We think we know which foods are healthy and those that aren’t don’t we? In a recent survey on behalf of the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), 70% of British adults didn’t know what they term “ultra-processed” meant or which foods fall into this category.
Confusion is rife with ultra-processed food including the things we know we should cut back on such as cakes, biscuits, white bread, but also include foods such as a tin of baked beans or low fat fruit yoghurt or a tomato ready-made pasta sauce which may not be the worst things to put in your trolley and could be part of a healthy, balanced diet.
By educating ourselves on how to recognise foods we should avoid as much as possible and placing an emphasis on healthier food choices, a healthy balance can be achieved without having to slave for hours in the kitchen.
When considering what to put in our shopping trolley, let’s find out what is classed as ultra-processed? What foods should we be eating more of? What are the negative implications of this dark corner of the food industry that represents a whopping 30% of the daily calories consumed in the average diet in the UK! That honestly scares me. These foods weren’t even in existence 50 years ago.
What is a healthy diet?
If you ask any Nutritional Therapist the question “what constitutes a healthy diet”, they won’t say Low Carb, High Protein, Keto, Low Fat etc., etc., they are going to say that the healthiest diet is “a diet that is unprocessed”. Getting back to cooking from scratch using whole fruit, veg, wholegrains and unprocessed foods is going to give us the best nutrients, but also gives us control over how much salt, sugar, fats and additives are in our food.
What are UPF’s?
“ultra-processed” foods (UPF) are not aligned with our biology. These foods weren’t even in existence just 50 years ago. They are difficult for us to breakdown and utilise and are a burden on our body systems. These new-engineered foods are made in factories by food technicians by adding a drop of flavour, a hint of colour and a chemical to stabilise and prolong the life of food. A good example is that awful, orangey-coloured processed sliced cheese that goes in burgers! Tim Spector did an experiment once and left it on the windowsill to see how long it took to degrade and rot, guess what….it didn’t! it remained the same a year later. That is nasty stuff we don’t want clogging up our digestive system and cells.
What do UPF’s do to us?
“Some of the adverse health outcomes from UPFs consumption was associated with overall cardiovascular diseases, coronary heart diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, overweight and obesity, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, overall cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, gestational obesity, adolescent asthma and wheezing, and frailty” Abstract https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12937-020-00604-1
Diets high in processed foods is associated with higher risk of disease due to the high sugar and salt content added to make them tasty, enticing and moreish! The biggest problem with these foods is the impact they have on our blood sugar levels which increases release of insulin; our fat storage hormone increasing the risk of developing obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes. Download your FREE guide to the worst of the worst UPF’s here
UPF’s increase fat storage
As we eat our blood sugar level rises, the pancreas releases insulin to deal with the glucose in the blood and lock it away in cells so we can use it later for energy. Over time, with repeated exposure over and over to these foods, blood glucose levels stay high and insulin is over-produced and our cells become de-sensitized to insulin leaving glucose floating around with nowhere to go…until your body does a very clever thing and pops it into a fat cell to keep us safe; voila! Weight gain, fat around the middle.
UPF have a stronger effect on this process due to the nature of the composition of these foods, creating a stronger insulin response, hence more weight gain, obesity and higher risk of disease. This misunderstood problem is the heart of my healthy eating programme so that you can finally gain control over these hormones and over your weight and health. Find out more here: Eat Better Feel better.
UPF’s and Gut health
There have been dozens of studies done on the affects that a diet high in UPF has on our gut and our gut microbiome. They disrupt the balance of good bacteria in the gut causing low-grade systemic inflammation and oxidative stress which have been linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s Disease. This may be because a diet high in UPF is likely to also be low in fresh fruit and vegetables and fibre which is critical for healthy bowel movements and eliminating toxic waste. Low fibre diets are highly correlated with higher risk of dysbiosis and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. I see this all of the time in my own clinic with the clients I help to resolve “IBS” commonly suffer with anxiety/depression at the same time. You can read more about this link and how I can help here in my blog Anxiety and The Gut.
Which foods are minimally processed and which are ultra processed?
It is a minefield out there! Not only have supermarkets given over aisles to UPF;s (just look at the amount of cereal boxes!) and conveniently placed some at the end of aisles to add to our trolleys for those last minute knee-jerk bad choices that your kids beg you for! These foods can cause havoc with our health. Here is what to look out for so you can become a label-boss and make healthier choices.
So let’s get clear on what unprocessed foods are. They are foods that look exactly like their name: an orange is an orange, a cabbage is a cabbage etc., fruit, vegetable, beans, pulses, eggs, fish, meat, milk, seeds, nuts, fresh herbs. That was quite simple. Let’s move on..
