What are ultra-processed foods and why you should avoid them.

We have long known that processed foods are bad for our health but doctors are becoming even more concerned about the damage that they cause.

 What are ultra-processed foods?

Foods are classified under 4 groups based upon how processed they are.

 Category 1: unprocessed or minimally processed. This group includes unprocessed meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts seeds and milk. They are in their natural state without added ingredients.

Category 2: processed ingredients. This section lists foods that are added to other foods such as salt and pepper, sugar, butter, vinegar and oils.

Category 3: Processed foods. Processed foods are combined from group one and two. They are ultimately altered in processes that would not be achieved at home. This group includes foods such as fresh baked bread, tinned fruits, vegetables and tinned fish, cheese, salted nuts.

Category 4: Ultra processed. This category covers foods that may have 5 or more ingredients. They are often chemically changed with preservatives, emulsifiers, artificial colours and sweeteners. Foods in this category include ham, smoked meats, sausages, breakfast cereals, carbonated drinks, fruit flavoured yogurts, mass produced bread, instant foods such as pot noodles and spirits.

 Why are Ultra-Processed Foods bad for our health?

There is growing evidence that ultra-processed foods cause increased blood pressure, obesity and are linked to diabetes and other diseases. They often bear no relation to the ingredients that we expect to see in our food. A new term has been coined to refer to these foods, ‘industrial edible substances’. This term includes foods that contain modified starches, invert sugar, emulsifiers, stabilising gums and humectants.

 In fact, foods as varied as chicken nuggets and ice cream can be made by the same components. Have you ever been to a fast-food restaurant and noticed how all the food has the same underlying taste? Many of these foods are no longer be recognised by our brain and digestive system as actual nutrition.

 Studies show that ultra-processed foods are devoid of fibre and can change our microbiome and cause inflammation. It’s believed that the effects of this can be passed on to future generations through epigenetic change.

Are all processed foods unhealthy?

It’s important to remember that not all ultra-processed foods are equal. Reach for wholemeal bread, wholemeal cereals or a tin of baked beans rather than pizza, crisps and canned fizzy drinks.

 Watch out for ultra-processed vegan foods

In our desire to create plant food alternatives many ready-to-eat snacks and plant-based versions of popular dishes such as pizza and burgers contain heavily processed ingredients. Plant based does not always equate with good quality or healthy.

 How can I eat less Processed Food?

Eating less processed foods is very much getting back to the basics. Here are some of our tips for reducing your reliance and your intake of processed and ultra-processed foods:

·      Cook with fresh food as often as possible

·      Take a packed lunch when you are out and about

·      Snack on wholefoods such as nuts and fruit

·      Avoid foods containing saturated fat, added sugar and high salt content

·      Avoid or reduce the number of take aways you eat