First guidelines The committee examines the science around obesity and ultra-processed foods, or industrially produced foods that contain unusual combinations of flavors, additives and ingredients not found in nature. These include chicken nuggets, sweetened breakfast cereals, boxed macaroni and cheese, frozen dinners, potato chips, fast food, and more.
The committee’s conclusions could signal a major shift in the way Americans view nutrition, with Americans looking beyond the basic nutrients in food and instead focusing on how food is made. , forcing us to think about what happens before it reaches the table.
Major changes will occur in this country’s eating habits.
Nutrition experts say the emphasis on ultra-processed foods in the upcoming guidelines could have a significant impact on the country’s diet and national food plans. Dietary guidelines help determine what foods can be provided to the approximately 30 million American children who participate in the National School Lunch Program. The guidelines impact the food industry, food assistance programs, and agricultural production. These affect the types of meals served in government buildings and military bases.
Critics have long argued that current health guidelines incorrectly focus on individual nutrients and ignore the effects of processed products and additives. This allows food companies to produce ultra-processed junk foods with supposedly healthy claims such as “no fat,” “low sugar,” “rich in vitamins,” and “low in sodium,” while still meeting basic nutritional requirements. It becomes like this.
For example, the National School Lunch Program provides schools with meals consisting of Domino’s Pizza, Lunchables, Cheez-Its, and other ultra-processed foods formulated to meet government standards for fat, protein, sodium, and whole grains. are permitted to be provided to. .still Many of these processed foods contain additives. For example, a turkey in a school lunch box contains 14 different ingredients, including additives for texture, flavor, and shelf life.
“It’s important that we start talking about this in our dietary guidelines,” said Barry M. Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I hate the fact that kids are being fed ultra-processed junk food in school when they should be eating healthy food. We’re making them fat and unhealthy.”
Backlash from the food industry
Dietary guidelines are updated every five years by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The next edition will not be published until 2025, but the advisory committee plans to issue a scientific report next year. one question The committee is investigating whether eating ultra-processed foods affects “growth, size, body composition, risk of overweight and obesity, and weight loss and weight maintenance.”
Lobbying by the food industry has already begun. At least six food industry trade and lobbying groups sent a letter to HHS urging the government to be cautious in issuing recommendations regarding ultra-processed foods. They argue that industrial processing makes food safe, convenient, and affordable, and argue that there is no accepted scientific definition of what exactly constitutes an ultra-processed food.
One group, the Society of Food Technologists, wrote a letter to HHS in September. Anna Rosales, IFT’s senior director of government affairs and nutrition, said food processing “minimizes food waste by preserving food longer and extending shelf life, and is beneficial to consumers because less waste is produced.” It will be more affordable and ensure food and nutritional safety.” When fresh food is not available or may not be available. ”
The American Frozen Foods Association, an industry group, bluntly stated in a separate letter to HHS in September that “DGAC should not advance recommendations regarding food processing levels as part of dietary recommendations.”
The letter was written by Jennifer Norka, the group’s director of regulatory science. He said the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee should recognize that “all foods can fit into a nutritious dietary pattern within moderation.”
passive calorie intake
Deirdre K. Tobias, a member of the Guidelines Advisory Committee, said she could not comment on the guidelines because the committee’s work is ongoing. But she said the evidence from large epidemiological studies that people who eat more ultra-processed foods are at increased risk for many diseases “couldn’t be more convincing”.
“I think we’ve clearly reached a critical mass of observational evidence,” said Tobias, an obesity and nutritional epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Tobias said more research is needed to understand the biological mechanisms behind ultra-processed foods and poor health.But she pointed to Landmark 2019 clinical trial A study conducted at the National Institutes of Health found that when people were fed a diet of ultra-processed foods, they ate about 500 extra calories per day compared to those who ate a diet of mostly unprocessed foods, and immediately It turned out that I had gained weight.
Tobias said ultra-processed foods appear to induce a “passive intake” of calories in excess of energy needs, which leads to gradual weight gain and increases the risk of obesity-related diseases. She said this study shows that it’s “specific to these foods. It’s also a little scary, but reformulating these foods is better than changing our entire dietary environment.” It’s also a bit of a relief because it might be easier.”
lagging behind compared to other countries
In a study published in July, a group of public health experts concluded that the United States is lagging behind other countries in addressing ultra-processed foods in food policy. Study author Jennifer Pomerantz said it was “great news” that the guidelines advisory committee was considering recommendations on ultra-processed foods.
“This would be a huge step forward,” said Pomerantz, an associate professor of public health policy and management at New York University’s School of Global Public Health.
At least six other countries have issued dietary guidelines in recent years that explicitly encourage people to reduce their intake of ultra-processed foods. For example, Mexico’s dietary guidelines released in May warn people to “avoid ultra-processed foods such as processed meats, sausages, chips, crackers, cookies, pastries, and boxed cereals.”
“I think there is enough evidence to recommend reducing calories in ultra-processed foods,” said Marion Nestle, professor emeritus of nutrition, food research, and public health at New York University. “I’m not saying don’t eat it at all, there’s no point in that. But ultra-processed foods fall into the category of ‘you shouldn’t eat too much.’ ”
Nestlé says ultra-processed foods typically contain artificial sweeteners, synthetic colors, flavors, emulsifiers and other ingredients that are not prepared at home.
“If you can make it in your own kitchen, it’s not ultra-processed,” says Nestlé. “I find that when I lecture on this, people immediately understand the concept. I don’t have much trouble defining it.”
Have questions about healthy eating? Email [email protected] I may answer your question in a future column.
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