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Dangers of Ultra-processed Food

Grocery Shopping

If you’re a frequent reader, you know that I rarely blog about nutrition. That’s because my focus is on the how and why, not the what, of eating based on the belief that (almost) all foods can be part of the healthy, “normal” eating. 

I try my best to avoid the concept of “good” and “bad” food. Broccoli does not sport a halo above its leafy stalks and no devil’s pitchfork rises out of a scoop of ice cream. One need not be a perfectly nutritional eater; occasional treats of high-sugar/high-fat foods are fine and welcome.

Ultra-processed foods, however, are in a category all their own because of the manifold, negative effects they have on our bodies. In “Are Ultra-Processed Foods Making Us Fat: A new study shakes things up” (Nutrition Action Healthletter, July/August 2019, pp 3-6), Kevin Hall, PhD minces no words about the dangers of the likes of “sodas, salty snacks, ice cream, frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, instant soups, and fruit drinks.” More foods are being added to this list and we generally know them when we see them. 

I’d add that most of you know it when you eat it because of how consuming more than a bit of ultra-processed food makes your body feel afterward and even into the next day. It feels awful in our bodies because that discomfort is trying to tell us something: it’s harmful for us. “Observational studies suggest that people who report eating more ultra-processed foods have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and early death.” Further studies tell us that much of the food people overeat is ultra-processed and that is where excess calories (more than the body needs) come from.

If you’re feeling brave and curious, make a list of the ultra-processed fare you eat frequently—foods made with large amounts of oil, sugar and salt; are breaded or fried; come in pre-made packages; are usually served at fast-food restaurants; didn’t come right off the tree or from the ground; contain added sugar or artificial flavoring; or were developed to have a long shelf life. How long is your list?

Now think about how you feel while you’re eating these foods. Is one thought about the pleasure you’re deriving while another is chiding you for eating foods that you know will hurt you? Do you have more difficulty stopping eating these foods even when you’re full or satisfied than you do stopping eating non-processed foods? What keeps you eating? How do you feel later in the day or that night after eating ultra-processed foods, including their affect on your ability to get a solid night’s sleep? How does your body feel the next day—peppy or sluggish, nourished or mistreated? Are you proud or ashamed?

If you were to nix ultra-processed food from your diet, what foods would you eliminate





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