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Food for Thought: 5 Books Reveal How Processed Foods Threaten Our Health and the Planet

Discover how the food industry has made eating healthy increasingly difficult


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With the buzz around Ozempic and a host of related weight-loss drugs on the horizon, it’s evident that obesity remains a growing concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), obesity in the U.S. impacts 100.1 million (41.9 percent) adults and 14.7 million (19.7 percent) children and accounts for approximately $147 billion in annual healthcare costs. 

Want to understand what is driving weight gain in the U.S. and around the globe? From ultra-processed foods that encourage us to consume more calories to aggressive and misleading marketing that targets vulnerable groups, it can seem nearly impossible to eat healthy. Here are five books that tackle the topic and shed light on the reasons eating a healthy diet is proving more challenging than ever.

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan, is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding how our modern food system contributes to a host of health problems, such as obesity and chronic diseases. Pollan’s main message is to, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Rather than focusing on counting calories, he encourages readers to consider the sourcing and nutritional value of their food.

Metabolical: The Lure and Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine, by Robert Lustig, M.D., exposes the tactics and marketing strategies used by the food industry to promote processed foods. It reveals how processed foods are engineered to be addictive and shares the detrimental impact these foods have on our health, especially the role of added sugars and artificial additives. Lustig also challenges conventional medical practice and approaches to treating chronic diseases and calls for systemic changes in how we approach nutrition and health, advocating for policy reforms, improved food labeling, and increased public awareness to combat the food industry’s influence.

If you want to gain a deeper understanding of how ultra-processed foods impact our health and environment, Ultra-Processed People: The Science Behind Food That Isn’t Food, by Chris Van Tulleken, reveals how the food industry shapes our dietary choices and contributes to the prevalence of processed foods and their addictive nature. Tulleken also details his own self-experiment in which he ate a diet high in ultra-processed foods to understand the unhealthy effects such a diet has on the human body.

Providing a holistic perspective to addressing food-related issues,Food Fix: How to Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Communities, and Our Planet—One Bite at a Time, by Mark Hyman M.D., explores how food choices and access to nourishing options can impact communities, especially underserved ones. Hyman delves into the environmental consequences of our food choices, such as the impact of agriculture on climate change, land use, and biodiversity. He also provides practical solutions and policy recommendations for individuals, communities, and governments to address the challenges created by our current food system. A roadmap for those interested in taking positive steps toward a more sustainable, equitable, and healthier future, this book is a valuable resource, providing evidence and insights into how dietary choices impact our overall wellbeing.

Revealing the significant influence the food industry has on public policy, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, by Marion Nestle, sheds light on the conflicts of interest that exist within regulatory organizations and scientific organizations. Nestle shows how individuals in the food industry influence the decision-making process, favoring corporate interests over public health. This book is especially helpful for those interested in deciphering food labels, marketing tactics, and industry lingo. It’s an empowering read that helps readers understand the complexities of our food industry and how the promotion of unhealthy foods, the use of additives, and marketing of processed snacks has led to numerous public health issues.

About The Author

Heather, co-founder of Well Defined and the former editor-in-chief of American Spa, is an award-winning journalist and content strategist, skilled in writing, copyediting, and media relations. She is also a freelance writer and has contributed to Elite Traveler, Islands, Kiwi, Luxury Travel Advisor, Organic Spa, Porthole Cruise, Travel Agent,,,, and, in addition to various custom publications. She is frequently called upon to comment on various spa and wellness trends for various media outlets.