OUR FRIEND" ADVOCATES A DIET:
Sammy Pepys was the pseudonym used by James Capon when writing this book. He is not a doctor or a nutritionist but has studied nutrition and holds an MPH from Edinburgh University. Over the years, he has become increasingly suspicious of today's conventional wisdom about diet and health. When it comes to what we eat, he has helped many learn to eat more healthily.