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Ultra-processed food

The BBC reports that ultra-processed food has been linked by scientific studies to early death.

Then come “ultra-processed foods”, which have been through more substantial industrial processing and often have long ingredient lists on the packet, including added preservatives, sweeteners or colour enhancers.

If a product contains more than five ingredients, it is probably ultra-processed, says Prof Maira Bes-Rastrollo, of the University of Navarra, citing a maxim.

This sounds quite vague. My problem with “processed food” as a concept, is that industrial processes involving food include things like mixing two ingredients together in a large vat. Surely if there is a problem it is to do with the content of the food. Something harmful is present, or something beneficial is missing. If so, tell me what that is, there is no need to be vague about it.

We are given the examples of added preservatives, sweeteners or colour enhancers. The marmalade I was eating this morning listed caramel as a colour enhancer. Caramel is just sugar that has been heated. It seems unnecessary, I suppose. It may or may not be more harmful than ordinary sugar, or no sugar at all. But we are already told that too much sugar is bad for us. Could it be the case that people dying early from “ultra-processed food” are just eating too much sugar? A lot of sugar is used in home baking, so it would be useful to put it into those terms, if that is indeed the case. The BBC is not helpful about these questions.

Examples include: • processed meat such as sausages and hamburgers • breakfast cereals or cereal bars • instant soups • sugary fizzy drinks • chicken nuggets • cake • chocolate • ice cream • mass-produced bread • many “ready to heat” meals such as pies and pizza | meal-replacement shakes

Sugary fizzy drinks have a lot of sugar, so that fits. Then again, the first paragraph listed sweeteners. Some fizzy drinks have no sugar and a lot of sweeteners. I am still in the dark about which specific ingredients are problematic. Is mass-produced bread really going to kill me?

I am not getting enough information from the British taxpayer-funded public service news organisation. I am just going to have to read the papers myself. I will start with the Spanish paper.

Foods were first classified according to their degree of processing in 2010 using the NOVA system, which was last updated in 2016. Studies based on NOVA have shown an exponential growth in the consumption of ultra-processed foods. Negative nutritional attributes of ultra-processed food (high content of poor quality fat, added sugar and salt, along with low vitamin density and scarce fibre content) not only have a direct harmful effect on consumer’s health but also affect health indirectly by replacing unprocessed or minimally processed foods and freshly prepared meals.

This sounds much more specific. I do get the impression that we are getting to the conclusion a little early, however. It is unclear whether the evidence for these claims for the health effects of NOVA categories of food come from this paper’s conclusions or elsewhere.

NOVA was invented at a university in Brazil and seems to be the source of the phrase “ultra-processed”. The inventors talk about links with the UN Decade of Nutrition and the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, which is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates and none other than the UK Department for International Development. All of this feels like part of a PR drive to get NOVA more widely adopted as a way to categorise food.

What do the inventors of the NOVA classification system say about it?

First they cite a report from that Global Panel:

The term “ultra-processed” was coined to refer to industrial formulations manufactured from substances derived from foods or synthesized from other organic sources. They typically contain little or no whole foods, are ready-to-consume or heat up, and are fatty, salty or sugary and depleted in dietary fibre, protein, various micronutrients and other bioactivecompounds.

So it seems we are talking about fat, salt, sugar, and a lack of fibre, protein and other nutrients. The NOVA paper quotes the panel further:

The most striking change in food systems of high-income countries, and now of low- and middle-income countries, is displacement of dietary patterns based on meals and dishes prepared from unprocessed or minimally processed foods by those that are increasingly based on ultra-processed food and drink products.

Then the NOVA paper explains why processing is important:

Conventional food classifications no longer work well. They usually group foods and foodstuffs in terms of their botanical origin or animal species and according to nutrients they contain. In this way they often group together foods that have different effects on health and disease. So ‘cereals and cereal products’ often group whole grains together with sugared ‘breakfast cereals’ and cookies (biscuits), and ‘meat and meat products’ often group fresh chicken together with ‘nuggets’.

This sounds reasonable if true. I am doubtful. Sugar has been added to cereal for decades. Do people really have a hard time understanding the difference? It very much is defined by food group: sugar is not in the same food group as cereal. This is not difficult at all. Nuggets vs fresh chicken is more interesting.

I found an article describing what is in McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets. This is quite a good article. It complains about some strange-sounding ingredients. TBHQ is a preservative that is toxic in high doses. I would be amazed if it is possible to eat harmful amounts of it in chicken nuggets, but pointing to an actual toxin and talking about dosage is exactly what I mean when I ask for specifics. This ingredient is not in British McNuggets, though! Dimethylpolysiloxane is harmless but sounds yucky: whatever. Autolyzed Yeast Extract is a synonym for MSG. I like MSG. If it makes you feel satisfied before you have had sufficient nutrition, or tastes so good you want to eat too much, these are things I could accept and sound reasonable to talk about. Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, like TBHQ, is harmless unless you eat vast quantities of it (ditto water, of course — dosage is always important). The fat content of McNuggets is high. Some small amount of this may be the dreaded trans-fats.

I think the important thing here is that a Chicken McNugget contains more fat and less chicken than fresh chicken. If people really are substituting McNuggets for actual chicken and expecting them to be the same, then I can see why their diets might be poorer. This is the part I can accept, not that processed food is somehow poisoning us slowly because of the processing.

It is not always quite so clear. The Spanish paper includes mayonnaise as an ultra-processed food. I compared the ingredients of Hellman’s Mayonnaise with the BBC Good Food recipe for homemade mayonnaise. The basic ingredients seem similar, quibbling over calcium disodium EDTA (safe), paprika and “flavourings” (I honestly have no idea) aside. This makes the “ultra-processed” category unhelpful: it is unclear what we are measuring.

The NOVA paper does not take long to give us an insight into its biases:

All these phenomena are being driven by trans-national corporations. These corporations are identified in a 2012 PLoS Medicine series, and in 2014 by Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, as ‘Big Food’.Since the 1980s they have taken advantage of the freedom to make foreign direct investments, an engine of economic growth…

The category “ultra-processed” conflates multiple issues: missing nutrients, high energy density, too much sugar (though I find it hard sometimes to find drinks with real sugar instead of sweetener), quasi-addictiveness, false impression of healthiness by adding back in and advertising some nutrients. I think something is lost in the simplification.

So how bad are these ultra-processed foods? The BBC article reports:

…for every 10 deaths among those eating the least ultra-processed food, there were 16 deaths among those eating the most (more than four portions a day).

Sounds pretty bad, but what does it really mean? The Spanish study followed 19,899 people (all of them university students 10 years ago) and in 10 years 335 died. Overall you have a 1.6% chance of dying in the next 10 years. Table 3 breaks down the numbers. At this point I admit to being a little confused. First we have 4 equal-sized groups, who eat up to 2, 3, 4 and more than 4 servings of bad food per day. Real people can not be so evenly spread out. From the text:

Consumption of ultra-processed food was adjusted for total energy intake using the residuals method and subsequently categorised into quarters: low consumption (first quarter), low-medium consumption (second quarter), medium-high consumption (third quarter), and high consumption (fourth quarter).

So I think “servings” is a misnomer here. It has made its way into all the news articles, though.

