Understanding Ultra Processed Foods

June 25, 2024

What Are Ultra Processed Foods?

Ultra processed foods are items that have been heavily altered in a factory, using ingredients like flavor enhancers, colorings, emulsifiers, and other artificial ingredients. These foods are designed to be convenient, highly palatable, and visually appealing, but don't offer much in the way of nutrition. Another way to think of it is if you look at the ingredient list, and you don't recognize a majority of them as food or it sounds like a chemical, it's likely ultra processed.

The NOVA Food Classification System

This system sorts foods into four groups based on how much they are processed:

  1. Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Foods: Fresh or lightly altered foods like fruits, vegetables, milk, and meat.
  2. Processed Culinary Ingredients: Ingredients used in cooking that come from minimally processed foods, like butter, oil, salt, and sugar.
  3. Processed Foods: Foods made by adding ingredients to minimally processed foods, like bread, cheese, and pickles.
  4. Ultra Processed Foods: Foods made mostly in factories with many added ingredients, like chips, cookies, and soda.

Now when it comes to the foods we eat on a regular basis, many will fall into different categories. None of us would think to eat uncooked chicken (technically unprocessed), so this is more of a general guide than a must-do list.

Why Avoid Ultra Processed Foods?

Eating too many ultra processed foods can lead to health problems, including weight gain. Studies show that people who eat a lot of these foods tend to consume more calories and gain weight quicker than those who eat fresh, whole foods.

The problem that comes along is when ultra processed foods become a majority of our daily intake. And we're seeing this does have a pretty significant affect on the gut microbiome both short- and long-term.

Now, something being ultra processed doesn't make it an entirely bad food. It's just means we need to recognize what these ultra processed foods are in our diet, so that we can try to have less of them. Think of protein bars, protein shakes, or frozen meals - they'd likely fall into the ultra processed category but these often can help us along the way to achieving our health and weight loss goals.

Tips for Eating Healthier

  1. Spot Ultra Processed Foods: Look through your kitchen for snacks and drinks like chips, crackers, cookies, and sodas. It's okay to keep them when you want a treat every once in a while, but these really shouldn't be our always foods.
  2. Find Healthier Swaps:
    • Instead of chips and crackers, grab crunchy veggies with hummus, nuts, or whole grain crackers.
    • Instead of sugary snacks, choose fresh fruit, yogurt, or nuts.
    • Instead of processed breads, buy whole grain bread or make your own.
  1. Eat More Whole Foods: Add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to your meals to cut down on ultra processed foods.
Disclaimer: This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that have read on this blog or in any linked materials. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or before starting new diet, supplement, medication, exercise, or other health plan. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or emergency services immediately. The opinions and views expressed on this blog and website belong that only of the author of that blog article and not any organizations they may represent.
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