From Whole Foods to the Ultra-Processed

I often mention that I have long preferred a nutrient dense whole foods dietary style.

Nutrient dense foods are foods that have a high proportion of nutrients relative to the calories they contain.

Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed” (

It is important to note that “processed” foods are not a single category, but rather a continuum. Rice provides excellent examples. Human beings cannot eat rice until the outer most hull has been removed.

The process that produces brown rice removes only the outermost layer, the hull, of the rice kernel and is the least damaging to its nutritional value. The complete milling and polishing that converts brown rice into white rice destroys 67% of the vitamin B3, 80% of the vitamin B1, 90% of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60% of the iron, and all of the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids. Fully milled and polished white rice is required to be “enriched” with vitamins B1, B3, and iron.

Even though it has been processed through the removal of its outer hull, brown rice continues to be a “whole food.” White rice is not a whole food. It has gone through stages of processing that involve removing nutrients and replacing some of them through the process of “enrichment.”

Food manufacturers take the processing of rice further. They precook both brown and white rice to make instant or microwaveable rice. That often involves adding some form of oil. It can sometimes require additional enrichment.

At what is now the far end of the spectrum, manufacturers will go beyond simply precooking the rice. They will include oil, salt, sugar[1], unnamed spices, and other “food additives.” Let’s look at the ingredients in Uncle Ben’s trademarked Ready Rice Jambalaya.[2]


On the real-world package, this list of ingredients is too long for me to read without adjusting my eyeglasses. That immediately violates one of the most important “food rules” that I have adopted. The longer the list of ingredients, the more highly processed the product is likely to be. For people who need a number, I suggest the “five ingredient” rule from Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. This blogger lists each of the 64 rules from Pollan’s book. Pollan drew these works from previous works such as In Defense of Food.


Marian Nestle’s Food Politics remains the first work to read when trying to understand how individual food choices are influenced by the food industry in ways that many grandmothers never imaged. Even with our staggering rates of obesity, human beings only have so much room in their stomachs. To provide profits to their share holders, food manufacturers compete for that limited stomach space through the use food science and psychology. They wage expertly enticing advertising campaigns and they influence the food policies set by our government agencies.

In this short video on navigating the supermarket, Michael Pollan and Michael Moss introduce the distinction between whole foods, processed foods and ultra-processed foods.

Watch “Navigating the Supermarket Aisles with Michael Pollan and Michael Moss | The New York Times” on YouTube


A 2016 research article in the BMJ offered the following definition of ultra-processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods were defined as industrial formulations which, besides salt, sugar, oils and fats, include substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations.

This study found that almost 60% of the calories in an average American diet come from these ultra-processed foods. They provide 90 percent of the excess sugar calories that Americans consume. The high consumption of added sugars in the US is seen as contributing to excess obesity, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension and coronary heart disease.

Scientists are investigating the role that the additives in ultra-processed foods play in health with recent research linking them to cancer. It should also be remembered that a small, but not unimportant, number of people are sensitive to or allergic to these additives, even one at a time.

12 Common Food Additives – Should You Avoid Them

The first elimination diet should be the elimination of ultra-processed foods. Only by eliminating this manufactured food like products will are people able to determine if the industrial components have a negative impact on their health. Once they have successfully eliminated these edible food like substances, they will be able to try dietary styles, like the Autoimmune Protocol, that require the elimination of certain whole foods.

For some people the switch to a nutrient dense whole foods diet is enough to dramatically improve health indicators. For those who require more extensive protocols, it is the necessary first step.




  1. Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits. When nutritionists a(nd nutrition educators talk about the high rate of sugar consumption, we are usually talking about the added sugars that are often invisible to people who do not read labels or understand the potential health consequences of ultra-processed foods.
  2. I did not miss the genetically modified notice. That is simply a topic for another day.

(If you buy from Amazon using one of the links that I supply, they will not  pay me a small commission. I am not a good salesperson and did not make the cut.  Not a problem. ALWAYS TRY YOUR PUBLIC LIBRARY.)




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