Then we find that the lowest number of deaths is in the fourth quarter, more than 4 “servings” per day group. I have no idea what to make of this. This group has the highest hazard ratio despite having the lowest number of total deaths. I am going to assume for now that I have misunderstood something. However we can see that the most number of deaths in a group is 108 and the lowest number is 73, out of 4975 people in each group. So worst case, if I totally pig out on as much junk food as I want, my chance of death over the next decade increases from 1.5% to 2.2%.

Maybe I can live with that. I do really like mayonnaise. Maybe if you are a state attempting to provide free health care, that is a significant number for you.

The rest of the paper is about how they used various adjustments for age, sex, smoking, TV watching, sitting around and so on. Full numbers for these things are in table 1. This table also breaks down the diets a bit more. I suspect there is more information about the real cause in here. A comparison of classification systems would be interesting. And there may be other interesting correlations in the cohort data. I would quite like to see what happens to the TV-watching correlation if you adjust for eating junk food.

A summary of my problems with all of this:

  • The reporting is poor. It boils down to the foregone conclusion: food prepared in factories is bad. Here is an incomplete set of numbers to make it look like we are being scientific about it.
  • The language of NOVA is loaded. Why the shift in language to “ultra-processed” food? Why not talk about the actual ingredients consumed by saying, for example, “too much sugar is bad for you.” Or, “di-hydrogen monoxide is poisonous if you consume too many servings”.
  • In addition to being loaded, the language is being used to avoid questions. This is agenda-setting language, deliberately chosen to approve of certain conclusions while obscuring others. It allows news organisations to report facts using scientifically defined categories while hiding what underlies those categories, conflating variables, and avoiding any mention of the underlying mechanism. Even the scientific study was constructed within the boundaries of the language.
  • It is not just the reporting: the numbers used by the scientists in their study are misleading. A hazard ratio of 1.6 is one thing. “You are 60% more likely to die if you eat too many biscuits!” makes for a scary headline. “You can eat an extra portion of sausages per day and only increase your chances of dying in the next decade from 1.5% to 1.7%” is actually quite encouraging. It turns out both things are true if the Spanish paper is to be believed. The Spanish paper does not mention the latter.
  • The circular logic of activists encouraging scientists who encourage the activist-press who encourage the state is in evidence here. Reporting like this is obviously intended to drive policy. It is only a matter of time before ultra-processed food is being discussed in the House of Commons, and there will at first be official advice, and then there will be complaints that consumption of this food costs the NHS money, and then industry will be asked to voluntarily act, and then industry’s efforts will be insufficient and there will be taxes and regulations.
  • Because the thought-processes and knowledge gathered are divorced from the underlying mechanisms (correlations involving arbitrary categories instead of understanding of processes), resulting policies will be the wrong policies and will have the wrong effects.
  • Having to argue with this sort of thing is putting me unnecessarily at odds with reasonable people with whom I mostly agree: eating a variety of fresh food is good for your health and it tastes good too. And preparing it and enjoying it with friends is good for your overall happiness. That these things are luxuries compared with just getting enough calories does not make them any less true, especially now that the getting-enough-calories-problem is largely solved.

I suppose this makes me a critic of the NOVA classification. I do not have any relationship with the UPP industry though, I promise.

Oddly enough the NHS article on this is rather balanced.

But are instant vegetable soups really more unhealthy than homemade biscuits? Is bakery bread so much healthier than factory-made bread?

67 comments to Ultra-processed food

  • XC

    I made all our family (5 people) bread for almost 15 years – mostly to save money as store bought bread is very expensive compared to home-made ($3.50/loaf vs. $0.50/loaf).

    By my calculation (since I knew the ingredients) my home-made bread had 20% higher calorie density by weight than the store-bought “natural” bread PLUS the slices were bigger.

    It was tasty, but clearly not as dietetic.

    We’ve since switched to store bread as the kids have moved out, no ill effects yet.


  • neonsnake

    Huh. So, eating shit food and not exercising isn’t great for you?

    Who knew?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    I swear, I had had the same thought. But what I mean by that is that I had had the tiniest, weakest possible little half-thought vaguely wondering exactly what was so bad about food being “processed”, as if the touch of human hands or machines made it worse in itself, whereas you have laid out exactly what you mean like a prosecuting lawyer well used to winning cases. Bravo.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “If a product contains more than five ingredients, it is probably ultra-processed, says Prof Maira Bes-Rastrollo, of the University of Navarra, citing a maxim.”

    ROFLMAO! The scientific ignorance inherent in such a statement – not only that it could be made, but that others could be told it without laughing the speaker out of the room – is a tragic indictment of the modern scientific education.

    Here’s a (partial) list of ingredients for a common foodstuff. Do you think this counts as “ultra-processed”? See if you can guess what it is before you get to the end of the list…

    Glucosinolates: 2-propenyl glucosinolate (sinigrin)*, 3-methylthiopropyl glucosinolate, 3-methylsulfinylpropyl glucosinolate, 3-butenylglucosinolate, 2-hydroxy-3-butenyl glucosinolate, 4-methylthiobutyl glucosinolate, 4-methylsulfinylbutyl glucosinolate, 4-methylsulfonylbutyl glucosinolate, benzyl glucosinolate, 2-phenylethyl glucosinolate, propyl glucosinolate, butyl glucosinolate.

    Indole glucosinolates and related indoles: 3-indolylmethyl glucosinolate (glucobrassicin), 1-methoxy-3-indolylmethyl glucosinolate (neoglucobrassicin), indole-3-carbinol*, indole-3-acetonitrile, bis(3-indolyl)methane.

    Isothiocyanates and goitrin: allyl isothiocyanate*, 3-methylthiopropyl isothiocyanate, 3-methylsulfinylpropyl isothiocyanate, 3-butenyl isothiocyanate, 5-vinyloxazolidine-2-thione (goitrin), 4-methylthiobutyl isothiocyanate, 4-methylsulfinylbutyl isothiocyanate, 4-methylsulfonylbutyl isothiocyanate, 4-pentenyl isothiocyanate, benzyl isothiocyanate, phenylethyl isothiocyanate.

    Cyanides: 1-cyano-2, 3-epithiopropane, 1-cyano-3, 4-epithiobutane, 1-cyano-3,4-epithiopentane, threo-1-cyano-2-hydroxy-3, 4-epithiobutane, erythro-1-cyano-2-hydroxy-3,4-epithiobutane, 2-phenylpropionitrile, allyl cyanide*, 1-cyano-2-hydroxy-3-butene, 1-cyano-3-methylsulfinylpropane, 1-cyano-4-methylsulfinylbutane.

    Terpenes: menthol, neomenthol, isomenthol, carvone*.

    Phenols: 2-methoxyphenol, 3-caffoylquinicacid (chlorogenic acid)*, 4-caffoylquinic acid*, 5-caffoylquinic acid (neochlorogenic acid)*, 4-(p-coumaroyl)quinic acid, 5-(p-coumaroyl)quinic acid, 5-feruloylquinic acid.

    The ones marked with a * are the only ones to have been safety tested. All the others, who knows? Test results are as follows:

    Clastogenicity. Chlorogenic acid (25) and allyl isothiocyanate are positive (26). Chlorogenic acid and its metabolite caffeic acid are also mutagens (27-29), as is allyl isothiocyanate (30).

