What Is Ultra-Processed Food?

What Is Ultra-Processed Food?

Ultra-processed food refers to food products that have undergone extensive processing and contain a high number of added ingredients. These foods typically go through multiple industrial processes and often contain additives, preservatives, artificial flavours and colours

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Think of ultra-processed foods as products that are significantly altered from their original form. They are usually found in the aisles of supermarkets and come in packages, boxes or cans.

Examples include packaged snacks, ready-to-eat meals, sugary drinks, breakfast cereals and many types of fast food.

Ultra-processed foods are designed to be convenient, long-lasting and irresistible. However, they tend to be low in essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre. They often contain high amounts of added sugars, unhealthy fats and sodium.

What are the health implications of consuming ultra-processed foods?

Regularly consuming ultra-processed foods can lead to a range of health problems you’ll definitely want to avoid, such as:

  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Ultra-processed foods are often low in essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre. They tend to be high in calories, unhealthy fats, added sugars and sodium while lacking beneficial nutrients. Regularly relying on these foods can lead to serious imbalances in your diet as well as nutrient deficiencies
  • Obesity and Weight Gain: Ultra-processed foods are calorie-dense (not nutritionally dense) and often contribute to overeating. They are designed to be palatable and easily consumed which of course leads to the overconsumption of calories so it’s no surprise that multiple studies have shown that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of obesity and weight gain
ultra-processed foods - leads to weight gain

Weight gain is a common result of consuming too many ultra-processed foods

  • Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases: Diets rich in ultra-processed foods have been linked to a higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. The excessive amounts of added sugars, unhealthy fats and sodium found in these foods negatively impact cardiovascular health, insulin resistance and overall metabolic function
  • Digestive Problems: Ultra-processed foods are often low in fibre which is essential for a healthy digestive system. A lack of fibre can lead to constipation and other digestive issues. Additionally, the additives and preservatives in these foods may disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut which can affect digestion and overall gut health
  • Negative Impact on Mental Health: While more research is needed in this area, some studies suggest a possible association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and an increased risk of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. It is believed that the nutritional deficiencies and the presence of additives may play a role in this connection. Makes sense, really.
ultra-processed foods - mental health depression

Consuming too many ultra-processed food will impact your mental health

What are common ultra-processed foods?

Common – and largely unsurprising – examples of ultra-processed foods include:

  • Packaged Snacks: Chips, crackers, cookies, flavoured popcorn and snack bars
  • Sugary Drinks: Soda, fruit-flavoured drinks and energy drinks
  • Fast Food: Hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, chips and pizza
  • Ready-Meals: Frozen dinners, microwaveable meals, instant noodles and canned soup
  • Sweet Breakfast Cereals: Highly processed cereals with added sugars and artificial flavours
ultra-processed foods - sugary cereals
  • Processed Meats: Sausages, hot dogs and bacon
  • Sweet Treats: Sweets, chocolate bars, ice cream and sugary desserts
  • Packaged Baked Goods: Packaged cakes, pastries, doughnuts and muffins
  • Shelf-Stable Sauces and Condiments: Bottled salad dressings, ketchup, mayonnaise and barbecue sauce
  • Instant Snacks: Instant noodles, flavoured rice or pasta mixes, and instant mashed potatoes.

Surprising ultra-processed foods

Surprisingly, some foods you might not expect are classified as ultra-processed due to the extent of their processing and the number of additives. Here are a few examples:

  • Flavoured Yoghurt: Many flavoured yogurts contain high amounts of added sugars, artificial flavours and colouring
  • Cereal Bars: While some granola bars can be relatively healthy, many are loaded with added sugars and unhealthy fats
ultra-processed foods - cereal bars

Some cereal bars are healthy, but check the label - some are clearly ultra-processed

  • Breakfast Cereals: Some seemingly "healthful" cereals marketed as "whole grain" or "high fibre" can still be highly processed and contain significant amounts of added sugars and artificial ingredients
  • Packaged Smoothies: Pre-packaged smoothies often have added sugars and may lack the fibre and nutrients found in freshly made smoothies
  • Bottled Fruit Juices: Fruit juices may be marketed as healthy, but many store-bought varieties have added sugars and lack the fibre and nutrients found in whole fruits
  • Sports Nutrition: Like many of the above, ordinary sports nutrition is back with artificial ingredients, flavourings, sugars and they lack fibre. Just because it’s labelled as good for performance, why does that mean it’s healthy? Read the labels of your sports nutrition to ensure you’re not accidentally consuming ultra-processed foods on a regular basis.
ultra-processed foods - sports nutrition

Most sports nutrition is classed as ultra-processed food

Ultra-processed foods – conclusion

You’ll likely know what the usual suspects look like but might have been surprised at some on the ‘surprising ultra-processed foods’ list. But knowledge is power, and knowing which foods have the potential to seriously harm your health can only be a good thing.

However, we’re peaching you should completely avoid all the foods listed about for the rest of your life! Heck, I know I’ll consume many, many pizzas over the rest of my life and I’m certainly not going to ditch ketchup. But it’s all about moderation and knowing the above will help me make better choices – I hope that’s the same for you.

You'll never, ever find ultra-processed foods in our range. We guarantee to only ever use the finest natural ingredients for your Health, Fitness and a Fitter Future - it's our Fuelosophy®

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