The Nation's Health + Nutrition

Nutrition: The processed food battlefield

If you have any remaining doubts that the processed food industry is a cutthroat, go-for-the-jugular, organized effort to extract every possible penny from your pocket, even at the expense of health, take a gander at a quote from Marion Nestle's wonderful book, Food Politics .

In Nestle's description on how food conglomerate, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), conspired to fix prices on some basic agricultural compounds, she quotes an ADM executive captured on videotape and presented in court:

" We have a saying at this company . . . our competitors are our friends and our customers are our enemies."

In other words, ADM's competitors help establish what prices should be charged for basic foodstuffs, while its customers are the ones to do battle with.

Food is a necessary commodity. You and I only need so much of it. So how does a 40 billion dollar food manufacturer extract greater and greater profits and grow their market? Motivate people to eat more. It's that simple.

Eat less? Are you kidding? Eat spinach, green peppers, beets, and other low-margin products? Get real.

Why not take 8 cents worth of wheat flour, add some sugar, food coloring, and some other enticing flavorings like high fructose corn syrup? Put it all in a cleverly illustrated package, maybe even develop an entire story line about the product, complete with clever slogans and songs and . . . ouila! You now have a food that sells for many, many times its intrinsic value.

How to make the health nuts happy? Easy: Add some fiber. Now it's healthy! And it's now part of a "balanced diet".

What if it's full of corn starch, wheat flour, and sugar of the sort that make HDL cholesterols plummet, fan the flames of small LDL, increase inflammatory measures like C-reactive protein, push people closer and closer to diabetes, and make them fat? Then be sure it's low in saturated fat! It might even qualify as "Heart Healthy" by the American Heart Association!

Processed foods have no role in the Track Your Plaque program. If you want to see your CT heart scan score skyrocket, go to your grocery store and stray into the aisles outside of the produce aisle.

But stick to the produce aisle and watch your wallet grow, your health improve, your appetite shrink, all while food processor profits plummet.

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