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  • Writer's pictureDavid Kirsch

You Really Are What You Eat: Ultra - Processed Foods and Human Health

I was inspired by a Instagram post by renown doctor Mark Hyman, where he cites and references research presented in the Lancet (link below). New research has found that bad diets are responsible for more deaths than smoking! Take a moment to let that startling statement sink in. Sadly, Western diets are too often characterized by high amounts of sugars and sugary drinks, salts and saturated fats, and far too little of the 'healthy stuff' - dietary fiber and vitamins - fruits and vegetables, whole grains. Further, research shows a correlation between a high intake of Ultra Processed Foods and an increased risk of several chronic conditions:

  • obesity and cardiometabolic outcomes

  • mortality

  • cancer, and

  • depressive symptoms

There are many factors at play here. In our fast - paced lives - balancing work, family and life - fast food, by definition, is often the quick and efficient way to feed our families due to availability, cost and minimal prep time. But are we getting more than we think we are when we open a box of 'ready to eat' meals? Additives, food coloring, artificial preservatives and sweeteners, trans fats - 'food matrix modification' - entice us and alter our level of satiety and often lead to overconsumption. Food manufacturers often create foods with the goal of 'igniting the cycle of addiction' - 'food cravings.' The balance of salty and sweet, and fatty flavors are often hard to resist triggering the brain to react in a similar way as with cocaine and other drug addictions.

While it may prove daunting to always control cravings, here are some steps we can take - for us and for our children to control them:

  1. They say the best offense is a good defense. Planning your meals and snacks ahead of time, will help you stave off your grabbing for the leftover slice of pizza, or candy bar. research by The National Institute of Health (NIH) speaks to reducing your 'food cue reactivity' - your susceptibility to being influenced by the food smells, advertisements, and conversations surrounding you every day.

  2. Meal planning and preparation - speak to your children and 'schedule' your meals. I fondly remember growing up and knowing that each day meant something different - chicken, fish, meat.. As a single parent to 12-year old twin girls, I've learned to cook for a few days at a time. Some of our favorites - turkey chili, chicken soup, vegetable and/or chicken stir fry, and eggplant parm to name a few.

  3. Include your family in the process - shopping for groceries and being mindful to shop the 'whole foods' aisles - from produce and fresh vegetables, fruits, grains and proteins - to ensure that you're getting the nutrients you need from these 'healthy foods,' so you have less craving for the 'processed foods.'

  4. Healthy fats - from nuts to avocado - are nutrient - rich, will satisfy satiety and help reduce cravings

  5. Eat your protein - protein is not only good for growing bodies and muscles, it also will help you feel full so you have less room for 'junk food.'

  6. Keep the message positive. Focus on the positive aspects of healthy eating, rather than focusing on the need to remove junk food. Encouraging and promoting eating healthful, nutrient - rich foods, leave less room in your belly and less time for your brain to focus on 'junk food.


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