Is It Time to Tax Ultra-Processed Foods Because of the Massive Harm That They Do to Society?

Yves here. I am a bit surprised to see Richard Murphy limit his criticism of ultra-processed foods to fructose and its probable connection to Type 2 diabetes. The BMJ publicized two large scale studies in 2019 that found a strong correlation between higher levels of consumption of ultra-processed foods and bad health outcomes. From the press release (which I encourage you to read in full):

Two large European studies published by The BMJ today find positive associations between consumption of highly processed (“ultra-processed”) foods and risk of cardiovascular disease and death.

The researchers say further work is needed to better understand these effects, and a direct (causal) link remains to be established, but they call for policies that promote consumption of fresh or minimally processed foods over highly processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, ready meals containing food additives, dehydrated vegetable soups, and reconstituted meat and fish products – often containing high levels of added sugar, fat, and/or salt, but lacking in vitamins and fibre. They are thought to account for around 25-60% of daily energy intake in many countries.

And a 2023 study from The Lancet:

Global dietary patterns are increasingly dominated by relatively cheap, highly palatable, and ready-to-eat ultra-processed foods (UPFs). However, prospective evidence is limited on cancer development and mortality in relation to UPF consumption. This study examines associations between UPF consumption and risk of cancer and associated mortality for 34 site-specific cancers in a large cohort of British adults.


This study included a prospective cohort of UK Biobank participants (aged 40–69 years) who completed 24-h dietary recalls between 2009 and 2012 (N = 197426, 54.6% women) and were followed up until Jan 31, 2021. Food items consumed were categorised according to their degree of food processing using the NOVA food classification system. Individuals’ UPF consumption was expressed as a percentage of total food intake (g/day). Prospective associations were assessed using multivariable Cox proportional hazards models adjusted for baseline socio-demographic characteristics, smoking status, physical activity, body mass index, alcohol and total energy intake.


The mean UPF consumption was 22.9% (SD 13.3%) in the total diet. During a median follow-up time of 9.8 years, 15,921 individuals developed cancer and 4009 cancer-related deaths occurred. Every 10 percentage points increment in UPF consumption was associated with an increased incidence of overall (hazard ratio, 1.02; 95% CI, 1.01–1.04) and specifically ovarian (1.19; 1.08–1.30) cancer. Furthermore, every 10 percentage points increment in UPF consumption was associated with an increased risk of overall (1.06; 1.03–1.09), ovarian (1.30; 1.13–1.50), and breast (1.16; 1.02–1.32) cancer-related mortality.

The communist empires of New York State and City each have serious cigarette taxes and they have cut down on per capita usage. Admittedly these taxes are regressive. But getting sick with little or no insurance is even more regressive, even if not as evenly distributed.

The irony is cheap food does not have to be highly processed. I am now in a pretty poor country which now also sports a longer life expectancy at birth than the US. Street food, which is nearly all “real” food, is inexpensive and everywhere (so many carts and tiny shops I have no idea how any make decent money and also suspect that many Thais find it cheaper to live without a kitchen and use the savings on purchased meals). And by contrast, junk food here is expensive, in part because it must be heavily packaged not to get soggy from humidity. I see virtually no soda drinking. Cakes and ice cream are not staples. But advanced economies don’t take well to people trundling around in bicycles or scooters with little flatbed sidecars that double as food stalls.

By Richard Murphy, part-time Professor of Accounting Practice at Sheffield University Management School, director of the Corporate Accountability Network, member of Finance for the Future LLP, and director of Tax Research LLP. Originally published at Tax Research

The Guardian has an article with this headline this morning:


It also has an article with this headline:


The two between them reveal a truth that is almost wholly unspoken and little appreciated. This truth is that type 2 diabetes is a disease largely created by the consumption of too much sugar in the form of fructose and that the disease can be reversed by largely eliminating fructose from the diet of those suffering from that disease.

Fructose is like nicotine in cigarettes: it is an addictive drug hidden in a processed product (in this case, most of the ultra-processed food on sale in the UK) that has massive social consequences.

Many of those ultra-processed foods are sold to give us dopamine highs. They succeed in doing so. They also leave us wanting more. So, we go back and get it. The result is obesity. And from that follows, in too many cases, type 2 diabetes. The progression is known about, predictable, heavily researched and largely unknown because there is a massive conspiracy to hide the truth.

Those conspiring not to tell the truth are food manufacturers, food retailers and big pharma. The food industry and its retailers want to keep selling large quantities of fructose. Big pharma wants to keep us in the dark on the easy reversibility of a disease that can be straightforwardly cured without costly drug interventions that are overburdening the NHS.

How do they do that? By deliberately ensuring that misinformation is available. As the author of the second Guardian article notes:

I now realize my doctor was making an honest attempt to follow the [treatment] guidelines issued by the American Diabetes Association. I didn’t ask him if he was aware that the top five funders of the ADA are the pharmaceutical companies Abbott, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Co, Novo Nordisk and Regeneron.

The guidelines on treating diabetes in the USA (and so elsewhere) are created by big pharma to suit the need of big pharma to sell a lot of drugs and not to cure people of type 2 diabetes in months, which could be done by prescribing proper diets that would cost considerably less than that diabetes drugs.

I am not a fan of conspiracy theories. Far too many are just crackpot. But an open mind is also required in a case like this. We know the tobacco industry lied for decades about the impact of smoking.

We know that the Bank of England speaks nonsense when imposing its charges on society.

And the sugar-based food industry and big pharma are doing the same when it comes to fructose-based ultra-processed foods that are profoundly harmful.

