The Weekly Vlog

Ultra-Processed People

Feb 07, 2024

Once in a while a book comes along that I predict will revolutionize our community—and I’m excited to tell you about one such book. It’s called Ultra-Processed People by Dr. Chris van Tulleken. This book educated me so much. In fact, I reached out to the author after reading this book, and I have a nice surprise for you that I’ll tell you about in a bit.

Here are some key takeaways: First, I never realized the full extent to which the explosion of ultra-processed food is driven by economics. One grim story that the book shares is that of the very first fully synthetic food. It happened in Germany in World War II. The Nazi regime wanted to become independent from all other nations. One problem was fuel—they didn’t have enough. But they did have a lot of low-quality coal, which could be rendered into liquid fuel for their planes, cars, and tanks. One byproduct of this process was a waxy, soap-like substance we would call paraffin. 

A man named Arthur Imhousen, a soap manufacturer, took that substance and used it to meet another need that was acute for Germans: the need for more domestically-produced, consumable fat. He added salt, coloring, and chemicals and turned it into “coal butter.” It’s an example of how often byproducts from an industrial process are turned into something you can eat. Cottonseed oil is another example, using the cast-off seeds from the cotton industry, which were then pressed for their oil. 

Another takeaway from the book is related to brand loyalty. It turns out that the way the stomach, taste buds, and brain are wired, when we eat an extra-large bolus of highly dense calories, the brain notices and wires up to prefer that specific flavor. That’s more than addiction: it’s loyalty to a particular brand. If you’re a manufacturer, you don’t just want people addicted to junk food in general, you want them addicted to your junk food. 

Look at soda. Soda pop when it’s flat and warm isn’t tasty, because it’s just too sweet. Making it cold and carbonated tricks your taste buds and brain into not noticing the sugar, so they can pack more sugar into it without you having a negative reaction. But the extra sugar then delivers such a whopping bolus of calories that the brain remembers that specific flavor profile, and imprints on it. That’s why people are so dedicated to their brand of soda. 

My biggest takeaway has to do with the reality of sugar and flour. Sugar and flour have been around for a long time. But the reason we’re seeing massive amounts of obesity today is because of ultra-processed food, not sugar and flour. This book showed me the difference between the two.

I contacted Chris van Tulleken, and we talked for quite a while. I’ve recorded it, so you can watch it. One of the things I wanted to talk to him about was the difference between ultra-processed food and sugar and flour, because I know you can’t just abstain from ultra-processed food and still eat sugar and flour and recover. It seems to me that sugar and flour should be considered ultra-processed food. I wanted to parse this out with him. 

Chris van Tulleken is an M.D., Ph.D., BBC star in the UK, and he’s got an identical twin brother, Xand, who was living with obesity, while Chris is not—it’s a fascinating story. That’s how Chris got the idea of doing this book. 

You’ll also want to see what Chris says when I talked with him about coming to London to be a keynote speaker at the conference on ultra-processed food I’m working on. And you’ll discover that he has a very different idea about how one can quit eating ultra-processed food. It’s different from BLE. Very different.

This book is mind-blowing if you’ve ever wanted a clear scientific explanation for all your questions about ultra-processed food: what about flavorings? What about emulsifiers? What oils are good for you? Why is ultra-processed food softer? 

To see the interview, purchase your copy of the book: hardcover, Audible, ebook—whatever. Go to the website: All you need to do is put in where you bought the book and your order number, and you’ll get access to the video. 

This is a big deal for us as a Bright Line community. The international community is coalescing around the idea of ultra-processed food addiction. Not just “food addiction” but ULTRA-PROCESSED food addiction. So we need to be up on this. And I have to say, I’m now thinking differently about some of the ultra-processed foods that we have considered Bright Line Eating-compliant. 

Here’s something Chris said: If you’re ever wondering about whether something is ultra-processed food, just think about the motive behind the food. Is the motive to hook you and make money off you? Or is it to nourish and feed you? 

I often think about the motive behind how I’ve eaten. Motives matter. Without a doubt, the motives behind our food supply have changed dramatically over the past hundred years, and I’ve never read a better explanation of this than Chris van Tulleken’s book. He’s amazing—a cool guy and a consummate scientist. Get your copy of the book today! Your mind will be blown. Enjoy!

Access the exclusive interview with the author:

Click here to listen to this episode on Bright Line Living™ - The Official Bright Line Eating Podcast.

Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. is a New York Times bestselling author and an expert in the psychology and neuroscience of eating.  Susan is the Founder and CEO of Bright Line Eating®, a scientifically grounded program that teaches you a simple process for getting your brain on board so you can finally find freedom from food.

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