Dr. Carlos Monteiro is a professor at the Center for Epidemiological Studies in Health and Nutrition at Brazil’s University of São Paulo, and is a global leader in the field of food politics.
In this terrific commentary for the World Public Health Nutrition Association, titled “The big issue is ultra-processing,” Dr. Monteiro lays out the many issues that arise both with diets rich in highly processed foods and cultures where these foods are heavily promoted and healthwashed.
- “What we should do, as professionals and also as purchasers, is to make sure that ultra-processed products make up a relatively small proportion of food supplies and diets. If consumed, they should not be consumed daily, regularly, or in large amounts, but only sparingly and occasionally. With colleagues I am working on quantification of this recommendation.”
- Dr. Monteiro on healthwashing: “Pepsi-Co, the world’s leading manufacturer of snack products, has reformulated a ‘light’ version of its chip (crisp) branded as Ruffles. This is known as ‘Fit Chips’ in my country of Brazil. It is made with 100 per cent vegetable oil, with no trans-fats, and contains less salt than before. This product is basically no better or worse than many others that are now promoted as healthy and, by implication, fit to eat in unlimited quantities.”
- “It is nonsense and indeed pernicious to claim or suggest that such products are healthy and as such are good to consume regularly. Indeed, the eventual impact of ‘healthy’ ultra-processed products could well be to remove any existing restraints, whether in the form of regulatory vigilance or public concern. In this way, ‘healthy’ ultra-processed products are liable to accelerate the replacement of whole, fresh or minimally processed foods.”
- “Far more ultra-processed products now are ‘fortified’ with synthetic micronutrients Thus, the presence of significant amounts of synthetic micronutrients added to an ultra-processed product will enable a health claim. Very heavily promoted food and drink products now make claims giving an impression that they are in effect a chic delicious ‘designer’ vitamin pill. Given that people generally believe that vitamins are healthy, this itself amounts to a health claim. Health claims are problematic. As a general rule, any product making a health claim is liable to be unhealthy, or at least liable to be less healthy than natural, fresh or minimally processed food or drink that could be consumed instead.”
- “The one and only rational policy is to promote really healthy food.”
We couldn’t agree more.