You Are What You Eat And Invest In
Updated: Nov 9
During November and December, people—especially in America—have an increased focus on food. It is harvest season in many regions, and the holiday season is gearing up. January is another time when many contemplate their food choices and launch into diets and new fitness schemes, especially if they have fully indulged in the holiday feasts. But what you eat on a regular basis affects your health the most in the long run. Those of us who think about health and the impact of our diets are constantly seeking information on what we should eat to live long and be well.
The media is always touting one diet or another—from Keto, to Blue Zone, to Vegan—but where can we find the truth about nutrition? There is unlimited information available, and I implore you to always consider the source and sponsors behind the health information you consume. While food is an essential part of being alive, it is also a big business. Some of the largest corporations, with the most lucrative investment opportunities, produce ultra-processed foods. They have a vested interest in promoting their products and continually increasing their profits. And sometimes, the results of their marketing campaigns also increase food addictions that may not be good for you, as is the case with Ultra-Processed Foods (UPFs).
What are Ultra-Processed Foods? Ultra-Processed Foods made from substances that have been extracted from actual foods and contain starches, sugars, hydrogenated fats, and often have added artificial colors, flavors, or stabilizers. At the other end of the spectrum are “unprocessed or minimally processed foods [...] in which the vitamins and nutrients are still intact” (McManus 2020).
In the middle are foods that have been minimally processed. This category includes frozen fruits and vegetables, which are often processed at the height of their nutritional prime, and foods like peanut butter when it has no additional additives. These are examples of processed foods that can be classified as healthy. Processing is necessary to keep some foods edible and visually attractive through the rigors of transport, packaging, and storage (Champion 2021). With our busy, modern lifestyles, convenience is a necessity. Who has time to hunt, gather, and home-make everything they eat?
But we must also consider our health in the long term.Studies have shown that “...those who consumed more ultra-processed foods had higher risks of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease” (McManus 2020). People who think about their health know they should be eating—more fresh produce, fewer processed grains, appropriate amounts of protein, and a limited amount of highly-processed foods. In nutritionist terms, “the shorter the ingredient list, the better” (Champion 2021).
However, companies are blurring our clarity around foods that are good for our nutrition and those that should be minimized or avoided. Exposing the public to messaging from scientists heavily involved with the producers of Ultra-Processed Food products causes confusion in consumers already overwhelmed by the mass of choices they must sift through at the grocer’s.
The issue is that UPFs make up more than half of US and UK diets on average. Some companies are spending big dollars on studies that assert UFPs have been wrongly demonized, and they are holding scientific briefings that generate such headlines as “Ultra-processed foods can sometimes be better for you, experts claim.” A panel of five expert scientists at a briefing organized by the Science Media Centre in the UK claimed that UPFs can be just as nutritious as homemade foods. However, upon further inspection, three out of the five panelists had ties to UPF manufacturers such as Nestlé, Mondelēz, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever, and General Mills—ties that funded their research in some cases (Gregory, 2023).
You may be wondering, what can I do then? If it’s so ingrained in our culture, how can I make a difference? You can affect the direction of the companies you invest in with your vote and your voice. As shareholders, you naturally want those companies to be successful, but you may also want them to address the risks that climate change pose and minimize harm they cause to people and planet—including nutrition. We invite you to explore how you can get corporations to see the consequences of their impact
Get involved in shareholders’ meetings.
Cast your vote.
Send letters and ask for the change you want to see.
There are many non-profits who aim to increase the impact of investors. One such non-profit is called Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI). They have designed a way for investors to communicate with the companies they invest in, enabling two-way communications whereby investors submit their asks, and companies issue statements that they update once they have made progress. In March 2021 investors signed up to participate in a collaborative engagement, which consisted of a series of calls, teach-ins, and meetings between 53 investors and 19 corporations, including: Danone, Kellogg’s, KraftHeinz, Mondelez, Coca-Cola, and Meiji -- companies listed on the Global Index, 2021 and US Index 2022. They met 34 times over a 20-month period, and it is interesting to note that transparency was discussed in 100% of the meetings (ATNI, 2023).
The investors made 351 asks, the topics most relevant to investors were products, responsible marketing, and governance. The ATNI report generated by this collaboration speaks to the power of shareholders’ engagement, and a number of companies shifted practices and committed to taking the following actions (ATNI, 2023):
5 companies committed to benchmark their own nutrient profiling model (NPM) against external and recognized NPMs (in some cases the Health Star Rating system, in other cases other systems)
3 companies are in the process of setting a target to increase the sales/revenues/volume sold deriving from healthy products (using their own definition of healthy)
4 companies are updating and strengthening their sugar, salt, and/or fat reduction targets
It can seem overwhelming to tackle the whole system, but you can make a difference. Change begins with you--as a consumer and as a shareholder.
McManus, Katherine D. (2020 January 9). What are unltra-processed foods and are they bad for our health? Harvard Health Publishing https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-are-ultra-processed-foods-and-are-they-bad-for-our-h ealth-2020010918605
Gregory, Andrew. (2023 September 28). Scientists on panel defending ultra-processed foods linked to food firms The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/sep/28/scientists-on-panel-defending-ultra-processe d-foods-linked-to-food-firms
Champion, Chayil. (2021 December 22). What you need to know about processed foods - and why it is so hard to quit them uclahealth.org https://www.uclahealth.org/news/what-you-need-to-know-about-processed-foods-and-why-it-is-s o-hard-to-quit-them
ClientEarth Communications. (2022 April 7). Five leading shareholder actions
Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI). (2023 April 19). ATNI’s Investors Investors in Nutrition and Health - Collaborative Investors Engagement with global F&B Manufacturers: Engagement Analysis Report https://accesstonutrition.org/news/atnis-collaborative-engagement-analysis-report-outlines-the-i mpact-of-corporate-shareholder-engagement/