Anyone aiming to live a long healthy life should stay away from processed foods, or they will have to contend with obesity, heart problems and diabetes, nutrition expert Robert Lustig has warned.

“Fifty years of global processed food consumption has shown that its short-term gains in terms of cost and preparation are completely eclipsed by long-term health complications which are accentuated by its high sugar content.”

This stern warning was delivered yesterday morning at a jam-packed hall at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta at a half-day seminar where Prof. Lustig delivered the keynote speech.

The event was organised by Narrative Structures PR in collaboration with the Health Parliamentary Secretary and the Health Disease and Promotion Directorate.

In his opening address Prof. Lustig did not mince words: Malta had a huge obesity problem. “Having been away from the island for 12 years, the first thing I noticed when coming back to Malta for this conference was the increase in the number of fat people. Even on my way in Valletta this morning, I could not help noticing the ever-increasing number of fast-food and take-away outlets, which seem to be thriving,” he said.

Having been away from the island for 12 years, the first thing I noticed was the increase in the number of fat people

During a detailed one-hour presentation, Prof. Lustig said the processed food “experiment” had failed spectacularly on various counts.

“If tobacco causes lung cancer, sugar, of which processed foods contain plenty, causes diabetes,” he said. While acknowledging that Malta’s insularity had the added challenge of a reliance on imports when it came to food, he said that the authorities could take the first step through simple measures.

“Let’s start by eliminating processed foods from hospital canteens and the university,” he suggested in what could be deemed to be a dig at the local authorities’ reluctance to start moving. Renaming type 2 diabetes “processed food disease” and removing subsidies on corn, wheat, soya and sugar might also help, the expert said.

Prof. Lustig warned that in the absence of any drastic measures, the healthcare sector would simply become unsustainable and collapse due to a spike in processed-food-related diseases.

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It lacks fibre, omega-3 fatty acids (only found in wild fish) and micronutrients.

It has too much trans-fats (used to make food last longer); branched chain amino acids (normally used by body builders but may cause heart disease); corn-fed meat, chicken and fish; omega-6 fatty acids (cause inflammatory diseases); additives, emulsifiers, salt, nitrates and sugar.

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