    Carcinogenicity. Allyl isothiocyanate induced papillomas of the bladder in male rat (a neoplasm that is unusually rare in control rats) and was classified by the National Toxicology Program as carcinogenic. There was no evidence of carcinogenicity in mice; however, it was stated “the mice probably did not receive the MTD” (31,32). Sinigrin (allyl glucosinolate, i.e., thioglycoside of allyl isothiocyanate) is cocarcinogenic for the rat pancreas(33). Carvone is negative in mice (34). Indole-3-acetonitrile has been shown to form a carcinogen, nitroso indole acetonitrile, in the presence of nitrite (35). Caffeic acid is a carcinogen (36,37) and clastogen (25) and is a metabolite of its esters 3-, 4-, and 5-caffoylquinic acid (chlorogenic and neochlorogenic acid).

    Metabolites. Sinigrin gives rise to allylisothiocyanate when raw cabbage (e.g., coleslaw) is eaten; in cooked cabbage it also is metabolized to allylcyanide, which is untested. Indole-3-carbinol forms dimers and trimers on ingestion, which mimic dioxin (8).

    Toxicology.The mitogenic effects of goitrin (which is goitrogenic) and various organic cyanides from cabbage suggest that they may be potential carcinogens(41,42). Aromatic cyanides related to those from cabbage have been shown to bemutagens and are metabolized to hydrogen cyanide and potentially mutagenic aldehydes (43).


    And they feed this stuff to kids! Think of the children!

  • bobby b

    It’s funny. Humanity spent 300,000+ years fighting for enough calories. The idea of an empty calorie would have made many a peasant laugh.

    For 98% of humanity’s existence, we died of hunger. Now we die of overeating. A lot of the credit for this – and I mean this in a good way – goes to the discoverers of TBHQ (which keeps food in distribution and storage from rotting) and Dimethylpolysiloxane (which makes food slippery and pleasing to the mouth) and Sodium Aluminum Phosphate (which makes heated goods rise and puff), all of which contribute to our being able to feed more people more and better foods – and also some awful, fattening foods, as a bonus.

    My mom made all of our bread because we were poor and it was cheap. I make all of my bread because I’m a well-off foodie with leisure time. We’ve had to completely scrap and upend our “food pyramid” because our wealth – our surfeit of food – made our struggle for bodily energy obsolete, and even harmful. And the things that make food “processed” – the preservatives, and constituent chemicals that we add for their singular effects – have helped us – allowed us to – feed billions.

    If we did what the vegans and locavores and natural-foods-types demand, I doubt we could feed more than half of the people we feed now. Chlorinated chicken rules!

  • Matthew Asnip

    Apparently coq au vin is processed food then. My favourite recipe for it uses eight ingredients, three more than the recommendation, so it’s highly processed…

  • neonsnake

    vaguely wondering exactly what was so bad


    First things first – calories.

    Second things fucking second – nutritional value of calories.

    As an avowed SJW, I freaking love GM foods and everything that goes along with it. It feeds poor people.

    I, because I’m rich in comparison, get to play with quinoa and be a foodie.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “For 98% of humanity’s existence, we died of hunger. Now we die of overeating.”

    Mmm. Let’s see. A typical male adult eats about 3,500 kcal/day (white dots in Figure 4 here). That’s equivalent to about a pound of fat. So let’s say men have an energy intake of a pound of fat per day. How much is that over a 40-year lifetime?

    That’s easy! 365 days times 40 years gives 14,600 pounds total. That’s 7.3 (US) tons of fat!

    Now, suppose after 40 years of “overeating”, our typical man is about 8 stone overweight (12 stone to 20 stone). That’s 112 pounds. As a percentage of the total, he overate (ate more than he burnt) 112/14,600 = 0.77%. You fat bastards are all eating slightly under 1% more Calories than you need! That’s 30 Calories or an eighth of an ounce of fat per day! Surely you could manage to cut that much out?

    But it’s a glorious feat of progress, to increase Calorie intake by almost 1%. And thank goodness! Because if our ancestors had eaten 1% less than they burnt, then that 12 stone man would lose 10 stone over 40 years.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    The report is reminiscent of those articles that appear from time to time written by real statisticians reviewing published literature in the medical field. The recurring theme is that most medical professionals (like most human beings) do not really understand statistics. Oh! Anyone can hit a button on an Excel spreadsheet and produce standard deviations and measures of skew — but how many of us really understand what the implications & limitations are? Apparently, much of the statistical evidence published in the medical literature (eg for treatment effectiveness) is bogus — the data do not support the conclusions.

    Junk Science! It really is one of the biggest problems facing humanity, causing our betters to make all kinds of bad decisions for us.

    And I love it when they say eat biscuits and you will die. Guess what? We are all going to die! The statistics on that are unequivocal.

  • Rob Fisher

    NiV: I suspect dynamics are important. How regularly and reliably can one obtain one’s pound of fat.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “NiV: I suspect dynamics are important. How regularly and reliably can one obtain one’s pound of fat.”

    How do you mean? Surely the First Law of Thermodynamics (conservation of energy) means energy input/storage/output is simply cumulative?

  • Rob Fisher

    Presumably the body can regulate how many calories it absorbs, and store some for use later. Up to a point.

  • William Newman

    “The idea of an empty calorie would have made many a peasant laugh.”

    Sorta. Maybe.

    Various nutritional deficiencies other than calories (both broad deficiencies like lack of protein quantity with usable-by-humans amino acid balance, and narrow deficiencies like lack of iodine) were persistent problems for many populations. While it’s not clear there was much detailed practical knowledge of exactly what the constraints were, it often happened that people settled rather stably on solutions that respected the constraints (e.g. famously beans and corn together to help with the amino acid issues). And at least sometimes, they even settled on solutions that zeroed in on something close to the constraints: at least I know that in our modern times with lots of written discussion, people settled on citrus for scurvy and liver for pernicious anemia. I don’t know whether anyone has a clear idea what the older oral traditions were for classic solutions like corn and beans (though I expect that you can find social scientists to tell you various BS to advance one agenda or another), but if you somehow traveled back six hundred years to somewhere in Central America and learned the language, I suspect you would find the Central American farmers were pretty sure that trying to live on corn alone was not a good idea. They might not have any confident reductionist ideas about the mechanics, though, and if they did, those ideas likely didn’t map closely to our modern ideas like essential nutrients or dietary balance or our modern talking points like empty calories.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amino_acid says that William Cumming Rose discovered the last of the 20 standard amino acids in 1935, and is also credited with working out the essential amino acids. IIRC various of the essential vitamins and minerals were also 20th century discoveries. Even before that, though, Jack London probably had a pretty confident idea that he was getting at something that his audience would find meaningful when he wrote “A Piece of Steak” for the _Saturday Evening Post_ to publish in November 1909.

    All that said, though, I will grant that probably most peasants in most preindustrial times and places would have judged — basically correctly — that ultracheap calories, even the purest of “empty” ones (e.g. refined sugar or oil) would be a handy thing to have, usefully stretching their other more balanced but insufficiently plentiful foodstuffs.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Rob Fischer has done a great job with this post, which i must study in detail later on. I see no mention of seed oils, however. I think of “processed” food as food that contains sugar and/or seed oils (and probably HFCS in the US). Other than that, the number of ingredients is pretty much irrelevant (with some qualifications).
    I also try to avoid eating out for the same reason: to avoid seed oils.

    Thinking back, it seems to me that the periods in my life when i ingested the most seed oils (either at home or in university cafeterias) were generally the least happy. At the time, i made up other reasons for my failure to thrive, but it seems too much of a coincidence.

