Manufacturers of nutritionally compromised convenience foods use product reformulation as a shield to maintain their malign grip on what we eat. Take out a few grams of sugar or salt here and there, multiply it by the numbers of product you sell, then pose shamelessly as public health champions.
Subsequent governments have appeased this reformulation doctrine. They’re putty in the hands of the offending, powerful companies and the mighty multiples that so lucratively supply our national habit for hyper-processed junk.
Preparedness to legitimise such food-like substances seems to be a key requirement for advancement in the UK’s public health technocracy. The latest packeted ‘soup and shakes’ diet with ingredients lists that run to paragraphs, advocated by Public Health England, is a case in point.
Prominent NGOs, craving importance, connive in this fiction. A little move in the right direction is better than nothing. It’s unrealistic to tell people to cook more and eat real food. I’ve heard this limp rationale for decades. Either they’ve been brainwashed by the industrial food industry’s rhetoric, or they relish their inclusion in the failing inner circle of what passes for nutrition policy in this country.
Reformulated ultra-processed foods are almost invariably still ultra-processed, an ever-so-slight improvement on a wholly negative thing. The food equivalent of a menthol cigarette, if you like. They cloud the key issue: ultra-processed foods have no place in a life-sustaining diet.
So concludes the latest thoroughgoing review of science on the subject by academics at Deakin University in Australia. The authors – Phillip Baker, Mark Lawrence, and Priscilla Machado – state unequivocally that the more ultra-processed food we eat, the higher our risk of obesity, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, frailty, depression and death.
And the case against ultra-processed food becomes more detailed every day. For instance, we now know that additives – such as the emulsifiers used in so-called ‘low-fat’ formulations – and techno-ingredients, such as artificial sweeteners, effect changes on our gut microbiota that are associated with obesity and inflammatory disease.
UK dietary guidelines should be changed to give people clear advice: avoid ultra-processed foods altogether. As the Australian team says: “These foods are terrible for our health.”