There is no VAT on most food in the UK. I seriously wonder whether that should be changed now. Should the exemption just be available on non or low-processed foods? Wouldn’t that make as much sense as taxes on tobacco?

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  1. Trees&Trunks

    Not too long ago, would you turn up with fake food (watered down milk etc.) on the markets, you would get a punch in the face, tarred and feathered. Now the fake food execs are making millions. What went wrong? Could we see it coming? Any way we can go back to punch them in the face, tar and feather them until we legislate them away and tax the companies and executives to death?

    1. steppenwolf fetchit

      No. There is no way to punch them in the face.

      There is a way to withdraw support from them and shift that support to counterforces and zones of food-integrity refuge. A first step in that direction might be learning the difference between food and phood. Once that difference is learned, it can then be acted on by food-buying or food-growing individuals anywhere from 1% of the time to 100% of the time.

      Those who know how to cook food might find some food that costs the same as phood. Those who don’t, won’t. Social Justice trolls will say that if poor people can’t afford to cook food, then nobody else deserves to have food. Purity trolls will say that if so much as 1% of your intake is phood, then you are a faker and a hypocrite and should be mocked and shamed into making phood the only thing you eat.

  2. flora

    Thanks for this post. Here’s Joe Rogan and Shawn Baker on ultra processed food. utube. ~13 minutes. (Baker is talking about type 2 diabetes, not type 1 diabetes.) A pretty wild story about the Kellog bros.

    Dr. Shawn Baker on Processed Foods, Food Addiction, and Carnivore Diet

    1. Kevin

      As someone whose doctors are constantly hounding me for my high cholesterol levels I’m looking forward to the Matt Dudoff referenced study on otherwise healthy individuals with super high cholesterol levels

  3. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Over in the UK here.
    This Thanksgiving I made a delicious Martha Stewart chestnut stuffing for a large turkey.
    What I did not realize was that a large American turkey weighs 24 pounds, and large British turkey weighs 4.4 pounds!
    I’ll be eating stuffing until New Years.
    Nevertheless, it was the most delicious turkey I’d eaten in years. Today it dawned on me why: the British turkey lacked the growth hormones, antibiotics and chemicals that fill American turkeys (probably had a better diet, too), nor had it been chlorinated after it had been slaughtered, all standard items and processes banned in the UK.
    Postscript: I had a nice conversation with a woman from Baton Rouge at a film networking event earlier this afternoon
    Because of health issues, she has to be incredibly meticulous in Louisiana about what she does and does not eat.
    She loves coming to England because she knows she can pig out with no risk befalling her.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I am SO jealous. I love chestnuts, both chestnut stuffing and marrons glacés.

      To your point about poultry, it was remarkable how much better garden variety chicken was in Australia v. the US due to having outlawed growth hormones and antibiotics.

      1. KLG

        Yes, chicken. My great aunts (b. 1900-1915) taught me how to fry chicken like they did. Very simple: chicken, flour, salt, a little pepper, and very hot oil at the beginning. Exquisite! No matter how hard I tried, failure. Then one day while looking at a package of outsized chicken parts in the grocery store it hit me. It was the chicken. Yes, slow on the uptake again. Their chicken had been running around in the farmyard eating grass and crickets and other bugs plus the occasional handful of cracked corn that very morning. My chicken was raised in miserable conditions in groups of 40,000 that required antibiotics for survival and hormones for unnatural growth. Except for a few local providers, no more chicken in the house…yard birds or no birds. And yes, you can tell the difference. In price and taste. Kind of like cheese. The two-pound brick of orange stuff is cheaper than good cheese, but the good stuff tastes 10 times better at only 2-3x the price. A bargain.

          1. steppenwolf fetchit

            And if the chillwater is chlorinated, that could futz things up further. As well as spreading the salmonella in the chilwater to the surface of every chicken in the chillwater.

      2. lawrence silber

        Im vegan, obviously that comes with a bias, that being aknowledged, this conspiracy of big pharm, overly processed foods full of corn syrup and fructose, and the prize of type 2 diabetes filling their cofffers, is also inclusive of the disgusting lucrative dairy and meat industries. Please read doctors Michael Gregor and Neil Barnard, as well as a host of other plant based nutritionally oriented well known proponents of curing type 2 diabetes through plant based diets. It seems the high animal based diets of so many of us, contribute dramatically to the very insulin resistence that alows the high fructose in processed junk foods to cause this epidemic of type 2 diabetes and obesity.Anotherwords if those animals werent tortured and prematurely killed for our feasting, followed by all the cheeses and other bodily fluids added to the mix, then maybe so many people wouldnt be inflicted with this insidious chronic problem of type 2 diabetes. The junk food would still be a problem, but peoples insulin resistence wouldnt be so compromised. I hope i didnt offernd anybody, ny experience with addressing this sceintific fact is usually apathy. People love their meat, while the obvious cupcake and sugary cerial can be half heartedly committed to the bin. Like many things in life, simple solutions, but few are going to adopt a better way or change a bad habit. Especially when its socially rewarding not to do so.

        1. steppenwolf fetchit

          If animal protein causes type 2 diabetes, then the Inuit and the Maasai and other animal-protein-based food-eater culture-loads of people should have high type 2 diabetes levels.

          Has anyone studied them to find out if they do?

          What was the rate of type 2 diabetes down the decades in Argentina among all those traditional pasture-beef eaters? Does anyone know?

          What is the rate of type 2 diabetes among the seaside fish-eating cultures of the world? What was it 50 years ago? What was it a hundred years ago? Does anyone know?

          How much meat was the average American eating before the rates of type 2 diabetes started going up? Does anyone know?

