What Exactly Makes Processed Food Unhealthy?

January 27, 2017

In a new editorial, published today (Jan. 23) in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatrician and longtime childhood-obesity researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, outlined 11 ways in which processed foods differ nutritionally from unprocessed foods.

Moreover, Lustig argued in the editorial, processed foods have harmed Americans in four areas: The foods have increased refined carbohydrate intake, increased rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, harmed the environment, and driven Americans to spend more on health care, Lustig wrote.

Processed foods are defined in terms of the food engineering that goes into making the products, Lustig wrote. A processed food meets the seven following criteria, the editorial said: The food is mass-produced, is consistent from batch to batch, is consistent from country to country, uses specialized ingredients, consists of prefrozen macronutrients, stays emulsified (meaning that its fat-based and water-based components stay mixed together, rather than separating), and has a long shelf or freezer life.

But defining processed foods by these engineered properties doesn’t reflect the vast nutritional differences between processed and unprocessed foods, Lustig wrote. Read on to learn about what makes processed food different.

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