What foods are ultra-processed and how to eat less of them

by Rajesh Kaur

Ultra-processed food, a term used to describe food with additives and preservatives, has raised concerns among researchers regarding its impact on health. From metabolic issues and sleep apnea to cognitive decline, heart disease, and weight management, the consumption of ultra-processed foods can have adverse effects on our well-being. In this article, we will delve into what exactly ultra-processed foods are and provide tips on how to reduce their consumption.

So, what exactly are ultra-processed foods? Harvard Health Publishing defines ultra-processed foods as those that are “made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats.” These foods often contain artificial colors, flavors, and stabilizers. They are industrial creations that are overly processed, convenient, and cheap, with a long shelf life. Examples of ultra-processed foods include potato chips, frozen meals, soft drinks, chicken nuggets, and sweetened breakfast cereals.

To differentiate between processed and ultra-processed foods, it is important to understand that processing involves various methods such as cutting, steaming, or baking, while ultra-processing goes beyond these methods. For instance, a whole potato that is baked becomes a processed food, but frying it with salt to make french fries transforms it into an ultra-processed food. Processed foods may include homemade bread, frozen vegetables, canned tuna, and frozen meat, while ultra-processed foods consist of boxed pasta, powdered soup, sweetened cream cheese, and other similar products.

Now that we have a better understanding of ultra-processed foods, let’s explore some ways to reduce their consumption:

1. Find an easy meal to make: Instead of reaching for frozen meals or take-out, develop go-to meals that you can quickly prepare using fresh ingredients. Scrambling eggs and pairing them with fruit or throwing together a salad with vegetables are great options. Preparing a variety of roasted vegetables at the beginning of the week can also be a time-saving option.

2. Switch out your snack: Replace packaged cookies and chips with healthier alternatives like carrots or celery sticks.

3. Stop drinking sweetened beverages: Sugary drinks can contribute to the intake of ultra-processed foods. Try making fruit-infused water at home using fresh fruits and herbs for a refreshing and healthier option.

4. Don’t buy ultra-processed foods: Avoid purchasing ultra-processed foods altogether. This may require a change in your eating habits and a commitment to cooking meals from scratch or opting for less-processed options when eating out.

5. Switch out your meat: Some meats, such as fresh chicken or ground turkey, are less processed compared to ultra-processed alternatives. Consider incorporating more beans and lentils into your diet or opting for less processed meat options.

6. Cut out added sugars: Pay attention to labels and try to avoid products with added sugars. Make sauces and dressings at home to have more control over the ingredients.

7. Make your favorite foods less processed: If you enjoy a burger and fries, consider baking or air-frying the potatoes instead of deep-frying them. You can also make your own bun or wrap the burger in lettuce for a healthier alternative.

By following these tips, you can reduce your consumption of ultra-processed foods and make healthier choices for your overall well-being. Remember, small changes in your diet can have a significant impact on your health in the long run.

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