Ultra-processed foods (UPF) are part of our daily food choices, often unknowingly posing risks to our health.
UPFs are foods that have been heavily processed during production. They usually contain five or more ingredients and will have been prepared with food additives to alter their taste, texture and color or to extend their shelf life.
The Daily Mail followed up with a very interesting book, Ultra-Processed People, by Chris van Tuleken, which highlights just how widespread and harmful UPFs can be.
The increasing number of highly processed foods in our diets has been linked to obesity. It is also thought to play a role in the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease – and even in the development of certain cancers.
Researchers from Imperial College London recently published the results of a groundbreaking study of the diets of 200,000 middle-aged people in the UK and found that higher UPF intake is associated to a higher risk of cancer, especially ovarian and brain cancer. .
Dr Kiara Chang, an Imperial researcher who was involved in the study, told Good Health that the level of UPF in the average British diet is “extremely high and concerning”.
Part of the problem is that these foods are so ubiquitous that they can slip into our diets without our realizing it – even some seemingly healthy foods contain processed ingredients.
Southampton dietitian and nutrition consultant Priya Tiu highlighted the usual hyper-processed foods at each meal and suggested healthier, less-processed alternatives.
Ultra-processed foods (UPF): Flavored cereals, cereal bars, mass-produced sandwich bread, flavored yoghurts, fruit juice drinks, bacon bits, charcuterie.
“Some cereals, including cornflakes, are minimally processed, but when the manufacturer starts adding flavors, colors and lots of sugar, they become UPF.”
Cereals high in fiber and without added sugar are a good choice, according to the nutritionist,
Fruit or granola yogurt is often considered healthy, but although plain yogurt is minimally processed, if sweeteners, preservatives, stabilizers, or colorings are added, then it becomes ultra-processed.
Granola bars that contain nuts, seeds, oats, and dried fruit can also be UPF. Always read the label. In general, says Tiu, if a product contains at least one element that is never or rarely used in your kitchen, it will be hyper-processed.
What about toast? Industrial breads made only from wheat flour, water, salt and yeast are processed, while those whose ingredient list also includes emulsifiers or colorings are ultra-processed.
Popular granola bars are UPF and should be consumed in moderation. “Don’t eat it every day unless you’re really in a hurry,” Tiu points out.
The type of milk you consume with your cereal, or in your tea or coffee, also affects the amount of UPF you consume.
“The cow’s milk is pasteurized, but nothing is added,” says Tiu. “But some oat milks and other plant-based milks are considered UPF, so it’s best to use them sparingly or stick to dairy, which is minimally processed,” she pointed out. .
Fruit drinks often contain minimal amounts of fruit juice, but sugar is high on the ingredient list, along with colorings and flavorings.
Yesprocessed foods (UPF) : Store-bought sandwiches, ready-to-use sushi and ready-to-use salads
Millions of people enjoy store-bought sandwiches every day, and while many contain whole, fresh ingredients, most have additives to enhance flavors and extend shelf life, so they’re UPF.
“The perfect sandwich is the one you make yourself from fresh ingredients,” says Tiu.
“Avoid highly processed mayonnaise and sauces and instead opt for condiments like mustard or pesto that are less processed.”
The type of bread also makes a big difference.
“Mass-produced packaged white bread (even whole-wheat) with a long shelf life is cheaper, but highly processed and very low in fiber”
“Prefer freshly baked breads or those with seeds or oats”, notes the nutritionist.
Tiu points out, “Meanwhile, along with store-bought salads like Caesar salad, cooked chicken, and salad dressings, they contain a lot of sugar, additives, and flavorings that help make food tastier and keep it fresh. Longer”.
“Instead, make a house salad with different vegetables for a variety of nutrients and a simple dressing.”
For the more sophisticated, fresh sushi contains rice, vinegar, fish and dried seaweed, but prepackaged sushi may contain fructose and glucose syrup, as well as acidity regulators and salt.
Yesprocessed foods (UPF) : Ready burgers, chicken nuggets, fish cakes, frozen fries, instant soups.
Popular brands of ready-made pasta sauce are quick and convenient, but check the label for ingredients you don’t recognize. Emulsifiers and preservatives could turn your homemade dish into UPF.
“For a nutritious homemade tomato sauce, sauté the diced onion in a little oil and add a can of tomatoes and tomato paste with spices and garlic to taste.”
Regular white pasta is processed (but not UPF) so it’s good to have — but watch out for flavored pastas with different fillings or those labeled as ‘ready to cook’,” says Tiu.
“There are plenty of alternatives to pasta that seem healthier, including some made with lentil flour, but check the label to make sure they don’t contain unidentifiable chemicals that make them UPF,” a- she added.
Avoid frequent use of bouillon cubes which often contain high levels of salt and chemical flavor enhancers which can turn your healthy home dish into UPF.
What about alcoholic drinks?
As for fermented alcoholic beverages, such as beer, cider or wine, they can be consumed in moderation. These are processed, but do not count as UPF. These can therefore be drunk with fewer regrets
Conversely, gin and tonic, whiskey and rum are highly processed as they contain additives as part of the production process,” adds the nutritionist, warning of the serious dangers of UPF.