Ultra-processed foods: what exactly are they?

You can’t escape the topic of ultra-processed foods at the moment and for once I’m glad that the media is making noise about a serious food issue. 56% of the energy intake of adults in the UK is in the form of Ultra- Processed Food (UPF) and worryingly it is estimated that this figure is significantly higher for children. This is not a new topic for nutritionists like me – we’ve been concerned about it for decades,  but the government has issued very little guidance around the safety of UPFs and is still very quiet despite mounting evidence that they are detrimental to health.

doughnuts ultra processed food

What constitutes Ultra Processed Food?

Food can be divided into three categories:

  • wholefoods (foods in their natural state such as vegetables, fruit, grains such as oats),
  • processed foods (foods that have been minimally processed such as tinned kidney beans, quality bread, oatcakes, good quality cheese) – these foods would typically have a maximum of three ingredients – perhaps salt for example
  • ultra-processed foods (foods that have been processed to extend their shelf-life, enhance flavour or mouthfeel such as ready meals, shop bought cakes, flavoured yoghurts, crisps, processed meats such as ham and sausages).

I watched the Panorama programme which was broadcast on Monday night. It’s less than 30 minutes long and a worthwhile use of your time. Click here to watch: BBC iPlayer – Panorama – Ultra-Processed Food: A Recipe for Ill Health?. The programme details the research that is being conducted on the health implications of the ingredients that are commonly used in UPFs, such as artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers. Links have been established between these substances and cancer and chronic diseases such as diabetes. It truly is a ticking time-bomb with huge implications for our health and particularly the health of our children.

We need to start moving back to choosing wholefoods and minimally processed foods. We need to spend more of our time preparing and cooking foods. We need to educate our children about the long-term implications of consuming UPFs and provide them with healthier alternatives. We need to accept that what we eat has a huge impact on our health, both mentally and physically. Rant over…

My mission is to help people experience the huge health benefits that result from eating real food, but I appreciate that this can be a challenge, especially with children and teenagers. To address this I am creating a programme to support you and your family to reduce your reliance on these foods. If this is something that you would be interested in please click here to join the waiting list and you will be the first to hear about it.

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