The everyday foods you’d never guess are ultra-processed.
This week I was quoted extensively in the Daily Mail, talking about Ultra-processed food. Whilst I love working with the media, it is always a little scary as you don’t quite know how the article will come out. This was a really thorough journalist and I hope it has led to a useful article on ultra-processed food.
Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are a type of food that undergoes extensive processing, usually involving the addition of various synthetic and industrial ingredients. These foods are often high in calories, salt, sugar, unhealthy fats, and additives, and low in nutrients, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals.
Examples of ultra-processed foods:
- Sugary drinks, such as soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks
- Sweet and savory packaged snacks, such as chips, crackers, and cookies
- Processed meat products, such as hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats
- Instant noodles and soups
- Packaged bread and baked goods
- Frozen and pre-packaged meals, such as pizza, nuggets, and burgers
- Breakfast cereals and cereal bars
- Candy and chocolate
Most of these may seem obvious. Some of those foods you may think, hold on, I eat those daily, how can I not? I want to reassure you that this is not about cutting every single ultra-processed food out of your diet. It is about making choices and being educated.
Is bread processed? Should I be making my own?
In short, yes it is processed and often ultra-processed. Yikes I hear you cry. In my house we don’t have time to make our own bread (plus there are 8 of us, that’s a lot of bread). Choose the best bread you can. Look for one with more fibre, and less “added” ingredients. If you can afford it then the fresh breads are a great option but we all need to be realistic. Personally I would say that bread brings benefits to a quick easy meal, ultra-processed or not.
So we buy shop bought bread. We do take time to bake at least weekly to help reduce the use of cereal bars in packed lunches. I also make all our evening meals from scratch but we do rely on breakfast cereal in the morning. This is about making the best choice.
Tips on reducing ultra-processed foods:
- Plan and prepare your meals: Planning and preparing your meals ahead of time can help you avoid reaching for quick and convenient ultra-processed options. I like to plan on a Sunday so we can shop accordingly. My husband and I have a chat about the week and I write the meal plan in the family diary. Try to cook at home with fresh, whole ingredients as much as possible.
- Choose whole foods where possible. Whole foods can sound posh and scary but it just means more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. These are minimally processed and packed with nutrients. Aim to incorporate more of these foods into your meals and snacks. This can mean small swaps such as switching your porridge pot for oats with cinnamon and sliced banana, try apple with peanut butter as a snack and cook from scratch in the evening when you can.
- Read food labels. When buying packaged foods, read the labels and avoid those with long lists of artificial ingredients, added sugars. Choose products with simple, whole-food ingredients and minimal processing. There is a suggestion that if there are more than 5 ingredients on the list then it is probably ultra-processed, but all things have an exception. So just take a look and see. You don’t have to check everything (or your shop takes hours) but just be more aware.
- Reduce sugary drinks: I’m not talking cut these out entirely. We all need our fun in life. Just remember soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks, are a big source of added sugar in the diet. Try, when you can, to replace these with water, herbal tea, or other low-sugar options.
- Limit fast food and takeout: I think we all know takeaways and fast food are not good for our bodies when eaten regularly. But we all like something yummy too! Try to limit these meals to special occasions and really enjoy them at that point.
- Remember, reducing your consumption of ultra-processed foods is a gradual process, and it’s okay to start small. Making small changes and sticking to them over time can lead to big improvements in your overall health and well-being.