According to a new study published in the journal Obesity, America’s food supply is overrun with virtually irresistible (to many), ultra-processed, “hyperpalatable” products.
Which isn’t too surprising. Just walk down the center aisles at any grocery store and you can see the problem for yourself. The shelves are filled with low-quality, processed products that have very little nutritional value…if any at all.
But before we delve deeper into that disturbing study, let’s take a step back to explore how it all started to go wrong…
The American diet wasn’t always junk
Up until about a century ago, most Americans still lived on farms. And they enjoyed wholesome, immensely satisfying foods—such as eggs, whole grains, full-fat dairy, and meat—to give them the nourishment they needed to power through a hard day of work in the fields.
But by the 1960s, a new trend started to emerge…
Public health “experts” started urging Americans to give up these wholesome foods—which are naturally high in fat and cholesterol—claiming it would help them avoid heart disease.
So, by the 1970s, millions of well-intentioned Americans had begun to opt for low-fat, low-calorie, ultra-processed foods…like egg-white omelets, low-fat cheese, and margarine…thinking they were better for their health. But reducing fats usually meant adding sugars and carbs.
So, of course, we now know that drastic change in eating habits was a disaster for our health. In fact, studies now show that people who give up eggs, meat, and full-fat dairy have much higher rates of obesity and chronic disease.
But even though the science has finally started to shine a spotlight on the problem…the grocery store shelves are still stocked to the ceiling with low-quality, ultra-processed, “hyperpalatable” foods!
And that’s exactly the problem the new Obesity study focused on…
American food chain filled with processed, “hyperpalatable” foods
In recent decades, big food manufacturers have created a slew of “hyperpalatable” foods. They produce products with highly addicting ingredients—such as artificial processed fats, excess sodium, sugars, and carbs—so you’ll eat too much of them.
Remember those classic potato chip commercials from the 1960s featuring veteran actor Bert Lahr, who played the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz? In the commercial, the devil appeared next to Bert, proclaiming, “Betcha can’t eat one just one!”
Well, he wasn’t kidding.
In fact, according to the new study, the food industry uses well-established “formulas” that enhance palatability and encourage overconsumption.
For this study, researchers analyzed nearly 8,000 different types of food in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrient Database. They labeled a food as “hyperpalatable” if it met at least one of three criteria:
- It was made with added fat and sugars (like cake and ice cream)
- It was made with added carbs and sodium (like pretzels and chips)
- It was made with added fats and sodium (like chicken nuggets and hot dogs)
And of the almost 8,000 foods included in the analysis, 62 percent of them met at least one of the criteria. Which means nearly two-thirds of the U.S. food supply is highly processed, artificial, unnatural, and “hyperpalatable.”
Interestingly, 80 percent of the foods labeled as “low-fat” and/or “low-calorie” also met the criteria for hyperpalatable foods. (Just one more reason you should always avoid these gimmicky foods.)
In addition, even some healthy greens and vegetables dishes—to which manufacturers add artificial creams, sauces, and fats—also met the criteria, pointing out that processing is the problem, not the original food itself. A similar example is when you douse a healthy, green salad with artificial, bottled dressing—laden with artificial ingredients, sugars and fats. Instead, opt for vinegar or lemon—with olive oil, garlic, and herbs.
(I personally enjoy cold-pressed olive oil with red wine vinegar or fresh-squeezed lemon as a delicious, healthy topping for all of my summer greens. You can learn more about the many health benefits of olive oil in the upcoming July issue of my Insiders’ Cures monthly newsletter. So if you aren’t yet a subscriber, now’s the time to become one—you won’t want to miss it!)
Eat like they do along the Mediterranean
In the end, I suggest you stay away from all the processed, hyperpalatable foods found along the center aisles of the grocery store. Instead, stick to the perimeter, where you find all the delicious, fresh, wholesome, and healthy foods featured in the Mediterranean-type diet, including:
- Full-fat dairy, including butter, eggs, cheeses, and yogurts
- Wild-caught fish and grass-fed and -finished, free-range meat, especially lamb, which has the best nutritional profile of all meats
- Nuts and seeds
- Organic fruits and vegetables
Now that the weather’s nicer and most states are starting to open again, you can do some weekly shopping at your local farmer’s market. Typically, they sell a beautiful array of local, organic fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats…and little or none of the processed junk! (Click here to help you find a farmer’s market near you.)
“Hyper-Palatable Foods: Development of a Quantitative Definition and Application to the US Food System Database.” Obesity, 2019 Nov; 27(11):1761-1768. doi.org/10.1002/oby.22639.