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Ultra-Processed, Ultra-Worried, Ultra-Tricky Guidance

The 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee just finished an afternoon of taking public comments at its third meeting. They are well on their way to producing a scientific report that might guide the guidance when it emerges in time for the dawn of 2025. Right now, it does seem like everyone is ultra-worried about what the guidance will say about ultra-processed foods.

Big Food Conspiracy

With classic muckraking journalistic flare, Nicholas Florko evokes the specter of industry conspiracy. He suggests food companies are trying to cast a spell over the committee so they “don’t worry about ultra-processed anything.” He prefaced his reporting on this meeting by regurgitating reports about food industry influence over the members of the committee. But we give him credit. About the nominations that brought people to the committee, Florko conceded that:

“The nominations are not completely outlandish: Nearly all of the researchers hold positions at prestigious universities.”

Somewhat outlandish was his point, we presume? This is a masterstroke of damnation with faint praise.

The Focus on Ultra-Processed Foods

If the Big Food conspiracy aimed to keep the committee from worrying about ultra-processed foods, the conspiracy may have already failed. This issue is definitely one of the systematic review questions for the committee:

“What is the relationship between consumption of dietary patterns with varying amounts of ultra-processed foods and growth, body composition, and risk of obesity?”

No amount of squirming will prevent a careful review. But squirm they will. For instance, Mark Messina of the Soy Nutrition Institute Global told the committee that he worries about disparagement of tofu as an ultra-processed food:

“The idea that tofu, a food that has been consumed for centuries, warrants the same classification as Twinkies defies common sense.”

Premature or Late to the Game?

While folks like Jennifer Pomeranz and like-minded scholars suggest that U.S. food policy is late to the game on ultra-processed foods, others scholars suggest just the opposite. Vinicius Valicente and colleagues wrote recently:

“Because avoidance of UPFs holds potential adverse effects (e.g., reduced diet quality, increased risk of food poisoning, and food wastage), it is imprudent to make recommendations regarding their role in diets before causality and plausible mechanisms have been verified.”

So, yes, we may be ultra-worried about ultra-processed foods, but writing sensible advice into the 2025 Dietary Guidelines will be ultra-tricky.

Click here and here for Florko’s reporting on the hearing yesterday. For Valicente’s review of potential mechanisms for ultra-processed foods to influence obesity and health, click here.

Landscape with Factory, painting by Henri Rousseau / WikiArt

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September 13, 2023

One Response to “Ultra-Processed, Ultra-Worried, Ultra-Tricky Guidance”

  1. September 14, 2023 at 1:49 am, Chester Draws said:

    “The idea that tofu, a food that has been consumed for centuries, warrants the same classification as Twinkies defies common sense.”

    The idea that blood letting, which was used by doctors for centuries, warrants the same classification as anti-biotics presumably also defies common sense.

    And the whole house of cards will fall on this. Everyone wants *their* ultra-processed food (which tofu undoubtedly is) to be exempt.