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Set Up To Fail | Raw Egg Nationalist

Research inexorably links a diet of processed foods to obesity. So why are we stuffing children full of them?

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According to a new study, British toddlers (children between two and five years old) have possibly the worst diet in the world among their age cohort, with the highest rate of processed-food consumption on record. Nearly two-thirds of British toddlers’ average calorie intake comes from processed foods, which have been linked to a wide variety of serious health problems – from obesity to cancer, and even autism. Under-5s in the US and Australia hardly fare much better, with 58 percent and 47 percent, respectively, of their calories coming from this garbage. This is a problem throughout the developed world, whether you’re in Brazil or Belgium, Pittsburgh or Paris.

Doctors warn, on the basis of a growing body of scientific evidence, that children who consume such diets are likely to go on consuming them for the rest of their lives. Of course, we hardly need scientific studies to tell us that children who pick up bad habits are often stuck with them, to their own detriment and the detriment of those around them. What we really need to know is, why are our children being set up to fail?

Before we go any further, it’s worth saying exactly what processed foods are. The easiest working definition is foods that are prepared in a factory, wrapped in plastic and contain ingredients you wouldn’t find in a normal home kitchen – things like emulsifiers, stabilisers, humectants (to maintain moisture) and preservatives. In some stores, that would be virtually everything on the shelves.

Barely a week passes without a fresh scientific study into the harms being caused by processed foods. Last week, I tweeted about a new study which shows that metal-oxide nanoparticles used to colour and preserve processed foods may be killing the good bacteria in our guts and causing other serious forms of digestive dysfunction. Another recent study showed that just four weeks of consuming processed foods made lab rats lose their memory and even stop displaying “anticipatory fear” in response to danger cues, such as the scent of a cat. It’s clear these foods are toxic to whatever creature has the misfortune to eat them.

I could go on, citing study after study linking consumption of processed foods to almost every kind of illness it’s possible to conceive of, mental and physical. For the purposes of this article, though, I think these dismal effects are best illustrated by a BBC documentary from 2021. In“What Are We Feeding Our Kids?” Dr Chris Van Tulleken, a pretty normal, fairly healthy man in his forties, spent four weeks eating a diet consisting of 80% processed food. This is now the standard diet for 20% of the adult population in Britain.

As we might expect, the doctor ended up putting on a considerable amount of weight, but this was just the beginning of his problems. His libido plummeted. He developed anxiety and heartburn. He was constipated and suffered hemorrhoids. He couldn’t sleep.

Most worrying about Dr Van Tulleken’s short experiment is the effects the processed food had on the actual physical structure of his brain. Yes: MRI scans taken before and after he began the diet revealed a significant increase in neural connections between the brain’s reward centres and areas that drive automatic behaviour. After just a month, his brain had been rewired in the manner we would expect of a drug addict. The documentary showed him sneaking to the fridge in the middle of the night to eat more, even though he acknowledged he wasn’t hungry. He just had to eat.

Just imagine: with a few simple, cheap ingredients, you can create virtually any food you want. Is it any wonder the manufacturers love processed foods?

What’s worse is that the changes to the brain persisted long after the experiment was over. Although he lost the weight, and the piles, and his heartburn and anxiety soon cleared up, a follow-up brain scan months down the line showed that the changes to the structure of his brain had not been reversed. He was stuck with a brain that would compel him to eat processed food, even if he didn’t actually want to eat it. Shocking, right?

Actually, it shouldn’t be, not if you know anything about how processed foods are made. Makers of processed foods pay huge amounts of money to food scientists to ensure their products are “hyperpalatable”. These researchers deliberately exploit the complicated neurobiology of food pleasure by playing with attributes like sweetness, saltiness and mouth-feel. The so-called “bliss point” is reached when the balance of these different factors is perfect, resulting in a food that is incredibly easy, and most of all satisfying, to eat.

One thing we know from studies is that people who eat hyperpalatable foods reliably consume more calories than people who don’t. As Hall et al. have showed, we eat processed foods 30% faster than normal foods, precisely because they’re so easy and satisfying to eat. We barely even have to chew to get them down. As a result, our bodies’ natural mechanisms to signal satisfaction and fullness don’t have a chance to kick in, and so we overeat. And if most of what we eat is processed foods, that means we’re overeating more or less all the time.

How on earth did we end up in a situation where food manufacturers sell us food not to nourish and fortify us, but weaken and hook us? It’s a complicated story, part and parcel of the dramatic food transformation that has taken place over the last century and a half due to industrialisation and the growth of corporate power. During that period we’ve moved further and further away from the locally produced nutrient-dense whole foods that sustained our ancestors towards foods produced by corporations in factories and sold in boxes or wrapped in plastic on supermarket shelves. Corporations have captured the entire food system, from farm to plate, changing the way food is produced and the way we eat.

Since the start, processed foods have been deliberately marketed as foods of convenience. It’s hard to overestimate the damage the notion of “convenience” has done since it began being pushed hard during the boom that followed World War II.

Convenient for whom, exactly? Convenient for busy mothers, yes, who need only remove the packaging of a processed-food item and heat it to have a meal for her children. Convenient for a busy truck driver also, who has neither the time to make his own food nor adequate opportunities to buy fresh whole ingredients even if he could prepare them himself. Most of all, though, these products are convenient for the manufacturers themselves.