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            A study of Inuit disproves the thesis (emphasis mine):

            RESULTS—The age-standardized prevalences of diabetes and IGT were 10.8 and 9.4% among men and 8.8 and 14.1% among women, respectively. Of those with diabetes, 70% had not been previously diagnosed. Significant risk factors for diabetes were family history of diabetes, age, BMI, and high alcohol consumption, whereas frequent intake of fresh fruit and seal meat were inversely associated with diabetic status. Age, BMI, family history of diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, and place of residence were significant predictors of IGT.


            Studies on Maasai not germane since rural Maasai now often eat maize gruel: Oh, and now have high levels of diabetes.

            There is plenty of vegan junk food.

    2. Jams O'Donnell

      There is just as much highly commercial processed food in the UK as in the US, often from the same internationalised firms, and just as much ‘hi-tech’ hi-cruelty commercial farming too. You might just have got lucky from some small local farmer.

    3. Benny Profane

      I once walked through the farm market in the large square in Padua, Italy in November, and realized I could smell the vegetables. Not sticking my face into them, just, surrounded by them. My friend said, duh, this is organic.

      1. Rubicon

        We’re Americans who have visited Italian a few times. What Benny describes in Padua, is true.
        The central reason why Italy has such fantastic food is because most of it is grown there. During winter, some fruit/vegetables are imported from nearby countries. Italy has a number of companies who produce REAL pasta, Authentic cheese, and sauces.

        As a result, Italians look much healthier, even the elderly, as compared to that group in the US or in Canada. It’s also true Italians living in large cities walk far more than we who forced to drive to grocery stores.

        We remember one time, we went to a small restaurant whereby the owners produced much of their food on their nearby acres. We opted for Spinach Raviolis. It was as though, we were, for the very first time eating REAL, Authentic Raviolis and REAL spinach. Being starved for real dishes, we wanted to have a second helping, but that would have embarrassed us by native Italians.

        We stopped counting how many US corporate stores blare out lies about REAL Italian pasta, sauces, etc. Only our visiting Italians could spot real Italian pasta, sauces, and cheeses, but that involves going to a few select stores in the US.

        Sadly, most US citizens are hoodwinked into buying those NON-Italian food.

          1. steppenwolf fetchit

            But is it neo-ultraprocessed industrial meat? Or is it paleo-hand-processed artisan meat?

    4. steppenwolf fetchit

      We can get non-toxic artisanal turkey in the US but we pay for the privilege. For example . . .

      At a couple of “masstige” food outlets here in Ann Arbor, I see pre-Thanksgiving ads for “heritage turkey pre-order” for a hundred dollars a turkey or so.

  4. Darthbobber

    So we’re still in a state where simply BANNING products known to be harmful is beyond the pale, and the preferred alternative is to use taxation to both ostensibly reduce consumption and to derive revenue from it?

    1. Benny Profane

      Re: Bloomberg and his crusade against giant sodas when he was mayor. It didn’t work, and backfired as a meme.

  5. Objective Ace

    I dont think its just the pharma industry benefitting from the status quo. In a globally warming world quickly reaching peak capacity — the larger number of prematurely dying individuals allows the elite to continue consuming and extracting resources for themselves before the bill comes due. Its a bonus that they can make a buck off of it, but even if they couldnt there would be reason to allow it to continue.

    1. JTMcPhee

      That’s basically the back story and plot line of “Soylent Green.” A hopeless tale if ever there was one.

    2. steppenwolf fetchit

      Jackpot design engineering.

      If the covid don’t getcha, the cancer juice ultraprocessed food will. By upper class design.

      The reality-based anti-Jackpot community will help its members help eachother avoid covid, ultraprocessed food, etc. as best as it/they can

  6. New_Okie

    I heard a talk once from a doctor who graduated from college in the early 50’s. He recalled a conversation around that time with a good friend of his who was going to work for a chemical company. His friend told him “in 20 years you won’t even remember what real food tastes like” (because they would replace it all with synthetic flavors and such). Seems his friend was probably right.

    That said, I do not like “sin taxes” on foods, as it is too prone to gaming by the very industry that this particular sin tax seeks to limit. How long were we told that dietary cholesterol caused heart disease before the mainstream finally caught on that the cholesterol myth came from studies on rabbits, whose bodies cannot process dietary cholesterol because their herbivorous diets do not contain cholesterol? Not to mention longstanding canards regarding saturated fat and the value of a low fat diet in general.

    I would much rather we simply remove the subsidies for industrial agriculture (while protecting the market so we don’t simply offshore much of our food production). This includes doing away with the petrochemical-related fertilizer subsidies. Doing so would significantly increase the cost of corn syrup and many processed foods, which are only cheaper than healthy food (I have heard it argued) because of subsidies.

    If we want subsidize something, we should subsidize regenerative agriculture.

    1. Leah

      Wonderful ideas! I live in rural upper midwest of the US, and when I was younger tried to make a living by having a market garden, and selling chickens and lamb. It was difficult to make money because the organic certification process cost a fortune and only made sense for large farms. And the processing couldn’t be done on farm, and was expensive. We sold lamb through a lamb pool and consistently lost money. Now there are some small organizations that help with direct marketing, but it would have been lovely if it was legal here to have people just come out to the farm and get a chicken, eggs, or lamb. There is a web of regulations that don’t make sense and make this expensive and difficult. For example, eggs have to be washed in strong caustic before being sold, which is ridiculous. Good eggs from healthy chickens don’t have salmonella on them, and if you keep the bedding clean and gently wipe them with a damp cloth, they keep their protective wax layer so microbes can’t get in. Everything in American agriculture product rules is just so far away from the old, healthy ways of producing food. I could go on and on.

