It’s not sodium or saturated fat or sugar, in isolation, that’s making us fat and unhealthy. It’s our increasing reliance on ready-to-eat, ready-to-drink and ready-to-heat foods made predominantly – or entirely – from industrial substances.
Ultraprocessed foods contain little, if any, whole foods and are typically high in calories, fatty, salty, sugary and contain numerous additives. They’re low in or lacking fibre, protective phytochemicals and vitamins and minerals. (Some of them, though, may be enriched with nutrients lost during processing.)
Is your kitchen home to ultraprocessed foods?
Industrial foods include chicken nuggets and strips, cereal bars, granola bars, fruit leather, breakfast cereals, frozen waffles, cookies, potato chips, pretzels, crackers, soft drinks, candy, processed meats, frozen dinners, instant noodles, frozen pizza and more. Bread and baked goods become ultraprocessed when their ingredients include substances not used in homemade baking such as hydrogenated oil, whey, emulsifiers and other additives.
Higher intakes of ultraprocessed foods have been correlated with higher obesity rates, metabolic syndrome and unhealthy blood-cholesterol levels. Recent research also suggests that eating multiple servings of ultraprocessed foods each day increases the likelihood you’ll become overweight or obese.
How to eat less ultraprocessed food
Use the following tips to gradually remove ultraprocessed foods from your diet and, in the process, increase your intake of nutrient-rich whole and minimally processed foods.
Plan in advance
Make a meal plan for the week to avoid the temptation of highly processed prepared foods. Take snacks with you to prevent hitting the vending machine or coffee shop.
Stock your fridge, freezer and pantry with staples that are easy to turn into a quick meal (e.g. canned tuna and salmon, canned beans and lentils, eggs, cottage cheese, frozen edamame, frozen vegetables).
Reserve time on the weekend to cook foods that can replace some of the ultra-processed foods you rely on. Granola, soup, pasta sauce, muffins, cookies and energy bars are good examples.
Roast a fresh turkey breast for salads and sandwiches. Or, prepare a lasagna and freeze it for later use.
Read ingredient lists
When buying packaged foods, as often as possible choose ones with ingredients you’d find in your own pantry. Ingredients such as palm oil shortening, high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, modified milk ingredients, disodium guanylate, caramel colour and artificial flavours, for example, aren’t found in a recipe book.
Paying attention to ingredient lists will make you keenly aware that ultraprocessed foods aren’t foods at all.
Swap your snacks
Replace highly processed savoury snacks like Pringles, Doritos and Cheetos with basic kettle chips (potatoes, vegetable oil, salt), blue corn chips (blue corn, vegetable oil, salt), root vegetable chips or bean chips.
Even better, snack on a handful of nuts, popcorn (not the microwaveable kind) or homemade kale chips.
Just ditch it
Stop buying altogether sugar-sweetened and diet soft drinks. That includes pop, iced tea, lemonade, energy drinks and fruit drinks. Sports drinks should be consumed only during longer bouts of exercise.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.