'The quality of the food we eat plays a huge part in our emotional state. We should all avoid ultra-processed items'

Joanne Reid Rodrigues

Joanne Reid Rodrigues

In the first two weeks of January, we often see the negative effects of festive food and alcohol indulgence taking their toll on some people’s moods and vitality. Work-induced stress can soar, often due to moods and abrupt exchanges, and, of course, winter viruses take their toll.

Many folks don’t realise how much our emotional stability is affected by what we put into our body in terms of food choices, alcohol and other substances. Similarly, our immune system is weakened by stress or by the effects of festive overindulgence.

If there’s one thing that we can all do to radically improve our health this year and into the future, it’s to ensure we eat more foods that are pure, and cut out ultra-processed foods. The term “UPFs” is now ubiquitous. While I’ve mentioned this before, it’s worth repeating at the start of a new year: junk food describes drinks, snacks and other edibles that contain calories but no nutrients. UPFs, on the other hand, are food products that contain synthetic or industrialised ingredients, and that are eaten as breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. They can include ready meals, packaged sandwiches, crisps, oven-bake side dishes, breads, pizzas and more.

Always read the list of ingredients on packaging. Avoid the many products that contain maltodextrin or maltodextrose. These are synthetic sugars that are even more harmful than sugar, since they can damage our liver and pancreas. And they damage our gut microbiome and stimulate our appetite, leading to increased cravings, snacking and weight gain.

Carboxymethylcellulose or cellulose gum, xanthan gum, guar gum and industrialised vegetable oils often now appearing as “sunflower oil/rapeseed oil (as available)” are also in so many products and can cause digestive disorders, bloating and discomfort. And fructose-glucose is the dreaded high-fructose-corn-syrup – a nightmare. So, always read your labels.

At this time of year, when many folks are wanting to lose excess weight, it’s tempting to buy supermarket ready meals prepared especially for weight loss. But I strongly recommend avoiding all foods created for the diet market. They are renowned for having the least nutrition. They mostly contain synthetic ingredients that work against health, not for it.

This also applies if you’re thinking about Veganuary. I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years, and I support a meat-free diet, but I’ve never tasted synthetic meat nor been tempted by it. There are many ultra-processed foods in the vegan industry. They’re unhealthy and unnecessary. Eat real food. Pure food. Organic, where possible, is best. Support our local growers. It’s often much cheaper to buy vegetables in our farm shops.

When people see celebrities losing large amounts of weight using Ozempic – a weekly injection that helps with weight loss by slowing down how fast food travels through your digestive tract – the temptation to copy them is understandable. But this drug was created to help people with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, and now there’s a shortage. Some private clinics in many countries are prescribing it for weight loss. Using this product to lose a stone or two for summer can deprive people who need the drug much more.

Ozempic mimics a hormone called GLP1 that we innately produce. GLP1 suppresses the appetite, keeping us fuller for longer, and short-chain fatty acids stimulate our natural GLP1. High-fibre foods such as fruits, vegetables, pulses and wholegrains produce more short-chain fatty acids. In other words, high-fibre foods activate our innate GLP1 and promote satiety.

When people come off appetite suppressant drugs, they typically regain the weight they lost. And the psychological backlash can be devastating. I’ve been around long enough to remember back in the mid-1990s and early noughties when doctors in Jersey were prescribing (and some were pushing) Lipotrim. A three-milkshake-a-day meal-replacement diet that for women provided only 400 calories daily. For men it provided 800 calories.

Lipotrim, in my opinion, was a disaster for many reasons. The main reason being that no one can live on that type of punishing regime. I mean, really. They’d die. In the vast majority of cases, as soon as people came off Lipotrim and started eating food, their weight increased pretty rapidly. Many felt depressed and experienced prolonged dejection.

Interestingly, Lipotrim was initially introduced to Jersey to treat extreme cases of obesity, where people had obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and other health conditions. Once it went mainstream as a weight-loss diet, it caused more harm than good over the longer term.

Going back to Ozempic and Wegovy (the same drug under a different brand name), in recent years there’s been a drive to establish that overeating and obesity are caused by the brain not getting the hormone leptin. Leptin is released when we eat and it gives the hypothalamus in our brain the signal that we’ve eaten and we’re satisfied. If the brain doesn’t get this signal, the body stays in a state of perpetual hunger.

This leptin theory has been around for a few decades now, and there might indeed be individuals who don’t produce enough leptin. But most of us do. However, if drug companies can convince us that obesity is about a hormonal dysfunction and that the brain isn’t getting the signal that we’ve eaten, it’s easier to sell their product.

Think back to the 1980s, when Pfizer promoted its new selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant, Prozac, as being necessary to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain. A few decades on, it’s emerged that this claim was a marketing strategy. If a pharmaceutical company (or a tobacco or vaping company) can make people believe they need their product, or get addicted to their product, it’s a licence to print money. The company that produces Ozempic and Wegovy had a massive surge in profits last year – a bonanza.

In my experience, overeating and obesity are in the vast majority of cases caused by a combination of too many junk foods and ultra-processed foods. These products increase our appetite and make us hungry. And they also affect our hormones and our brain.

Eating more pure foods helps us all reset our weight and our health, and eradicate our cravings for synthetic foods and snacks.

  • Joanne Reid Rodrigues is an author, trainer and therapist in nutrition, CBT, PTSD, and stress management. Joanne is available for private coaching at Health Point Clinic, Suite 2.4B, The Lido Medical Centre. Joanne can be contacted via her website: JoanneRR.com.

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