    In this connection, please note that Hellman’s mayonnaise contains both sugar and a seed oil (rapeseed), while the BBC recipe contains a seed oil (sunflower) but no sugar. (Unless there is sugar in Dijon mustard?) I must try the BBC recipe with olive oil: it might not work, but all what i have to lose is a couple of eggs and 250 ml of olive oil.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Presumably the body can regulate how many calories it absorbs, and store some for use later. Up to a point.”

    Ah! You mean energy storage is regulated by your biochemistry – precisely controlled by homeostasis?
    (Like every other biochemical balance your body needs to survive…)

    So how do we know the problem is “overeating”? How do we know it’s not a problem with the homeostasis mechanism?

  • Snorri Godhi

    PS: other than seed oils and sugar, the other food that i tend to avoid is cereal grains: no pasta, no pizza, and a homeopatic quantity of bread, preferably rye — plus beer, of course!

    I am willing to eat rice occasionally, but haven’t done so for months if not years. However, if given the choice in a restaurant between rice and potatoes/chips fried in seed oils, i’d go with the rice.

  • Rob Fisher

    Yes, very good Socratic method, NiV.

    I don’t disagree with you. I can imagine all sorts of reasons. Perhaps there is not even a “problem”. A body with abundant energy supplies that only needs to last 40 years to raise the next generation may not be particularly disadvantaged by storing very large amounts of energy in times of plenty.

  • bobby b

    “So how do we know the problem is “overeating”? How do we know it’s not a problem with the homeostasis mechanism?”

    I LIKE that answer! I’m sticking with it. Pass the biscuits, please.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Yes, very good Socratic method, NiV.”

    🙂 Thank you!

    But I’ve found if I don’t, people are more inclined to argue!

    “Perhaps there is not even a “problem”. A body with abundant energy supplies that only needs to last 40 years to raise the next generation may not be particularly disadvantaged by storing very large amounts of energy in times of plenty.”

    Perhaps there isn’t. It occurred to me that evolution must have fitted humanity for a wide range of nutritional circumstances. If you’re in a marginal region where food is scarce and famines common, a small body has lower energy needs and can survive the famines better. But in a fertile region where food is plentiful, you need to be able to defend that territory, so a bigger, stronger, taller, heavier body makes sense. However, the body plan is set during childhood, and it’s hard to switch from one to the other. One approach would be to settle on an compromise size/shape. But perhaps a better plan is to detect during childhood whether food is plentiful or scarce, and switch body shapes/sizes accordingly.

    “In the 150 years since the mid-19th century, the average human height in industrialised countries has increased by up to 10 centimetres (3.9 in).” From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_height#History_of_human_height

    Curious that no one complains about the ‘tallness epidemic’, eh?

    “I LIKE that answer! I’m sticking with it. Pass the biscuits, please.”

    Very wise!

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    I should add that if you happen to be a 21st century brain stuck in a human body and you want to live longer, or keep your body thinner for any number of reasons, you might find you need to figure out how to trick the homeostasis mechanism to achieve your desired results. 🙂

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Snorri, seed oils were not on my radar at all. I’m not sure I remember any of the linked articles mentioning them but they might have.

  • bobby b

    If only we could affect our insulin production . . .

  • R. Dawes

    bobby b wrote:

    If we did what the vegans and locavores and natural-foods-types demand, I doubt we could feed more than half of the people we feed now


    That, in part, is the point.

    Another part of the point is power and control.

    And another still is straight-up superstition, which is what the “meat is murder” mantra is.

    They’re emoting from a value standard intended to see the clock put back a thousand years or more, with themselves in the place of a combined aristocracy and priesthood, this time well armed with the knowledge that reason and liberty are their enemies.

    What was that catchcry? “Back to the Pleistocene” or somesuch?

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I remember watching a video on youtube that talked about an experiment on mice using food.

    The mice were usually fed pellets and allowed to eat as much as they want, but an experimental group were fed pellets that were ground into powder.

    Interestingly, the grounded pellet group got very fat.

    That same video also showed the differing effects on blood glucose and insulin levels from apple slices and various forms of processed apples. The processed forms of apple illicited a more detrimental response compared to apples. Can’t remember exactly how it is detrimental though…

  • Julie near Chicago

    Sorbitol is sometimes vilified as an “artificial sweetener.” Some manmade sweeteners contain it among the ingredients, but in itself it isn’t artificial.

    Sorbitol occurs naturally in several foods, such as prunes and peaches. It oughtn’t to be automatically thought of as an “artificial [hence yuckynastynogoodcarcinogenic] sweeteners,” although I believe that at least some sugar substitutes contain sorbitol. In some people it apparently helps with elimination.


    Call ’em biscuits or call ’em cookies, either way I’m in! The biscuits with plenty of Real Butter, please. Oleo is what they use to grease airplane-gear struts.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Hey! What happened to the “Comments” list? It’s there on the Samizdata home page (https://www.samizdata.net), but not on any of the pages of postings.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Ah found the video!

    Some interesting facts I’ve found:
    LDL is a very poor marker for cardiovascular health.
    HDL is much better.
    Triglycerides is much better.
    The HDL/Triglyceride ratio is a very good marker.

    We consume too much sugar and carbs. It’s easy to cut down to maintain good health.

  • It seems to me that the problem with “ultra processed foods” is two-fold.
    1. they tend to remove a bunch of useful nutrients (e.g. white flour vs wholemeal flour)
    2. they often add additional things like sugar that trigger our caveman brain tastes but don’t take into account that we aren’t cavemen anymore

    Combine that with

    3. humans can live for a long time on nutritionally imperfect diets at the cost of some ill-health at the time or later

    and it is very hard to identify what things humans actually need in what quantities for an ideal life beyond some basics about the extremes.

    At the extremes, we do know that the vegan diet is often bad for men (plant protein has the wrong hormonal balance) and extremely bad for children (who miss critical nutrients required for mental development only found in animal products) and we know that a high sugar diet tends to lead to diabetes and fat because of how sugar is handled. We also know that lack of various minerals and vitamins leads to diseases like scurvey. But once you get away from the extremes our knowledge is much more of the “you need some of this, and not too much of that”. And furthermore, as has been discovered again and again, as we industrialize food we tend to remove impurities and sometimes those impurities may contain critical nutrients (e.g. the insect parts that used to be in Indian rice allowed Indians to be “vegan” because they were consuming insects unknowingly – once the rice started getting properly stored so that insets weren’t present vegan Indians started suffering from various deficiency diseases)

    The disadvantage of UPFs is that the consumer doesn’t really know what is in them and can’t control the ingredients, whereas if the consumer cooks his own meals from scratch he does and can. It all really boils down to control

  • Rob Fisher

    Julie, you’re not supposed to notice these subtle background changes! We removed the “recent comments” panel from the post pages to reduce server CPU load.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh. Well, thanks for the explanation, Rob. :>)

    However, let me register a huge wailing complaint. The only way I can keep up with who’s said what lately is to keep going back and forth from a posting to the Home Page, or else to keep a tab open permanently to the Home Page. So I hope The Team can come up with some suitable solution to the problem.

    Has Perry ever thought about taking donations? I don’t make a regular donation to any website, but I would eagerly do so in the case of Samizdata, if more server firepower would solve the problem. (Or even just as a way of saying “Good job, thank you!” to the Team.)

  • Ben

    Snorri Godhi – with you entirely on the sugar/grains/seed oil avoidance.

    If you have a go at mayo using olive oil, it’s easy to make and delicious. But use light olive oil otherwise the taste is too strong.

