Why Do We Consume Ultra-Processed Foods?

People are consuming more and more ultra-processed foods. The report by the Pan American Health Organization states that there is evidence of a change in the eating patterns of high-income industrialized countries. This change has begun to spread to low and middle-income countries too.
Why Do We Consume Ultra-Processed Foods?

Last update: 28 November, 2018

Ultra-processed food or UPF is unhealthy. They are edible industrial preparations and artificial appetite stimulants. If we ask the reasons why people consume these products, the explanations vary.

Typology of processed foods

According to different studies on food processing, there is a broad consensus to describe them:

  • Unprocessed foods or foods with minimal processing. These are products whose nutritional characteristics haven"t been altered, such as soups, homemade salads, etc. Also, they are foods with minimal intervention; healthy foods, rich in nutrients.
  • Processed foods. These are foods that integrate the ingredients of the food industry. Fats, sugars, and starches that no longer have nutrients, only calories: sweeteners, butter, and margarine.
  • UPF foods. These products combine processed ingredients, such as fried potatoes and sweets.
Girl eating pizza which is an ultra-processed food.

Characteristics of UPF

In general, UPF products contain saturated fats, trans fats, sugar, and sodium. Equally, they also contain the following additives: sweeteners, emulsifiers, preservatives, stabilizers, solvents, binders, inflators, color enhancers, and artificial flavor.

The consumption of these products is associated with obesity, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

When we consume UPF products and replace them with fresh or organic foods, we considerably reduce our intake of micronutrients. Reducing fiber, vitamins, and minerals in our diets produces a negative impact on our health.

Reasons for UPF consumption

There are several studies that have provided interesting results. But, why do we consume ultra-processed foods? The respondents in a recent survey gave several reasons why they choose to consume UPF.

The main reason they gave was the shelf life of the product. The other reasons were a lack of time to cook, easy access to products, cravings, and lack of immediate healthy options.

Advertising campaigns were also mentioned. The people surveyed said that advertising strongly influences their decision to buy these products. The luxurious and colorful presentation and, of course, the low cost, exerts a powerful influence over the purchase decision.

Ultra-processed foods in the supermarket.

Other data to consider for ultra-processed foods

The differences betwen processed foods and UPF can cause confusion.

  • Approximately 80 percent of the products that we find in the supermarkets are UPF: sugary drinks, pre-cooked foods, pastries, frozen products, cookies, desserts, hamburgers, candy, refined cereals, pizzas and energy bars.
  • UPF products create eating habits and even appetite schedules. Fast food is a lifestyle. These foods promote maximum consumption, containing organoleptic characteristics of industrial origin. They stimulate the appetite.
  • A cookie and a sugary drink aren"t food, they are empty calories. Basically, they contain a concentration of fat, sugar, and salt. This gives us approximately 8.8 ounces of sugar that our bodies must process.

Nutritional information and contribution

It"s important to recognize UPF products. They are not a complete food, they derive from additives.

UPF products contain ingredients that have been previously processed: hydrogenated oils, hydrolyzed proteins, refined cereals, and flours.

According to the PAHO report, additives found in UPF imitate and increase organoleptic characteristics. Moreover, they disguise undesirable aspects of the final product.

So, why do we consume ultra-processed foods? Designed for mass consumption, they are durable, ready to eat, available, tasty and profitable.

Generally, these products are cheap to produce. Therefore, their price is low in comparison to the price of organic and healthy products.

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