Sunday, September 1, 2019

Ultraprocessed food – what is it?

We all have heard of processed food.  If it comes out of a bag, box or can, the food has undergone some processing. But now there is a new term to know, ultraprocessed food.  What are ultraprocessed foods and do they affect our health any differently than processed or whole foods? 

1.  Ultraprocessed Food
The definition varies but one definition for “ultraprocessed” foods can be described “as ready-to-eat formulations with five or more ingredients, often including flavor-enhancing additives, dyes or stabilizers”.  

      2.   Processed foods are foods that have undergone some processing – frozen, canned, dried , cooked or packaged.  These foods may be fortified or preserved in some way.  These include cereals, bread, fruit juices, canned vegetables like canned tomatoes, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, pasta sauces and crackers.  Examples of even more processed would be frozen pizzas or a microwave dinner.   

 3.  Whole Foods – foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, meats, nuts that are not processed or minimally processed.  Examples would be mixed nuts lightly salted, natural peanut butter made with only peanuts and salt.
A handful of nuts a day is a healthy habit

How do ultraprocessed foods affect our health?  Researchers have found that if you eat ultraprocessed food, you may end up eating more.  Twenty people lived at a National Institutes of Health facility for 28 days.  For 2 weeks they ate an ultraprocessed diet and then for 2 weeks they were switched to a minimally processed diet.  The diets were matched for calories.  The participants were free to eat as much of the food served as they chose.  What is surprising is that well on the ultraprocessed food diet, the study participants ate an average of 500 calories a day more.  This, of course, led to a weight gain of about 2 pounds in only 2 weeks.  Conversely, while on the minimally processed diet, the study participants lost weight, about 2 pounds.  

The researchers noted, it is not just the nutrients in foods or the calories that can affect how much we choose to eat.  Ever have a bag of chips in front of you?  Easy to start with a few chips and before you know it, you have eaten the whole bag.  Recently, at a book club meeting some M&Ms were served.  The ladies commented on hard it was to stop eating M&Ms as they are so good. 

What reasons did the researchers give for study participants eating more of the ultraprocessed foods?  Maybe they were easier to scarf down – like those chips.  Maybe it was less protein.  Participants on the ultraprocessed diets did eat less protein.  And protein is filling.  Ultraprocessed foods are also more energy dense, meaning they provide more calorie per ounce. 

Many of us have diets loaded with ultraprocessed foods.  Easy to grab and easy to eat on the go.  I tell my students that an apple is healthier than applesauce which is healthier than apple juice. 

Some are suggesting ways to add more whole foods to your day.
  • Cereal – unfortunately many people have cut cereal out of their diet, yet oatmeal and other whole grain cereals are a good choice.  As noted, many times in my blog, all General Mills cereals are whole grain.  Cereal is a  great way to add some whole grain to a kid’s diet.
  • Bread – look for breads that are whole grain  
  • Fresh fruit – eat a banana, pack an apple in your lunch.  If you like juice, make sure it is real, 100% juice and not fake juice like Sunny D or Hi-C. Some people think lemonade is juice, but it is a sugar sweetened beverage.  Enjoyable on a hot day but is not considered real juice.
  • Vegetables – eat raw like baby carrots or buy fresh vegetables to cook like broccoli or frozen vegetables are good choices.
  • Milk – drink real milk not fake milk.   Choose 2%, 1% or fat-free milk to cut back on the fat in milk.
  • Meat/fish – by lean hamburger, chicken, fish and cook it at home rather than buying processed meat like hot dogs 
Enjoy a piece of fresh fruit

A recipe to try:
Mix together the following:
  •   1 1/8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  •   4 teaspoons pumpkin seeds
  •    4 teaspoons sunflower seeds
  •    ¼ cup pecans
  •    2 Tablespoons raisins
  •     4 dried apricots chopped
This “cereal” has no added sugar, no added preservatives like BHT and no dyes like yellow dye No. 6

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