What is Ultra-Processed Food?

One of the main problems with the modern diet is ultra-processed food. Whether it's because we don't have time to cook and end up buying pre-cooked foods, or because of the large variety of ultra-processed products available, our diets are suffering.

Last update: 21 December, 2018

The amount of ultra-processed food present in our diets is increasing, to the point that it constitutes 20 percent of our daily food intake. In the following article, we’ll explain which foods we are talking about and the dangers of consuming them. Finally, we’ll propose some guidelines to live healthier and eat a more balanced diet.

What is ultra-processed food?

It’s common for there to be a confusion between what makes ultra-processed foods different from processed foods. But in fact, using the terms interchangeably is incorrect. To clear up this misunderstanding, we’ll explain the difference between them in this article.

Processed foods are foods to which components, other than natural ones, have been added or eliminated. You could say that they maintain their natural properties, but with some additional changes.

Ultra-processed foods are food preparations that contain few or no whole elements and are designed to be consumed directly. They are industrial preparations made from derived substances. All of these have in common that they contain a large number of fats and sugars, making them really harmful to our health.

When we think of ultra-processed food, we immediately imagine fast food and industrial pastries.  But in fact, this term includes many more products, such as soft drinks, white bread, processed meats, sweetened milk, and packaged juices.

Are there any dangers to consuming these products?

Ultra-processed products are incredibly harmful to our health. But, people all over the world, are consuming them at an increasingly alarming rate, which will have serious consequences in the mid to long-term. Some of the dangers associated with the consumption of these include:

Too many calories and too few nutrients. The main drawback of ultra-processed food is that they contain a large number of calories. Moreover, practically none of its components are healthy; they lack vitamins, proteins, and minerals. These types of foods are known as empty calorie food because they don’t provide our bodies with anything healthy.

Fats and hydrated sugars. These are the main ingredients in ultra-processed foods. They are responsible for the high rates of obesity and being overweight, which is ever increasing in our society. Also, we can’t forget that being overweight can lead to other more harmful conditions.

High salt content. All ultra-processed foods contain a high salt content. Sometimes eating a single ration contains half of the daily recommended intake per person. Therefore, those suffering from hypertension shouldn’t consume these products at all. Eating them increases your risk of high blood pressure in the medium and long-term.

How can I avoid buying ultra-processed food?

Eliminating ultra-processed food from our daily diets is really difficult. The first thing is to be aware of how harmful they are and the consequences that consuming them has on our health. As we’ve seen, the diseases derived from consuming these products cause harmful effects.

Breaking away from ultra-processed food is not an easy task, particularly because up to 20 percent of what any given person eats is ultra-processed. In some countries, like England, this figure increases to an alarming 50 percent.

Another influencing factor is the addictive qualities of ultra-processed food. This makes it more difficult to eliminate them from our daily diet. The carbohydrates are the primary cause of addiction, which the body absorbs quickly and leaves you hungry again soon after.

Take the following advice, if you wish to stop consuming ultra-processed products:

  1. Stop going out to eat. Most of the time, ultra-processed food are consumed outside the home, especially in fast food establishments.
  2. Increase your daily intake of fruits and vegetables. They are satiating, healthy, and provide our bodies with a multitude of nutrients. They are also one of the healthiest snacks out there.
  3. Learn to identify them. As you can see, ultra-processed foods contain much more than fast food or pastries. Learn to identify them and avoid consuming them.
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