    2. steppenwolf fetchit

      If we abrogated all the Free Trade Agreements and withdrew from all the Free Trade Organizaitons like WTO, then we could unilaterally grant ourselves the legal right to legally protectionize the American market for American growers.

      But for now, trapped as we are in the iron spiderweb of Free Trade Agreements and Organizations, we legally cannot.

  7. Lefty Godot

    Is there a broad consensus on what foods are “ultra-processed”, or is this one of those areas where people can argue the definition ad nauseam (like “assault weapon”)? Like, is my deli ham sandwich as bad as your Count Chocula cereal? Wouldn’t it be easier to tax it by ingredient, because we know what trans fats are, what high fructose corn syrup and sugar syrups in general are, and how much added sugar is likely to be in excess of any reasonable amount for the type of food being sold. Sugar and hydrogenated fats are the two biggest culprits (maybe counting sugar-salt combo “snacks” as a third). Trying to find food with no added sugar outside the produce aisle and meat/fish department is almost impossible. Even deli meat has added sugar–insane! Tax and warning label that stuff rather than dickering over what is ultra-processed and what isn’t.

    1. jrkrideau

      **Nova 1** Unprocessed or minimally processed foods—Foods found in nature like meat, fruit, and also things like flour and pasta.

      **Nova 2** Processed culinary ingredients including oils, lard, butter, sugar, salt, vinegar, honey starches—traditional foods that might well be prepared using industrial technologies.

      **Nova 3** Processed foods ready-made mixtures of groups 1 and 2, processed mainly for preservation—tins of beans, salted nuts, smoked meat, canned fish, chunks of fruit in syrop, and proper freshly made bread.

      **Nova 4** Ultra–processed foods: Formulations of ingredients, mostly of exclusive industrial use, made by a series of industrial processes many requiring sophisticated equipment and processes’ Con’d.

      Monteiro, C.A., Cannon, G., Lawrence, M., Costa Louzada, M.L. and Pereira Machado, P. 2019. *Ultra-processed foods, diet quality, and health using the NOVA classification system*. Rome, FAO.

      1. hacke

        There is movement against smoked meat, the unhealthy part of it is allegedly the nitrate salt used. But there is no good evidence its actually unhealthy, it decreases chance of poisoning with spoiled meat, which is much more deadly. The problem is, people often eat the meat fried, which can cause the cancers, not the salts themselves.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Sorry, I have to differ. There are animal studies that show a clear increases of cancer in animals fed a high dose of nitrate. It was a 75% increase, which is big for this sort of study.

          And my grandmother ate cured meat (nitrates) at LEAST once a day (cured meat for lunch, sometimes bacon for breakfast too) and died of stomach cancer, which is a horrible way to go. How many people eat spoiled meat with modern refrigeration, FFS?

          There is also a higher incidence of stomach cancer among Scandinavian populations that eat a lot of smoked fish….but that’s a luxury for most people and so no one worries much about that.

          Banning it is arguably too much, but there should be more health warnings. For instance, I am reasonably sure now that most people know not to eat more than one can of tuna in a week (on a regular basis) due to mercury toxicity. The public needs guidance on smoked and cured foods too.

          1. hacke

            There is no reason for canned food to contain any conservants, it is preserved by high temperature.

          2. Not one of the 'most people'

            > I am reasonably sure now that most people know not to eat more than one can
            > of tuna in a week (on a regular basis) due to mercury toxicity.

            Say what? I think ‘most people’ is overstretched here; I’ve never heard such a thing and I try to follow the health-and-nutrition threads. I do so because I don’t cook very much. (An hour of work for five minutes’ eating enjoyment is not time effective, in my life.) For many many years, canned tuna, packed in water, has been my go-to protein and I eat far far more than 52 cans a year. (For special occasions, or if there is a very good sale, fresh tuna is my luxury.) I am 72 years old and in delightful health, walking at least 10,000 steps per day and taking zero medications. I suppose I’ll have to google and find out what the signs of mercury toxicity are.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              In the 1980s, it was very common for women in NYC to eat a can of tuna at a desk for lunch, because it was low calorie and convenient. Many ate it the 5 days a week there were at the office. I saw this first hand (I was not one of them BTW).

              Research then got out (IIRC in the later 1980s) about the importance of mercury toxicity, of not having more than one serving (often equated to one can of tuna) of tuna OR swordfish a week. Pretty much everyone I know had heard of that. For instance, I regularly hear people when ordering swordfish or tuna at a restaurant remark that they haven’t had it recently to short-cut receiving a lecture on mercury risks.

              1. PlutoniumKun

                A while back I was watching an interview with Rhonda Patrick of FoundmyFitness. She quoted a few studies indicating that while the problem of mercury poisoning is real, the cognitive benefits from fatty fish are such that they outweigh the damage from mercury – she was very critical of official advice dating back a few decades recommending against pregnant women eating tuna.

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  First, that argument for tuna is ALL wrong. Tuna is not fatty.

                  4 oz of chicken breast = 187 cal.
                  4 oz of tuna = 149 cal.
                  4 oz of salmon = 236 cal.
                  4 oz of sardines = 246 cal.
                  4 oz of mackerel = 346 cal.

                  Pretty much any ocean fish is fattier than tuna. That is why secretaries ate it at desks!!! It was a DIET food.

                  The NHS agrees:

                  Oily fish include:

                  herring (bloater, kipper and hilsa are types of herring)

                  Fresh and canned tuna do not count as oily fish.


                  So I don’t see that “expert” as having the foggiest idea what she is talking about.

                  1. hacke

                    Trout is not oily at all. At least the one freshwater one that lives in Europe. It is related species to salmon but the meat is very different.

                    Freshwater fish in general don’t contain heavy metals except from some polluted areas.