  • Rob

    A handy rule of thumb when trying to understand what the term “ultra-processed food” means in a modern media article: if it was manufactured by a non-State organisation big enough to have a Board of Directors, or is imported from the USA it automatically becomes “ultra-processed”. If it was made by a small company in Shoreditch full of hipsters, or is French, it is automatically healthy and good regardless of ingredients.

  • Chlorinated chicken rules! (bobby b, June 4, 2019 at 8:15 pm)

    Relevant (if I am right) to the OP, there’s been just a little bit of a thing about chlorinated chicken recently in the UK.

    – Expressions of concern about chlorinated chicken have become a (very minor) item in UK chattering class background noise.

    – People who don’t like Brexit don’t like the idea of a trade deal with Trump – and such a deal may oblige us to OK your chlorinated chicken.

    My suspicious (especially of the PC) nature causes me to imagine a possible connection.

  • Mr Ed

    A scientist looks for a mechanism, not merely a ‘link’. One might notice the phases of the Moon and varying tide heights, but that does not explain the Moon’s impact on tides, nor does it point to a mechanism.

    From the OP cited:

    How bad were the findings?
    The first study, by the University of Navarra, in Spain, followed 19,899 people for a decade and assessed their diet every other year. There were 335 deaths during the study.
    But for every 10 deaths among those eating the least ultra-processed food, there were 16 deaths among those eating the most (more than four portions a day).
    The second study, by the University of Paris, followed 105,159 people for five years and assessed their diet twice a year.
    It showed those eating more ultra-processed food had worse heart health.
    Rates of cardiovascular disease were 277 per 100,000 people per year among those eating the most ultra-processed food, compared with 242 per 100,000 among those eating the least.
    The rapid increase of ultra-processed foods over less processed foods, “may drive a substantial burden of cardiovascular diseases in the next decades,” said Dr Mathilde Touvier, of the University of Paris.

    The answer is in the article:

    How bad were the findings?

    Terrible, no mechanisms, no process, no reasoning (here) why the investigation started, no controls, no measurements, what the hypotheses was, etc. Junk food leading to grant applications for junk science. This is, at this point, nothing more than a job creation scheme for statisticians and agitprop against ‘capitalism’ for providing lots of food.

    Is a casserole ‘processed’ food?
    Is a roast haunch of wild venison in a red wine sauce, with bay leaves, oregano, rosemary, garlic and tomatoes ‘ultra-processed’ food?

    What do our ‘scientists’ say?

    The lowest category is “unprocessed or minimally processed foods”, which include: • fruit • vegetables • milk • meat • legumes such as lentils • seeds • grains such as rice • eggs
    “Processed foods” have been altered to make them last longer or taste better – generally using salt, oil, sugar or fermentation.
    This category includes: • cheese • bacon • home-made bread • tinned fruit and vegetables • smoked fish • beer
    Then come “ultra-processed foods”, which have been through more substantial industrial processing and often have long ingredient lists on the packet, including added preservatives, sweeteners or colour enhancers.
    If a product contains more than five ingredients, it is probably ultra-processed, says Prof Maira Bes-Rastrollo, of the University of Navarra, citing a maxim.

    ‘citing a maxim’ might as well be ‘pulling a figure out of her arse’ in terms of science.

  • neonsnake

    This is, at this point, nothing more than a job creation scheme for statisticians and agitprop against ‘capitalism’ for providing lots of food.

    From the Guardian:

    Prof Corinna Hawkes, director of food policy at City University London and one of the lead researchers in the government-funded obesity policy research unit, said: “Governments must do more to comprehensively reduce the availability, affordability, and appeal of processed foods high in fats, sugars and salt.”

    I don’t know how true it is, it’s one of those things that “everyone knows”, but I have a strong sense that “ultra-processed foods” are consumed more by cash-poor, time-poor people, rather than those who can afford to spend time and money on quality ingredients and spend time prepping them.

    To my eyes, it’s advocating for taxing the poor.

  • John B

    Mankind has been processing food for a long time.

    Cooking is processing which brings about chemical changes. Then there is salting, pickling in vinegar, brine, alcohol, preserving in sugar, air-drying or sun drying… more chemical changes. Milk is processed, churned into butter, processed to make cheese introducing bacteria and moulds and causing chemical changes.

    Fruit and most vegetables are naturally full of sugar, citric and other acids.

    All the food we eat is a mixture of chemicals and the food most often linked to early death is not having food at all.

  • neonsnake

    If a product contains more than five ingredients, it is probably ultra-processed, says Prof Maira Bes-Rastrollo, of the University of Navarra, citing a maxim.

    Whilst I get what she was attempting to say, I bet she’s kicking herself for that phrase whilst everyone merrily asks whether Chinese 5-Spice is ok, but Japanese 7-Spice isn’t, and so on.

  • Ian Bennett

    Some excellent stuff here, for which I offer many thanks.

    I have filed the BBC report under “They want you to feel bad about what you’re doing so you’ll feel better about them stopping other people from doing it.”

  • Nemesis

    Christopher Snowdon
    Is the man for fisking all the faddy health claims.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Terrible, no mechanisms, no process, no reasoning (here) why the investigation started, no controls, no measurements, what the hypotheses was, etc. Junk food leading to grant applications for junk science.”

    Yup. And another important point I tell people to look for is that unless you’re doing randomised double-blind trials in a lab setting, you should never pay attention to findings of a risk ratio below 2. The problem is that the error bars are generally calculated assuming perfect independence, but in the real world there are always a multitude of residual dependencies between variables that set up a sort of ‘background noise’ in the statistics. And this means you can’t detect any effect where the difference in outcome between ‘factor present’ and ‘factor absent’ is less than a factor of two. Some experienced epidemiologists suggest a limit of three or four.

    It’s well-known in scientific circles that it’s trivially easy to get spurious ‘statistically significant’ results for risk ratios below two, and that any such result is very probably junk science. But they live in a world where academic funding depends on writing lots of papers, and you can’t always make genuine advances and breakthroughs that fast, especially early in your career, so it’s common for those still learning how to do the job to be set assignments doing this. Pick any bunch of unrelated factors you like, do a big survey of their health, and then do a data trawl to pull out spurious correlations that – assuming perfect independence – look significant. You get plenty of papers published, the bureaucrats are happy and keep the money flowing, and you get plenty of practice with the basic processes of collecting and processing data, and writing papers in the journal’s style. After a decade or so of doing this, you might have learnt enough to discover something genuinely interesting.

    These junk science papers are also a tremendous resource for journalists. The results reported are often dramatic and scary, all of the form of “Touching X causes cancer!” or “Eating Y makes you live longer!” and excellent clickbait. The fact that in six months time they’ll highlight another paper saying exactly the opposite doesn’t impinge on its money-making effectiveness.

    As for this particular “ultra-processed” fad, I classify it as yet another cult from the “naturalistic fallacy” school of delusion. The naturalistic fallacy asserts that natural things are good and safe, and artificial things are bad and dangerous. It’s at the root of political environmentalism, back-to-nature anti-industrialism, as well as many of the food fads and health scares we’ve passed through. It’s much the same as the religious classifications of ‘ritual purity’ such as halal or kosher foods. Which in turn seems to be derived from an instinctive desire to learn and share rules on what foods are good/safe to eat and which are dangerous, and carefully follow those rules. It gives us pleasure to do so. With an organised food supply chain in which all foods are good and safe to eat, there’s nothing real left for this instinct to latch on to, so it grabs on to noise and random rumour, like an edible Rorschach test.

