Ultra Processed Foods


via Wikimedia Commons

Many ultra processed unhealthy foods

Eating a healthy diet is a necessity to maintain a healthy body and lifestyle. However, many healthy foods are considered to be processed/altered but, but it’s not what people think.

For example, organic dried beans and frozen vegetables are considered to be processed. Even when foods are blanched and put in the freezer, they are altered as soon as the food is blanched. People would consider organic extra virgin olive oil, steel cut oats, and peanuts-only peanut butter components of a healthy diet even though they are all processed.

A classification system called NOVA developed by a group of international food scientists and researchers splits foods into four groups. The first groups are minimally altered foods (such as vegetables, meats, and milk), which is an essential part of a healthy diet. Processed culinary ingredients consist of items that improve the flavor of foods that fall in the first category (examples: herbs, oils, and spices). Once this group of food is added to other foods and are packaged, the food is now considered altered (such as simple bread, tofu, and cheese). The last category is ultra-processed foods. These foods go through processes, including extrusion, milling, molding, and more. Another thing is that these foods contain many added ingredients and are highly manipulated.

A 2016 study published in the medical journal, BMJ Open, defined ultra-processed foods as “industrial formulations which, besides salt, sugar, oils, and fats, include substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations.”

When people say “don’t eat processed foods,” what they mean is ultra-processed foods. There is a difference between the two terms, and studies say Americans are eating more ultra-processed foods then what is suggested. This could lead to excessive sugar consumption (which is often unrealized) and comes with some health risks.

One good example would be naan bread. Homemade naan bread would be made of altered ingredients such as butter, flour, milk, salt, and yeast. This is different store-bought naan bread as it would contain the same ingredients as the homemade version but with additives such as dextrose (a type of sugar).

Diets that are heavy in ultra-processed foods contain a lot of added preservatives as well as an overabundance in sugar. With these foods, sugars can make up 21.1% of the calories in the food while only 2.4% of altered foods’ calories or made of sugar. This is alarming as the USDA says that sugar should only be 10% of the average person’s calories.

Some ultra-processed foods are candy, chips, pizza, and soft drinks. These foods aren’t sufficient in the beneficial nutrients that the body requires, which is why diet has a significant impact on overall health. A recent study in France found out that people who increased their daily intake of ultra-processed food by 10% had an increased 14% chance of early death.

One theory thinks that these foods contain high levels of sodium, sugar, and fat, which as linked to obesity. Another believes that the high temperatures that are used to process the food can produce new contaminants. The last reason is that BPA may leech into the food.

Even though more studies are needed to know precisely why ultra-processed foods have a considerable impact on health, it’s certain that the benefits are outweighed by the consequences when it comes to eating them.