Health

What is ultraprocessed food? MailOnline’s guide will help you tell them apart

We are constantly told to eat less ultra-processed foods.

A series of studies over the years have warned of the dangers of eating too many cookies, cakes and chips.

And researchers yesterday added to the ever-growing body of evidence, with data suggesting that a diet high in ultra-processed foods can also lead to dementia.

But what exactly are ultra-processed foods? MailOnline has created a guide to answer exactly that question…

Nutritionists divide foods into three groups based on the amount of processing they have undergone. Minimally processed foods, such as apples, are usually exactly as they occur in nature. Processed foods, such as applesauce, have gone through at least one level of processing that has changed their original form. In contrast, ultra-processed foods, such as apple jelly babies, have gone through multiple levels of processing and are usually packed with extra fats, colorings, and preservatives.

WHAT ARE ULTRA-PROCESSED FOODS?

Ultra-processed foods are high in added fat, sugar and salt, low in protein and fiber, and contain artificial colors, sweeteners and preservatives.

The term covers foods that contain ingredients that someone would not add when cooking at home, such as chemicals, dyes and preservatives.

Ready meals, ice cream, sausages, fried chicken and ketchup are some of the most popular examples.

They differ from processed foods, which are processed to extend their shelf life or improve their taste, such as cured meats, cheeses and fresh bread.

Ultra-processed foods, such as sausages, cereals, biscuits and carbonated drinks, are formulations made largely or entirely of substances derived from foods and additives.

They contain little or no whole or minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, and eggs.

The foods are usually packed with sugars, oils, fats and salt, as well as additives, such as preservatives, antioxidants and stabilizers.

Ultra-processed foods are often presented as ready-to-eat, taste good and are cheap.

Source: Open Food Facts

Processing refers to adding or modifying raw ingredients, such as keeping them in oil or adding sugar or salt.

Nutritionists divide foods into three groups based on the amount of processing they have undergone.

Foods like apples are usually exactly as they occur in nature and are classified as minimally processed.

Processed foods, such as applesauce, have gone through at least one level of processing that has changed their original form.

In contrast, ultra-processed foods like apple pies have gone through multiple levels of processing and are usually full of extra fats, colorings and preservatives.

Ready meals, ice cream, sausages, fried chicken and ketchup are some of the most popular examples.

While processed foods usually have only undergone simple processing, such as salting salts, ultra-processed foods usually contain things that people wouldn’t do when cooking at home, such as adding chemicals.

They are the least healthy group that has been linked to numerous diseases, not least because they contain more calories than their less processed counterparts.

A recent study linked the food to dementia in 70,000 middle-aged people who were followed for 10 years.

The higher fat content of the food led to a buildup of cholesterol that restricts blood flow to the brain, Chinese researchers said.

And they often contain additives and molecules from packaging that have been shown to impair thinking and memory, the team said.

While the study, published in Neurology, didn’t prove that a poor diet causes dementia, it adds to the ever-growing pile of evidence linking the two.

It also found that swapping just one chocolate bar a day for a bowl of cereal effectively reduced the risk of dementia by 3 percent.

Another study in October claimed that pregnant women who overeat were a quarter more likely to have obese children.

Experts believe that a poor maternal diet can alter genes involved in the regulation of growth, energy balance and insulin resistance in offspring.

Unprocessed foods are the most nutritious of all, with vitamins and minerals unaffected by processing.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, used data from an ongoing US study that tracked the lifestyles of nearly 20,000 children of about 14,500 mothers.

In all, 12 percent (2,471) of the children became overweight or obese over an average follow-up period of 4 years, according to findings published in the British Medical Journal.

The risk was highest – 26 percent more – in those whose mothers ate the most ultra-processed foods, classified as 12.1 servings per day, compared to the lowest consumption group (3.4 servings/day).

Graph Shows: The Rate Of Cognitive Decline In The People Who Ate The Most Ultra-Processed Food (Dark Blue), The Second Most Ultra-Processed Food (Brown), The Third Most Ultra-Processed Food (Light Blue), And The Least Ultra-Processed Food (Light Blue)

Graph shows: the rate of cognitive decline in the people who ate the most ultra-processed food (dark blue), the second most ultra-processed food (brown), the third most ultra-processed food (light blue), and the least ultra-processed food (light blue)

Meanwhile, yesterday’s study of more than 10,000 people, published in JAMA Neurologystudied how eating too many unhealthy snacks affected their brain power.

Middle-aged adults who ate the most ultra-processed foods, making up up to three-quarters of their diet, saw their brains degrade 28 percent faster than those who ate the least.

The team suggested that cytokines – inflammatory proteins produced by the body and thought to be stimulated by sugary foods – could be behind the higher rate. Previous research has linked the chemicals to cognitive decline.

However, some experts have questioned the evidence against the food.

Professor Gunter Kuhnle, a nutritionist at the University of Reading, said: ‘Ultra-processed foods have become a fashionable term to explain associations between diet and ill health, and many studies have attempted to demonstrate associations.

‘Most of the studies were observational and had an important limitation: it is very difficult to determine the intake of ultra-processed foods with methods that are not designed for it and so authors have to make a lot of assumptions.

‘Bread and meat products are often labeled as ‘ultra-processed’, while that is often not true.’

He added: ‘Diet is one of many factors that can affect cognitive function and it is important to understand the relationship in order to make recommendations.

“However, such recommendations should be based on robust data, taking into account risks and benefits and further implications, for example the costs of different foods and the respective health impacts.”

WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?

Meals Should Be Based On Potatoes, Bread, Rice, Pasta Or Other Starchy Carbohydrates, Ideally Whole Grains, According To The Nhs

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS

• Eat at least 5 servings of different fruits and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count

• Basic meals based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, preferably whole grains

• 30 grams of fiber per day: This is equivalent to eating all of the following: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat muesli biscuits, 2 thick slices of whole-wheat bread, and a large baked potato with skin

• Provide dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soy drinks) and choose lower-fat, lower-sugar options

• Eat some beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 servings of fish per week, one of which is fatty)

• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume in small quantities

• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water per day

• Adults should have less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day

Source: NHS Eatwell Guide

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Merry

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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