Ultra-Processed…Ultra-Problematic (Pt. 2)

  1. Do not have blind faith in food packaging. If there is one thing I want you take away from these articles, it is that you should always read the nutrition labels before buying something. In fact, I do not even look at the calories per serving, but rather the amount/type of ingredients and base my decisions off of these two factors (more on this later in the article and in a later piece).
  2. Fat and carbohydrates are burned reciprocally, so you are either burning one or the other, depending on the COMPOSITION of your nutrient intake.
  3. Americans are accumulating fat mass at an alarming rate, and in fact, even though we may appear healthy on the outside, a recent study has demonstrated that only about 12% of Americans have no signs of insulin resistance (I am going to do a separate piece digging into this study and other similar studies; 1)
  • All definitions were pulled from Reference #2
  1. You start with just plain whole corn (on the cob). Obviously one ingredient is included…corn.
  2. Now we want to process that corn so it can stay on a grocery shelf for endless amounts of time. So I take the Whole corn, throw in a bit of water, sugar, and salt, and store it in a tightly sealed can.
  1. In 4 oz of 80/20 ground beef (80% fat, 20% protein):
We see that ground beef is only composed of protein and fat…there are no carbohydrates in ground beef (there are trace amounts…very very trace amounts). And look at the P:E on this guy 1.55 (12).
Again, we see that this natural, whole food is composed of practically just protein and fat with very trace amounts of carbohydrates (13)
Now we just see the opposite of what we saw in the animal-products…an apple is pretty much just protein and carbohydrates…with very trace amounts of fats (14).
Potatoes are comprised of protein and carbohydrates (15).
Think of DRI/DV as the recommended amount of that nutrient you should consume per day at minimum. Salmon sure checks a whole heck of a lot of boxes just in a 4.00 oz serving. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=104
  1. Avoid foods that are high in both carbohydrates and fats. This deadly combo can lead to overeating, and thereby fat accumulation and potentially the onset of metabolic syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes.
  2. Natural foods (Un-processed) are typically only abundant in either fat or carbs, not both. The only exceptions that come to mind are milk and some nuts.
  3. Ultra-processed foods are not only typically low in protein, but they are almost always high in both carbs and fats (very energy dense).
  4. We have two main hunger pathway: Homeostatic (think protein, micro nutrients, and energy) and hedonistic. We as humans cannot survive on protein alone, nor can we survive on just energy alone, so we must satiate both our nutrient and energy hungers. The only problem is that we tend to focus too much on our hedonistic hunger, which leads to over consumption.
  5. Protein is the most satiating macro-nutrient, and it tends to come packed with many micro-nutrients, especially in animal-based products.
  1. Read the damn nutrition label. If the majority of the food you are consuming has over 5 ingredients, I highly encourage you to consider a healthier alternative. Quit trying to add damn super foods to your diet, and focus on removing the crap. You do not need to cut down to 1-ingredient whole foods right away. You can try swapping one ultra-processed food with a processed or natural food at each meal and slowly progress.
  2. When you begin a meal, prioritize protein and micro nutrients. Again, these don’t need to be 1-ingredient whole foods, but you will find an abundance of protein and micro nutrients in animal-based products. You will also find an abundance of fiber (which we haven’t really touched on yet) and micro nutrients in Leafy green vegetables. Thus, in my opinion you will get the most bang for your buck if you make animal protein and leafy greens the star of the show at each meal.
  3. I encourage you to attempt to be mindful when you eat. Don’t stare at a TV screen, and try to eat in a slow and controlled manner (this will allow your brain and stomach more time to communicate…and allow you to gauge a better sense of your hunger). If you are still hungry, this most likely is energy hunger (since you just took care of your nutrient hunger). Again, think whole foods here: (if you are craving carbs, try a potato, if you are craving fat, try whole-milk PLAIN greek yogurt).