                  2. hacke

                    I also read that carps are considered pests in America, someone can make a fortune by catching them and sending them abroad. In my country it is a Christmas dish not exactly cheap.

                  3. PlutoniumKun

                    Indeed, i double checked, it was my mistake, she didn’t refer to tuna, just general guidance on fatty fish.

            2. Lexx

              Husband was telling me about an article he saw on Reddit, regarding a study where they tracked the proteins in people’s bodies that would tell them about that person’s ‘organ health’ or age vs. chronological aging.

              Here it is in The Guardian:


              For more on the subject of good fats, look for an old copy of Edo Erasmus’ book, ‘Fats That Heal/Fat’s That Kill’. Pretty cheap these days if you choose to buy; it came out in the early 90’s.

        2. hacke

          I have read about cases of food poisoning from “healthy” ham made without nitrate salt sold in farmers shops.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Food poisoning is not in the same category as cancer. You can get that from salad bars or even not storing leftovers well.

            And how often do people eat ham from farmers’ shops?

            1. hacke

              AFAIK you can’t get botulotoxin poisoning from salad. It develops when brineing large pieces of meat without access of oxygen.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                You shifted the grounds of argument from “food poisoning” “to botulotoxin, which is bad faith.

                Botulotoxin generally develops in a low/no oxygen environments, like improperly canned foods, so many bad amateur canning process (of something not acidic, so pickles and tomatoes probably pretty safe regardless) could make you sick:

                The growth of the bacteria and the formation of toxin occur in products with low oxygen content and certain combinations of storage temperature and preservative parameters. This happens most often in lightly preserved foods and in inadequately processed, home-canned or home-bottled foods.

                C. botulinum will not grow in acidic conditions (pH less than 4.6), and therefore the toxin will not be formed in acidic foods (however, a low pH will not degrade any pre-formed toxin). Combinations of low storage temperature and salt contents and/or pH are also used to prevent the growth of the bacteria or the formation of the toxin.

                The botulinum toxin has been found in a variety of foods, including low-acid preserved vegetables, such as green beans, spinach, mushrooms, and beets; fish, including canned tuna, fermented, salted and smoked fish; and meat products, such as ham and sausage. The food implicated differs between countries and reflects local eating habits and food preservation procedures. Occasionally, commercially prepared foods are involved.


      2. JBird4049

        I try to eat “real” food, but even if you buy supposedly “organic,” it still seems like it ain’t very real at all. I will say that being disabled has given me the time to prepare almost all my food with even the higher quality, but more expensive food, cheaper than the prepared pseudo food products I used to buy.

        Even with the very real degraded quality of modern food, it is still better than much of the food sold over a century ago before the British and the Americans got serious about reforming the food system. Trust me, if you want some disincentive for eating, reading about Victorian Era practices in both countries will do very well. Sawdust in the bread. Maggots in the milk. Poisonous fake sweeteners in the candies.

        All that said, I have a decent kitchen, and was taught by two grandparents, my parents, and had cooking classes in middle school and high school back when it was normal as well as decent grocery stores both in walking and easy distance. It is easy for me.

        What about people who have not been taught at all, or have to work three jobs, or have to take care of a family, or live in one of those too common American food deserts? The whole system of American food has been enshittified for the benefit of Big Ag-Big Food, which includes the lack of education on cooking as well as the crapification of cookware and utensils.

        No, a food tax on the garbage that is being sold, but we need start with such as replacing the Frankensweetener aka high fructose corn syrup in our flavored “sugar” water with the real sugar it used to have. It is the whole system that has been deliberately imposed on the United States in the past half century.

  8. Pat

    I realize that the subject is health benefits which puts the focus on diabetes. That said, it isn’t just the pharmaceutical industry that benefits from the ultra processed foods and bad dietary habits here in America. The weight loss industry is still huge, even if Ozempic has put a crimp in it. And yes it isn’t just insulin products that make the pharmaceutical companies money.

    There are multiple types of incentives for companies and the politicians they lobby to ignore regulations that should be put in place for the health of the nation.

  9. GF

    Ultra-Processed People: The Science Behind Food That Isn’t Food by Chris van Tulleken

    This book explains how these UPFs are killing us. Well worth a read if one values their health:

    “In a fast-paced and eye-opening narrative he explores the origins, science, and economics of UPF to reveal its catastrophic impact on our bodies and the planet. And he proposes real solutions for doctors, for policy makers, and for all of us who have to eat. A book that won’t only upend the way you shop and eat, Ultra-Processed People will open your eyes to the need for action on a global scale.”

    “In this book, Chris van Tulleken, father, scientist, doctor, and award-winning BBC broadcaster, marshals the latest evidence to show how governments, scientists, and doctors have allowed transnational food companies to create a pandemic of diet-related disease. The solutions don’t lie in willpower, personal responsibility, or exercise. You’ll find no diet plan in this book—but join Chris as he undertakes a powerful self-experiment that made headlines around the world: under the supervision of colleagues at University College London he spent a month eating a diet of 80 percent UPF, typical for many children and adults in the United States. While his body became the subject of scientific scrutiny, he spoke to the world’s leading experts from academia, agriculture, and—most important—the food industry itself. But more than teaching him about the experience of the food, the diet switched off Chris’s own addiction to UPF.”

    1. jrkrideau

      The problem with this book is it turns you into a crazed label reader! His chapter on “The true cost of Pringles” is amazing.

      I highly recommend the book.

      I am surprised that Richard Murphy only wrote about HFCS.