Then there is the minimally processed group which means a food has gone through a process to make it either ready to eat or last longer i.e. pasteurised milk, dried herbs, frozen peas, crushed chilli, yoghurt (naturally fermented) etc. but key note is that there are no added ingredients.
Processed foods can begin to enter dodgy ground from a health perspective in this group with added sugars, fats, salts and flavours to enhance shelf life and taste i..e. cured and smoked meats/fish, bacon, bread, tinned sweetcorn with added sugar, salted nuts etc. There are also refined carbohydrates such as white sugar, and white flour which have been processed removing the brown exterior of wheat grain which contains valuable nutrients; magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and fibre.
The white flour and white sugar used in so many processed foods are one of the biggest health hazards as they drive up blood sugar levels and insulin which is the root cause of the obesity epidemic our nation is facing. This can get confusing for many when it comes to trying to work out which carbohydrates are good and those that are bad. We know that fruit and vegetables are also carbohydrates but these are good for us. To get my help and guideance with this you can download the free guide below or join my healthy eating programme where I will walk you through the minefield every step of the way. Eat Better Feel Better.
The Big, Bad; Ultra-processed
The big bad Ultra-processed food category means the food usually contain ingredients that you wouldn’t normally add if you made a homemade version. Names of these ingredients are words we often can’t pronounce or recognise as many will be chemicals used as flavourings, stabilisers, colourings, sweeteners and preservatives.
Examples are pre-packaged meals/takeaway meals, sausages, salami, soft drinks, fizzy drinks, cakes, buns, pastries, biscuits, industrialised bread, gravy, sauces, desserts, yoghurts. These foods do not exist in nature without a helping hand from a laboratory. The worst culprit which targets our youngsters are the drinks! They are even labelled with names/words which imply they are healthy for us i.e. “sugar free”
A further example is a plain yoghurt which is minimally processed but becomes ultra-processed with the addition of stabilisers, colourings but may be sold with an enticing picture of fresh fruit on the front.
Watch out for unusually strong coloured foods i.e. bright pink strawberry yoghurt. These can contain colourings that have some evidence of crossing the blood-brain barrier and disrupting neurotransmitters and causing adverse effects especially apparent in children diagnosed with ADHD, ADD, autism. This is demonstrated in an article written by Bernard Weiss in 2012 Synthetic Food Colors and Neurobehavioral Hazards: The View from Environmental Health Research
“For certain susceptible children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other problem behaviors, the data suggest that their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3261946/
Which one is worse?
Take spreadable butter as an example; here is the ingredient list from a well-known spreadable butter:
Water, Vegetable Oils in varying proportions (42%) (Rapeseed, Palm, Sunflower), Buttermilk (5%) (Milk), Salt (1.4%), Emulsifiers (Sunflower Lecithin, Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Preservative (Potassium Sorbate), Acid (Citric Acid), Flavourings, Colour (Carotenes), Vitamin D
Compare this to a pat of real butter, which just contains milk and salt.
Download your free guide today:
Ultra-processed yet still healthy?
There are some foods that are commonly consumed from the UPF category that are considered by the majority as “healthy”; baked beans, alternative milks, soy products. Baked beans are a great source of fibre, magnesium, protein and can certainly be used as part of a healthy diet but some are loaded with sugar. The main rule is to check labels for the amount of sugar “per serving” and number of ingredients and remember that less is more.
An ingredient label showing more than five ingredients is likely to be ultra-processed. Foods that have a long shelf life will contain preservatives. However, long-life milk, which is pasteurised at an ultra-high temperature (UHT) isn’t classified as ultra-processed because it doesn’t contain preservatives. Check labels for common preservatives such as sodium benzoate, nitrate and sulphite.
Take back control! Healthy eating with me
If you have lost your way through lockdown, or still confused over what to eat and want a healthy re-set with heaps of healthy inspiration and want to lose some weight without dieting then join my next online healthy eating programme Eat Better Feel Better programme today. I will be there every step of the way to guide you on what to eat, what not to eat and how to make these healthy habits stick so you never have to diet again!
Previous members who joined the programme last year have lost a stone and kept it off. This is life changing programme and you only need to do it once. You can listen to a previous member Simone here to find out how it helped them.
If you would like to work with me privately, and would like to find out how I can help you please get in touch for a friendly non-obligatory chat or book your consultation today. Book call now
Disclaimer: Any information or guidance provided is not a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of your doctor or healthcare provider.