We know that processed food is bad for us, right? We’ve all learned the lesson that the ‘Frankenfood’ churned out of factories contains excess sugar, salt and fat. And we know we should be avoiding it.
But did you know there is another, more important category of processed food that you should be aware of?
Ultra processed food: what is that?
Ultra processed food is a category of food as measured by the NOVO food classification system. This classification system is accepted by global health agencies and used world-wide by researchers studying the effects of refined and processed foods on our bodies.
It’s these ultra processed foods that have been linked to disease, weight gain and obestity. And while studies have shown that the link between ingesting these products and ill effects is there, the actual mechanisms by which it happens is still a bit murky.
Take for example the study that had participants eat one of two diets. The first diet was made entirely of wholefoods. The second was made up of processed foods but matched the wholefood diet for nutrition and contained equal amounts of protein, fat, salt, and energy. Despite this, the ultra processed food group gained weight. Weird, huh?
Meanwhile a study out of France linked ultra processed foods with cardiovascular disease, while a Spanish study showed that a diet high in ultra processed foods increased the risk of early death.
How to avoid ultra processed food?
But for many of us it is impractical to totally cut processed foods out of our diet. We can’t make everything we eat from scratch and convenience is key when it comes to putting a meal on the table at the end of a workday. That’s why you should try, where possible, to sort the processed from the ultra processed when shopping.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Does it come in a packet? If it’s not contained within a vibrant peel all its own then you’ve got the first clue you’re eating something ultra processed.
- A loooong list of ingredients that may include such tasty additives as: hydrogenated or interesterified oils, maltodextrin, invert sugar and high fructose corn syrup
- Food dyes and colour stabilisers, flavours and flavour enhancers
- Processing aids such as carbonating, firming, bulking and anti-bulking, de-foaming, anti-caking and glazing agents, emulsifiers, sequestrants and humectants