With the beaming lights of the McDonald’s drive-through shining on his face, Cole Braun found himself lured by the convenience of a quick, greasy meal, for the fourth time that week. The seductive aromas of french fries make it impossible to resist. But Braun felt a sense of guilt for his frequent, recurring trips. It was then that he decided it was time to opt for a healthier lifestyle.
“I really felt my overall health declining, I didn’t feel as strong or healthy. It hit me hard when I started being a regular at McDonald’s. I didn’t want that anymore.”
For years, Braun struggled with maintaining a healthy diet and consumed fast food and ultra-processed snacks. Ultra-processed foods or “ready-to-eat” or “ready-to-heat” products include soft drinks, frozen food, and savoury and salty snacks such as potato chips. These products include synthetic flavouring, artificial colouring, and chemicals.
Braun’s first step was getting a gym membership. With the support and guidance of a local gym community, he embarked on a journey that would improve his way of living for the better.
At first, Braun faced challenges as he found it difficult to abandon his old, unhealthy eating habits. However, with the help of meal prepping, a nutritionist, and additional resources, he was able to replace fast food meals with nourishing options. Once over the hurdles, Braun felt encouraged to help others achieve their desired lifestyles and now plans to study nutrition and share his experiences and knowledge.
Avoiding ultra-processed foods
A study published in the British Medical Journal found that eating ultra-processed foods can lead to addiction, affecting 14 per cent of adults and 12 per cent of children worldwide. Eating ultra-processed foods, according to the study, can also cause difficult withdrawal symptoms comparable to people trying to quit smoking.
Consumption of ultra-processed foods stimulates the pleasure-inducing portion of the brain, resulting in cravings and a desire for more. However, as individuals incorporate these quick and easy products into their diet, they create long-term problems. The brain becomes conditioned to long for the same taste which can lead to addiction, weight gain and health problems.
Lynne Lafave holds a doctorate in nutritional sciences and focuses on areas such as individual well-being and nutrition.
“Ultra-processed foods lack vitamins and essential nutrients such as minerals and fibres,” said Lafave. “These foods tend to be high in sugar, sodium and calories, leading to an improper and unbalanced diet.”
Lafave emphasizes the importance of avoiding ultra-processed foods as they are often linked to several health concerns such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and many others.
Although ultra-processed foods can cause serious damage to an individual’s overall health, Lafave says it’s possible to mitigate the harm caused. The key is to gradually make dietary changes, plan for the week and cook meals at home.
“I think there’s always an opportunity to improve your health. And we should never think that there’s nothing we can do. We can always improve our health, we can make small changes.”