  10. Antagonist Muscles

    I have the “privilege” of staying home all day without a social or professional life because of medical problems. The benefit of this is I cook all my meals from scratch. Whenever I go to the grocery store, I don’t even bother walking into the aisles and aisles of canned soup, prepared sauces, frozen items, soft drinks, alcohol, cereal, chips, cookies, etc. I only buy fresh vegetables, fruit, herbs, and occasionally meat. Much to my dismay, the pandemic got rid of the bulk food section, where I could fill up on beans, quinoa, lentils, etc.

    All of this is pretty hardcore granola as it takes knowledge and time to cook and flavor a meal without the use of industrial food processing. There are obvious health benefits to this practice, but Yves’s introduction and the linked Lancet article can do a better job than me explaining why. The unintended consequences have been profound for me.

    During the entire pandemic, I ate restaurant food approximately 5-10 times. The food was pretty disgusting, yet I was the only person who thought this. Apparently, my palate has changed sufficiently that all processed food tastes poor. I also completely abolished sugar and high fructose corn syrup in my diet. I still vividly remember two years ago when I ate some ice cream, and it was astoundingly bad. It tasted good for the first second it was in my mouth, and then the sweetness was so intense that my mouth was numb and could not taste for hours. Shouldn’t ice cream be enjoyable? What happened? Let’s compare this to the pineapple, banana, pear, and lime juice smoothie I made last week. It was ostensibly sweet but so delicious. I don’t have the words to describe how it tasted, but I thought, “Oh yeah…this is good.”

    I am also convinced that my dietary changes have cognitive benefits. Ten or more years ago, a mental fog would unexpectedly descend over my brain, and in my stupor, it would take me great effort to plan some moderately complex task. Those episodes of mental fog dissipated completely with my dietary changes, particularly the cycle of sugar spikes. Of course, the soul-sucking and stupor inducing environment of working in a sedentary office job was a major contributor to my unexpected mental fog attacks.

    1. JBird4049

      >>>I am also convinced that my dietary changes have cognitive benefits.

      Yes, cook your own food and after awhile, the prepared store bought food doesn’t taste very good and it is notably acts differently on both my mind and body. Basic white bread baked at home taste better, is more filling, and does not seem to whack my brain as store bought. It is also far more filling than the whole wheat store bread and I do check the labels.

  11. Lexx

    I’m not reading genetics and epigenetics as part of the equation. Not everyone who eats sugar gets fat, diagnosed with diabetes, or gets cancer… in fact it never seems to bother them. Not everyone who smokes over a lifetime gets cancer or develops heart disease.

    There’s at least one more component… I think genes matter and I haven’t read anything where someone can tell me by having looked at my DNA what was likely to happen, because they just don’t know (or so they say), so all we can do is generalize when what we need are individualized answers.

    Nevertheless, I preordered ‘Rethinking Diabetes’ early this morning after reading the article in The Guardian… I’m curious… and I’ve tired of looking at my own glucose levels day after day (this morning it was 109), not alarmed but with no real sense of control either. Pretty sure my NP is just waiting for the other shoe to drop before the discussion of insulin begins, so I applied to get on the waiting list of a ‘functional medicine’ practitioner with the credentials of a registered dietician. She’s eight weeks out from taking a new patient, so it may be February before I get to talk to someone.

    Weirdly, what’s disturbing me the most is what fish does to my blood glucose. The only two high numbers in the evening of the month of November followed dinners of salmon and salad*, which I thought was pretty much the perfect meal for a diabetic. I asked Google what high protein had to do with high glucose numbers. Responses varied, homing in on my specific response is what I want the dietician for. At this point I just want someone to tell me what I can eat, not what I can’t.

    *I make my own salad dressing, so the problem isn’t due to hidden sugars. The salmon was simply seasoned and broiled.

    1. lawrence silber

      In case you didnt see my previous post. Animal products, including fish, contribute to insulin ressitence. Read Dr Michael Gregor

  12. Benny Profane

    We need another revised edition of Fast Food Nation, a book that is about twenty years old. Things have only gotten worse since then. Somebody mentioned above about everything having an artificial flavor, and I think the second chapter deals with that phenomenon, a two billion dollar industry at the time. I presently live a few miles from the McCormick flavor development center (it’s called something like that at the entrance), and I many a time wonder what’s going on in there. I’m guessing it’s lucrative. I have to admit it is impressive how some things are flavored, although I avoid it like poison.
    My father died of complications from diabetes 2, and his brother was diabetes 1 most of his life, so I changed my ways many years ago. Best writer/advisor I found then was Dr. Dean Orrnish, who spent some time in the limelight when Clinton had him around the WH when he started having cardiac issues. I recommend his book Eat More, Weigh Less to start. Simple stuff. Low fat (minimal animal fat, especially), low sodium and chemicals, vegetable based diet (but not super vegan, unless you saw the light during a heat attack, then, well…), exercise, and stress reduction (including meditation). All of which anybody can do, if they put their mind to it. Consider the alternative. My father’s amputations were ugly.
    Mark Bittmann is another writer everyone should read. His famous saying that you should stay away from the center aisles in supermarkets directly addresses the processed food issue. That, and cook and eat like your grandmother for better health.
    Both he and Ornish aren’t very preachy. Just good simple advice. Ornish has backed up his writing with study results.

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      “cook and eat like your grandmother for better health”

      Maybe not my grandmother who loved to bake cakes and add lots of sugary icing. Grandpa developed type 2 diabetes in his 60s, and it killed him a couple of decades later.

      Breakfast was pan-fried bacon, eggs fried in that bacon fat, toast with lots of butter and cereal with Half & Half. She never used Crisco, only lard. But all that fat did get burned up by some hard physical labor in the form of handling 60 lb bales of hay, etc.

