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  #1   ^
Old Mon, Jan-01-24, 10:54
Demi's Avatar
Demi Demi is offline
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Default The only health resolution worth making this year

The only health resolution worth making this year

One key change could revolutionise our health and wellbeing in 2024

Tim Spector

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions because they rarely work. But this year, I urge you all to make one: cut down on how much fake food you eat.

What do I mean by fake food? I mean the packaged, glossy, edible food-like substances lining our shelves that are slowly reducing our life and health span.

Choosing what we eat is the most important decision we can make to improve our health and the health of the planet, so in 2024 let’s make it a priority.

In 2023, ultra-processed food (UPF) regularly made headlines – and for all the wrong reasons. In my view, each year these products make 2.5 million people sick and prevent them from working and living healthy lives.

Everyone in the UK would benefit from reducing their intake of UPFs and increasing their intake of real food.

Now, I’m partial to a chocolate digestive, and I enjoy them as a treat every so often. But for many of us in the UK, UPFs make up a large percentage – around 60 per cent – of our total calorie intake each day. And worryingly, for children that percentage is even higher.

Compared with other countries, we are doing quite poorly. Only the US consumes more UPFs than us.

UPFs are designed to be easy to eat and difficult to stop eating. Their texture and lack of fibre make them quick to digest, leading to spikes in blood sugar and blood fat, which cause inflammation. UPFs also leave you feeling hungry, causing you to eat more than you need.

So how do you spot UPFs in the supermarket?

Although there are academic arguments about the precise definition of UPFs, in practice they are easy to spot. If you couldn’t find most of the ingredients listed on the packet in your kitchen, it’s ultra-processed.

While it’s probably no surprise to you that chocolate digestives are classed as UPFs, it’s likely you consume more of these products than you realise. For instance, most supermarket breads, breakfast cereals, snacks and juices are also UPFs. They are everywhere and they are increasingly difficult to avoid.

I was recently at a conference about the future of nutrition in the UK, and not one speaker mentioned the elephant in the room: UPFs. There was some talk of fibre and the complexity of polyphenols, liquid soups and miracle shakes that reverse Type 2 diabetes, lots of reformulating and “fortifying” foods, and plenty of excitement about drugs like Ozempic.

Fortifying food is certainly a good idea for countries where access to enough food is challenging. But in the UK we have more than enough to go around.

We cannot reformulate and medicate our way out of our nutritional slump. The problem is that the vast majority of the food we eat is rubbish: UPFs are very low in nutrients. Fortifying them is not the answer. It’s like putting a sticking plaster on an amputated limb.

I was invited to join the panel at the end of the conference alongside esteemed academics, a community dietitian and some industry voices. Like the line-up on Have I Got News For You, everyone had a statement.

The science and the talks were interesting, but because industry representatives were in the room, nobody wanted to be the person to raise the biggest issue: the quality of our food.

My friend Henry Dimbleby closed the conference by outlining the huge cost of NHS care directly caused by poor diet. The evidence is clear: epidemiological studies involving hundreds of thousands of people show a very obvious relationship between eating more UPFs and worse health outcomes.

Brilliant research based on data from the UK Biobank shows that changing our Western diet to a healthy diet could add 10 years to our lives. People are losing an entire decade of life because Big Food has a stranglehold on the discussion surrounding these products. Adding extra calcium, protein or fibre to an otherwise nutrient-free lump does not constitute a health intervention.

Most of the people at the conference likely don’t get the majority of their calories from UPFs, but they are in the minority in the UK. According to an apocryphal story, Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake” when she learned that the peasants were starving. Today, we are showing a similar disregard for the general population. We are essentially saying “Let them eat edible food-like substances that make them sick”.

So why aren’t we doing something about this? It is a disgrace that the government is largely ignoring this problem, but it is not altogether surprising. Modern politics is short-term. Any intervention is unlikely to make a difference before the next election, so if making a positive change won’t help them stay in power, their motivation to make that change is low.

But they are allowing our nation to sleepwalk deeper into a health crisis.

Another issue is our susceptibility to marketing. We don’t question the motives of advertisers. It is important to remember that if a company has paid big bucks to push their product, they have zero interest in your health. They simply want you to buy it. They do not add fibre or protein to UPFs to help you stay healthy. They do it to lure you in under false pretences with their carefully pitched “health halo”.

Added to this, many of us these days cannot cook or have limited abilities in the kitchen. This is partly because cooking is no longer taught in schools. Of course, this suits the food companies – 10 of which control almost 80 per cent of our food.

These immense companies make billions annually, providing ample money to lobby MPs and health ministers and influence food scientists with new labs and grants. It is not dissimilar to how the tobacco industry operated in the Eighties and Nineties.

Research shows that it costs the country £98 billion each year to treat the conditions associated with the UPF-rich Western diet, increasing the burden on the taxpayer.

UPFs increase the risk of developing obesity, some cancers, heart disease, stroke, and mental health conditions. With the NHS already under immense pressure, it could do without the extra burden caused by the food industry.

Personally, uncovering this information while researching my books has been a real journey. And it is a problem that seems to be getting worse.

So what can we do about it? We might approach the UPF problem in a similar way to the tobacco problem – start with adding warning labels. Block the use of health halos. Expand the current sugar tax and use the profits to subsidise real food.

There is no need to ban UPFs, but the population deserves to know how these products affect their health. It needs to be made clear. And giant food companies should not be allowed to infer that their edible food-like substances are in any way benefiting people’s health. It is nothing short of a lie.

This year, it’s time for us to vote with our wallets. UPFs are incredibly profitable for food manufacturers. They’re cheap to make, scientifically designed to be overeaten and have a long shelf life.

Together, let’s stop making them so profitable. If we leave these products on the shelves, they won’t go off for months, but they will stop making Big Food richer and us sicker.

If you only make one New Year’s resolution, cutting back on your UPF intake is a strong choice. Your health will thank you for it.
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  #2   ^
Old Mon, Jan-01-24, 18:31
Dodger's Avatar
Dodger Dodger is online now
Posts: 8,740
Plan: Paleoish/Keto
Stats: 225/167/175 Male 71.5 inches
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I've been avoiding UPFs before they were called UPFs. The carbs and industrial oils kept me away.
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  #3   ^
Old Mon, Jan-01-24, 18:46
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Ms Arielle Ms Arielle is offline
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Posts: 19,133
Plan: atkins, carnivore 2023
Stats: 200/211/163 Female 5'8"
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Location: Massachusetts

Why not ban or regulate? Drinking ages are regulated. Smoking ages. Age to purchase them.

Some food items are already banned. Lets keep improving food quality.

As for New Year's resolutions.... Resolutions are made without the support and planning necessary to become a successful. Most resolutions are just a wishful statement.
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