Ready meals’ popularity has grown significantly over the past few years due to several factors, such as changes in lifestyle, increased convenience, etc. However, potential health risks are associated with consuming these foods. These nutritional bad guys or Ultra-processed foods are packaged with preservatives and additives such as artificial colours, sodium, sugar, etc, which are not good for health.
Due to this, nutritionists recommend eating less ultra-processed foods or completely staying away from them. In this article, we will dive deep into processed foods, starting from unprocessed and processed to ultra-processed foods and help you understand their impact on health.
Unprocessed, processed and ultra-processed foods
Unprocessed or minimum processed foods are those foods that are minimally altered through roasting, boiling, freezing and drying. On the other hand, processed foods are made by adding salt, sugar or other substances in it. For example, dalia with sugar or salt can be considered a processed food. Mostly, two or three ingredients are added to processed food.
Ultra-processed foods are highly processed foods in which several ingredients, such as sugar, salt, artificial colours, and fats, are added. Preservatives, artificial colours, stabilisers and additives can also be added to ultra-processed foods to increase their shelf life and maintain flavour.
How do ultra-processed foods affect our health?
Several studies across the world have linked ultra-processed foods with health risks such as obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and even dementia. A study conducted by researchers in Spain and France has linked it to premature death.
Also, ultra-processed foods are not defined by the nutritional content but by the type of added ingredients. Due to this, along with chips, chocolates, and soft drinks, breakfast cereals and bread are considered ultra-processed foods. Read this article to learn about how these foods are affecting our health and environment.
In 2019, a study was conducted on a group of 20 people for two weeks. The researchers split the group into two parts and gave them identical quantities of calories, fat fibre and other nutrients. The only difference between the groups was that one was given ultra-processed food, and the other was given unprocessed food. After two weeks, people who had consumed ultra-processed food gained weight, while the other group lost weight.
Experts analysed from the study that ultra-processed foods change the way people eat. They contain high flavours (High salt, high sugar), which make them more palatable. Also, a few studies found that emulsifiers in ultra-processed foods disturb the gut microbes, which, as per theory, sends the signal to the brain that one’s stomach is full. It either sends signals that you need to eat more, or ultra-processed food is so easy to eat that it gets into the system so quickly that it doesn’t get the time to signal the brain.
How to limit ultra-processed foods?
Much scientific evidence suggests that ultra-processed food is bad for your health, but how to cut down its intake. If you ask about this from a trusted dietitian in India, their advice would likely be to shift your perspective towards healthy foods. So, start by replacing ultra-processed food, such as junk food, with healthy alternatives, such as veg sandwiches, fruit juice, etc. Instead of ordering food online, take some time to cook your food. And when you go grocery shopping, check out the labels of the foods for salt, sugar and sodium.
Also, remember that you can’t change your food habits overnight, especially if you are used to eating ultra-processed or ready meals. You will be accustomed to the change in your dietary pattern over some time. Getting an online diet consultation from a renowned dietitian will provide you with the knowledge, guidance and support that are required to make healthy dietary choices.
Our long-term health is significantly influenced by what we eat, and overconsumption of ultra-processed foods can put us at risk of life-threatening diseases. However, you can have a pizza or any junk food once in a while, but avoid eating ultra-processed foods frequently.