      On the other hand, very few processed foods. Fruits and vegetables were mainly from a large farm garden with a small orchard. These were canned and put in the cellar for winter along with potatoes and onions. They raised the beef themselves, but no chickens and only occasionally, hogs.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Yes, my grandmother thought Swanson TV dinners were a wonderful invention. As indicated elsewhere, she ate cured meat at least once a day (including bacon charred black when she had that), made a surprisingly tasty chicken dish (with Campbell’s mushroom soup poured over it) and did have some good cookie recipes.

        1. Henry Moon Pie

          My grandmother would not have concurred about those TV dinners which my mother did “serve” occasionally. Grandma would make a face and say, “Hagh” with a tone that can’t be duplicated with text.

          I must admit that one of my favorite foods has been country-cured ham which is intensely salty. And I liked it best fried hard. I’m sure evolutionarily our noses and taste buds developed as a way of distinguishing beneficial from harmful foods, but they can fool us.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I’m a little dubious about the whole ‘food your grandmother would eat’ idea. To take one example, stomach cancers were far more common in our grandparents days than today – probably because of seasonal shortages of fresh fruit and veg and eating lots of salted and pickled foods. My maternal grandmother died from pernicious anemia shortly after my mother was born, caused by a lack of B12 in her diet, and her husband died from stomach cancer, possibly diet related. In Japan, strokes were far more common up to the 1960’s because of the high consumption of salted foods back then.

      Diets change far more radically and more commonly than people think, especially in those countries which suffer from climates unsuitable for year round mixed crops. In most industrialized countries, diets changed quite radically several times in the 19th century, and before and after WWII.

  13. Otto Reply

    Over the past year, I’ve been in a situation where I cook for vegans. It’s been a useful way to expand my modest cooking skills into meatless territory. However, when I read the labels on the plant-based products I was encouraged to use, a majority of ingredients came from a laboratory. I was taken aback, but being an omnivore and a privileged white male, I declined to bring up the issue with the vegans. Until one day recently, I was informed that they were no longer using prepared plant-based food claiming it caused them digestive issues. That gave me the opening I needed to begin a conversation in which I noted how these faux meat/dairy substitutes were clearly the product of the industrial ag complex. Even if the plants originated as organic, I find it hard to imagine that by the time they were processed they retained any nutritional value. And, how about the salt and preservatives necessary to make the products shelf stable? Oh, and the energy required to process all of that plant-based material, package it in plastic, ship it hundreds, if not thousands, of miles? It’s really no better for the planet than the meat industry – except it’s powered by “Virtue®.” Conversation faltered, then stopped. This weekend I noticed the freezer had been restocked with processed vegan weenies & meatballs and ready to heat-and-eat meals.

    1. anahuna

      As an omnivore who cooks for myself and a vegetarian son, I confess I was briefly delighted by the appearance of Impossible Meat ptoducts, not for the sake of virtue but convenience. Most of my repertoire consists of fresh vegetables, and all that chopping can sometimes feel like a real chore. The impostor meat, though, quickly turned out to be just what you say it is.

      Back to the chopping board…

    2. Piotr Berman

      I spent some time in Germany short walking distance from a very popular mini place with shawarma and falafels, run by Syrians. I was more partial to falafels, packed into thin pita bread “mit alles”, i.e. with vegetables cut into salads, picked across the board + spicy sauce (ME spicy sauce is rather bland). Perfect low-processed meat substitute, and very fresh due to the popularity (next to a very busy streetcar stop and a commerce center).

      A bit weird why so many vegans do not try traditional cuisines like vegetarian Indian or Mediterranean or other regions where people did not eat meat every day.

      1. Carla

        One of the best is Ethiopian cuisine, of which this omnivore actually prefers the vegetarian dishes — most especially Misr Wat (made with red lentils) and my absolute favorite Gomen Wat (a stew made of exquisitely spiced collard greens), scooped up with injera, the spongey flatbread made of a grain called teff. Amazing food!

        Alas, although I have tried, my versions cannot compete with our local Empress Taytu Ethiopian Restaurant, sadly now closed, for the second and final time, due to the pandemic.

    3. lawrence silber

      I hear this baloney all the time, First off, no body ever claimed fake vegan meat was a health food. Obviously its processed, but processing isnt in itself a hazrd, it depends what is in and done in the process of processing, We have all grown up eating burgers and hot dogs and other meats, and its certainly hard yto just give those pleasure foods up. The beyond meat types of plant based meats are certainly not certifiable health foods, but in comparison to what they are replicating, they are without a doubt healthier and obviously dont necesitate the death of an animal for your taste buds, which is why one becomes vegan. Veganism to eat healthier usually is just a fad, whereby committing to not unecessarily cause harm to other sentient beings and the environment is a more lasting effort. As far as big ag being involved in producing these products, well maybe in some cases, especially in procuring ingredients, but dont worry, companies like Oatly and Beyond Meat arent large threating monoliths, theyre unfortunatley bankrupt disrupters that cant compete with the highly subsidized meat and dairy industries that consistently pump out disinformation that meat eaters want to hear justifying their choices. Like the fake meat is ultra processed and not a health food.

  14. Ellie

    When my southern, American for profit doctor saw my A1C fly right off the top of the chart, he immediately started me on both slow acting & long acting insulin. That same day, he also ushered into the exam room a dietician (salary paid by Novo Nordisk – I asked), who recommended a low carb diet. Lost 50 lbs in 9 months, with A1C at 5.1 for 10 years now. This isn’t rocket science – people just like to eat enjoyable foods.

  15. Adam Eran

    PCRM publishes diabetes-fighting diets. These work like the dickens.

