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Why You Can’t Stop Eating Ultra-Processed Foods: Dr Chris Van Tulleken

by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee   /  January 3, 2024

Why do we all eat stuff that isn’t food and why can’t we stop? In this episode, Dr Chris van Tulleken, author of Ultra-Processed People explains all. As well as being one of the UK’s leading science broadcasters, Chris is a practising infectious diseases doctor in the NHS. He gained his medical degree at Oxford University and his PhD in molecular virology from University College London, where he is an associate professor. He works closely with the World Health Organization and UNICEF, and his research looks at how corporations affect human health.

In this episode, Chris explores what may be the biggest public-health crisis of our time: ultra-processed food, or UPF, for short. Many people these days, certainly most regular listeners to this podcast, will be aware of UPFs. But there’s still a lot of confusion around what they really are. For Chris, it’s simple: if it’s wrapped in plastic and has at least one ingredient you wouldn’t find in a home kitchen, it’s a UPF. If it makes a health claim on the packet? Ironically, it’s even more likely!

A UPF is any food that’s processed industrially and created for big-business profit, rather than to provide nutrients. And here in the UK, UPF makes up 60 percent of the average diet.  The trouble is, says Chris, UPFs have been shown to be the leading cause of early death in the world, ahead of tobacco. Even if you remain at what is considered a healthy weight, consuming UPFs still leaves you vulnerable to things like Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, dementia, anxiety, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and eating disorders.

In this conversation, Chris provides a clear definition of the difference between processing and ultra-processing, and explains how our toxic food environment is designed to be addictive.  We also discuss a whole range of different topics such as the need to see obesity as a condition and not an identity and the seemingly revolutionary idea that re-prioritising food shopping and cooking as a vital, enjoyable part of our day, could be a first step towards the societal change that’s urgently needed.

This podcast episode is not about shame or blame – it’s about education and empowerment. Chris is a brilliant communicator who insists the prevalence and appeal of UPFs is not our fault. I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with him – I hope you enjoy listening.

Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.*

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Watch the video version of the conversation here:

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Chris’s book:

Ultra-Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food … and Why Can’t We Stop?

Related Feel Better Live More Episodes:

#350 The New Science of Eating Well with Professor Tim Spector

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*DISCLAIMER: Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

†Disclosure: All books marked with a † are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We take part in Amazon’s affiliate advertising program designed to provide a way for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon’s website. You are not charged any extra by using these links to purchase books.

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee MbChB, BSc (Hons), MRCP, MRCGP