Ultra-processed foods are made from so called ‘food-derived’ ingredients: things that are foods themselves or are present in foods, but have been removed from their original source to be mixed with other ingredients to make a ‘new’ food. There is a bit of a list of examples below but it includes many things people might consider ‘healthy’ like fermented drinks and yoghurts - not the natural, unsweetened ones which are not the issue, but pretty much anything else with added sugar and more than a couple of ingredients listed on their labels- whether they have fruit and probiotic additions or not.
This study looked at consumption of such foods by a large group of 60+ yr old people and compared that to the numbers who became frail among that group 3 1/2 years later. The researchers found that people who ate more ultra-processed foods were more likely to have become frail - and that is a big issue.
“Higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is strongly associated with frailty”
Frailty is a condition in which people are easily exhausted, move very slowly if at all, have very little strength and are vulnerable to illness and ongoing incapacity. It might seem to be a way off while we are getting around well and doing what we enjoy, but this study and plenty more gathering evidence shows that what we eat has a big influence on whether we are able to age well or not.
Of course, if you eat lots of ultra-processed foods you are going to be eating fewer unprocessed, fresh, seasonal foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, good oils, lean meats, fish and unsweetened dairy foods. Not getting enough of the beneficial nutrients unprocessed foods offer us has to be part of the picture; but there is something in the changes foods and food ingredients undergo during extensive processing that potentially causes damage.
By focusing on indulging in fewer ultra-processed foods, you give yourself a powerful ally in your pursuit of the old age you hope for, as well as helping society in many other ways.
“Ultra-processed products are also troublesome from social, cultural, economic, political and environmental points of view” according to UN Decade of Food reporting
Some Ultra-Processed foods to keep on your radar:
Crisps and similar snack foods: including all those ‘baked not fried’, grain- or even pulse-based versions, especially those with added flavours.
Extruded foods - think of many breakfast cereals made from wheat, oats or other grains but shaped (rings or other) and with flavours, sometimes even colours added; and crispy, shaped snack foods with flavour and sometimes colours, added.
Commercial cakes, biscuits, cookies and most ‘health food’ and protein bars - no matter how good they sound.
Many big chain fast foods like burgers in buns that melt in your mouth, and pizza with crazy amounts of topping
Processed cheese sauce, many commercial mayonnaise-style products, sauces or salad dressings with added, salt sugar, emulsifiers and more.
Sweetened drinks - including sweetened milk and fermented drinks, most commercial fruit juices and soft drinks - including those sweet ‘no sugar’ ones! (blending fresh milk with fresh fruits in a smoothie is not ultra-processing, but some commercial products may be)
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