How bad is getting more than half of our calories from ultra processed foods? Because that’s what many of us do! This post from Glamour.com clears the air on what ultra-processed foods really are and their impact on health.
Admit it: sometimes when you reach for a convenience food you don’t always grab a banana. But a new study shows that reaching for wrapped snacks and other packaged foods may be worse than you thought.
The research, published in the journal BMJ Open analyzed what more than 9,000 people ate over 24 hours and found that 58 percent of the average 2,070 calories people ate could be qualified as “ultraprocessed.” Not only that, 90 percent of the added sugar people ate came from ultraprocessed foods.
What are “ultraprocessed” foods, exactly? Researchers defined them as “industrial formulations which, besides salt, sugar, oils, and fats, include substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations.” Basically, they’re things like frozen pizzas, breakfast cereals, salty snacks, fast foods, sodas, and cookies.
People ate fairly well for the rest of their diet, though: 28 percent of the calories participants ate had little to no processing, like eggs and vegetables, while another 10 percent had some level of processing like canned vegetables, bread, and cheese.
Before you freak out, know this: Registered dietitian-nutritionist Karen Ansel, coauthor of The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life, points out that almost all foods are processed to a certain degree. “For example, as soon as peas are harvested from their shells or pineapple is peeled they are ‘processed,’ so food processing itself is not necessarily a bad thing,” she says.
However, she notes, when foods get to the ultra-processed level, they’re not so great. Why? There may be many unhealthful ingredients that are added like sugar, fat, and sodium, while other healthful ingredients are stripped out. “It’s the combination of the removal of healthful food components and the addition of less than healthy ingredients that delivers a double whammy when it comes to ultra processed foods,” Ansel says.
Luckily, she says it’s pretty easy to cut back on the ultra-processed stuff. To do so, she recommends eating more fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, and reading the ingredient list in other foods. “The ingredient list should be short and to the point,” she says. “If it goes on forever, chances are the food is highly processed.”
Ansel also recommends keeping an eye out for added sugars, which will show up on an ingredient list as high fructose corn syrup, cane juice, molasses, and malt syrup.
Experts say it’s OK to have the ultra processed stuff once in a while (after all, sometimes a girl only has time for frozen pizza), but it’s probably not such a great idea to have it make up the bulk of your daily calories.