Thursday, December 19, 2019

Ultraprocessed Foods

Nutrition research seems to follow fads, just like diets. Not long ago, everyone was into intermittent fasting. Now it's so-called ultraprocessed foods.

A recent observational study in France linked consumption of ultraprocessed foods and risk of type 2 diabetes. And another observational French study linked consumption of ultraprocessed foods to increased mortality. Both studies lasted for some years and relied on 24-hour dietary records.  An earlier study linked consumption of ultraprocessed food with cancer.

Another study, this one in the United States, admitted people to the NIH Clinical Center for two weeks and fed them different diets. They could eat a much as they wanted. The researchers found that the people ate about 500 more calories a day when fed the ultraprocessed diets, and their weight increased correspondingly. They gained an average of 2 pounds over the 2 weeks on the ultraprocessed diet and lost 2 pounds on the unprocessed diet. Interestingly, when they ate more, they ate more carbohydrate and fat but not more protein.

The full text of the study is here.

What I found interesting in the first cited study was the description in the article and supplementary material about what the researchers consider to be ultraprocessed. Ultraprocessed foods are those undergoing multiple physical, biological, and/or chemical processes and generally containing food additives. They usually go through several physical and chemical processes such as extruding, molding, prefrying, and hydrogenation. Flavoring agents, colors, emulsifiers, humectants, nonsugar sweeteners, and other cosmetic additives are often added.

Other categories are unprocessed and minimally processed foods, culinary ingredients, and processed foods, including canned vegetables with added salt, sugar-coated dried fruits, cheeses, meat products processsed only by salting, and unpackaged breads.

Examples of ultraprocessed foods include sugary drinks, diet sodas, and energy drinks; flavored or artificially sweetened yogurts; dairy desserts, cream cheese, and milkshakes with texturizer, emulsifant, colorant, or other cosmetic additives; sauces like mayonnaise or ketchup containing emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, or other additives; instant powder soups; flavored and artificially sweetened fruit compotes; fish fingers and processed meat with added nitrites; prebaked breads with added dextrose, preservatives or emulsifiers; industrially packed cookies, cakes and candies; chips and crackers made with ingredients other than potatoes, oil and salt.

Most people eat most of these foods.

I make my own yogurt or kefir from whole milk and add strawberries. But according to this definition, it would be considered ultraprocessed because I use artificial sugar.

The authors point out that because ultraprocessed foods often have longer shelf lives because of added preservatives, they may stay for long periods in their packaging, favoring migration of materials in contact with food, such as bisphenol A, which has been associated with increased type 2 diabetes risk.

It's clear that you're better off eating whole foods; cooking at home instead of eating in restaurants (or take-out), where you don't know what's in the food; and avoiding convenience foods, which are usually ultraprocessed and often packaged in plastic.

But not everyone has that option. Someone who has a full-time job and also cares for children or elderly relatives, or both, probably doesn't have the time to prepare meals from scratch at home all the time. The answer is to do what you can. As they say, "Perfection is the enemy of the good."

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Soaked (Marinated) Vegetables

Sometimes one wants something a little crunchy, as well as tasty, and this fills the bill for me. I don't know where the recipe came from, so I can't give credit. I think a friend or relative took a Chinese cooking course and passed this on.

You can use turnips, radishes, cucumbers (boil whole for one minute), Chinese string beans, carrots (keep a long time), cabbage (short time), green pepper (short time), celery cabbage stems, etc. I like turnips or peeled broccoli stems.

2 cups water
2 tablespoons sherry
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar (I use erythritol)
4 teaspoons salt
2 to 3 dried red chiles
3 cloves garlic
(szechuan peppercorns)

Wash vegetables. Cut into pieces if large.

Fill quart jar half full with soaking solution. Drop vegetables in. Keep in fridge at least 1 day. Then it keeps for about a week.

As you eat some of the vegetables, you can add more with a small portion of soaking solution.

I find this satisfies any cravings for something to chew on between meals. It's salty, slightly sweet, and slightly hot. You can experiment with vegetables until you find some you like.