Ultra-Processed Foods: Are They Harmful ?

March 4, 2024 , , ,

The availability and consumption of ultra-processed food has increased globally. It accounts for 50-60% of total daily energy intake in some high-income countries, with middle- and low-income countries following suit. Fresh or minimally processed foods are increasingly being replaced by ultra-processed foods, raising concerns about their long-term health effects.

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What is an Ultra-Processed Food?

Nova classification is a recognized method that separates foods into four groups based on their degree of processing:

1) Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Foods

These are products that are raw or minimally transformed by simple processes, such as the removal of inedible parts, drying, grinding, freezing, pasteurization, or vacuum packaging. They do not contain any added substances. Examples include fresh, dried, or frozen fruits and vegetables, grains (e.g., rice, quinoa, pasta, etc.), flours, meats, poultry and fish, eggs, and cow’s milk.

2) Processed Culinary Ingredients

These are products derived from nature through simple processes such as pressing, refining or milling. They are used to prepare, season and cook “homemade” dishes. Examples include table sugar, oil, and salt.

3) Processed Foods

These are products made with simple ingredients and processing techniques such as the addition of salt, sugar, or fat in order to increase their shelf life and organoleptic characteristics. They contain few food additives. Examples include canned foods (vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, etc.), smoked meats and fish, tofu, baked goods, cheeses, and nut butters.

4) Ultra-processed Foods

They are defined as industrially manufactured products which contain deconstructed and modified food components, recombined with a variety of additives. They are recognizable by the presence of food substances rarely used in cooking (e.g. high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, hydrolyzed proteins, etc.) or the presence of food additives added to make the final product more palatable or attractive (such as flavourings, flavour enhancers, colourings, emulsifiers, sweeteners, thickeners and anti-foaming, swelling, bulking, gelling or coating agents). One should also be wary of misleading packaging and advertising. Ultra-processed foods may still contain beneficial claims on their packaging such as “natural”, “sugar-free”, “non-GMO” or “organic”.

Examples of ultra-processed foods include processed meats (sausages, deli meats, fake meats, etc.), beverages sweetened with sugar or sugar substitutes, condiments, sweetened dairy products, most plant-based beverages and vegan yogurts, frozen meals (pizza, chicken nuggets, etc.), sweet or savory treats (chips, cookies, candy, cakes, etc.), and other pre-packaged foods that keep for a long time on the shelves (e.g., instant or canned soups, industrial breads, granola bars, breakfast cereals, etc.).

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Kathryn Adel
Kathryn holds a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition as well as a Bachelor and a Master Degree in Kinesiology, all from Laval University. She is a Registered Dietitian and active member of the Ordre professionnel des Diététistes Nutritionnistes du Québec (ODNQ) and of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She holds the Monash University's certification for the FODMAP diet and IBS, and has considerable clinical experience in that area. She is also an accomplished athlete, having ran track and cross-country at a national level. Kathryn specializes in sports nutrition, weight loss, diabetes, as well as heart and gastrointestinal health.

One comment to “Ultra-Processed Foods: Are They Harmful ?”

March 9, 2024 Donatien CAMBRIEUX said:

On a le climat au Canada pour cultiver des bons légumes ! Merci pour votre blog. Donatien Cambrieux.

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