Ultra Processed Foods and the Appalling State of our Food System is Threatening our Health and our Economy ...
I’ve been concerned about UPF’s since starting Kate Percy’s way back in the early 2000’s. It’s the motivation behind our first ‘real food’ snack product (Go Bites), using our original hashtag #realfoodfuelsyoubetter, and of course helping and encouraging adults and young people with the knowledge and skills to cook healthy meals from scratch.
It's devasting to say that now there is incontrovertible scientific evidence proving the damage UPF’s are causing to the nation’s, or indeed the world’s health, economy and environment.
I'd like to recommend two new books and a podcast I’ve recently listened to about the appalling state of our food system:
- Ravenous by the ex-government Food Tsar Henry Dimbleby, and
- Ultra-Processed People by Chris van Tulleken (you may have seen him as one of the doctor twins on TV as Dr. Chris).
- This podcast interview - with a US food entrepreneur, Justin Mares, discussing the soaring Health Crisis in America caused by UPF’s that my brother-in-law David, who lives in the US, recently shared with me
All three are somewhat incendiary. And rightly so.
Our food ecosystem is broken, rotten to the core...
...and controlled by a huge and mighty infrastructure of food conglomerates. The way we eat is not only harming us and our children, both physically and mentally, but it risks bankrupting the NHS, and making us less competitive as a nation.
In addition to causing an explosion of chronic illness – diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia - the food system is also the leading cause of declining biodiversity and the second largest contributor to global emissions.
In 1950, just 1% of 10-11 year olds were overweight or obese, now the figure is 38%. The prediction for 2050 is 50%.
Perversely some of these obese children are also suffering from malnutrition due to a deficiency in micronutrients which are lacking in many UPFs.
Is There A Solution to the UPF Problem?
Needless to say, the deck is stacked against small brands like Kate Percy’s trying to develop a better food system by producing food using real, unadulterated ingredients as well as food education.
We don't have the power to compete against the big food giants. However, Kate Percy's can lead by example, sticking to our firm belief that everyone should have the right to real, proper food. We aim to provide our consumers with food they can trust, and the resources and knowledge to make good choices out of home and cook healthy meals in the home.
As we grow, our voice will get louder, and we can make an impact. 10% of our profits will also go to our food education charity which we intend to set up after our crowdfund (more on that later!)
Let's start with a quick explanation about what Ultra Processed Foods actually are...
So then, what are Ultra Processed Foods?
Ultra Processed Foods (UPFs) are foods made with ingredients which have been altered from their original form. The original motives behind creating UPFs were not only laudable but necessary: to provide billions of people affordable nutrition.
Although we have been ‘processing’ food for centuries, making butter and flour and preserving tomatoes, for instance, it is only really since the early 1900’s and the industrialisation of food production that we started using processes to modify ingredients into ‘novel’ food, or, as Dr. Chris puts it, ‘not’ food but ‘an industrially produced edible substance’. Concoctions of modified starches, hydrolysed protein isolates, refined, bleached, deodorised, hydrogenated seed oils, and inverted sugars have been made into sweeteners, synthetic emulsifiers, stabilising gums, dyes and colour stabilisers, firming agents, bulking agents.
You’ll find these on the ingredients lists of a huge number of the foods we buy in the supermarket; from the obvious ‘junk food’ to margarine, pasta sauces, cereals, ice creams, extruded snacks (think Wotsits, Pringles, Doritos), and so-called healthy plant-based alternatives.
Since the 1950’s these foods have become more and more prevalent until we have now reached the point that over 60% of the food we eat in the UK is ultra-processed.
Many of these foods come with a health claim because they tick a certain box, nutritionally.
And that’s what is so confusing for most people.
Take a Grenade Carb-killer Bar, for instance, the best-selling protein bar on the market. Marketed as high in protein and low in sugar, it ticks all the 'health claim' boxes. Can you spot any real food there?
Grenade Choc Fudge brownie
INGREDIENTS: Protein Blend (Milk Protein, Calcium Caseinate (Milk), Whey Protein (Milk)), Milk Chocolate with Sweetener (20%) (Sweetener: Maltitol; Cocoa Butter, Whole Milk Powder, Cocoa Mass, Emulsifier: Soy Lecithin; Natural Flavouring), Sweeteners: Maltitol, Sucralose; Bovine Collagen Hydrolysed, Humectant: Glycerol; Bulking Agent: Polydextrose; Soy Protein, Sunflower Oil, Soy Crisp (Soy Protein, Tapioca Starch, Salt), Flavourings, Potassium Chloride, Emulsifier: Soy Lecithin.
Made in labs to create the perfect mouthfeel, crunch, spreadability, taste, smell, even the noise created when you eat the food, these foods are also designed to be highly addictive.
Imagine how you feel when you eat a Pringle crisp. Do you ever eat just the one?
Having evolved to absorb nutrients from real food, our bodies struggle to absorb those from ultra-processed ingredients. Eating a diet high in UPFs can lead to a less diverse and less healthy microbiome because the additives and chemicals can kills the good bacteria in your gut, and indeed, promote the growth of harmful bacteria, causing inflammation.
Lots of noise but few solutions as to how to tackle the problem...
Despite the noise, fire and wrath around the UPF debate at the moment there is an absence of solutions as to how to tackle the problem, on both a macro level and as individuals. The many anti-obesity programmes that the governement has introduced over the years have clearly not worked. Change has to happen however, as things cannot get worse.
As part of the food industry, Kate Percy's can play, and needs to play, an important role. As I said before, we can lead by example and help individuals with the knowledge and skills to make good choices. It's a role we can do well, although a big food marketing budget would help us do it quicker!
Can I Eliminate Ultra-Processed Foods from my Diet?
As individuals, we live in a good world of real choice. Although we have the freedom to choose, the argument for personal responsibility is weak as the presence of UPF is ubiquitous, it is highly addictive and heavily advertised. Our choices are hugely manipulated.
For this reason, eliminating ultra processed foods from your diet is easier said than done.
I have a few tips and tricks however...give them a go!