    And hence we have the spectacle, in the 21st century, in a nation where everybody has done science lessons at school and know perfectly well what the world is made out of, we have people seriously complaining about all the chemicals in their food! And they’ll check the ingredients list carefully for anything that looks scary, and worry about it, but when they’re served cabbage, (“Ingredients: Cabbage.”) they neither know nor care that it contains hundreds of polysyllabic mostrosities like ‘3-methylsulfinylpropyl isothiocyanate’, or that nobody has done any safety testing on them. They don’t have to. They’re ‘natural’, and hence good/safe.

    I recall reading the website of one of those New Age shops selling ‘essential oils’ for aromatherapy-like purposes. (I have a relative who worked there, and I was curious about what they did.) They suggested recipes for mixing your own fragrances, but noted that sometimes the skin reacted badly, and that if this happened you could experiment by trying different combinations somewhere the red patches wouldn’t show. They were quite keen on Rose oil, for some reason. Well Rose oil has dozens of chemical ingredients, including 3,7-Dimethyl-1,6-octadien-3-ol (common name ‘linalool’). Among it’s other uses, linalool is used by pest professionals as a flea, fruit fly, and cockroach insecticide.

    I decided not to tell my relative that they were recommending their customers experiment by putting various combinations of cockroach insecticide on their bodies until they found a combination that didn’t burn their skin. I don’t think any of the possible reactions to that news would have improved the situation. But I thought it was an interesting demonstration that much of this is about the perception, in the context of a belief system. The ‘Ritual purity’ of the ‘natural’ isn’t about objective scientific effects or risks. It’s a religion.

  • Stonyground

    If you don’t enjoy cooking and avoid doing so by buying ready meals, how much time would you save? If you add all that time over your lifetime, does it come to more or less than the time that you’re shortening your life by?

    I quite enjoy cooking but since I was diagnosed with type two diabetes, I spend a lot of time keeping fit and struggle to find the time.

  • Doug Jones

    It’s hard to go wrong by doing the exact opposite of the USDA recommendations:

    USDA: High carbohydrate, low fat, and most of that unsaturated.
    Healthy: Low carbohydrate, high fat, almost all saturated. Avoid seed oils.

    USDA: Avoid Cholesterol sources such as egg yolks.
    Healthy: Cholesterol intake does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Enjoy high cholesterol foods as you wish. Braaains!

    USDA: Low sodium to the point where deficiencies strike many.
    Healthy: Salt to taste, healthy kidneys can eliminate any excess, there is no CVD risk due to sodium.

    USDA: Measure and regulate serum LDL cholesterol levels with statins.
    Healthy: LDL has no predictive power for CVD. Statins cause harm and no good.

    USDA: Fruit juices are a healthy part of the “My Plate” regimen.
    Healthy: Fructose in all forms must have fiber with it to reduce absorption. It is almost as hepatoxic as ethanol.

    USDA: A calorie is a calorie is a calorie.
    Healthy: Added Sucrose (and particularly fructose) contributes to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome.

    USDA: Feedlot fattened beef is an economical and healthy food.
    Healthy: Only grass-fed beef with good Omega 3:Omega 6 balance should be eaten. Wild-caught fish vs farm-raised has the same issue.

    USDA: To lose weight you must consciously consume fewer calories.
    Healthy: LCHF diet induces satiety before excess calories are consumed, ensuring long term compliance. and successful fat loss.

    USDA/AMA/FDA: The cause of type 2 Diabetes is a mystery, and can only be treated, not cured, with medication.
    Healthy: Stop eating the goddamn carbs and diabetes will cure itself, except in end-stage patients.

    It’s almost as if they’ve been programming the proles to drop dead as soon as they retire and can draw benefits…

  • neonsnake


    What’s wrong with seed oils?

    Enough people have mentioned it for me to pay attention now.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Some very good commenting here.

    Rob: if seed oils were not on your radar, that’s not your fault: it’s because “mainstream” nutritionists do not want to admit that they have been advising us for decades to poison ourselves, by substituting saturated fats with omega-6 poly-unsaturated fats.

    I’ve had a rather intense gym session, so i do not feel like tracking down links to support the above statement (and answer neonsnake’s question), but hope to do so tomorrow.

    Ben: thank you for the tip; but i assume that when you say “light” olive oil, you imply that it must still be extra-virgin?

    Wobbly Guy: great video! even better than you give it credit for. A minor quibble is that i suspect that “underground” vegetables are not necessarily to be avoided. Still, i don’t think that anybody ever died from a deficiency of beets or potatoes.

    Doug Jones’ list is also helpful. I don’t know about the sodium and LDL items, and it is my understanding (possibly wrong) that feedlot fattened beef is still poorer in omega-6 than other meats, such as pork, chicken, or turkey. In any case, i suppose that, here in Europe, we don’t have to worry that our beef might not be grass-fed.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Ok. What’s wrong with seed oils?”

    Probably nothing. Bearing in mind the sheer number of things that have been declared good for you or bad for you over the years, anybody presenting yet another story about some food group being bad for you should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. (Oh, hang on, salt’s supposed to be bad for you… err, never mind.)

    However, the claims are primarily based on a couple of chemistry-related differences: the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, (although most people who talk about this don’t actually know what those terms mean), contain trans fats (and again…), and they’re easier to oxidise, producing free radicals and other toxic byproducts. And then there are a whole load of ‘naturalistic fallacy’ reasons; that they’re ‘artificial’, involve chemical processes like ‘heating to unnatural temperatures’, contain ‘additives’, are often made from genetically modified crops, and are heavily ‘processed’.

    As a counter to all the many years of public health propaganda that saturated animal fats were bad for you and vegetable oils good for you, that the tide has swung the other way is perhaps no bad thing. But people should be learning a different lesson from this than “The king is dead, long live the King!”

    Since we started eating this stuff, human life expectancy has been going up. Compared to what humans used to have to eat (and all of it ‘natural’), it can’t be all that bad for us. But believe what you will.

    Maybe this time it really is a wolf.

  • Snorri Godhi

    This comment is just to claim priority on an original idea of mine, which i have tested with success for the last couple of months.

    The idea is that one should have a “hunter meal” and a “gatherer meal” every day.

    By “hunter meal” i mean a meal consisting of animal products: meat, fish, dairy, or eggs. Any vegetable products should be mainly for flavor (eg olive oil).

    By “gatherer meal” i mean an almost-vegan meal, possibly with animal products for flavor (eg butter).

    I won’t go into the rationales for that, not today. Just wanted to say that, for the last couple of months, i’ve had a hunter brunch and a gatherer dinner, and i am pretty satisfied: lost some belly fat, and bowel function, already good, has improved.
    As Bertrand Russell said: some people like to think that they are unhappy because of political conditions; when you tell them that they are unhappy because of the conditions of their bowels, they get very angry.

    This is the ultimate in avoiding “processed” food: minimizing the number of ingredients in your stomach.

  • bobby b

    “What’s wrong with seed oils?”

    Nothing, unless you eat too much of them.

    Basically, there are several types of fatty acids. Three of the most critical are labeled Omega 3, Omega 6, and Omega 9.

    For a decade or more, health pros have been pushing us to eat lots of Omega 6 types – they’re polyunsaturated, which became a mantra of sorts in the cholesterol fight.

