Processed vs. Ultra processed foods (UPFs)

What’s the difference between the two? and are they actually ‘bad’ for us?

The majority of foods we eat in the UK are processed. The term ‘processed’ simply means that a food has undergone a process of change, often in order to improve taste and texture and or extend the shelf life. Examples of processing often include adding salt, oil or sugar, to many foods that we eat on a daily basis, including: canned fruit & veg, cured meats, unpackaged breads and cheeses, yoghurt etc. Baked beans are a perfect example of an everyday food which has undergone processing. Food ingredients have been added to the beans to improve taste and preserve shelf life (sugar, salt, vinegar, herb & spice extracts). Processed foods should not automatically be deemed as ‘unhealthy’ or ‘bad for us’ simply because they have undergone processing. In fact, many processed foods are nutritious, affordable and a good source of energy. Of course, some are less nutritious than others, but it is completely healthy for a large chunk of what we eat today to come from processed food products.

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) however are slightly different. They too will often undergo similar processing as processed foods, however they will also have had ingredients such as emulsifiers, sweeteners, additives and colourings added to them to alter their sensory properties, in order to make them very appealing. Examples include fast food such as breaded chicken, cakes, biscuits, some breakfast cereal, sandwich meats, chocolate, energy drinks and some alcohol. UPFs usually have a long shelf life and often contain ingredients unheard of. UPFs typically contain high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat – all of which have been associated with adverse health consequences. So although UPFs are often cheap and convenient, it is beneficial for our health to only eat them every so often.

Worried you might consume too many UPFs? Consult a Registered Nutritionist or Dietician for advice.

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