mcdonalds fast food junk food burger chips

Real-life demonstrations bring home just how fast a diet of convenience foods can wreck your health

As one-man science experiments go, Dr Chris van Tulleken’s recent diet stunt was pretty spectacular.

After 28 days on an 80% ultra-processed food diet – ready meals, fried chicken, pizza and the like – he believes his body aged by 10 years. He put on a stone, developed man-boobs, piles, low libido, erectile dysfunction, anxiety, sleeplessness and heartburn.

His experience echoes the results of Morgan Spurlock’s infamous ‘Supersize Me’ diet in 2004, and that of Professor Tim Spector’s 2014 research, where his obliging son agreed to eat junk for 10 days. He put on 1.8 kilos and lost 1,400 bacterial species in his gut.

These vivid demonstrations of just how fast a diet of convenience foods wrecks your health cut through the oceans of words communicated around the subject of food.

A considerable body of robust scientific evidence now shows ultra-processed food (UPF) – defined as “formulations of food substances often modified by chemical processes and then assembled into ready-to-consume hyper-palatable food and drink products using flavours, colours, emulsifiers and … other cosmetic additives” – is a disaster.

A recent study by Spanish scientists, for instance, found “consumption of UPF was associated with greater age-related visceral and overall adiposity accumulation”.

But that’s dry and academic. These real-life anecdotes cut to the chase. A before and after picture paints a thousand words.

Dr van Tulleken blames UPF companies for driving obesity. The economics of industrial food manufacturing mean people can buy UPF more cheaply than unprocessed meat, fish, fruit and veg, and they market it to the public as healthy.

Supermarkets aid and abet this myth because ultra-processing adds value to commodity ingredients and therefore makes for bigger retail profits.

That government diet gurus perpetuate this lie, as do many dieticians, appeasing the UPF corporations and their life-shortening products as an inevitability of modern life, is truly unforgivable.

Dr van Tulleken shows no such apathy: “Guidelines need to acknowledge UPF is the cause of most of the obesity epidemic, particularly with children,” he concludes, and he’s dead right.

Why can’t the government ‘healthy eating’ machine bring itself to spit out the crucial words the public really needs to know? Avoid ultra-processed food.