Uncover the truth behind Ultra Processed Foods (UPFs) and the hidden impact on your health.
There have been many advances in food technology this century. Some have been undoubtedly beneficial, like pasteurisation, allowing food to be stored longer and safely, however in the search for ever more sales, health considerations have taken a back seat to convenience with the rise of Ultra Processed Foods.
From sugary beverages to ready meals, these products line our supermarket shelves, promising quick solutions for our busy lives and it seems we can’t get enough. Half of the diet of a UK adult now consists of these tempting ultra processed treats, but do we really know what we are eating when we put them in our shopping basket?
“It’s not food. It’s an industrially produced edible substance.”
Chris Van Tulleken, Ultra-Processed People.
Ultra Processed Foods (or UPFs) are mostly mass produced edible products that have been industrially formulated. In many cases the foods have been so altered from their original state that they are no longer recognisable; think of the difference between a hand cooked salted potato chip and a tube of Pringles.
UPF may sound like a new buzzword to demonise certain foods, but the reality is that a growing body of evidence shows that these convenient culinary options may come at a significant cost to our health.
So how worried should you be about the UPFs in your kitchen?
“Don’t eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
Michael Pollan, In Defence Of Food
One of the main concerns surrounding ultra-processed foods is their nutrient-stripping nature. The extensive processing methods can eliminate essential nutrients while introducing harmful additives, potentially leading to nutritional deficiencies.
Ultra-processed foods often contain high levels of hidden sugars and salt, contributing to obesity and hypertension. These additives are not only detrimental to physical health but can also lead to compulsive eating patterns, making it challenging to maintain a balanced diet.
A report in the British Medical Journal has called for some UPF’s to be labelled as addictive due to their effect on the human body, with some people experiencing symptoms similar to those with substance abuse including cravings, withdrawal symptoms and impulse control. They estimate that up to one in seven adults are “addicted” to UPF with a worrying one in eight children affected, with children particularly vulnerable to the negative health impacts of Ultra Processed Foods.
A diet dominated by these foods is linked to a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions.
UPF and Mental Health
Beyond physical health, there's a growing recognition of the impact of diet on mental well-being. Ultra-processed foods have been associated with an increased risk of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Research has shown a link between a high UPF diet and a greater risk of developing depression, although the reasons are still unclear. It is thought that eating nutritionally poor UPF causes a deficit of the vitamins and minerals essential for healthy brain function.
The effect of UPF on the brain can be scarily fast. A study showed that even a short period of consuming UPF had a detrimental impact on memory and learning tasks with results evident after just a week of a high UPF diet. This is particularly worrisome for children and young adults whose brains are still developing.
Read The Label
“UPF has a long, formal scientific definition, but it can be boiled down to this: if it’s wrapped in plastic and has at least one ingredient that you wouldn’t usually find in a standard home kitchen, it’s UPF.”
Chris Van Tulleken, Ultra-Processed People
It is important to understand that not all processed food is bad for you. Many foods undergo some form of processing, in order to make them safer for storage, reduce bacteria or as a natural part of the food production process, for example olive oil or preserves.
Understanding food labels is crucial in making informed choices. If you are unsure if a food is Ultra Processed, take a look at the ingredients list - if it contains emulsifiers, hydrogenated fat, sweeteners, preservatives and many things you cannot name, then chances are it is ultra-processed.
Whilst we all know that foods such as fizzy drinks, sweets and crisps are ultra-processed, you might be surprised that common everyday staples like supermarket bread, baked beans and products aimed at those following a low-fat diet also fall into this category. It might be unrealistic to remove all UPF from your diet, so concentrate on eliminating or greatly reducing those that offer limited or no nutritional benefits.
When looking to eliminate UPF from your weekly shop it may be less overwhelming to consider your diet overall. Choose organic food where you can and embrace fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Try our Reset and Restore Meat Box which contains a handpicked selection of lean, organic meats and nourishing bone broths.
Concentrating on including more wholefoods and nutrient dense foods for you and your family can be a transformative step towards better health.