  1. Araújo, Joana, et al. “Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2016.” Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, vol. 17, no. 1, 2019, pp. 46–52., doi:10.1089/met.2018.0105.
  2. Andrews, P. & Martin, L. Hominoid dietary evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 334, 199–209 (1991).
  3. Milton, K. A hypothesis to explain the role of meat-eating in human evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology 8, 11–21 (1999).
  4. Watts, D. P. Scavenging by chimpanzees at Ngogo and the relevance of chimpanzee scavenging to early hominin behavioral ecology. Journal of Human Evolution 54, 125–133 (2008).
  5. Pobiner, B. (2013) Evidence for Meat-Eating by Early Humans. Nature Education Knowledge 4(6):1
  6. Jolly, C. J. The seed-eaters: a new model of hominid differentiation based on a baboon analogy. Man 5, 1–26 (1970).
  7. Peters, C. R. & O’Brian, E. M. The early hominid plant-food niche: insights from an analysis of plant exploitation by Homo, Pan, and Papio in eastern and southern Africa. Current Anthropology 22, 127–140 (1981).
  8. Teaford, M. F. & Ungar, P. S. Diet and the evolution of the earliest human ancestors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97, 13506–13511 (2000).
  9. Luca, F., Perry, G. H. & Di Rienzo, A. Evolutionary adaptations to dietary changes. Annual Review of Nutrition 30, 291–314 (2010).
  10. “{{MetaTags.title || ‘Nutritionix’}}.” Nutritionix, www.nutritionix.com/i/usda/corn-1-ear-large-7-0.75-to-9-long-yields/513fceb575b8dbbc21001521.
  11. “The NOVA Food Classification System.” NOVA Food Classification , educhange.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/NOVA-Classification-Reference-Sheet.pdf.
  12. CalorieKing, www.calorieking.com/us/en/foods/f/calories-in-beef-ground-beef-80-lean-20-fat-pan-browned/MJPo9HnUSnGiV2-9eBsCBw.
  13. “{{MetaTags.title || ‘Nutritionix’}}.” Nutritionix, www.nutritionix.com/food/large-egg.
  14. “{{MetaTags.title || ‘Nutritionix’}}.” Nutritionix, www.nutritionix.com/food/green-apple.
  15. “{{MetaTags.title || ‘Nutritionix’}}.” Nutritionix, www.nutritionix.com/food/potato.
  16. Steele, Eurídice Martínez, et al. “Ultra-Processed Foods and Added Sugars in the US Diet: Evidence from a Nationally Representative Cross-Sectional Study.” BMJ Open, vol. 6, no. 3, 2016, doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015–009892.
  17. Hall, Kevin D. “Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: A One-Month Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake.” 2019, doi:10.31232/osf.io/w3zh2.
  18. Katherine D. McManus, MS. “What Are Ultra-Processed Foods and Are They Bad for Our Health?” Harvard Health Blog, 9 Jan. 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-are-ultra-processed-foods-and-are-they-bad-for-our-health-2020010918605.
  19. Berthoud, H. (2004). Mind versus metabolism in the control of food intake and energy balance. Physiology & Behavior, 81(5), 781–793. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2004.04.034
  20. de Araujo, I., Oliveira-Maia, A., Sotnikova, T., Gainetdinov, R., Caron, M., Nicolelis, M., & Simon, S. (2008). Food Reward in the Absence of Taste Receptor Signaling. Neuron, 57(6), 930–941. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.01.032
  21. Hermsdorff, Helen, et al. “[Macronutrient Profile Affects Diet-Induced Thermogenesis and Energy Intake].” Archivos Latinoamericanos De Nutrición, vol. 57, no. 1, Apr. 2007, pp. 33–42.
  22. Arnarson, Atli. “Beef 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Effects.” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/beef#vitamins-and-minerals.
  23. Blundell JE, MacDiarmid JI. Fat as a risk factor for overconsumption: Satiation, satiety, and patterns of eating. J Am Diet Assoc. 1997;97:S63–S69.
  24. Albertsson, Charlotte Erlanson. “Fat-Rich Food Palatability and Appetite Regulation.” Fat Detection: Taste, Texture, and Post Ingestive Effects., CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; , 2010.



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Adam Plotkin

Adam Plotkin


Post-Baccalaureate research assistant in the Molecular and Clinical Nutrition Lab at the National Institutes of Health