There’s never been a better time for processed food companies to make their products healthier here in the United States.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40% of Americans are obese, and many struggle with co-morbidities such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.
Ultra-processed foods make up the majority of the U.S. diet, according to a growing number of government, academic and independent nutrition experts, including participants in an online panel hosted by Harvard University TH last month. This is said to be one of the causes. Chan School of Public Health.
This symposium will discuss why the processing of packaged foods that occupy the center aisles of grocery stores is causing the weight gain seen in the United States, and shed light on ultra-processed foods and the industries that make them. It was one of the events that took place. they.The panel discussion at Harvard University was moderated by journalist Larissa Zimbeloff, whose book Technically Food: Inside Silicon Valley’s Mission to Change What We Eat It has attracted the attention of consumers and public health experts.
The introduction of GLP-1 class diabetes drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy, and the extensive publicity they have received, has brought further attention to the obesity problem in the United States and how it is contributing to the deterioration of the health of many Americans. and the role that ultra-processed foods play.
A nuanced perspective on ultra-processed foods
At a symposium at Harvard University, Kevin Hall, a principal investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, said early research on diets high in ultra-processed foods showed a strong association with excessive calorie intake. stated that it is shown.
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He outlined a paradigm that processed food companies will be hearing more about in the future. “Ultra-processed foods are one of four categories in what’s called the NOVA classification system, developed by the School of Public Health at the University of São Paulo in Brazil,” Hall said.
Category 1 includes minimally processed or unprocessed foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, and eggs. Category 2 includes “processed culinary ingredients” such as sugar and salt that are added to Category 1 foods to make a dish. Category 3 processed foods are a combination of categories 1 and 2, such as canned beans and vegetables, cured meats, fresh bread, and cheese. Category 4 ultra-processed foods include packaged snacks, frozen TV dinners, protein bars, pastries, and everything else.
Physicians and other health professionals are increasingly advising patients with conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease to follow a diet that focuses primarily on Category 1 foods.
Hall and other participants at the Harvard University symposium pointed out that not all ultra-processed foods are necessarily equally bad. He said his research team is conducting follow-up studies aimed at examining various properties of ultra-processed and natural foods, such as energy density, palatability, and quantity.
Another researcher, Josiemar Mattei, the Donald and Sue Pritzker Associate Professor of Nutrition at the T.H. Chan School, agreed with Hall. Mattei also said research has seen evidence that some ultra-processed foods may have a higher risk of illness and chronic disease than others.
Comments suggested that a thoughtful research approach to ultra-processed foods is being taken. Contrary to what some food executives believe, food is not automatically demonized.
Nevertheless, despite this warning, Mattei argues that we should reduce our consumption of ultra-processed foods overall. She said: “Increased overall consumption and intake of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of eventually developing type 2 diabetes, and emerging evidence regarding cardiovascular disease, particularly coronary heart disease, suggests that “Research suggests that there are more
All panelists at the Harvard University symposium agreed that obesity and negative health outcomes are increasing with the consumption of ultra-processed foods.
This is not an isolated consensus. The majority of doctors and health and nutrition experts in the United States say the same thing.
Additionally, there is now a consensus among consumers, the media, and public interest groups that obesity and negative health effects are increasing as a result of consuming ultra-processed foods.
My research shows that the majority of U.S. consumers want to buy and eat healthier foods, including healthier ultra-processed foods.
A recent survey conducted by Harris Poll provides an example of the latter. More than two in three respondents (67%) said they would be willing to pay up to $3 more for healthier ultra-processed foods.
big food opportunity
In my analysis, the U.S. processed food market is at a critical inflection point.
First, the trend has shifted from defining health foods primarily as those produced using organic or non-GMO methods (which has been the case for decades) to defining health foods as minimally processed. I moved on to defining. For example, heart disease is the highest killer in the United States, not pesticide or GMO poisoning. When it comes to longevity and quality of life, diet and exercise are paramount.
This changing trend will ultimately lead to a paradigm shift in the industry. This new paradigm is the production and sale of whole packaged foods that are healthier, including healthier ultra-processed foods.
Additionally, different types of products will be promoted to higher ranks in their respective categories. In fact, it’s already happening. For example, in the snack food category, healthy snacks such as nuts and popcorn are gaining popularity. Peanut butter and almond butter are both considered heart-healthy foods and are booming.
And when it comes to alternative proteins, it’s not plant-based meats (which are almost always highly processed, and increasingly so), but rather less processed foods like beans, legumes, and mushrooms. Branded products of various categories etc. made from these materials.
The next big leap for the processed food industry will be the creation of healthier products, including healthier ultra-processed foods.
I’m not even talking about the wraparound approach we call “better.” Instead, I’m talking about a truly paradigm-shifting approach to healthier packaged foods. For example, we are starting to see new buds of the food-as-medicine movement I mentioned above among a few big and emerging brand packaged food companies.
Large packaged food companies have traditionally ceded nearly all major paradigm-changing developments in organic, premium, and health foods to early-stage startups, instead entering through M&A.
The opportunity I describe – the creation of new types of truly healthy packaged foods, including healthier ultra-processed foods – is simply too great for large companies to avoid. They are the companies that make most of the ultra-processed foods, so they are in the crosshairs. The crosshairs will only get sharper.
GLP-1 drugs could revolutionize the processed food business, especially if approved for direct use for weight loss purposes. Utilization then increases as costs fall and private health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid cover costs.
Damning scientific evidence that ultra-processed foods are the main cause of obesity and all the health problems it poses to people is eroding consumer trust and confidence in the processed food companies behind them.
The business case exists for creating healthier packaged foods, including healthier ultra-processed foods. The big companies that are first movers will be the winners.
And it’s not in cellular and plant-based meat, where investors continue to spend large sums of money, that’s where the big opportunities lie for startups.
Developing truly healthy versions of what Americans love to eat is the right thing to do from a public health perspective. It is also a recipe for profit.