Ultra-processed foods like frozen pizza, instant noodles, and chocolate are unsurprisingly unhealthy.
But even foods that many consider healthy — such as whole-wheat bread, bran flakes, and sugar-free yogurt — also fall under the ultra-processed category.
Experts today warned that Britain is facing a ‘tidal wave of damage’ from the overconsumption of this food category after two studies showed their link to heart attacks and strokes.
Ultra-processed foods are foods that have been significantly altered from their natural form, with ingredients such as preservatives or artificial flavors often added to increase their shelf life or appeal.
Numerous studies had already linked them to conditions and diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cancer.
With ultra-processed foods making up 57 per cent of the average British diet, the most in Europe, the health effects of overconsumption can be huge.
Here, MailOnline shares just five foods that people may not realize are ultra-processed.
A combination of Chinese and Australian studies suggests that eating ultra-processed foods can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke by nearly 25 percent and the chance of developing high blood pressure by as much as 39 percent.
Healthy breakfast cereals
It’s not surprising that sugary breakfast cereals aren’t good for you.
But even the healthy ones are technically considered ultra-processed foods.
Bran flakes are sweetened with barley malt extract, sugar and other additives not found in nature and are considered ultra-processed.
But don’t throw your healthy and fiber-rich breakfast cereals in the trash just yet.
In Britain, breakfast cereals are fortified, which means that some of the added additives are designed to increase levels of nutrients that most people struggle to get enough of.
These include iron, essential for the body to make the red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body, and vitamins essential for keeping the heart and nervous system healthy.
Whole grain bread
The humble supermarket bread is technically an ultra-processed food.
A homemade bread is only considered processed, as it is usually just made from flour, water and yeast.
But those on store shelves may contain additional substances, such as emulsifiers and preservatives, designed to extend shelf life.
However, wholemeal bread is not without health benefits, as it contains a lot of fiber.
Fiber is an important part of good digestive health and has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.
Like grains, they can also be fortified with vitamins and minerals for added health benefits.
Yogurt is considered a healthy source of protein, good for muscle maintenance, and calcium, an essential component of bone health.
But even though natural yogurt is categorized as processed, many products on store shelves fall into the ultra-processed realm.
Some contain artificial substances designed to enhance their flavor, color and appeal.
Others, advertised as being low in sugar, add artificial sweeteners like aspartame instead to provide a guilt-free sweet treat.
Many also contain stabilizers and preservatives, which are designed to keep them fresh longer on supermarket shelves.
The NHS advises people to choose unsweetened and low-fat yoghurts as part of a balanced diet.
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 undergone at least one processing process that has changed their original form. In contrast, ultra-processed foods, such as baby jelly babies, have undergone multiple levels of processing and are usually full of extra fats, dyes, and preservatives.
Fruit and protein bars
They are often packaged as a convenient, healthy, and guilt-free snack on the go.
But fruit and protein bars are among the most ultra-processed foods you can get.
Fruit bars often contain freeze-dried fruit and starch, which are already processed products.
Some also contain thickeners, acidity regulators, and preservatives as part of the manufacturing process.
Protein bars are also packed with similar ingredients.
These may include sweeteners, emulsifiers, preservatives and food colorings.
Baked beans can be ‘part of a healthy diet’ and are a source of ‘some key nutrients’, according to the British Nutrition Foundation
A British class, baked beans are unfortunately an ultra-processed food.
While it’s packed with legumes, a good source of protein and high in fiber, the canned versions contain added salt and sugar.
These, when eaten in excess, can be bad for our health and contribute to high blood pressure and obesity.
Pre-prepared baked beans may also contain additional flavorings and flour as part of their recipe.
However, baked beans have been heralded as an example of an ultra-processed food that is good for you on balance.
The British Nutrition Foundation used it in April as an example of a technically ultra-processed food that is “a convenient and affordable source of some key nutrients.”