3.19 Ultra Processed Food

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Guidelines released by the World Health Organization, show that non-sugar sweeteners do not offer any long-term health benefits and particular substances / brands may increase a person’s risk for developing chronic diseases [56] or exacerbate other conditions such as Chron’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome [57], Studies of the brain confirm the suspicion that artificial sweeteners (AS) interfere with our HPA (Brian’s) learned control of energy intake and body weight regulation [57]. This is significant because of our systemic reliance on AS to reduce overall caloric intake [57].

So…what’s going on here? Let’s review a little bit of history and the concept of “conditioned” responses. At some point in high school, most of us learned about Ivan Pavlov, a Soviet Nobel Peace Prize winner who gained fame for his experiments involving dogs, food, and cues such as ringing a bell when food was being served. What Pavlov discovered in exploring salivary (mouth-watering) responses is profound. Not only are digestive responses (cephalic phase reflexes) stimulated by the consumption of food, but well before we even eat through input from our other senses such as sight, sound, or smell. The hungrier we are, the stronger the reflexive response. These reflex responses prepare the digestive system for the reception, digestion, absorption, and optimal processing of food.

With consumption of unaltered food our brain (Brian) learns (and encodes for future reference) what the body can expect in term of content (energy) from certain foods and adjusts the digestive response accordingly. In other words, after we have a standard breakfast, our brain knows that we consumed 70 calories in an egg and another 100 from a piece of toast, even if we never read the nutrition labels. Put back in terms of human evolution, before the introduction of highly processed food stuffs, what we tasted and ate; sweet, fat, salty or otherwise, contained a predictable number of calories, nutrients, and energy density.

An 8 oz. serving of orange juice contains approximately 110 calories, and 25 grams of sugar. Anytime we get ready to drink a glass of OJ, Brian knows in advance that our body will receive 110 calories and 25 gm of sugar. To maintain energy homeostasis, after drinking the juice, Brian would downregulate our demand for other energy intake accordingly. In other words, over the course of that day, if everything’s balanced, we should naturally adjust to consume 110 fewer calories of something else. When we go shopping, it’s common to see orange beverage products advertising 50% less sugar (conveniently placed next to actual orange juice). It still looks and tastes like orange juice however, these products contain added water and artificial sweeteners. These blended products confuse Brian when he’s trying to balance anticipated sugar intake with energy demand. Unsure of the orange substance, did we get 110 calories or something else?

With the introduction of artificial sweeteners (and fat substitutes) our brain can no longer predict if something sweet contains the anticipated calories from sugar or if (in the case of artificially sweetened drinks) we’re consuming something else entirely [58]. With the advent of artificial ingredients in UPND foods, our brain can no longer rely on sight or taste for energy management, feelings of satiety (fullness), or anticipated nutritional content. This means that downstream neural, hormonal, and metabolic responses are also affected [58]. Humorously, it’s been said that if we want to be healthy don’t eat anything that didn’t exist prior to 1900 AD.

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