The Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization have published new guidelines to help governments improve the health of their citizens. These guidelines specifically name processed and ultra-processed foods as “unhealthy” and leading to “chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes” as well as contributing to the obesity epidemic.
Here are their guidelines in a nutshell:
“The model defines processed foods as food products that are industrially manufactured using salt, sugar or other ingredients to preserve them or make them more palatable. Ultra-processed foods are defined as industrially formulated food products that contain substances extracted from foods (such as casein, milk whey, and protein isolates) or substances synthesized from food constituents (such as hydrogenated oils, modified starches, and flavors). Drawing on the best scientific evidence available, the model classifies processed and ultra-processed foods and beverages as having ‘excessive’ amounts of sugar, salt and fat according to the following criteria:
•Excessive sugar if the amount of added sugars is 10% or more of total calories
•Excessive fat if the calories from all fats are 30% or more of total calories
•Excessive saturated fat if calories from saturated fats are 10% or more of total calories
•Excessive trans fat if calories from trans fats are 1% or more of total calories
•Excessive sodium if the ratio of sodium (in milligrams) to calories (kcal) is 1:1 or higher.”
We are not eating the same diet that our grandparents ate. Our foods are processed, and ultra-processed. If you believe the manufacturers of these foods, the goal is to make the foods more palatable. If you understand their methods, you know that the real goal is to make their foods more addictive so that we will consume more. That’s how they can continue to expand their businesses, and their bottom line.
It is the nature of business to seek maximum profit, and then to expand the market and seek a new higher maximum profit. Businesses are not inherently evil. That holds true for food manufacturers as much as any other business, but their end product has been so pernicious that the result has been a great deal of evil. Modern food manufacturers are killing people with their products, no less than the tobacco industry has done.
How did industry respond? Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics and Soda Politics, was monitoring the response of beverage companies who stand to lose a great deal if people truly followed these guidelines to avoid, not only sodas that include large quantities of sugar, but also sodas that substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar. Here is their response:
“We agree that obesity is a global health challenge, and ICBA and its members welcome the opportunity to work with PAHO and other stakeholders to pursue effective and practical solutions. There are some areas, however, where we believe that use of PAHO’s Nutrient Profile Model may not provide helpful guidance to consumers. There is not current scientific consensus in all areas that the Nutrient Profile Model addresses. It will not be useful if families find that nearly 80% of the foods and beverages in their grocery carts are unacceptable. Such a radical message is not likely to be followed by most individuals.”
In other words, their response is the same old tired reaction that we’ve come to expect. First, they try to confuse the issue by citing their own “scientific” studies. Then they claim that there is no consensus. Essentially, this means that they don’t agree with independent scientific consensus, and they have created their own body of literature to try to confuse consumers.
Second, they claim that, even when the consumers understand that soda is harmful to our health, we are too set in our ways to make the requisite changes. This is wishful thinking on their part. They don’t want us to make “radical” changes that will undermine their profits. Yet, there is a very healthy trend underway in America, away from processed foods like soda, and toward more healthy whole foods.
Unfortunately, someone may have to lose at this game. Let’s hope that food companies learn that healthy choices should be their priority, as they are our priority. Then, perhaps, they may have hope of surviving in an environment of health conscious consumers.