The dangers of ultra processed foods
Posted on 30th October 2019 at 07:46
Eating a healthy diet – along with drinking plenty of water – are, to us, such obvious things to do. Not only are they simple, they’re one of the cornerstones of good health. After all, if we don’t put the correct “fuel” in our tanks, how on earth can we expect our bodies to function in the way we would like?
Despite this, many people still seem to find the subject of what to eat completely overwhelming. As a result, they’re all too easily swayed by the latest “scientific discovery” or scare story in the media. Not forgetting the perennially persuasive advertising and confusing labels. “Healthy”, “natural”, “low fat”, “low sugar” and the like.
Given all of this, it’s hardly surprising that many fall back on the offerings of their local shop, whether a supermarket, 24 hour garage or convenience store. But, sadly, there’s always a price to pay, although it may not become apparent for many years – or decades…
In recent years, the amount of pre prepared – or processed – food consumed by people has rocketed alarmingly. And we’re not talking about your favourite take away or fast food. A once in a while treat. Rather that eaten every day and bought locally, often on the way home from a long day.
If you’re in any doubt, next time you go and do your weekly shop take a moment to notice just how little space is taken up by genuinely raw ingredients. Fresh fruit, vegetables and salad, raw meat and fish, milk, flour, etc. There may be many aisles of food – and we’re using that word in the broadest possible sense (!) – but the vast majority of it is processed in some way.
Some is minimally processed. Foods like milk, some dried pastas and meats. Even still bottled water comes under this heading, as it’s filtered before being bottled. As does much fruit, vegetables and even eggs, which are all cleaned and prepared in some way before reaching the shelves.
Next come processed foods, often based on more traditional ways of preserving food for the winter. Cured meats or cheeses, dried fruit, canning, freezing and preserves. It also includes traditionally made bread and many other baked goods.
And, finally ultra processed foods. These bear little resemblance to the original ingredients and are designed to be convenient both to the supermarket and the consumer. In other words, have a long shelf life and appeal to the taste buds. This means that they’re high in flavour enhancers such as sugar and / or salt, as well as additives and preservatives. Finally, they must be easy to eat. Either straight away or after heating in the microwave – don’t even get us started on that one (!) – or oven.
However, in the rush for convenience, they ‘re also low in nutrients, while being high in calories. Little wonder they don’t give a feeling of fullness, leading to over eating and obesity. They’re also linked to the alarming rise in Type 2 Diabetes which, in many ways, is a symptom of poor nutrition. Of particular concern is Type 2 Diabetes which is now being found in much younger people, rather than those in middle age AND has been linked to a high carb diet. We’ve written about this topic several times in recent years and the posts can be found here, here and here.
More generally, research has linked ultra processed foods and poor diets to Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer. It has also been found to play a part in increased rates of Depression and suicide, particularly in younger people….
At the same time, poor nutritional levels have heralded a surge in chronic, nutritionally related problems, many of which were thought to have been safely consigned to history. The recent resurgence of Ricketts is an example of this and a sign that something is seriously wrong…
It’s ironic that, at a time when there are more cookery programmes on television than ever before, there’s so little knowledge about what actually constitutes a healthy diet. Let alone how to easily prepare it.
At the same time, the nutritional information on food packaging – and menus – is increasing, but few people actually take the time to read it. Let alone understand it. So how on earth can they use it to make a conscious decision on what they’re planning to eat?
All too often, a favourite snack or “meal deal” provides a huge amount of calories – 30 to 50% of daily requirements – while giving little in the way of nutrition in return. Even worse, it doesn’t leave you feeling full for long, leading to a cycle of grazing and overeating.
Having talked to many clients about this topic over the years, we’ve noticed how a couple of assumptions about eating healthily keep them making all the wrong choices.
The first is that eating healthily is complicated and time consuming. Like any skill in life, it can be as simple or complicated as you want to make it. It doesn’t take long to master the basics and many satisfying meals can be prepared and cooked in less time than it takes to heat a ready meal in the oven.
And, if you want an easy way to stop being tempted by all the wrong things when you’re out and about, just have a small bag of mixed nuts and dried fruit with you to fill the gap. A packet of oat cakes, a banana or apple work just as well. Oh and how about a bottle of water? By having the right things easily available, you’re less likely to grab a highly processed, sugary or carb rich treat as a stop gap. It’s simple but works, IF you do it.
The second is that it’s going to much more expensive. Again, if you’re going for Masterchef standards (!), buying all sorts of unusual or rare ingredients then it can be. But, the store cupboard basics aren’t expensive and many are sufficient for a number of meals, so reducing their cost drastically. It’s more a case of thinking ahead to what you’re going to eat for the next few days – or week – so that meals can be planned and any left overs incorporated into another meal.
Before we finish for today, we must also mention another common misconception we hear regularly. This is that, if it’s in the shops, it must be safe to eat – or good for you. Sadly, this level of trust is completely misplaced. While it may sound rather cynical, the sad fact is that ANY product is only in the shops because customers buy it AND the company concerned makes a profit. If it wasn’t profitable, it wouldn’t be on the shelves. In other words, it must be cheap to produce and sold for a decent profit. End of story.
So, what’s the answer?
Well, as usual, it’s not complicated. A little thought about what you’re going to eat, coupled with a little advance planning and you’re well ahead.
As always, the choice is yours.
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