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Processed Foods | Are They Really Bad For You? with Revive Stronger

  •   4 min reads
Processed Foods | Are They Really Bad For You? with Revive Stronger

Getting Emotional, Catastrophizing, and maintaining an All-Or-Nothing attitude about Ultra-Processed Foods is likely unhelpful and a somewhat ironic stance for someone to take who seeks to be a nutrition or fitness expert.

Conversely, being Rigid about Rigid Dietary Restraint can also be a touch hypocritical.

UPFs exist and wishing for them to disappear is fantasy, so on the individual level this topic generally comes down to maintaining a non-judgmental learning process of experimenting with different skills and strategies to see what "works" (goal and value dependent) and in what settings for the individual.

But, eating only kale by yourself and judging all your friends for eating pizza probably isn’t a healthful solution, nor is reactively consuming grab-and-go hyper-palatable ultra-processed food randomly throughout the day, every day.

The impetus of this Podcast was the article How Bad Are Ultra-Processed Foods?

This article gets into a lot of the complexity around UPFs, but there are two aspects of UPFs that are likely directly related to the Revive Stronger listener which we don’t directly discuss in the Podcast.

One, the Ultra-Processed anything goes IIFYM approach.

Yes, one can certainly change their body composition eating only Twinkies, ice cream, potatoes, or white rice if they are in an energy deficit, but the three biggest problems with that approach and different shades of it are a potentially dysregulated appetite [1-4], inadequate micronutrition and fiber, and low food volume combined with high amounts of metabolizable energy [1, 5].

For example, even almond butter has 48% more metabolizable energy than whole natural almonds [6]. Things get potentially even more wild when we take this out to something like potato chips (or really any faux health chips) which very likely have a significantly higher metabolizable energy content than a baked potato while simultaneously having a 400 to 600% higher energy density!

The second aspect is even more nuanced and it revolves around someone who is trying to make GAINS with a foundational diet of whole foods while simultaneously utilizing UPFs as a tool to get into and stay in a slight excess of calories.

I think this is a solid approach and I use it as a lot of individuals who live the Iron Life will find it very difficult…maybe even impossible to maintain a slight excess of calories with only sweet potatoes, chicken breasts, and broccoli, BUT many times this results in individuals eating a lot of cereal or other fortified processed food items.

If someone eats half a box of fortified cereal they just got a lot of iron and folic acid and when we combine this with a substantial amount of other food and likely a multivitamin people can fairly easily get over the TULs on a bunch of micronutrients and I don’t think people want to unintentionally sh*t their pants from excessive mineral consumption, rust out their reticuloendothelial systems and parenchymal cells [7]*, or possibly increase their risk of cancer [8]. I am absolutely not trying to be all tin-foil-hat and fear-mongering here, but I think that some level of acute and chronic risk might be there depending on the individual and this risk is easily cleared by picking non-fortified versions of those same foods.

To finish this up, the intersection between nutrition, marketing, and food processing is a weird world. I don't think many in this space are operating in an intentionally malicious manner, but their ignorance and marketing tactics sometimes really piss me off.

All diets seem to result in an inundation of processed packaged food even though most dietary philosophies agree that whole foods should make up the majority of someone's caloric intake.

Do we need Keto Waffles and Vegan Pork Skins? Is high-protein cereal really that much better? Are chicken chips that have an energy density that is higher than most potato chips really worth the ~10 grams of protein? The fact that Rx Bars have a higher energy density than honey doesn't make them a bad food, but it does make them logistically harder to fit in some situations and that is why I think the heuristics we discuss in How Bad Are Ultra-Processed Foods? can be so helpful in cutting through the noise of the boujee faux health food marketing complex.

Thank for reading!


*Iron overload, hemochromatosis, high ferritin, heme vs. non-heme iron, and iron deficiency anemia are outside the scope of this article and the prospective observational research on this topic is confounded by a lot of other factors, but for most individuals who have enough iron onboard, I would vote against blowing the doors off of iron consumption. This can generally be done relatively easily with some slight tweaks to the food items being used.


1.            Rolls, B.J., Dietary energy density: Applying behavioural science to weight management. Nutr Bull, 2017. 42(3): p. 246-253.

2.            Hall, K.D., et al., Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell Metab, 2019. 30(1): p. 226.

3.            Raynor, H.A. and M. Vadiveloo, Understanding the Relationship Between Food Variety, Food Intake, and Energy Balance. Curr Obes Rep, 2018. 7(1): p. 68-75.

4.            Vadiveloo, M., H. Parker, and H. Raynor, Increasing low-energy-dense foods and decreasing high-energy-dense foods differently influence weight loss trial outcomes. Int J Obes (Lond), 2018. 42(3): p. 479-486.

5.            Barr, S.B. and J.C. Wright, Postprandial energy expenditure in whole-food and processed-food meals: implications for daily energy expenditure.Food Nutr Res, 2010. 54.

6.            Gebauer, S.K., et al., Food processing and structure impact the metabolizable energy of almonds. Food Funct, 2016. 7(10): p. 4231-4238.

7.            McLaren, G.D., W.A. Muir, and R.W. Kellermeyer, Iron overload disorders: natural history, pathogenesis, diagnosis, and therapy. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci, 1983. 19(3): p. 205-66.

8.            Kim, Y.I., Folate and cancer: a tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Am J Clin Nutr, 2018. 107(2): p. 139-142.

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