Not All Processed Foods Are Created Equal
“People in Canada consume almost 50% of their daily calories from ultra processed foods.” Heart & Stroke
Processed food is food that has been altered from its original state. Items like salt, sugar, oil, additives, preservatives and artificial colour may have been added to it. Adding these items extends the shelf life of certain food products while diminishing the nutrient density of the food.
But there is a difference between minimally processed foods and ultra processed foods.
Processed foods can include anything that is packaged and altered - even if what is inside is generally nutrient dense. Here are a few examples of minimally processed foods:
- protein powder
- whole grain bread
- canned items (tuna, beans, tomatoes)
We are actually ok with incorporating these items into a diet with moderation.
Ultra processed foods on the other hand go through multiple processes (extrusion, moulding, milling etc.) and contain many added ingredients. Here are a few examples of ultra processed foods:
- frozen chicken / burgers
- sweetened breakfast cereal / cereal bars
- packaged soups
Some people just simply do not realize that the chicken in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store has far less nutrients than buying it fresh a few steps away. Many of these foods are convenient, tasty and cheap. They add no value to our health or body. They can also be high in calories and low in nutrients. In some cases they are even designed to make us crave more (ya we’re looking at you Doritos!).
People who eat a high diet of ultra processed foods typically:
- have trouble regulating their appetite
- are poorly nourished
- are less metabolically healthy
- are overweight or “skinny fat”
So how can we cut back if these have become a staple in our diet?
Cook more often. It sounds so simple but it truly is key. Just making your own food (and no we do not mean reheating food from the frozen food section) will result in you choosing more whole foods.
Eat out less often. Restaurant food can also often be highly processed. It can be difficult to know what ingredients are in the food, or where it came from. We are not saying that all restaurant or takeaway food is bad, but you will certainly want to limit it, in order to achieve your goals.
When you do eat out - be picky. Choose your restaurant and menu items mindfully. Does the restaurant use farm-to-table ingredients? Maybe that’s a better choice. Do you know what’s in that sauce? Then maybe ask for it on the side.
Consider meal prep services. There are companies out there dedicated to making nutrient dense, macro-balanced minimally processed meals for people who do not have time. While we always encourage people to cook for themselves, these can be good options to keep you on track during those times when life gets in the way.
Dine with friends & family. Studies show people who dine together tend to have better eating habits like including more vegetables, drinking less soda and eating less deep-fired food.
Find healthy substations. For example, eat an orange instead of drinking that orange juice. Swap natural peanut butter for regular pb. Try a tasty overnight oats recipe for breakfast instead of cereal.
Learn to read labels. Many ultra processed foods are marketed as “healthy.” A cookie may be gluten-free, organic and vegan, but it’s still a highly processed cookie. Don’t fall for deceptive health food marketing.
Ultra processed foods are foods that are going to make it much harder for you to reach your goals.