Can Ultra-Processed Foods Be Good for You?

shutterstock 1695017917
shutterstock 1695017917

When we think processed food, the first thing that comes to mind is junk food. Frozen pizzas, chips and luncheon meat. However, can ultra-processed foods be good for you?

What is a processed food?

Most foods are processed so as to extend the shelf life. Even condiments such as soya sauce, oil, salt and sugar go through some kind of processing before they are packaged and sent to the supermarket.

Unprocessed vs processed vs ultra-processed

Unprocessed or minimally processed foods are whole foods in which the vitamins and nutrients are still intact. The food remains in its natural or nearly natural state. These include fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, raw nuts and raw meat.

Processing changes a food from its natural state in order to make it last longer. This is primarily done through adding salt, oil, sugar, or other preservatives. Some examples are tinned foods like canned tuna or canned beans, yogurt and cheese.

Food that goes through multiple stages of processing are deemed as ultra-processed. They most likely have many added ingredients such as sugar, salt, fat, and artificial colours or preservatives. Frozen hotdogs, potato chips and luncheon meat all fall under ultra-processed foods.

What ultra-processed food should we incorporate into our diets?

Here’s the catch — not all ultra-processed foods are bad. In fact, some added vitamins and minerals that aren’t easily found naturally and help us hit our daily requirements.

  • Fortified cereals. While we should stay away from sugary cereals, fortified cereals are a healthy addition to any diet. Fortification is the process of adding vitamins and minerals that aren’t naturally present in foods into them. With high added amounts of iron and other vitamins, fortified cereals are one of the best ultra-processed foods in any diet.
  • Wholewheat bread. Supermarket bread has a bad rep to it for all the added ingredients, but don’t knock it just yet. Bread, especially wholewheat bread, from the supermarket is often high in fibre, and is a great way to hit your daily fibre requirements.
  • Unsweetened plant-based drinks. Drinks such as soya milk and almond milk can be ultra-processed, but those with added vitamins and minerals may just help you hit your daily calcium intake and more.

What ultra-processed foods should we avoid?

Due to extensive processing, much of the nutritional value is lost and it is instead replaced by sodium and fat, which, in large quantities, is bad for our bodies. Research has shown that not only is a diet high in ultra-processed foods linked to obesity, but it also increases the risk other diseases. However, that doesn’t mean we need to completely cut it out from our diets, though. Balance is key and we can still enjoy these foods in moderate quantities.

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