Read the Label

The Pringle is “a piece of malevolent technical genius, as a product deliberately designed to engineer obesity.” Chris Tulleken

An ultra-processed food (UPF), according to doctor and author Chris Tulleken, can be defined as a product wrapped in plastic and containing at least one ingredient that would not appear in an average home kitchen. My Morningstar Farms veggie burgers, for example, come in a plastic bag and contain wheat gluten, soy protein concentrate, calcium caseinate, and small amounts of methylcellulose, natural flavor, soy protein isolate, yeast extract, and xanthum gum. That’s why they taste so good.

That line is not a joke. In his new book Ultra-Processed People: The Science Behind Food That Isn’t Food, Tulleken writes, “Good cooks can enhance flavours (he’s British) and tastes by combining them, but I think UPF is the nutritional equivalent of speedballing.” Some additives, to be sure, increase shelf life, but many are engineered to mimic real flavors (I’m American) and textures cheaply. They insidiously tempt us to consume more product. Tulleken explains, “By speedballing different tastes and sensations, UPF can force far more calories into us than we could otherwise handle.”

To be sure, he’s writing about Coke in this passage, not veggie burgers, and I can’t say I’ve ever binged on veggie burgers, but the point is the same. Most of us are eating a lot of UPF, which is to say we’re eating a lot that isn’t food. Tulleken argues that this fact explains the British and American obesity epidemic now spreading worldwide, as well as many problems and deaths related to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, among other conditions. Sixty to eighty percent of the UK and USA diet consists of UPF. It’s not good for us.

Maybe try to cut down on your xanthum gum, for instance. It’s a “sugary slime” produced by the bacteria that creates black rot on vegetables. It’s used as a thickener. Xanthum gum feeds a new bacteria appearing in our gut, that is, a bacteria unknown in remote hunter-gatherer groups. Another new species of bacteria feeds on the byproducts of the first new species. Nobody knows the effects of these two new bacteria on our bodies, including our immune systems.

I frequently cook from scratch and eat a good amount of vegetables. I’m currently following a low-carb diet, which has managed to reduce my COVID-lockdown waistline. However, in my pantry currently are Ritz Crackers, McCormick Turkey Gravy mix, Nilla Wafers, Jello Vanilla Pudding Mix, and La Banderita Tortillas (mmm, xanthum gum!). All packaged in plastic, or something similar, and all containing a plethora of weird s—t.

I never imagined I would be a person writing on this topic, but Dr. Tulleken inspired me. He’s not only smart. He’s also funny and compassionate. (He deplores the stigma attached to being overweight, for example.) He makes no judgments on people and their choices. He merely provides information. I recommend his book.

This is the interview that made me request Ultra-Processed People from my local library.

This entry was posted in Books, Monday Meals, Uncategorized, Weekend Editions and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Read the Label

  1. Jewel Moulthrop says:

    Writing, while munching on a CLIF bar (which has no unrecognizable ingredients), to thank you for this timely post!

  2. Mary says:

    Hello Kathy, This is a timely topic for me as I recently bought a bag of Doritos, something I had not eaten in years (because they were on sale) and enjoyed eating them but felt that I had no control or very little control…..and told my husband that we should not buy them again or at least not for a long time. So, I watched a fifteen minute video by this man which started with “Read the label” or ingredients or something to that effect and then I read a NYT review of the book. I am a bit confused when he says putting parmesan cheese on your lasagne is different than putting it on a potato “crisp.”….I don’t understand how this is different…vis a vis what your body expects it is getting….but, thanks for bringing him and the book to my attention. It is thought provoking. Take care.

  3. Rosalind Gauchat says:

    OOooh! I’m getting this one. I watched the interview. I like the term used “Industrially Produced Edible Substance”. Of course, I’ve been looking at this stuff since cancer.

  4. Sarah Becker says:

    Timely post! I just got a sparkling report card from my endocrinologist (diabetes doctor). My A1C went down and I lost about 4 pounds. How? Low carbs, and a continuous glucose monitor, like you see on TV. Cooking at home, shopping at a reliable market, and measuring my portions.
    BTW, Pepperidge Farm cookies=”contains bioengineered food ingredients.” Poison! Too bad for Milano lovers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *