Dr. Robert Lustig, a prominent UCSF pediatric endocrinologist , is no fan of processed food. In today's JAMA Pediatrics, he makes his case with an article, "Processed Food—An Experiment That Failed."

In Lustig's view, the subjects of the experiment are the American people. (Yes, YOU.) And the principal investigators conducting this experiment? Big Food... Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Kraft, Unilever, General Mills, Nestlé, Mars, Kellogg, Proctor & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson.

So in Lustig's mind, the experiment began in the 60's when people started chowing down on processed food, or food that:

  • is mass produced,
  • is consistent batch-to-batch,
  • is consistent across countries, 
  • includes some weird, specialized, commercial ingredients,
  • consists of pre-frozen macronutrients,
  • stays emulsified (doesn't separate), and 
  • has a long shelf life (or is frozen).

And this processed food is different, nutritionally, from real food, in the following ways:

  • too little fiber,
  • too few omega 3's,
  • too many omega 6's,
  • too few micronutrients, like antioxidants,
  • too many trans fats,
  • too many branched-chain amino acids
  • too many emulsifiers,
  • too many nitrates,
  • too much salt,
  • too much ethanol, and, of course,
  • too much fructose (from SUGAR).

The results? Not so good. We're eating more calories from carbohydrates, especially sugar. And we're spending about double the percentage of our food dollar (from 11.6% to 22.9% in 30 years) on processed food. I am sure the principal investigators like this!

Our health has declined. Metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia (cholesterol and triglycerides out of whack), nonalcoholic fatty liver disease... they are all tightly linked to sugar consumption.

Sugar production and crop monocultures (for key processed food ingredients like corn, soy, and wheat) lead to soil erosion, loss of arable land, increased atrazine use, nitrate contamination and herbicide resistance. Not nice.

And then there are the bills for this little adventure. Lustig estimates we could eliminate $1.8 trillion each year from our health care spending if we changed back to real food. That's TRILLION with a 'T', folks. This is about triple the profits that Big Food pockets each year. 

His conclusion? Experiment failed. Go back to real food. Totally agree.

Okay. So here's what to eat. And six real food diets to choose from.

For more, check out this post on why some foods that we think of as healthy are actually highly processed...