Guess which statement isn’t true?
- a) Ultra processed food is linked to obesity.
- b) Ultra processed food is linked to diabetes.
- c) Ultra processed food turns your skin green.
- d) Ultra processed food stunts skeletal growth and development.
- e) Ultra processed food causes osteoporosis later in life.
Yes, folks, it’s the green one. If you’ve been reading my posts you know that the food kids eat has a direct impact on childhood obesity and chronic illness. But you probably didn’t know about the bones, because neither did I. A bombshell article has just published and I just read it. I’m still reeling from it. And now I’m going to share it with you. Sit down so you don’t end up on the floor.
First of all, what makes a food ultra-processed?
- It’s made in a factory.
- It contains ingredients made in a lab through chemical processing including preservatives, additives, colors, stabilizers, and deodorizers.
- Instead of using real food, it uses compounds extracted from real food which are then reconstituted.
- If it has a balanced ratio of protein, carbs, and fats it has usually been manipulated by food scientists.
- The list of ingredients contains words—and possibly numbers—that you don’t understand.
- Its synthetic ingredients have been approved individually by the FDA, but never trialed in combination with other synthetic ingredients, and since they were never tested this way no one knows how they will react when combined in the human body.
Ten mind-blowing facts you didn’t know:
- This is the first study ever published on the effect of an ultra-processed diet on bones. Most studies nutrition studies assess markers of metabolic health, not skeletal structure. And the protocol is to examine the impact of a single food. But that’s not how people eat. People eat meals. This study evaluates the diet eaten by a majority (70%!) of American children—hamburgers, buns, french fries, soda—so it mirrors real life.
- The research spans a decade. It uses rats because their bones grow similarly to humans. Twenty separate trials were conducted and each time the results were the same; the rodents who ate junk food developed bones that were perforated, thin, and fragile with low bone mineral density and lesions. The control group, which ate traditional, nutrient dense food, had normal, healthy bones. The difference between the two groups was extreme.
- Bones were not the only structure with damage: the growth plates, which are responsible for growth, were completely abnormal. Researchers genetically sequenced the plate cells and found that these cells had lost their ability to produce proteins and to grow.
- A British clinical study (with human participants) arrived at the same conclusion after comparing the bones of rural children eating a traditional diet to urban children eating ultra-processed food.
- Additional studies on adults revealed a correlation between sugar consumption and osteoporosis medications. It turns out that this bone retardation and damage in children eventually leads to osteoporosis and a much higher risk of fracture in adults .
- Variations of the study were done to try to identify a single food that was responsible for most of the damage. But there was no specifically harmful food—it was the combination of foods that led to this result.
- The study concluded that up to 70% of children in the US (across the socioeconomic spectrum) are suffering from malnutrition: they over consume (unhealthy) fat and processed sugar, and don’t get enough fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Although the research was conducted by prestigious scientists with long resumes of published work, it was rejected by all the journals to which it was submitted. After consulting with leading nutrition researchers, the authors discovered why: their groundbreaking work represented a whole-scale attack against the very industry that funds scientific journals and American medical organizations—the food industry.
- Food companies, like pharmaceutical companies—provide a huge chunk of advertising revenue to media outlets and journals of all kinds. Some of these publications and programs could not otherwise operate. These companies can pull their advertising dollars (and underwriting) if the journals they are funding run articles that are critical of their products. The end result is that these companies influence content: both by suppressing findings that are unfavorable to their bottom line, and by underwriting the salaries of academics who are then beholden to them. Both of these relationships create obstacles to consumers’ access to unbiased medical and scientific studies. The food industry, with its powerful lobby and deep pockets, is determined to protect their profit at all cost. They do not want consumers reading studies that show that their products destroy children’s bones. In fact, Big Food wants us addicted to junk food.
- The authors decided to “tone down” the alarming findings of their research. They made the language dry and technical and downplayed their conclusions and recommendations. Eventually it was accepted by the prestigious publication, Bone Research, which is part of Nature, the world’s leading multi-disciplinary science journal. And I bring it to you.
Wisdom from co-author, Efrat Monsonego Ornan:
- “Children are fussy because we make them fussy”.
- The ratio between prevention and treatment…is 1:14; for every dollar spent in prevention, $14 is saved in treatment.
- Consumers wield influence; if we demand a change in food, the industry will deliver. They just need motivation.
Here is the “whistle-blower” article:
And this is how the study was resubmitted to scientific journals—using dry scientific lingo that would make it inaccessible to the average consumer, so as to not raise the ire of the food industry: Ultra-processed Food Targets Bone Quality via Endochondral Ossification.
If you are unable to access this subscription-based paper, you can always read the research without commentary, in Bone Health, Pub Med, ResearchGate, or a dozen other publications that have republished it.
What if you had control over the proper growth of your children’s bones?
You do. And It’s never too late to change course—the sooner the better. No point feeling guilty or having regrets. Just move forward with a plan. Make a commitment to improve your children’s diet, to give your children a healthier future. Even if your kids eat healthy, you can always find ways to make their diet cleaner, one small step at a time. Just keep moving the ball—or the carrot—in the right direction.
We are all somewhere in our journey towards better health. Take pride in the ways that you are mindful and recognize that there’s always room for improvement. There’s no beginning and no end, just a process. I am working on my “GFF transitional diet” plan for kids which will be packed with ideas for making small cumulative changes. Stay tuned!
Pick a place to start
If you read through my blog you will see that it is packed with ideas and alternatives to junk food. Here are some good places to start:
Give your kids the gift of health,