    Recent data has called the cholesterol recommendations into question, and has also established that we need a more even match of Omega6-type and Omega3-type fatty acids in our diet. Most Westerners typically get from 20 to sixty times the Omega6 type over the Omega3 type. 3 is a known anti-inflammatory, while 6 can foster inflammation – but the desirability of inflammation hasn’t really been established. We need some, but not too much . . .

    Both 3 and 6 are essential, and our bodies don’t manufacture them – we need to eat them. The issue is, in what ratio?

    The science is all up in the air about these. Strong (and rational-sounding) adherents on both sides – mostly from people selling one or the other in some form.

  • Rob Fisher

    Julie, complaint noted. Other improvements are being talked about so you may end up getting your wish.

    After reading all these very good comments I think I’ll just eat what I feel like (but not too much) and hope for the best.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Rob, that would be absolutely aces!

    (Just pleeze pleeze pleeze keep the white-on-dark-blue and don’t go Nested/”Threaded”. And if there’s any way to skip adding adverts, feel free. Anthony Watts has added them, and in my opinion they really detract from the seriousness of the site. Otherwise-good sites nowadays are advertising stuff like How to Lose 55 Pounds of Belly Fat in 16 seconds. Yuck.)

    Thanks for the update on this.

    Let me encourage you on your diet plan. Pretty likely it’s a winner!

    And, this is being another great discussion. Thanks for the posting.


    . . .

    While I’m completely O/T anyway, let me say how much I appreciate the way that Perry and all of you run this site. It does have some long discussions, which only prove that the general topic is of real interest, while there are none that run to hundreds and even thousands of comments that amount to nothing but kvetching and flaming.

    Amazing. Great job! *standing ovation*

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Snorri G: “The idea is that one should have a “hunter meal” and a “gatherer meal” every day.”

    There is a whole Hunter/Farmer Diet subculture — PBS (I know! I know!) runs infomercials on it when they need the faithful to make donations. The idea is that some of us have metabolisms tuned to Hunter diets, while others of us have evolved metabolisms appropriate for Farmer diets. Eat the diet appropriate to one’s metabolism and the world is wonderful.

    I suspect that the underlying issue with both Hunters & Farmers during evolutionary times was that our ancestors did not eat every day. Even with modern technology, hunting is a hit-or-miss process, and farmed crops mature only in their season. The people who survived were likely the ones who could pack on fat in the brief periods of plenty, and survive fairly long periods of very little food. Put organisms that evolved in an environment of feast & famine into today’s environment of perpetual feast — the outcome is inevitable.

    And let’s not forget that our evolutionary “Sell By” date was only 25 to 40 years — long enough to reproduce and bring up the next generation to the point where they could look after themselves. Every day we live beyond 40 years is a blessing.

  • bobby b

    “USDA: Feedlot fattened beef is an economical and healthy food.
    Healthy: Only grass-fed beef with good Omega 3:Omega 6 balance should be eaten.”

    Ok, this one has bothered me since I read it, so, rant on:

    Anyone who eats venison knows that most venison is very dry and tough. The best deer are the deer you get out of the knocked-down corn fields in the fall, after harvest. They’ve been eating corn. These are “feedlot deer.”

    People seem to speak of “feedlot beef” with a grimace, looking like they’re sucking a lemon as they say it. Grass-fed beef – the new trendy beef – is, indeed, lean. “Lean” is another word for dry.

    A short end-of-life nutrient flood – i.e., a feedlot stint – transforms lean meat into well-marbled meat, giving the meat moisture and flavor. A good cut of meat is marbled with fat.

    Sure, don’t eat fatty meat to excess – don’t eat anything to excess. But “only grass-fed beef”? Bleh.

    Sorry. Rant over.

  • Julie near Chicago

    And bobby nails it once again. Corn-fed beef beats out “grass-fed” every minute of every hour of every day of the week. And beef and pork have been bred to be so lean nowadays that they don’t have much flavor (chicken too! — and nothing approaching actual Dark Meat) and are dry and tough besides. (Yes yes, of course they’re better or worse depending on the technique of the cook.)

    Even the Great Foot attests to the superior flavor of corn-fed beef:


    A 2003 Colorado State University study[59] found that 80% of consumers in the Denver-Colorado area preferred the taste of United States corn-fed beef to Australian [Argentinian, 50 years ago] grass-fed beef….

    Besides which, the animal fats are good for you, as several above have noted.

  • Have to disagree on grass fed vs corn fed. All the best beef I have ever had was grass fed, without exception. High end Ukrainian beef is much under rated.

  • Mr Ed

    High end Ukrainian beef is much under rated.

    Chernobyl fall-out? The image, rather than the reality. Even Welsh lamb was affected at the time IIRC.

  • neonsnake

    And then there are a whole load of ‘naturalistic fallacy’ reasons; that they’re ‘artificial’, involve chemical processes like ‘heating to unnatural temperatures’, contain ‘additives’, are often made from genetically modified crops, and are heavily ‘processed’.


    The science is all up in the air about these. Strong (and rational-sounding) adherents on both sides – mostly from people selling one or the other in some form.

    Thanks both…I’ll continue seasoning my Chinese dishes with a dash of toasted sesame oil for now 😉


    After reading all these very good comments I think I’ll just eat what I feel like (but not too much) and hope for the best.

    Pretty much. As best as I’ve ever been able to tell, LCHF diets are most likely the healthiest, and beyond that very broad brush approach, the rest appears to be about optimising a diet that will, almost certainly, fuel your body until 80-ish years old. Of course, the science on what is optimal is still very confused, and further, what is right for one person might not be right for the next.

    Optimising is great, and for some people, will lead to noticeably better health, or a healthier weight, or a happier life, or whatever.

    Someone asked upthread whether eating ready-meals is worth the time saved; if we take ready meals to also imply “ultra-processed”, then my answer would be “yes…for some people”. In the long run, maybe it’s not as healthy – but we’re talking very small percentage differences, as you noted earlier. In the short run, if those people are spending that time with their small children instead of in the kitchen, or if it means they have time to go the gym, or a myriad of other reasons that might be “time better spent”, then I’d say it’s worth it.

    For that reason, and others relating to “affordable meals for less well-off people” that I noted upthread, I’m very cautious about reports vilifying processed foods.

    In related news, Norway’s Health Minister has this to say:

    “I believe people should be allowed to smoke, drink and eat as much red meat they just want. The authorities may like to inform, but people already know pretty well what is healthy and what isn’t, I believe”

  • Snorri Godhi

    Yesterday, i sort-of-promised some links about seed oils; but now i have a higher priority, namely, to register my disagreement with this proposition from Mr Ed:

    A scientist looks for a mechanism, not merely a ‘link’. One might notice the phases of the Moon and varying tide heights, but that does not explain the Moon’s impact on tides, nor does it point to a mechanism.

    That is very true for the “hard” sciences; but it falls apart when we consider complex systems such as human physiology, human societies, and the climate.

    (A disclaimer: I myself have a PhD from a Department of Physiology, but i’m afraid that i concentrated on neurophysiology: i only studied vegetative physiology as an undergraduate, and have forgotten pretty much all of it.)

    I do believe that we should look for mechanisms; but, in the case of nutrition, we should not rely on theories about mechanisms when deciding what to eat. Instead, we should rely on 3 kinds of strictly empirical evidence:
    * historical evidence of nutrition in healthy cultures;
    * rigorous experimental studies;
    * self-experimentation.

