How Junk Food Can End Obesity

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Demonizing processed food may be dooming many to obesity and disease. Could embracing the drive-thru make us all healthier?

From my cover story in the July/August issue of The Atlantic 

Late last year, in a small health-food eatery called Cafe Sprouts in Oberlin, Ohio, I had what may well have been the most wholesome beverage of my life. The friendly server patiently guided me to an apple-blueberry-kale-carrot smoothie-juice combination, which she spent the next several minutes preparing, mostly by shepherding farm-fresh produce into machinery. The result was tasty, but at 300 calories (by my rough calculation) in a 16-ounce cup, it was more than my diet could regularly absorb without consequences, nor was I about to make a habit of $9 shakes, healthy or not.

Inspired by the experience nonetheless, I tried again two months later at L.A.’s Real Food Daily, a popular vegan restaurant near Hollywood. I was initially wary of a low-calorie juice made almost entirely from green vegetables, but the server assured me it was a popular treat. I like to brag that I can eat anything, and I scarf down all sorts of raw vegetables like candy, but I could stomach only about a third…read more.

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4 thoughts on “How Junk Food Can End Obesity

  1. Will Forsythe says:

    Terrific, well-balanced article. Going to have my advanced nutrition students read it, and then take a position.

  2. A White says:

    As a physician living and working in Birmingham, AL, I can attest that middle income and upper middle income people are overweight and obese – not just the poor. In our hospital, many nurses with degrees and solid incomes are overweight and obese. Many live in comfortable suburbs, are white and do not face food deserts. They reflect the greater public in AL, both white and black, of various incomes. Walking into a Publix supermarket you will see people who are obese and overweight – again, no food desert and shoppers who are capable of affording food at a mainstream grocery chain. You need to take these demographics into consideration when you write articles with broad brushstrokes describing who is overweight and obese in America. Come to the “Red States” and you shall see for yourself.

    • True, this isn’t just a problem for poor people, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t say any differently in my article. The point I was making is that telling everyone to eat unprocessed food can’t possibly work for that large percentage of the obese who happen to be poor. More affluent obese people can afford unprocessed food and generally have decent access to it (though not always). As to whether these more affluent obese people can actually be convinced to give up the processed food that they love for unprocessed food is another question, and one that I didn’t fully address in my article. (You may want to see the articles I wrote about more general obesity issues here and here.) I happen to think that’s not a great solution for them, either, because of how hard it is to switch eating behavior in this way (and because it would be nearly impossible to make enough of it available to tens of millions more people in a reasonable time frame), but at least it’s not completely ridiculous to suggest it as a solution, in the way that it’s utterly and totally ridiculous to suggest it’s a solution for the poor obese.

      What do you think the solution is for non-poor obese people? Do you think it would be such a bad idea to push the processed food companies to make their products a little healthier, as I do? Or do you think the wholesome foodies are right and that the only solution is to convince people to not eat any processed food, even if companies make processed food healthier?

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