    One more thing: Michael Pollan writes that it’s no accident that a calorie of high fructose corn syrup is cheaper than a calorie of carrots. The structure of farm subsidies supports this, and an estimated 40% of agricultural income is subsidy. He quotes one farmer saying “It’s like laundering money for Cargill and ADM.” (in The Omnivore’s Dilemma)

  16. playon

    Yves you are very lucky to be living in Thailand. Having spent time in Ireland, Jamaica, China and Malaysia, the food in Thailand is some of the best in the world IMO. We are thinking of moving back there in a few years we I see no end to the general deterioration of everything here in the US.

  17. MarkT

    IIRC the New Zealand government definition of “confectionary” not long ago included the bread rolls used by Subway, because of their very high sugar content. I’ve tried to search for articles about this (DuckDuckGo) but zilch comes up. And Subway’s website comes up as the top search result. No result on NZ government site either.

  18. LilD

    Just out today Dec 5

    When Dr. Michael Greger, founder of, dove into the top peer-reviewed anti-aging medical research, he realized that diet could regulate every one of the most promising strategies for combating the effects of aging. We don’t need Big Pharma to keep us feeling young―we already have the tools. In How Not to Age, the internationally renowned physician and nutritionist breaks down the science of aging and chronic illness and explains how to help avoid the diseases most commonly encountered in our journeys through life.

    About 13,000 references…

  19. hacke

    This sounds like prohibition of 1920s but more drastic. Seems telling others how to live has long tradition in America. I love eating unhealthy food in reasonable amounts. I am going to buy a smokehouse so I can supply myself with processed meat products in case it comes here.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I am the last person to ask. My life here is a lot like that in the US, I roll out of bed, work all day most days on the computer, and roll back into bed. Have not had time to meet many expats, although they are friendly and the community here is tight. The expats and Thais really do not mix socially (save I assume in Bangkok in the embassy and NGO communities, and maybe some of the elite hospitals) due to very few Thais being pretty fluent in English and Thai being hard for farangs to master (the pronunciation is very hard, and not so much tonality as subtle differences in certain sounds which we can’t even detect well, plus the language being very much in the front of the mouth, which sounds harsh to most Westerners and so we subconsciously resist). And very hard to read since few signs as to where word breaks are in written text, I am told Thais can even puzzle a bit).

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thailand is wonderful, I’m quite jealous!

        Thai is notoriously difficult to learn for the reasons you outline, but you might want to look into the ALG method which was developed by a linguist called J. Marvin Brown in Bangkok – he was an interesting individual – his autobiography is a good read.

        There is an explanation of the ALG method in the blog beyondlanguagelearning. Its pretty controversial, and so far as I know its never been subject to rigorous testing, but anecdotally works very well, particularly with tonal languages. There is a school in Bangkok that uses it, but there are also a lot of online materials in Thai I believe.

        In essence, the ALG method focuses on passive listening exercises in the language with teachers using pictures and gestures rather than verbal explanations in the language (in can be done outside a school using youtube teachers and graded readers – just do a search for the language and ‘ALG’, ‘comprehensible input’ or ‘TPRS’). There are no grammar lessons or flashcards or similar, just pure inputting of the language (in accordance with Stephen Krashen’s comprehensible input theory). Students are encouraged not so speak until they have inputted hundreds of hours of listening. I believe some teachers insist on 1000 hours of listening (not as hard as it sounds, as you can passively listen when doing other things – even just having the radio on in the background while you work). There is a Youtuber called poly-glot-a-lot who is a Professor of Spanish who uses a similar method, he has some very detailed videos showing how he learned Arabic in a year.

        Although not part of the ALG system, a method which is proven to be very effective with ‘difficult’ languages is chorusing short clips. This is very simple and takes less than 10 minutes a day. Essentially you get a native speaker to record a series of short (very short, 4-5 words at most) ‘natural’ sentences, and you loop the clip for around 120-150 times. Ideally, you use headphones in a darkened room to concentrate. You listen very intently for 10 times, then speak over the clip for the next 10, repeat until finished. By the end of it you should be able to completely match the speaker. Studies show you only have to do each clip once for the tones and pitches to ’embed’ themselves in your brain. Its a method mostly used by actors to learn new accents, but its been demonstrated to be very effective at improving both listening comprehension (to ‘hear’ those very subtle sounds that aren’t in English) and pronunciation.

  20. The Rev Kev

    If you will forgive the pun, lots to chew on here and there are a lot of great comments here. Just as a thought experiment for the US, I was wondering how it would be if people were eating the same sort of foods that they were eating in the 1920s. I would imagine that people would be far healthier, far less drugs and medical care would be needed, people would be slimmer and be more fit, there would be more of an interest in foods and recipes like in traditional France and Germany. But what about the profit margins for the chemical industry you ask? Are they supposed to scale back their involvement in putting more and more chemicals into food? At least to a large amount people can still decide for themselves.

  21. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Whoa. Just stumbled across this.
    It’s official. The World Economic Forum, “an independent international” consortium, in concert with Big Food’s “unbiased experts” and the FDA have created a “planetary healthy diet”, extremely heavy in carbohydrates and processed food, a diet that flies in the face of the solid emerging scientific evidence that processed veg-based food (e.g., HFCS) and oils cause not only obesity, but also almost every chronic inflammatory age-related disease. And a diet imposed upon schools, institutions and a public that isn’t paying attention.

    1. hacke

      They just want to impose austerity under the cover of health concerns and environmental concerns. When poor are forced to eat bugs, there is more resources left for the rich.

    2. steppenwolf fetchit

      Foaming the runway for more Jackpot.
      ( In response to reading that the WEF suggests a newest healthiest diet).

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