Ultra Processed Foods: The Price You Pay For Convenience!
Processed foods are the foods which have been either cooked, canned, frozen, packaged or changed in the nutritional composition by fortifying them, preserving or preparing them in different ways. Any time we cook, bake or prepare food, we're processing food. Processed food ranges from minimally processed to ultra-processed or the heavily processed food. The most heavily processed foods often are pre-made meals including frozen foods and microwaveable dinners.
Minimally processed foods are the ones which are similar to their fresh, whole form. The processing done to these foods is usually done for preservation. Examples are vegetable oils, sugar, salt, honey, butter, etc. In comparison,ultraprocessed foods are the foods which are made up of multiple ingredients, some of which aren't decipherableto many of us. These foods contain added preservatives, fat, salt or sugar to increase the shelf life of the food and these additives also make the foodstempting and likable. Some examples of these foods are ready to eat foods, frozen meat products like nuggets and sausages, sugar sweetened beverages and salted packaged snacks.
Nutritionally speaking, minimally processed foods offer beneficial nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. But, most of the ultra-processed foods have minimal naturally occurring beneficial nutrients and they may be fortified with nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber or protein. However, these foods are energy dense or have more calories as compared to thehealthy nutrients present in the food.
Nevertheless, ultra-processed foods are not only convenient, but also cheap. And since, they are easily available and easier to cook they are a choice for many today.
So, what is the problem with consuming theultra processed foods?
Consuming these foods on a regular basis increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, irritable bowl syndrome and cancer. Here are a few reasons why these foods are a risk to health:
Added sugars in any product means that these sugars aren’t naturally occurring, but have been added externally.It is not only in the sweet foods that one finds sugars but also in other packaged ultra processed foods. Most of the brown breads have added sugar to give the colour instead of the bread being a whole fibre bread. Sugar is also added to the foods which have low fat or salt, as it improves the taste and the consistency of the product. Excess sugar in our system is not good for the health as it can lead to increased weight gain, obesity, increased risk of diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels, and many other health conditions.
Processed foods are the major suppliers of sodium in our diets because salt is the most commonly added preservative to the foods to increase the shelf life and also to enhance the taste of the food. For example ready to eat soups, packaged salty snacks, chicken nuggets, processed meals are some foods which have a high sodium content in them. Too much salt intake can lead to water retention in the body, increased blood pressure, kidney related problems, stroke, etc.
Processing any food improves the shelf life of food by eliminating all the harmful micro organisms or bacteria. In order to do so, preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilizers, etc are added which are known to have an impact on health too.
Since these foods are high in saturated and trans fats, regular consumption of these foods increases the risk of cardio vascular disease. Fat is added to improve the flavour of these foods.
The nutrients in ultra processed foods are minimal. These foods are mainly devoid of fiber and beneficial nutrients like vitamins and minerals that are lost because of the extensive refining, heating or freezing of the foods. However, these foods could have added nutrients to enhance diminished quality of food but these are not natural.
The best way to identify these foods is to learn to read the food labels since most of these foods are packaged. Remember, unprocessed and minimally processed foods often come in no packages. On the food label look out for the ingredients that are likely to be found in the kitchen or if not at least known to you. The packages that have a long list of ingredients sounding like chemicals indicate that these are ultra processed foods. Once identified, we need to consume them minimally since these foods have an adverse impact on health. Convenience is important but at what cost? So, strike a balance by eating simple home cooked meals at all times and reserving the intake of the ultra processed foods to occasional eats. It’s not about cutting them off completely from your diet but just being aware of how much of these foods is good for you. If one is on a weight management program or a clinical nutrition program for an ailment then, ultra processed foods need to be restricted or avoided in the diet for better results. Connect with the best dietitian in Mumbai to design a balanced diet with minimally processed foods.