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The Problem With Processed Foods
Processed foods have become rooted in society. They are convenient, accessible and usually cheap.
I’d be a liar if I said I don’t eat processed foods. Because I do. Every day.
Not *all* processed food is bad – in fact, some processing can actually improve a food’s nutritional profile, and make them safe for us to eat.
But there’s a difference between ‘minimally-processed’ foods and ‘ultra-processed’ foods:⠀
Minimally processed foods include:
- Brown rice⠀
- Natural nut butters with only one ingredient (nuts!) instead of ones with added salt, sugar and oil⠀
- Pre-cut fruits and vegetables
- A baked potato
- Pre-cooked legumes in water only (with no added salt or sugar)
- Steel-cut oats⠀
- Whole wheat pasta made from whole grains
Ultra-processed foods are things like:⠀
- Microwave/ready meals⠀
- Bacon, sausages, ham, salami, pepperoni, hotdogs etc.⠀
- Breakfast cereals⠀
- Pies and pastries⠀
- Soda/soft drinks⠀
- Products made from refined flour (like white bread, pasta etc.)⠀
- Cakes and biscuits/cookies⠀
Cross-sectional data from the U.K. National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2008–2014) found that, on average, Brits consume 56.8% of their calories from ultra-processed foods, with only 30.1% of calories coming from unprocessed or minimally processed foods,.
What’s the problem with processed foods?
- Adds unhealthy ingredients like salt, oils and chemicals that have zero nutritional benefits⠀
- Concentrates calories so you have to eat more in order to feel satiated
- Breaks down or removes dietary fibre
- Removes protective phytochemicals
Cutting down on our consumption of ultra-processed foods and increasing our intake of whole, unprocessed foods might be one of the best things we can do to reduce our risk of obesity and other diet-related chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and some common cancers.
So where do you draw the line and determine whether a processed food gets the green light? When trying to decide which camp a processed food fits into, my favourite summation comes from Dr Greger of NutritionFacts.org
Nothing bad added, nothing good taken away.⠀
When it’s not possible to eat foods in their completely unprocessed form, try to stick to foods where processing has been minimal. ✌🏼⠀
Ultra-Processed Food Consumption and Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases-Related Dietary Nutrient Profile in the UK (2008–2014)