Ultra-Processed People: The Science Behind Food That Isn’t Food

Book review by Deane Barker tags: food, health, nutrition

This is another nutrition book that claims it has discovered “the secret” to the obesity epidemic.

It goes like this –

We don’t eat actual food anymore. We eat what was once food, but which has been broken down almost to a molecular level, combined with a bunch of other stuff, and reconstituted in unnatural ways to exist in a hyper-palatable state that encourages us to overeat, digests too fast, and that our bodies barely recognize as food anymore, throwing off our natural appetite regulation.

And here’s the thing: I suspect the author is correct about everything.

He makes a good case for it. Reading the book is slightly disgusting, because it makes you reflect on what we’ve done to our diets, and wonder what we’re actually eating.

I saw this book at every bookstore when I was in London in June. The author is British, and they were doing a big promotion at the time, I guess. I had a decent idea of what the gist was, so I resolved to stop eating processed food when I got back to the States.

I did. And it seems to be working well. I don’t obsess over food anymore. I’ve lost… nine pounds? I don’t weigh myself much anymore. I’ve found that when I eat normal food, I don’t so much care what I weigh.

I eat what I want, so long as it’s natural. And I eat when I want. And how much I want.

Part of my mindhsift here was a little speech I heard from some fitness influencer that said something like, “It’s impossible to overeat if you’re eating the right things.” That made a lot of sense to me, and my personal experience seems to bear it out. Now I gorge on… steak, or something. My body seems to shrug it off. I feel like this is how the human body is supposed to work.

The fact is, we’ve completely corrupted the human diet in the last 40 years. We are putting things in our bodies that our gut doesn’t really know what to do with. It will eventually digest it, but it doesn’t immediately recognize it as food, so we keep eating. (Consider that humans have only been eating refined sugar for about 500 years. That’s a blip, evolutionarily speaking.)

Additionally, the commercialization of food means that billions and billions of dollars every year are invested into one goal: getting us to eat more. How did we think that was going to work out? Not shockingly, we eat more now than we ever have before (also see The Economists' Diet).

Consider: have you ever eaten an apple, and thought, “Man, I just have to eat a whole bunch more apples, right now. I should know better – whenever I eat an apple, I just can’t stop with one…” I’m too young to know for sure, but I suspect the concept of manic food consumption – compulsive overeating, food addiction, whatever – has been wildly exacerbated by simply how good modern food is engineered to taste.

The book gets a little …preachy, at the end. The author goes deep into some conspiracy theory-ish rants about the state of food production. And – like a lot of books these days – he talks about the effect of food production on the climate. It’s not just a food thing, it turns out; it’s also an environmental thing.

It’s a good book. I would recommend it.

But mostly I would just say this: if you struggle with food addiction (I have, my entire life), make an effort to “naturalize” your diet. Don’t eat anything you have to unwrap. Prepare your own food.

In my experience, that’s the easiest change you can make, and it’s very effective while also being low-stress, low-overhead, and mentally …peaceful.

Book Info

Chris van Tulleken
  • I have read this book. According to my records, I completed it on .
  • I do not own a copy of this book, but I have read and reviewed it (above).

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