Processed foods are long-lasting and easy and cheap to manufacture. In her book Deep Nutrition, Catherine Shanahan notes that, on a fundamental level, there is little difference between processed foods and dog kibble. Precisely the same basic ingredients go into both: corn meal, soy meal, refined wheat, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, meat and protein meal. All that differs between products is the types, ratios and added flavourings and colourings:

“The main differences between donuts, breads, and Cheerios are the quantities of hydrogenated oil and sugar. Cheerios, in turn, are nearly identical to Ramen noodles. Throw on a little salt and you’ve got snack chips. Add tomato flakes and bump up the protein powder and – bam! – it’s Hamburger Helper with noodles.”

Just imagine: with a few simple, cheap ingredients, you can create virtually any food you want. Is it any wonder the manufacturers love processed foods?

Junk food aisle

Junk food aisle at a grocery store in Houston Texas in 2012 (Cory Doctorow / Flickr)

In the US, the creation of processed food has sustained, and been sustained by, the increasingly insane priorities of the system of corporate agriculture, and in particular the vast oceans of corn that are produced through the subsidy system. Measures that were initially intended to protect ordinary American farmers when the bottom of the European corn market fell out after World War I, have become a massive kickback scheme, at taxpayer expense, to the handful of mega-companies that control corn production.

All that corn must go somewhere, and it does: into virtually every processed food you care to name. In their efforts to insinuate ever greater amounts of corn into the foods Americans eat, and thus to make even more money, the corporations have created novel products, like high-fructose corn syrup, which was supposed to replace traditional sugars, but has instead supplemented them. Americans grow fatter and sicker, but the corn must flow.

High-fructose corn syrup is not the only novel ingredient processed foods have helped to introduce into our diets. Not all that long ago, vegetable and seed oils were simply industrial byproducts, considered fit only to be used as industrial lubricants and solvents. Now, thanks to processed foods, they are consumed in quantities that were once unthinkable. Consumption of soybean oil in the US has increased a thousandfold over the last century. What was a waste product at best is now a “healthy” food worth billions of dollars a year to the corporations that produce it. In truth, vegetable and seed oils are anything but healthy, and exacerbate the problem – heart disease – they were supposed to solve, as well as being linked to a host of other negative health effects.

This, then, is the beginning of our answer to why we are now feeding our children record quantities of artificial foods that weaken and sicken them. Blinding us with promises of convenience and better health, corporations, in league with governments, have led us to abandon the traditional whole foods our ancestors built their diets around since time immemorial. Although the terrible negative effects of this transformation are visible wherever we care to look, in the unhappy lives of so many people, enormous vested interests now stand in the way of meaningful change.

Overweight family walking outside

Australian participants of a walk against Diabetes (Lorrie Graham/AusAID)

Things have only been made worse by the pandemic response, which affected the young perhaps most of all. The long-term social restrictions were a disaster for children’s health, both physical and mental. Opportunities for socialisation and play all-but-disappeared due to school closures and social distancing. Activity levels decreased significantly, while time spent in front of a screen rose to unprecedented levels. Children’s diets inevitably worsened due to the stress of prolonged isolation and also due to economic insecurity. According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between March and November 2020 the body mass index (BMI) of a sample of 430,000 children increased at twice the rate it did before the pandemic began. Perhaps as many as 1 in 4 children worldwide suffered depression and anxiety during the pandemic. Instead of protecting those it is our sacred duty to protect, we made them guinea pigs in a social experiment whose disastrous effects should have been all-too obvious before they were ever allowed to play out.

What are we to say of a civilisation that treats its children – its very future – in such a manner? The Roman judgment on Carthage, which sacrificed children en masse to appease the god Baal, was destruction. “Carthago delenda est” – Carthage must be destroyed. The Romans razed the ancient city and salted the ground, as a message to history and all the generations that would follow. Today we don’t damn our children on the altar of a dark god, but we damn them nonetheless – to a life of obesity and all the miseries it brings with it.

So many children born today will lead wasted lives, devoid of the pleasures of real health and vitality, never coming close to realising their inborn potential. For this crime, what punishment awaits us, I wonder?

This op-ed features opinion and analysis from Raw Egg Nationalist, the popular health and fitness author recently profiled in the Tucker Carlson Originals documentary, “The End of Men“. His book, The Eggs Benedict Option, is available on his website and from popular book sellers, and his magazine, Man’s World, is available online.

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Raw Egg Nationalist
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Raw Egg Nationalist is the popular fitness and health author profiled in the Tucker Carlson Originals documentary The End of Men. His latest book, "The Eggs Benedict Option", is available now.



  1. Avatar

    Camille Gilliam

    February 22, 2023 at 12:53 am

    One thing about High-fructose corn syrup is the fact that our body does NOT recognize it so it turns it into fat.
    Then there is Canola oil, it was made for NASA to run the space shuttle, not for human consumption. It is made from a poison plant, bugs and animals won’t touch it.

  2. Avatar


    July 30, 2023 at 10:01 pm

    A great read! I will also add that carbohydrates by their very nature suppress the release of the satiety hormone, leptin, leaving us to keep eating until our stomachs cannot physically stretch any further. Curiously, these processed foods also happen to be primarily composed of carbs, with polyunsaturated fats in the form of seed oils in the second highest quantity, and the few grams of non-bioavailable protein from grains in third place. Total slop. There’s no excuse to be eating this.

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