Ultra-processed foods (UPF) have been in the headlines a lot recently, as scientific understanding grows about just how damaging they can be to the body. Most people already know that a diet containing a lot of saturated fat, sugar, and salt is bad news for their health, but have the goalposts been moved?
According to a 2019 study reported in The Guardian, UPFs make up 57% of the average UK diet. It seems as though eating well is potentially more complicated and time-consuming than ever before. Here’s a look at exactly what UPFs are, and how we can ensure that we are getting the right balance of vitamins, minerals and nutrients in our diet.
- How can you identify UPFs?
UPFs don’t contain any warnings on the label, so it’s important to understand what the term means and how to identify them. Almost everything we eat is processed to some extent to improve the flavour, texture or shelf life.
However, UPFs contain ingredients that you probably don’t even recognise, because they are not foods at all but edible substances that are designed to make the food more appealing, long-lasting, and unfortunately, addictive. They often contain flavour enhancers that are primed to tickle our tastebuds and leave us wanting more.
Even some foods that are carefully marketed to have a healthy image, such as muesli and cereal bars, can be classified as UPFs. It is often down to what is added to the food rather than the food or ingredients themselves that make it a UPF.
- What are the dangers of UPFs?
Eating a diet high in UPFs is thought to increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. They can also make it more likely that you will gain weight, suffer from digestive problems, and have low energy levels, poor sleep, and anxiety.
- How can you minimise your intake of UPFs?
In theory, we would all like to have the time and budget to prepare three meals a day from scratch using only fresh organic ingredients from farm shops. However, the reality is that most of us lead busy lives and occasionally convenience foods feel like they are our only option.
In this case, it’s advisable to include at least some element of minimally processed food in your diet, such as a bowl of chopped fruit and plain yoghurt or a salad with a light dressing of olive oil.
Another way to ensure that you are not missing out on the essential nutrients and vitamins provided by whole foods is to include natural unprocessed supplements in your diet. For example, fruit and vegetable powders are powdered forms of some of the most nutritionally rich natural substances, such as berries, seaweed, roots, and plant extracts.
These powders retain almost all of the nutritional value of the original produce, and can be sprinkled on salads, soups, or stews, or added to hot drinks, cereals or smoothies.