Doctor and scientist Carlos Monteiro observed that obesity and tooth decay were blooming out of control in poor rural Brazilian communities. After observation and analysis, he concluded that ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are causing these escalating health issues, rather than any other individually identifiable factors like foods being high in fats or sugars. Monteiro created a category scale and called these foods Group 4. This is how they are described:
“The final category, group 4, is unlike any of the others. Group 4 foods tend to consist largely of the sugars, oils and starches from group 2, but instead of being used sparingly to make fresh food more delicious, these ingredients are now transformed through colours, emulsifiers, flavourings and other additives to become more palatable. They contain ingredients unfamiliar to domestic kitchens such as soy protein isolate (in cereal bars or shakes with added protein) and “mechanically separated meat” (turkey hotdogs, sausage rolls).
“Group 4 foods differ from other foods not just in substance, but in use. Because they are aggressively promoted and ready-to-eat, these highly profitable items have vast market advantages over the minimally processed foods in group 1. Monteiro and his colleagues have observed from evidence around the world that these group 4 items are liable to “replace freshly made regular meals and dishes, with snacking any time, anywhere”. For Monteiro, there is no doubt that these ultra-processed foods are implicated in obesity as well as a range of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”
Monteiro has spent the past 20 years reporting on the dramatic impact UPFs have on people’s health and weight, and his work has gradually acquired an international following of fellow scientists who believe his findings will conclusively be proven to be the cause of most modern health problems.
Monteiro has teamed up with “..the cookery writer Rita Lobo, whose website Panelinha (“network”) is the most popular food site in Brazil, with 3m hits a month. Lobo said that when she tells people about UPFs, the first reaction is panic and anger. “They say: ‘Oh my God! I’m not going to be able to eat my yoghurt or my cereal bar! What am I going to eat?’” After a while, however, she says that the concept of ultra-processed foods is “almost a relief” to people, because it liberates them from the polarities and restriction created by fad diets or “clean eating’”. People are thrilled, Lobo says, when they realise they can have desserts again, as long as they are freshly made.“
Good health is largely about a return to the healthier habits of a slower lifestyle.