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.