By Kevin Kolodziejski
You’re no fool, I’m sure, and only a total cycling sap thinks you can keep daily life from affecting your rides sometimes. So you accept it when that glorious plan to rest up a bit before Saturday and then go out and crush a hill-strewn 60-miler goes awry. That you do a pancake flat and fast-paced 15-miles instead in order to attend your daughter’s suddenly rescheduled soccer game.
But where do you draw the line? Here’s one time for sure. When daily life tempts you with something easy and efficient that not only unfavorably alters your ability to ride, but also your health and the health of your daughter. So do yourself and that goal-scoring gal of yours a huge favor. Follow today’s subtitle: Forgo ultraprocessed foods. Just keep this in mind.
Not All Food Processing Is Bad
Actually, the minimal processing of many foods makes good sense. The cutting, cooking, and canning of carrots, for instance, allows you to receive virtually the same amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber as if you had plucked a couple out of the ground, washed them well, and eaten them immediately. And you get this goodness anytime you apply a little elbow grease to the manual can opener. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, commercially canned low-acid foods like carrots “will keep their best quality” for up to five years and can be consumed even after that. (FYI: Canned high-acid foods, like tomatoes, should be eaten in 18 months.)
What also makes good sense is to become incensed at today’s proliferation of ultraprocessed foods. In fact, it should make you fighting mad. But don’t sucker punch the guy stocking the shelves at your local grocery store or shin kick the girl wiping down the tables at the fast-food restaurant. Fight back another way. Learn all you can about UPFs and you’ll come to see how their use and their ubiquity is definitely damaging our collective health — and possibly yours and your daughter’s.
Are the Increases in UPFs and Obesity Coincidence?
To begin your education and build your anger, consider the most up-to-date obesity rates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers. While it’s irksome enough that the percentage for adults hovers around 40 percent, the numbers for children and teens are absolutely rage inducing — even though they’re only about half. That’s because they are say-it-ain’t-so increases of more than 300 percent since the early 1970s, a time when a surplus wheat and corn (along with questionable governmental incentives) in the U.S. increased UPF production significantly. (FYI #2: Per capita consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in the U.S., which was zero in 1970, is now around forty pounds per year.) While it’s improbable UPFs are now solely responsible for 20.2 percent of 6-to-11 year olds and 21.2 percent of 12-to-19 year olds to be obese according to body mass index, it’s safe to say their ubiquity and immediacy in the U.S. plays a large part.
How large? No one can tell for sure? But Fang Fang Zhang, MD, PhD, associate professor, Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Boston can tell you UPFs now dominate the typical youngster’s diet.
Two-Thirds of Calories Consumed by Children and Teens Come from UPFs
Zhang and colleagues came to this calculation by reviewing 20 years of data accrued from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys. They also discovered that, because of the additional processing, UPFs contain only about half the protein, far less fiber, and six times more added sugar than minimally processed foods. While minimally processed foods get frozen, canned, smoked, or pasteurized, little else is generally done or gets added to them Changes to UPFs continue.
To augment mouthfeel, taste, convenience, and profit, a combination of sugars, fats, artificial flavorings and chemical preservatives are added. To improve appearance and shelf life, skins of vegetables and fruits and the bran and germ in wheat flour are removed. These additions and subtractions make the food nutritionally inferior and potentially harmful — not only for children and teens but also adults.
A Doc Decides to Overdose
One out of every five adults in the United Kingdom receive 80 percent of their daily calories from UPFs. Because of that, Chris van Tulleken, a doctor who doles out medical and health advice on the telly for the BBC, overdosed on UPFs for 30 days for a made-for-TV experiment. To eat as every one in five of his countrymen do, van Tulleken increased his normal ingestion of UPFs by 75 percent. Throughout the experiment, van Tulleken reported feeling anxious, unhappy, and sluggish, that he had trouble sleeping and defecating, and suffered from heartburn and low sex drive.
If you’re skeptical of these claims, bear in mind Rachel Batterham, a professor who heads an esteemed obesity research center in England, oversaw the experiment. She regularly tested van Tulleken and documented physical changes that support all his assertions, including that he felt 10 years older by the end of the 30 days.
The Doc’s 14 Pounds Fatter — and Addicted
Batterham recorded a weight increase of more than 14 pounds in van Tulleken, which changed his body mass index from normal to overweight. Along with a decrease in the fullness hormone leptin, Batterham found 30 percent more of the hunger hormone ghrelin in blood samples taken at the conclusion of the experiment as compared to those taken prior to. Such a change is a clear indicator that the sudden onslaught of UPFs had caused van Tulleken’s hormone secretions to run amuck. But what really surprised Batterham were the differences she saw in the before-and-after MRI brain scans. Thirty days of the diet seemingly reworked the area of van Tulleken’s brain that drives repetitive automatic behavior, a reworking that made him desire UPFs morning, noon, and night.
In essence, he was addicted.
Van Tulleken agreed and explained that he had a constant craving for foods like pizza, fries, and chocolates almost as soon as the experiment began, and it’s these constant cravings created by UPFs that led to the mention of children throughout this article. In a snippet of the BBC documentary, “What Are We Feeding Our Kids?” found on YouTube, van Tulleken says to Batterham: “Children’s brains are more malleable than mine, which means the changes are likely to be even greater.” It was a conclusion Batterham had already reached. Because of it, she started limiting the amount of UPFs her children eat even more strictly than before.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.