During the last fifty years, since Ancel Keys linked fat consumption with cardiovascular risk, together with the results that years later would “corroborate” his findings in the large Framingham Study of Cardiovascular Risk, nutritionist has taken over the health field: Fat was the cause of obesity, and now sugar is starting to be blamed. And yet we are still very wrong.
The true cause of obesity is not that simple. It is not something as specific as blaming this or that nutrient or macronutrient. Neither fats are the enemy, nor is the matter as simple as blaming added sugars for all the ills. Yes, it is true that foods that contain both processed fats and added free sugars have been shown to increase both the risk of obesity and many other diseases, including an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, and even various types of cancer. But it is not something so simple, it is not "just the sugar" or "just the fats. " It is a whole. A whole called ultra-processed foods and palatability.
The cause of obesity is ultra-processed
The concept of ultra-processing is increasingly the order of the day, especially since the popularization of movements such as Real Fooding, led by nutritionist. He and other dietitian-nutritionists advocate eating fresh and minimally processed foods, as not all processed foods are bad, but ultra-processed ones are. This last term, ultra-processed, covers all those foods with a kilometric labeling, the result of the addition of a thousand and one components such as preservatives, colorings, flavorings and other elements that should not be there, and whose objective is to make the food have better color, smell, taste and texture. In short, that the food pleases the eyes and the stomach, that it be consumed, and that therefore we consumers spend the money on that (or those) foods.
In a second step are processed foods, that is, those foods that are not totally fresh, but that have received some other modification to make them easier to get or consume. Many of them skim the red line that would make them ultra-processed, but some of them fall into the healthy range. As an example, legumes preserved in glass jars are minimally processed foods, so their consumption is more than advisable; and in fact, vegetable oils like olive oil are also "processed", although some more than others.
And, finally, at the cusp of health are fresh foods: whole grains, nuts, seeds, meat and fish, dairy products and derivatives, vegetables, fruits and vegetables. In this case, there is not much more to add, since they have all been linked to multiple health benefits.
What is the problem, then? Why does obesity keep increasing? The problem is, as you may have imagined, the ultra-processed. In fact, this same year a study published in the British Medical Journal demonstrated (finally) the relationship between ultra-processed drugs and cancer: for every 10% increase in consumption of ultra-processed drugs, the risk of cancer increases by 12%.
Subsequently, to curl the curl, another more recent study, from May 2018, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, has directly linked the consumption of ultra-processed foods with obesity. It was something that was already suspected in general, although not everything has been said, since it is an observational study with more than 15,000 individuals but no intervention has been made: there is a significant relationship, without more.
Palatability, a concept you should know
Palatability, in short, is nothing more than that sensation that is given to a food so that it is tasty and causes pleasure to our senses, specifically to our brain. Although there are multiple ways to achieve palatability in a culinary preparation, ultra-processed foods are the foods that win by a landslide, and they do so thanks to their high content of micro and macronutrients that have been classified as “bad” for years: added sugars, fats and Salt.
Currently, after multiple studies that have shown that the sugar industry concealed its harmful potential, blaming fats, it is precisely sugar that is the new "culprit" of everything. Added sugars are evil, and that is why light foods have been popularizing, initially for their slogans of "no fat" and now for being sold "without added sugar." However, after all, neither light nor "natural" is good, as the food industry knows how to deceive us.
With all that is currently known, we continue to sin as minimalists, now blaming sugar and even salt, and previously fats. Yes, it is true that free sugars have been directly related to multiple diseases, but at the time fats also and now we know that it was not all as they painted us.
The problem is palatability. The cause of obesity is the palatability that characterizes ultra- processed foods, which with their multiple additives (preservatives, sugars, processed fats, flavorings, etc.) make us want more. In fact, as Luis Jimenez tells in his book " The Obese Brain ", this enormous palatability of ultra-processed foods even fools the brain pathways, which are always looking for "more", and fresh foods, which are not saturated with salt and / or sugar, cannot compete with this artificial palatability. In the end, the brain is fooled, and so is the hormonal system.
With all this I do not mean that consuming the odd ultra-processed (very) from time to time is terrible. The problem is that in our society practically 50% or more of what the general population consumes is ultra-processed foods. If we consume fresh and minimally processed food continuously and ever some ultra-processed is not the end of the world, and in fact it is healthy on an emotional level, but it should not be the norm, far from it.
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