    Self-experimentation is most important to me: when i started cutting down on the carbs, i felt within a few months that a fog had been lifted from my brain. Mind you, that mental fog did not prevent me from getting a PhD; but still, i count cutting down on the carbs as probably the most important turning point in my life. (The 2nd most important was reading The Logic of Scientific Discovery.)

  • Snorri Godhi

    Now here are some links.
    First, from Rogue Health and Fitness:

    Ultra-processed food:

    Most of them contain the unholy trinity of seed oils, sugar, and refined grains.

    Note how seed oils are linked to depression, in addition to physical illnesses.

    The Israeli paradox: Israelis consume a large amount of seed oils, and suffer the consequences. (Strangely, however, Israelis seem to be much less insane than American Jews — even less insane than American or European Gentiles!)

    Seed oils are dangerous to health:

    The manufacturing process for vegetable oils involves pressing at high pressure, and extracting more oil using solvents such as hexane, a volatile hydrocarbon similar to gasoline. The oils are then refined by heating to a high temperature and adding sodium hydroxide (lye), and finally, degummed, bleached, and deodorized.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Next, from Stephan Guyenet’s blog:

    The omega ratio:
    reducing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid intake (think of it as the ratio of seed oils to fish oil intake):
    * decreased aggression
    * decreased depression
    * decreased bipolar disorder
    * decreased suicidal behavior
    * decreased anger+anxiety in substance abusers.

    Last paragraph in the blog post:

    Most of those were placebo-controlled trials. If we can see a significant effect of n-3 supplementation in short-term trials, imagine how well it would work as a long-term preventive measure.

  • Chernobyl fall-out? The image, rather than the reality.

    Ukraine is quite a large country, more than twice the size of UK. I did not find my hair falling out after eating excellent steaks in Kyiv 😆

  • Snorri Godhi

    Bobby’s comment @8:52 is misleading. (No doubt, that was not intentional.)

    There are 2 problems with it.
    First, it is true that we need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids — but we do NOT need seed oils because we get plenty of omega-6 fatty acids from pretty much every other food that we eat.
    See PD Mangan‘s blog once again: The only food with more omega-3 than omega-6 seems to be fish! (Also seaweed, i suppose but it’s not in the list.)

    Second: Bobby claims that there is controversy over whether omega-6 fatty acids are beneficial or not — but i am not aware of any claim that we should consume more omega-6 fatty acids. There has been a (misguided) push for a long time to substitute saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fatty acids; but not to substitute them specifically with omega-6 poly-unsaturated fatty acids, afaik.

  • neonsnake

    Snorri, I appreciate your effort to answer my question and the links, and I promise I will read them all over the next couple of days. Gods bless you.

  • bobby b

    Snorri G:

    A. Agree that we don’t need seed oils – I was just addressing the question of “why do people frown on seed oils” specifically looking at the O6 issue.

    B. Agree that we don’t need MORE O6 than we usually get – just saying that we do need some, and that people ought not view O6 as some sort of poison. The issue lies in the excess of 6 over 3. The oils that were chosen for us as a cholesterol salve that are unsaturated happen to include lots of O6, which made it unfortunate for two reasons. (The cholesterol advice was wrong, plus it ended up boosting our O6 because so many unsaturated choices are full of O6.)

    But this isn’t my area at all, and I’ll defer to whatever further correction you see fit. After seeing everything we ever knew about healthy eating turned upside down and justly ridiculed over the past few years, I now see “scientific” health claims with a severely jaundiced eye. I’m sure I’ll be an Omega 3/6 skeptic for a decade after it’s proven true.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Second: Bobby claims that there is controversy over whether omega-6 fatty acids are beneficial or not — but i am not aware of any claim that we should consume more omega-6 fatty acids.”

    There are several other possible positions. Some say it doesn’t matter. Some say we don’t know. Some say the benefits outweigh the costs. Some say the differences are tiny and we have plenty of more important things to worry about.

    Do power transmission lines cause cancer? I’m not aware of any claims that they *prevent* cancer and we should all move to live near them, so there is that… 🙂

    “After seeing everything we ever knew about healthy eating turned upside down and justly ridiculed over the past few years, I now see “scientific” health claims with a severely jaundiced eye.”

    If there is any good to be said for the endless litany of health scare stories, it is perhaps that the constant and constantly inconsistent alternation between ‘X is good’ and ‘X is bad’ clues people in to the fallibility of current scientific orthodoxy, and promotes systematic scepticism. I like to think so, anyway. But judging by how popular such beliefs still are, I fear it is only a tiny minority of you who see it.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Neonsnake, Bobby, Nullius: thank you for the feedback.

    Bobby: please note that i chose my words carefully: i said that your comment was “misleading”, not that it was wrong 🙂

    The reason i singled out your comment was that it gave me an opportunity to address, indirectly, the skepticism expressed by several other commenters, including Nullius.

    As i said, my positive opinion of low-carb diets comes from self-experimentation; but i seem to remember that it takes a couple of years for a change in the omega6/omega3 ratio in our cell membranes to reflect the ratio in our diets, so self-experimentation is dodgy when it comes to seed oils: there are so many other things that change in a couple of years, and all of them are complicating factors.

    Here is another post on seed oils from another site worth watching.

  • bobby b

    “The reason i singled out your comment was that it gave me an opportunity to address, indirectly, the skepticism expressed by several other commenters, including Nullius.”

    No worries, SG. I admit to skepticism about the 3/6 ratio, but only in the context of being skeptical about most every existing dietary recommendation lately. It’s a pleasure to see these topics discussed in a way that includes the science behind the theories.

    I’ve struggled with weight ever since I quit college football (quickly turning my metabolism from “10” down to “1” on the dial), and so have always been receptive to the theories and recommendations as they popped up. And I’ve been disappointed 9 times out of 10.

    So now, like you (I suspect), I take most of my dietary recs from my own personal experience. If I drop my animal-fat intake, I start to gain weight. If I raise my animal-fat intake, I lose weight. If I eat carbs, I’m never not hungry. I’m anti-carb, pro-proteins, insulin-aware, and my fat intake seems dose-critical. I think Dr. Atkins got it 99% correct. But his dealings with the Omega3/6/9 question were limited to “you need all three, you can get 9 from olive oil, and so you need to seek out 3 and 6.” The concept of 6 being harmful is relatively new.

  • neonsnake

    Adding my support. One of the more interesting threads, from my perspective, Snorri.

    I’m the opposite of bobby b, maybe (?) – I’m naturally embasseringly slim, yet am trying to put on weight. I actually add carbs on top of weight training, in an attempt to do so. It’s working, somewhat. I’m a runner, a karate-ka (black belt) and a ju-jitsu-ka (also black belt) but am aware that my weight holds me back. I’m carb loading with an attempt to build up, but am uncertain of the wisdom of such.

    I’m definitely interested in further optimization of such!

  • Snorri Godhi

    Neonsnake: i also used to be skinny, then started fattening and kept at it for about 14 years. Now i am adding muscle and shedding fat, slowly. What i do is gorge on proteins (and the associated fat, of course) for 24h following each gym session, limiting other food to a minimum.
    On other days, as i said, i eat animal protein only during a window of maybe 5 hours: it’s a mild form of intermittent fasting. Every now and then, i have a mostly vegan day.
    On Mangan’s blog, you will probably find better advice than i can give you.